Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd June 17, 2018
Mark 4:26-34; Ezekiel 17:22-24
Grass and I have a love-hate relationship. I would love our yard to just be flowers, but Nancy looks after the flowers and she’s not too keen on that idea. Besides, she has taught me that green spaces accent the flower gardens. And so, I weed and seed and fertilize and water so that people will admire not my beautiful grass but the flowers. I was ignoring the boulevard grass until it started looking a little sad, so last year I threw some grass seed and topsoil on the boulevard. To my dismay, this spring brought the only dead patch of boulevard grass on the whole block. I still don’t know what I did wrong, but this year, I’m now weeding and fertilizing, seeding and watering the boulevard, along with our yard’s grass. Ultimately, though, I know that I can only do so much. I am reliant on God’s mysterious forces of nature to do the rest. Maybe God has a love-hate relationship with grass as well.
Mark tells us that God’s realm “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow without the sower knowing how.”  The kingdom of God—or God’s realm—is not some future utopia. It is breaking in around and within us all the time. It sprouts up as brilliant flowers of beauty in word or deed. Occasionally, a whole field of wildflowers burst forth when these individual words and deeds combine with others, washing over us with a wave of kindness.
The lesson I learn from this parable is twofold. The first is that we have to do our part in helping to usher in God’s realm of peace and justice. We usually do pretty well with this first step, because we’re doers. But we don’t do as well with the second step. Once we have sown our seeds of compassion, we need to trust that they will take root. Sometimes it takes quite awhile. Others times, we need to sow more seed. But if we become daily sowers of God’s love, we can trust that the mysterious powers of God will cause it to bloom. The flowers may not sprout exactly where we planted the seed, but flowers will appear. We have to learn to trust that somehow, somewhere, something beautiful will come from our toil. If we can believe this, we will be able to release our anxiety and rest from our labours in God’s loving arms.
In Barbara Brown Taylor’s musing on this text, she points to our “anxiety amid the uncertainty here, living between the planting and the harvest.” Symptoms of our anxiety are “perfectionism, drivenness, moral outrage, restlessness, dread of being alone and estrangement from God.” She calls anxiety “an occupational hazard of being a finite creature in a universe of infinite possibilities.” Anxiety crowds out faith that God will be God and that the earth will automatically yield its fruit. She suggests that the antidote to anxiety is courage.  It is courage that allows us to keep on scattering seeds of hope not in desperation, but with confidence in the greening power of God.
Such can be the faith of parents, who sow and nurture seeds of hope in their children, yet can only await the maturing plant with patient prayer. In their Monday article in the Free Press, the Kielburger brothers urge us to better honour fathers in their role as parents. Society has traditionally honoured the breadwinning role of fathers and downplayed their parenting role. We are more apt to make jokes about fathers’ parenting abilities than to acknowledge the time and effort they put into child-raising. It’s a rare Father’s Day card that can move past the jokes to gratitude.
But fathers worry as much as mothers about their children. Fathers put bandaids and kisses on scraped knees, they play catch with their children, listen and counsel, love a thousand times over. Fathers need to learn, as much as mothers, that they can only do so much and then they have to let go and allow those nurturing seeds to take root, tended by the Spirit’s guidance. This takes courage. It is then a gift to see the plant begin to mature, bear fruit and eventually be able to scatter its own seed.
But our Judaeo-Christian story doesn’t stop there. The fruits of our labour are not limited to our own families. The parable of the mustard seed tells us that when the small seed grows into a large bush, it offers shade and shelter to the birds.
This parable would have reminded Jesus’ audience of the passage in Ezekiel where God transplanted a sprig of cedar that grew into a noble cedar tree, offering shade and shelter to every kind of bird that existed. This is a vision of the tree of life that benefits all nations and all creatures. The fruit of our labour, when amplified by God’s Spirit, not only supports familial birds of a feather that flock together. It also touches people of all cultures and religions; it touches our very earth and all of its creatures, for God’s compassion is boundless.
We will never know our own impact on this world. We sow seeds wherever we go, for better or for worse. We easily dismiss the effect that each of us might have—what difference could we possibly make? But even one, insignificant, little seed can take root and sprout up. Even if it only supports one other little bird, in its entire life, that is enough.
Anne Frank, whose diary has inspired the world in spite of her own short life brutally ended in a concentration camp, wrote, “Everyone has inside of [them] a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” Stephen King, someone I wouldn’t normally go to for quotes, wrote, “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?”
I will close with a blessing from Emil Gudmundson, “May we have faith in life to do wise planting that the generations to come may reap even more abundantly than we. May we be bold in bringing to fruition the golden dreams of human kinship and justice. This we ask that the fields of promise become the fields of reality.”
 Mark 4:26-27.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, Mixed Blessings, as quoted in Kathryn Matthews’ Sermon Seeds, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_june_17_2018