People like a good mystery. Maybe it is because we like the challenge of figuring on our own. It might be because when we do figure things out, we like the pride that comes with being able to do that and maybe in being one up on everyone else. There is a certain amount of pride in knowing what others do not and in getting to tell them. God then, must be the ultimate mystery for people. Who can figure God out?
The Scriptures this week (Pentecost +3B 2021) are all about transitions. Historical, political, theological, and even personal change. There is teaching about the kingdom of God and how that kingdom operates like seed. Yes, the kingdom of God is like a seed. In fact, the Gospel says that the kingdom is like the smallest of all seeds. And the Gospel this week (Mark 4:26-34) is a string of stories about seeds and how they grow. People who are listening to Jesus are encouraged to hear what it is he is saying to them, that they might understand better what the kingdom of God is all about: how does it come and how does it grow? Parables are not to help everyone understand. It is meant for those who are going to come and participate in the kingdom to come and take up. Parables are both a revelation of who God is and how God works and is also the concealment of those who hear and do not comprehend. This includes the inner circle who Jesus took extra time with. He explained what he was teaching to the masses. It was not on them to figure out. They were not chosen because of their intellect. They were chosen as people with whom Jesus wanted to have relationship with and who would eventually carry out the proclamation of the kingdom in the rest of the world. These people had a personal attachment to Jesus to act as witnesses of his death and resurrection.
We know a thing or two about seeds in this part of the world. I have enjoyed sitting down with farmers and learning about their craft of caring for creation as well as about how our food is grown. For example, I had no idea how important a regular supply of propane is to the drying of seeds is before they are siloed for a time to be put on trains for market our to be sown in the next planting season. I had no idea how careful farmers are with the soil, using GPS on their tractors to plant crops. They avoid tiling/turning over the soil preventing the soil from losing its moisture. This in turn aids the crops as they grow in providing the nourishment that they need for the soil. Farms around here are, in my mind, huge! Eight and a half mile squares.
For all of the knowledge and the vast amounts of know how, there is nothing that our farmers can do to make the seed do what it was designed to do. They can care for the fields, providing fertilizer and maybe irrigation for support but the seed, once it is planted, has to do its thing. The Church is like a seed: growth is in its very nature. The Church needs to do what it was designed to do. The Church was designed to grow. If the Acts of the Apostles and the rest of the New Testament are witness to how the Church grows then it is meant to grow at a phenomenal rate especially when it is under attack. As the famous historian and theologian Tertullian noted after the death of Justin Martyr, that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The life of the early Christians was one of hope not because of doctrine or liturgy but because the relationship with Christ himself continued both corporately and personally, as it does to this very day. People will not sacrifice themselves for budgets and buildings. They might do so for traditions and causes. They will always defend the people they know and love. They will defend that which they love, knowing the cost of such a love and they choose to lay down their lives anyway. As Jesus himself said, “No love has anyone greater than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 13) Jesus did not just talk about it. He lived it, died for it and was raised from death after it.
We are still trying to figure out what makes the Church grow in this part of the world. We recognize that there have been changes. Many of the pillars of the Church community are gone now because of changes in their lives; because of their health, the financial situations, family situations and so on. There is, I believe a need to get back to the basics: to teach the revealed faith and to live the lives we have been given in the power of the Spirit who resides within us. There is a real need for us to have genuine compassion for our neighbours and put others first. There is a need to deepen our prayer life so that God can lead us to the places and spaces where he can use us for his cause rather than demanding he take care of our greed and issues. We need to grow up into the mature people of God we are becoming and are meant to be.
And maybe there is no great mystery after all, just a need to develop and live the relationships we have for all they are worth.