It’s Going to the Birds [In a Markan, Hitchcockian Kind of Way] – Mark 4:26-34, 2 Corinthians 5:6-7, 14-20
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver on June 14, 2015
[sermon begins after the two Bible readings]
Mark 4:26-34 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
2 Corinthians 5:6-7, 14-20 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
When I was a kid there was a jewelry fad. Perhaps started by Christians. It was mustard seed jewelry. There was a tiny yellow seed sitting loosely inside a tiny glass ball. I’m pretty sure I had a pair of mustard seed earrings and my sister may have had a bracelet but my memory as it relates to my sister’s jewelry is a little hazy. The point of this jewelry was to remind us that great things were possible from the tiniest drip of faith. And while there are ways that this is true and there are many Bible verses that inspire us with that idea, I would invite us to read today’s text carefully before we jump on that familiar train of interpretation. These two parables are saying something more.
Parables are more than analogy or fable. Parables reveal things, they flip the standard line over on its head and they are subversive and powerful. They have a kick to them. When we don’t feel that kick, that “Aha” moment, it’s likely that we’re missing something. And…surprise, surprise…they can be super funny. The mixing together the things of daily life into the power of parable stirs the hearer into different ways of being.
The first parable says that the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seeds, they grow without tending and “he does not know how.” Part of this parable is about knowing or, more accurately, the lack of knowing. There are people who are not me that can describe the phases of plant growth from seeds into plants into more seeds but this parable makes me wonder if they “know how.” The farmer is able to bring in this harvest without knowing the mystery how it came to be. This deep mystery of seeing but not knowing how is the set-up for the mustard seed:
“[Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
This mustard seed is not of the jewelry variety – a lovely, yellow, round, tiny ball. This is a black speck – one that you might mistake for a bit of dirt on your cheek. It is completely unremarkable. But this mustard seed grows into an invasive shrub. The text today says the greatest of all shrubs.
Now there’s a goal; to lay claim to being the greatest of all shrubs. I’ve had a chance to talk about this text with people who come from different parts of the country and everyone could name the invasive plant that causes problems in their area. Plants with names like kudzu, tamarisk and toadflax are described with all the damage they can do as they spread and then spread some more. The original hearers of this parable would have laughed out loud to hear the Kingdom of God compared to the mustard seed. Like a good South Park episode, it would have been funny in that way that is also offensive – shocking them into laughter while making them think.
The mustard seed goes to work. Growing and spreading and becoming the greatest of all shrubs with branches large enough to shade the nesting birds. Read off of the page it sounds like soft greenery and birds chirping –Disney-esque in its sentiment. Which, in my book, is often an excellent reason to look a little deeper. Earlier in this chapter of Mark, Jesus tells a parable that doesn’t show birds in a very good light. Birds are NOT a friend to the seeds in the earlier parable. They are the undesirables – more Hitchcock than Disney. And yet, here they are, just a few parables later, sitting on the branches in the shade. And the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed growing into the greatest of shrubs that shades even the birds.
Why might Jesus have told this parable in this way? In the previous chapter in Mark, the religious leaders begin scheming with the politicians to destroy Jesus. The parables speak into their schemes. The religious leaders and politicians know that Jesus is shaking up the very order in which they operate and their option, as they see it, is to destroy him. Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, foreshadowing that the seemingly fragile or insignificant thing is going to be so vast that even the birds who threaten it will be dependent on it.
To be clear, Jesus is not an anarchist. Subversion is not simply to disrupt and see what happens, come what may. It is not freedom that becomes a free-for-all. That would indeed be Hitchcockian in all its glory. Anarchy creates pain most often for the most vulnerable people in the world who suffer in the chaos. The subversion of Jesus is freedom into the Kingdom of God. A kingdom so invasive that you cannot be rid of it. A kingdom so invasive that even its enemies can find food and shelter in it. A kingdom so invasive it disrupts our plans and schemes, it disrupts our sin, and makes of us a new creation.
Our location in the Kingdom of God is understood in relation to Jesus’ location. God coming in a body, in the person of Jesus, disrupts reality in a new direction for us. Jesus coming in a body makes space for all bodies to be redeemed. Bodies created good but lost along the way in individual plans and schemes, in sin. Jesus makes new creations who are messengers of that reconciliation with God.
As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” This is an announcement of what Jesus Christ has done and is doing. Translating out of the original Greek on this would be better stated, “So if anyone is in Christ, A NEW CREATION!” There is no lead in, no verb necessary, just BAM! “A NEW CREATION!”
The Kingdom of God, through Jesus Christ, disrupts the ways in which we order our lives, invading our plans and schemes.
The Kingdom of God, through Jesus Christ, reveals our dependence on God, our fragile selves – the ways we screw up, the ways we see each other as a threat and the ways we work against God.
Jesus, the living Christ, sends the Kingdom of God in and through us as he loves us enough to forgive us and he loves us enough to make us new. Not counting our trespasses against us, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. The Kingdom of God is going to the birds. This is good news indeed.
Thanks be to God!
 Alfred Hitchcock. Movie: The Birds. (Alfred Hitchcock Productions: 1963). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056869/
 2 Corinthians 5:19