The kingdom of God is as if…
The gospel text for June 17, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, is Mark 4:26-34. I’ll reprint the full text (NRSV) here…
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26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
30 He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
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When we had our Celebration of Ministry event a week ago, Pastor Eric Krushel (Missions Director for BC Synod) spoke words about our congregation that noted how the community of All Saints has been like a mustard seed – being small, having influence, never growing enormous (“the greatest of all shrubs” is the description in the passage from Mark!) but having significance.
Whenever we hear Jesus speak of ‘the kingdom of God,’ we’re wise to hear it as him speaking in ways that challenge the empire and systems that oppress and lead to injustice (scholar, John Dominic Crossan, has written and lectured extensively on this). It may also be helpful to consider that we are seed (or treasure, or prodigal father – depending on the parable) and without us, the kingdom of God can not take root; like the saying attributed to Augustine: “without god we cannot without us god will not.”
When we hear Jesus describe the kingdom of God as a mustard seed – and even something that does not grow into a massive, imposing thing – we might take from that an image for how our faith might be in the midst of other cultures, faiths, traditions, peoples. We’re not to dominate, but to offer life, hope, compassion. We’re to be a seed in the world. Even as a seed, we may only be the smallest, and yet our life together can have influence and take root and be a place for others to find rest, refuge, and welcome.