Tag Archives: Mustard Seed

Surrender, Breath, and Being Made New [OR Be Gentle with Yourself] Mark 4:26-34 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 13, 2021

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Mark 4:26-34 [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet 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.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And 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.
16From 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. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

[sermon begins]

Here’s a pro-tip conversation starter: Ask someone about their experience on the roads around the Denver area. It’s come up in conversation more in the last couple of weeks than I can remember it before. And that’s saying A LOT. Traffic here has long blended rural and city drivers that mix as well as oil and water and makes for good stories. More recently though, driving has inarguably reached wackadoodle proportions.[1] It’s like we’ve entered a video game that we didn’t download. Local police twitter (yes, I follow them too) tweets with the latest top speeds, flipped cars, and fatal accidents. I have found myself reacting to the chaos before realizing that I’m also contributing to it. Want to do something counter-cultural? Drive as if you have all the time in the world – except not too slowly or you become a problem on the other end of the spectrum which is a significant part of the chaos too. Anybody else feel themselves ramping up just talking about it?

Let’s take a different tack then, shall we? Our bodies are wired in such a way that they can be reminded to respond differently. Intentional breathing can reset our nervous systems and reduce anxiety.[2] Let’s try it together. In just a minute, I’m going to invite you to breathe in for a count of two, hold that breath for a count of three, and breathe out for a count of four. References abound on this kind of breathing with different breath and hold counts but, in the interest of time and everyone’s different experiences with this kind of breathing, we’re going to stick to the count of breathing in for two, hold for three, out for four. You can close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so. We’re going to go through the cycle three times. Ready, close your eyes. Here we go:

Breathe in one-two…

Hold one-two-three…

Breathe out one-two-three-four. [repeat for three times total]

Okay, you can open your eyes – if I haven’t lulled you into sleep, that is. Risky thing for a preacher to do, I suppose. 😉

This relaxed breathing is brought to us, in part, by the Gospel of Mark. Mark generally moves at an intense pace with lots of “immediately” this and “immediately” that.[3] But today, the pace slows down. Dare I say that it’s even gentle. The Markan community was confronted by the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and what action they should take to get along in the world.[4] They had two obvious options. Should they take up arms and join a revolution? Or should they go along with Roman authority to get along and live another day? The Gospel of Mark offers a third response to the crisis of the day – to follow Jesus in the self-giving way of the cross, to trust God’s faithfulness, and to recognize God’s promises taking “a dramatic and subversive turn in Jesus.”[5]

Mark’s urgency and crisis response takes a pause in our two parables today, telling us stories about how the Kingdom of God expands by God’s power and not our own. We have the parable of the growing seed that sprouts and grows without us needing to know how – “first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” And then the parable of the mustard seed that is the tiniest of seeds, producing the greatest of all shrubs and providing shade for the birds. In these stories, we’re reminded that the Kingdom of God is first an act of God. We strategize ideas and take action on them hoping that we’re on the right track, but God’s kingdom will grow. We don’t know how. This is Mark’s version of taking a deep breath, easing the urgency caused by the crisis to remember the main thing. Breathe in. Hold. Breathe out.

There’s almost no day that goes by without someone wondering with me about what they “should be doing” or how they think they should be “handling it.” Heck, I wonder about these things for myself, too. It doesn’t even matter what “it” is. It could be intense personal grief. Or a changing job situation. Or financial difficulty. Or emerging from pandemic ready for normal and not finding it. Quite often, I find myself saying things like, “give yourself some grace” or “be gentle with yourself.” I know from personal experience that this is easier said than done. But when I hear people say it to me, I find it easier to remember that I’m only human. And when I say it to other people, I’m reminded that they are too. Each breath connecting us to every other fragile, wondrous, vulnerable, and impatient creature.

Which brings us to the new creation promised in the second Corinthains reading. My lord, what promise! “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”[6] Immediate deliverance. No waiting. New! This baptismal reality in Christ is like the growing seed in the parable – first the stalk, then the head, then the new grain in the head. We do not know how.

You are simply new. Not a romanticized, perfect new version of yourself, though. You are a new through a cross. Through THE cross. You are no longer living for yourself but for the one who died and was raised for you. The one who loves so deeply with divine love that this love changes everything, even you. Unconditional love that accepts you for who you are is freedom to surrender to that love and become what you have received from Christ.

Being the body of Christ means that we are death and resurrection people, coaching and encouraging each other, celebrating and grieving with each other. New. New means that there is something old, something former, and something to let go. Letting go creates space. Letting go gives us space to breathe. To abandon our illusion of control. To slow down our thinking in an anxious time in the world. To acknowledge our gifts and run with them. To acknowledge our sins against self and others and reconcile across them.

Letting go surrenders us to the one who loves so deeply with divine love that we are changed, made new – “first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” We do not know how. For this and for all that God is doing, we can say thanks be to God. And Amen.

___________________________________________________________

[1] “Wackadoodle” is a more recent addition to the Oxford English Dictionary. https://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2014/03/wackadoodle-makes-oxford-english-dictionary#

[2] Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D. “How to Reduce Anxiety with Every Breath.” October 22, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/think-act-be/201910/how-reduce-anxiety-every-breath

[3] This is a fun article comparing the use of “immediately” across the New Testament, the gospels, and Mark in particular. https://livingroomtheology.com/immediately-used-much-gospel-mark/

[4] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for June 13, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/788-third-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-11b-june-13-2021

[5] Ibid.

[6] 2 Corinthians 5:17

It’s Going to the Birds [In a Markan, Hitchcockian Kind of Way] – Mark 4:26-34, 2 Corinthians 5:6-7, 14-20

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— 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.

 

[sermon begins]

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.[1]   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.[2]  The Kingdom of God is going to the birds.  This is good news indeed.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

[1] Alfred Hitchcock. Movie: The Birds. (Alfred Hitchcock Productions: 1963). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056869/

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:19