Sunday 17th of June, 2018
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev Loren McGrail, United Church of Christ USA.
Scatter all the Seeds and Become Weeds
Ezekiel 17: 22-24
Mark 4: 26-34
This spring I decided to have a vegetable garden even though I will not get to taste the harvest. I planted green beans, tomatoes, green peppers, even eggplants. I also have rosemary, basil, mint, and louisa growing in abundance.
Truth be told I did not sow seeds but bought little frail heriloom plants from the West Bank. And, I had help from the gardener my landlord employs to clear away the weeds every year in February. I cried when he cut back my kumquat trees and the grape vine —worried they would never grow back. He promised me they would and they have. We cut stalks from my giant geranium and we thrust them into big pots without waiting for roots to grow. With a wink he said they would grow with lots of water and my prayers. They did. He dug with his hands small trenches for each plant and instructed me to add fertilizer once a month, “She needs help,” he said patting the red earth around the little plants.
So I did what he told me to do and now I have a lovely lush green garden and also lots of weeds. They too like the fertilizer and my morning watering.
A few days ago my landlord came and admired the garden and told me his mom would take care of it when I leave. He promised to come and do “deep soaking” for the trees too when it is hot. While speaking he spotted a small sappling growing near the patio. He yanked it out and said it was a dangerous and invasive weed. It was offering shade to my visiting felines I countered wishing he could leave it. Then he said he wanted to cut the blackberry bush down until I convinced him I could make jam from its berries. One person’s weed is another person’s flower or source of food.
I come to these seed parables about the kingdom of God this morning then from the perspective of an amateur gardener who knows that a successful garden takes time and energy to sustain.
Sowing or planting is the easy part. Anyone can scatter seed and have something grow but can it be sustained? Gardening is dirtand back -breaking work if you want a garden free of weeds and pests.
Mark’s parables about the kingdom of heaven being like scattered seeds or about a mustard shrub that grows into a tree doesn’t make sense from my limited gardening experience. If we are the sower, shouldn’t we be more careful in our sowing? Shouldn’t we prepare the ground? Dig it up a bit and air out the soil? Don’t we need to make little holes to place the seeds in instead of just scattering them?
But God scatters. God, the Great Sower, scatters the seeds everywhere on the good and rocky soil alike. Furthermore, God the soil is like grace and accepts all. And rest. Gardeners do not rest. They work in their gardens daily during the growing season. There is no rest. You must keep the little shoots pest and weed free. Jesus is a good story teller but he is clearly not a gardener. And then there is the issue of rest. God rests after he has sowed and we are instructed to do so too. Rest and trust the process. The reign of God can be found in a sower who scatters seeds and knows when to rest or let go, or trust.
The second seed parable is about the undomesticated or wild mustard seed that grows into a giant shrub or small tree able to hold all the creatures of the air. Jesus is consciously, and some would say humorously, playing with the symbolism found in the Jewish scriptures about the importance and significance of trees. He plays with his Jewish listener’s memory of the promise to become cedars and their farmer’s understanding about the invasive mustard bush. They know full well how this wild weed can take over and thus scattered its seeds over their land before it was confiscated by Roman imperial authorities. The lowly mustard shrub became a tool of resistance in an agrarian nonviolent protest.
These seed parables are paired this morning with a Hebrew scripture which talks about trees and another empire. This is the story Jesus is pointing too when he tells his parable about the lowly mustard seed or bush.
Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken; I will accomplish it. -Ezekiel 17:22-24
The prophet Ezekiel is attempting to persuade Israel to stay faithful to God even though they dwell in the shadows of the tall cedars of surrounding empires. He reminds them the Israelites that God will raise them up one day so that they too may produce branches that bear fruit; that they too will become a noble cedar where all the winged creatures can rest or have a home.
Jesus plays off this tree symbolism when he says God’s kingdom is like the lowly mustard shrub, the low tree made high in Ezekiel’s prophesy. Its sheltering branches become a metaphor for political sovereignty based on inclusivity now rather than exclusive power or dominance.
Jesus sowed hope by reminding the persecuted Christians of his day that empire’s high trees will be brought down and the smallest seed will bear fruit for all the birds, the nations of the world.
So dear ones, the kingdom of God is like a tall weed that shelters and feeds others. Are you ready for this kind of kingdom? What part are you playing? Are you the sower who scatters the seeds? Are you the space prepared to hold the seeds? Are you the seeds? Are you the branches? Where are you in these parables?
Listen to these lines from Jan L. Richardson’s Blessing that Holds a Nest in its Branches on how she explores these issues.
that you have been holding
for such a long season now;
that ache in your chest
that goes with you
night and day
in your sleeping,
think of this
not as a mere hollow,
the void left from
the life that has leached out
Think of it like this:
as the space being prepared
for the seed.
Think of it
as your earth that dreams
of the branches
the seed contains.
Think of it
as your heart making ready
to welcome the nest
its branches will hold.
Dear ones, how are you preparing to hold the seed today? Is your earth dreaming about how to be strong branches? How is your heart making ready the welcome of the nest?
The call to action is personal and political. How are we as faithful Christians or a church community extending our branches to protect and shelter those who come to us? How are we extending the reach of our branches to offer nests of safety to the most vulnerable?
Let me focus for a moment on just one group—our children as they are amongst the most vulnerable in our society.
As you know a group of us just came back from Gaza where we met with the Church of Scotland’s partners. We met with workers in the Near East Council of Churches’ women’s clinics who shared with us how difficult it is for women and children in Gaza to get proper health care when medicines like pre-natal care vitamins are barred because they contain small amounts of iron. They told us of how they are doing double duty to provide care for the injured and amputees because the public hospitals have a zero deficit for painkillers and antibiotics. They invited us to meet the children in their psychosocial programs who are learning how to cope with loss through trust games and dance.
In addition to the mistreatment of these children in Gaza, there are children throughout the West Bank who are under constant threat of violence through nightly raids and administrative detention not to mention the threat of having their schools and homes demolished. Pastors John McCullough and John Howard and I went last night to the Bedouin village of Khan al- Amhar to deliver food and offer protective presence to the villagers and their children as they anxiously wait for their tin shacks and tire and mud school to be destroyed to make room for the expansion of another illegal settlement. We ended up not staying because we found another group there ready to spend the night. On the way back holding onto each hands as we crossed the rocky path, I though the branches of the bush hold us too and give us collective strength.
In the United States, over 2,000 immigrant children have been ripped apart from their parents and placed in cages and make shift shelters or tents. In addition, the US has just approved a law that turns away women and children seeking asylum from domestic abuse or gang violence. To add insult to injury, these actions have been justified by a misappropriation of Biblical scripture claiming that the Apostle Paul sanctions this policy of separating children from their parents because Paul, and thus all Christians, believe in the right of law.
As people of faith and conscience, we have a moral responsibility to condemn, rebuke, and act when we see the most vulnerable being oppressed. We are called to stand against the injustice and to stand with or sleep with and guard the oppressed. We are called to life—to scatter our seeds and become like weeds so we can be welcoming shelters, nests for others, homes for God’s extravagant welcome.