Seed and Harvest

Passage: Mark 4:26-34
Date: June 17, 2018
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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Who remembers preschool or kindergarten, and cleaning out an empty half-pint milk carton, cutting off the top, pouring dirt into it, and then burying a lima bean in the dark soil? Do you remember looking at the dirt doubtfully? Nothing interesting is visible for a while. We water the dirt. Now, we have a cup of mud. Not very inspiring. We water it daily for about a week or so. And then, suddenly, a bit of white appears. And then, marvel of marvels: A green sprout emerges. Curled leaves unfurl.

We know that soil, sunshine, water, and air make seeds grow into plants. But knowing the scientific details does not capture the mystery and wonder of seeing new life spring out of the isolation and darkness of what was buried.

This is a message for our time. We can’t see what is happening under the surface. What we see is division, isolation, and darkness. Looking for signs of new life may seem foolish. But God has not abandoned us, despite outward appearances.

This Father’s Day, I’m remembering Marco Antonio Muñoz, the 31-year-old immigrant father separated from his child and wife at our nation’s border. He took his own life while in detention in Texas. It’s not difficult to imagine his despair. And what about the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade? They were both successful, talented, attractive, and powerful. What happened? Was it financial problems? Health problems? Marital? Depression? Bipolar? Alcoholism?

These deaths can lead to our own dark thoughts. We feel powerless. What can we do to ease suffering? To bring justice and healing? To fix what is broken? 

Dr. Mark Goulston is the author of Just Listen, which is about helping others to “feel felt.” He has spent over twenty-five years as a suicide-specializing psychiatrist. He concluded that depression, health, financial, and marital problems contribute to suicide, but there are many people with those conditions that don’t die by suicide. There is one thing they all have in common. That one thing is despair. Despair—as in feeling unpaired with reasons to live, unpaired with a future that is worth living because all efforts to lessen pain have not worked, despair because of feeling hopeless, powerless, useless, worthless, and meaningless. Maybe you have felt that at some point. I am telling you, and I am telling us, today: You are loved. No matter how weary you may be right now, God is with us.

I heard a pastor say this is a good time to be in the meaning business. And friends, I would say, this is a good time to be in the love business. And by love, I mean engaging with others. Vigorously listening, seeing, serving, caring, doing everything in our power to radiate kindness, compassion, and sacrifice for the sake of justice. Right now, maybe all we can see is the dirt, but life is happening and will emerge.

The parables we read today suggest that something larger than us, something we can’t comprehend or predict, is at work. That is the essence of the kingdom of God. These parables suggest that despite unpromising beginnings, God is carrying on beginnings to completion. We have faith in what we can’t yet see. Our job is to take God seriously. The infinitely great is already active in the infinitely small.

Jesus preached this. He had an unwavering trust that God’s hour is approaching. He showed that out of nothing, ignoring all failure, God will complete what has begun.

Dr. Goulston, the psychiatrist specializing in helping those who are suicidal, wrote: “I think the reason my approach was effective with suicidal people was that instead of giving them treatments and procedures that would deal with my own anxiety, I learned to listen into their eyes for their hurt, fear, anger, pain, guilt, and shame. When I did that, they didn’t have to feel so alone in hell. When they felt less alone, the suffering they couldn’t deal with became pain they could. When the suffering moved to pain, they began to cry and feel relief. They could step back from the impulse to annihilate themselves.” This kind of empathy may be helpful in healing the trauma caused by separating parents from their children.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently implemented a new policy of separating children from their parents as a deterrent to illegal immigration. He justified the policy by quoting the apostle Paul in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have by instituted by God.”Today, I need to give to some context to that passage.

Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were trying to survive in a hostile environment. Those Christians were not the civil leaders at that time. They were being martyred for their faith by the Roman emperor. For those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord, I believe there is a time and a way to obey, and a time and a way to disobey. I hope to address that more fully in a future sermon. But for now, let’s put that scripture he quoted in the larger context of Romans 12 and 13.Paul also wrote: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. . . Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” 

Friends, this is a good time to be in the love business. We must imagine being in the shoes of the children and parents who are being separated, not knowing if they will every lay eyes on one another again. I believe the Gospel calls us to see them, to listen, to act as we are able, to the greatest extent of our powers—to change this cruelty and to let the seed of justice grow.

The unacceptable does not become more acceptable if it is accepted by increments. It’s only easier to swallow and more apt to wear us down. Choose what you need to do to nurture the seeds of love. Hold onto what motivates you to act. Serve meals, make calls, march, donate, register voters. The seeds are planted. We may not yet see the sprouting hope, but it’s no time to tune out, no time to shrink back or despair.

Sometimes we are watering what appears to be a carton full of dirt. But, God is carrying on God’s beginnings to completion. It’s a matter of having faith in what we cannot yet see. What is necessary? We must take God seriously. To proclaim Jesus, with trust.

What seed needs some water and sunshine in your life?

Sing: Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days have lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.