Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
June 13, 2021
Lessons: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are willing to ponder, reflect, and work to understand what Jesus is teaching.
Key Scripture: 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. – Mark 4:33-34
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a parable is “a short, simple story that teaches or explains an idea, especially a moral or religious idea.”
The website Got Questions explains the concept more fully: “A parable is, literally, something ‘cast alongside’ something else. Jesus’ parables were stories that were ‘cast alongside’ a truth in order to illustrate that truth. His parables were teaching aids and can be thought of as extended analogies or inspired comparisons. A common description of a parable is that it is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”
Jesus used parables frequently in his teaching; in fact, there are some 35 parables recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). One signal that a parable will be used is the simile: “The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Okay, that’s all well and good, but why does it matter to us today? What do we need to learn from the parables of Jesus? First of all, Jesus used parables to amplify his teaching, to help seekers grasp a deeper or more difficult truth. Those who weren’t all that interested wouldn’t likely take the time or effort to unpack and ponder the parable. Jesus also taught his disciples plainly in private to make sure they weren’t missing anything. Why? Again, because understanding parables takes some extra work and effort, and Jesus’ disciples weren’t always so focused on that task.
We can hardly blame them. After all, today most of us like teaching that doesn’t require us to put in a lot of extra effort. Just give us the information in clear, concise sound bytes that don’t require us to think and that allow us to easily place ourselves in dualistic positions rather than play around in muddy waters of unknowing and complexity. Unfortunately, one finds this a lot in the modern church. “Just give us the answers already so we can know what we’re supposed to think.”
Parables won’t allow for that. They force us to engage a lesson, to ponder a text, to look at all sides of a story or teaching. They refuse to allow easy, pat answers, but they also illuminate the richness of Jesus’ teaching and the breadth and depth of God’s kingdom now. We all too often want someone to just tell us the answers so that we don’t have to form our faith or wrestle with it. Parables won’t allow us to check our brain at the door. We must engage fully and faithfully to understand the richness and complexity of what God is up to in a particular story.
This week, for example, we have seed parables to describe the Kingdom of God: scattering seed on the ground and it growing and the mustard seed parable. It’s pretty tough to unpack the richness and depth of these two short teachings about God’s kingdom here and now in a 10-15 minute homily/sermon, but it’s even more difficult in most cases to get folks to commit to Bible study outside of worship. Please don’t give up. Once someone encounters the richness of Jesus’ teaching through parables, it’s like an entire new world opens up—a world beyond dualism and using scripture as a cudgel. They will begin to truly see what the kingdom of heaven is like now. Blessings on your faithful preaching, teaching, and nudging.
If you have a farmer in your community, particularly one who practices permaculture and/or regenerative farming, invite them to talk about how they see the kingdom of heaven revealed in the work they do. Consider an interview format, giving them the questions well in advance so that they have time to consider their answers. The work they do with the land, the risks they take, and their stewardship of creation will have much to offer your congregants.
Why not spend an afternoon on a local farm? Learn about what it takes to produce healthy, sustainable produce and livestock. If possible work with the farmer to plan and prepare a farm-to-table meal with communion. Let them see a glimpse of the kingdom in the farmer’s life and work.
This week’s focus verse is Mark 26-27 – [Jesus] 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.
Just how does a seed sprout and grow? To most of us it is pure miracle with a little science thrown in. Give each child a plastic bag in which you have placed a wet paper towel and a few large seeds (pumpkin, watermelon, or squash are good options). Invite the children to tape the plastic bag to a window that gets some sheltered sunlight and watch what happens. Perhaps they will want to draw the changes they see. Once the seeds sprout, they can replant them in cups until they are hardened off and can go in the ground. Invite them to think about how these seeds remind them of God’s kingdom here on earth. For example, how do we grow in our faith? What do the seeds need to grow? What do we need to grow? Invite them to report the progress in a few weeks.
Dear Lord (Dear Lord),
Thank you for loving us (Thank you for loving us). Thank you for showing us what your kingdom is like (Thank you for showing us what your kingdom is like) and for inviting us to watch, listen, and learn (and for inviting us to watch, listen, and learn). Thank you for Jesus and his parables (Thank you for Jesus and his parables) that help us think and grow (that help us think and grow). And let all God’s children say…AMEN!
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Dear church, how does your garden grow? Stewardship of all creation is an important part of the work we do together. Help us to work for a more just use of land and resources and to care deeply for all of your good creation.
Stewardship at Home
Consider reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the story of Kingsolver and her family spending a year on the land eating only locally grown foods and what they could grow themselves. How might the kingdom of heaven be revealed through this experiment? Better yet, gather a few friends and read the book together and discuss.
Have young children at home? Plant a few plants and watch them grow. If you have access to a community garden plot, consider this as a project for your family. Even if all you have is an apartment patio or balcony, you can plant a tomato or a few herb plants and experience the miracle of growing some of your own food. Talk about how this process is like the kingdom of heaven.
2018 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2018/06/how-does-gods-garden-grow/
2012 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/06/growing-season/
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