Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24, Mark 4:26-34
Let us pray: We have listened to your word through Scripture, Loving God. May we hear and respond to your word through open hearts and enquiring minds, with imagination and in faith. In Jesus name. Amen.
They say that when you come back from a good holiday, which we have, you have, for a while at least, a greater clarity of thought, a fresh perspective, a new energy. Well, yes all of the above along with aching body parts from gardening, a little bit more weight from eating too much good food, a heap of photos and towards the end a sense of missing people and looking forward to reconnecting.
However part of that ability to reflect and take a step back has me wanting to share with you a story I heard on that holiday; a rather sad story, a story that is, in the end, a proclaiming of God’s grace in the face of tragedy.
It seems appropriate for today - for the parables we heard today are all about grace are they not?
There are three major statements about grace in the Gospel reading, it seems to me.
The first is that we might plant but God will grow, that we can leave the nourishing to God.
This seems to be saying that much of our anxiety and micromanagement as a people of God is because we don’t quite trust God’s grace to nurture, that without our input, our continually standing over the growing seed, it will curl up and die – we miss the point of this parable . Jesus is telling us to leave the nourishing to him and go on with planting other seeds. The kingdom of God is dependent on our initiative and God’s grace, this parable tells us. We need to stop fussing on progress and get on with planting.
Then that we may see the growth but not understand how it happens.
The kingdom of God is silently but powerfully coming to be. A simple story of a seed has meanings far beyond our comprehension. Grace revealed and veiled at the same time. There are so many layers in this small story – the kingdom of God is like a seed…. We need to allow the mystery of God into our imaginations so that possibilities abound, even if we don’t know how or why or when. And that is really hard for some of us to do, we who are so used to measuring success and tweaking the progress and expecting particular outcomes. Is this why we hold on to ways that we think are proven to work when we need to be releasing the strings and simply trusting in God’s grace to grow us in whatever shape might be most needed at this time?
Thirdly that we might plant something small but in the power of God there is a fantastically disproportionate growth.
We have just planted a rata tree in our garden – we don’t expect to see it as a huge mature tree. But Jesus is telling us, don’t be so sure. There is a power in this grace that eludes our expectations, a nourishing that has a dynamic all of its own. And that tree, when it grows, provides rest and haven for all the creatures of the earth. The kingdom of God is like this…..it is formed from the smallest of seeds, you and me, acts of kindness and justice, words of encouragement and welcome and, in the power of love, changes the world.
Grace: nourishing, mysterious, dynamic grace.
So is this a simple parable about the beauty of small and the miracle of growth, or is it a challenging message to us to stop being so anxious about, so energised by protecting that which is already in God’s hands and to get on with initiating new things for the kingdom.
But – we shouldn’t come down too hard on ourselves here – because the disciples didn’t get it either! Despite being taken aside and told the story behind the parable – they still didn’t get the immensity of the God’s grace, that they could trust in God, that the way of panic and fear was not productive, nor brought growth. Why do I say that: well you see, the story that immediately follows this one in Mark is about their panic on the sea in the storm while Jesus was with them asleep. They panicked – Jesus was calm. Jesus lived God’s grace in perfect trust, the disciples had some way to go.
Grace. I want to tell you a story of some people who I think we could say discovered or re-discovered the meaning of grace in the midst of heartbreak.
On our way to the West Coast we stopped at the library I used to work at in Amberley, and in the midst of catching up with friends I met the mother of the story that I now share.
This family is a Christian family, home schooled – they did it well and you can’t always say that. They have seven children, and they all turned out to be bright, thinking, independent children. But just last December their youngest daughter, aged 14, was diagnosed with a rare terminal illness – and a horrible one at that – MLD, Meta Chromatic leukodystrophy – a rare genetic disorder where the brain and central nervous system degenerates over time. Loss of sensation, incontinence, seizures, paralysis, inability to speak, blindness, and deafness, finally completely unresponsive. The girl who read Lord of the Rings at 10 can now read only a few sentences, who had a fantastic vocabulary, struggles with simple words. She thought she simply wasn’t as bright as the others but her mother knew something wasn’t right. Eventually a diagnosis was reached and they told their daughter the news. The family wept many tears as you can imagine – but it is how they have come to know God’s grace in this that has staggered me.
The mother described to me how, in a moment of absolute clarity of the grace of God, she was able to let go the future uncertainties and allow the whole mess to rest in God’s care. “ It’s still very difficult, I don’t know how we are going to cope, but we will.”
Since then she greets each morning not with tears but with a sense of the joy of the precious time they have together. She said her daughter was so joyous, so accepting, so trusting, how could she not be?
This young girl has since raised $900 doing the 40 hr famine, is preparing to shift home as her father approaches retirement, is aware that her illness is advanced yet chooses to allow the growing of the rest of her life to others, to God, to medical skill, to the love of family, to what will be - and I will leave you with her words, her experience of God’s nourishing, mysterious and dynamic grace in their lives:
“I think I am very lucky, I have a lovely life. I get to live with the people I love.”
God’s grace. Thanks be to God. Amen.