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Do You Remember. . .?

David Evans

June 14, 2015
Mark 4:26-34

 

In the first chapter of the gospel of Mark, immediately following Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness, Jesus went home to Galilee. There he announced his purpose:

“The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near;

Hear the Word of God as it is recorded in the 4th chapter of the gospel of Mark:

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God 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, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 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.’

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

“The Kingdom of God has come near…”

Last Sunday you will remember that Jesus chose twelve disciples. These twelve would spend three years following Jesus around the Galilean country-side learning about this kingdom of God that has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ. And how did Jesus teach them about the kingdom of God? He told them stories. Jesus would say something like: “The kingdom of God is like…”  Then Jesus would be off and running, telling a parable, spinning a story. Suddenly the disciples would glimpse a new way of seeing the world.

As Linda and I unpack boxes from our recent move, I continue to find treasures. The other day I found a photo of my grandfather, my Aunt Margie, my Dad and me on the front porch of my grandparent’s farmhouse in East Texas. That photograph sent me back to some of my earliest memories. Sitting on that front porch looking out over the hard packed sand that my grandmother had just swept clean. Dinner is over and the sun is making its final descent and the air cools and the crickets and tree frogs begin their chorus. The cotton fields are planted by this time of year, but the plants are barely breaking ground as we look across toward Bob and Reba Yarbrough’s place. My grandmother is shelling black-eyed peas and my grandfather is sitting in his rocking chair with an unlit cigar wedged between his teeth. Aunt Margie is finger-pickin’ “Uncloudy Day” or some other old gospel tune on her guitar.

Then someone, my Aunt Margie or Papa most likely, says something like:   “Do you remember…?” And then we would be off and running, a story about someone or sometime or someplace long ago spilling from their lips. And in that moment I would be transported back to places I had never been…the hills of southwestern Virginia or Surrey County, North Carolina…all those places where my family originated before coming to Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War.

My childhood self would listen to them tell those stories. And so it was on that front porch on a sandy soil cotton farm near Sulphur Springs that I began to learn who I am. And what is important. And a certain world-view.

Some of the things I learned on that front porch in the late 40s and early 50s I had to unlearn later. I had to unlearn some things about race because we still lived in the segregated East Texas at that time. I had to unlearn some things about religion because being Presbyterian in a predominately Baptist and Church of Christ world was a decidedly minority outlook.

But what I never unlearned is that the most interesting life is the life that contains stories.   So as we enter into Jesus’ world in the 4th chapter of the gospel of Mark, we read that Jesus is teaching his followers beside the sea. But maybe we could use our imaginations this morning. Maybe we could picture Jesus is sitting on the front porch of his family home in Galilee. Peter is sitting in a rocking chair with a cigar lodged between his teeth. Andrew and Mary Magdalene are shelling purple hull peas.  James and John are picking guitars and humming some old tune they learned in synagogue. Then Jesus clears his throat. Everyone stops what they are doing and looks at him because they know that it is now story-time.

Jesus says: “God’s kingdom is like…”  And those gathered on the porch lean forward. Because they desperately want to know what God’s kingdom is like. God’s kingdom is like…and Jesus looks around at the wheat fields surrounding the porch and says: God’s kingdom is like “seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help…”   (The Message, Mark 4:26-28).  Jesus stops and lets it sink in.

That’s what God’s kingdom is like? A seed thrown onto a field? What’s the point, Jesus?   And slowly but surely someone wonders: “Maybe the point is that God’s ways are mysterious and unseen by mere mortals. Maybe the point is that there are times when there is nothing we can do but wait. Perhaps the point is that when we plant a seed, we cannot make it grow. We can water it and weed it and perhaps even fertilize it. But really all we can do is wait and let God’s miracle occur.”

You see: this is the purpose of a parable. This is why Jesus told stories. These parables, these stories, set the mind to wandering and wondering. They release the imagination.   Those gathered around Jesus found themselves thinking about “God’s kingdom” in a whole new way.

Jesus leans back in his chair on the front porch and Jesus says: “God’s kingdom is like…”   And Jesus’ followers lean forward in our chairs, eager to hear what God’s kingdom is like.

God’s kingdom is like, “well, hmmm, it is like a mustard seed. The smallest of all plants on earth. Yes, it is small. But when it grows up it becomes one of the greatest of all the trees.   So great that its branches become the place for birds to build their nests.”

And Jesus’ followers, gathered there on the front porch, begin to wonder. What does this story mean? Could it mean that in the Kingdom of God there is almost always more than meets the eye? Could it mean that we ought to pay attention to the small things in life? Could it mean that we ought not to discount the small things that others do for us or the small things that we do for others?

Maybe some of those Kingdom seeds have been scattered around and planted here this morning. What has happened may seem of no consequence. But I wonder….

  • We have welcomed a new member back to UPC in a time of transition, showing Linda’s confidence that this is the congregation where she wants to “breath in and breath out” the love of God and believes in our future together,
  • A child has been baptized and who knows what the Holy Spirit might do with the waters that have been poured on Bode’s head and what seeds have been planted in his heart that might bear fruit someday,
  • Both you and Bode’s parents have made promises to “support and encourage” Bode to be a faithful follower of Christ, and who knows what the consequences of that might be,
  • Or perhaps the prayer of confession that Janine led this morning was not just a rote matter, but maybe someone came here this morning needing forgiveness and a sin has been actually confessed and a burden lifted,
  • Perhaps an actual word of peace has been passed and a bond of friendship formed as two hands touched one another today.

You see, maybe one day one of you will look back and say: “Do you remember…?”  Do you remember that Sunday at University Presbyterian Church when it was dreary outside and nothing extraordinary seemed to be happening?  Do you remember that on that Sunday the Kingdom story told here and the Kingdom word proclaimed here planted the seed of new hope or release from addiction or burst the bubble of anger or resentment or despair that had long gripped a soul?

What we do here may look so tiny, so insignificant, so forgettable. And yet you never know what God will do with such a moment. AMEN