9 February 2020 Living With Mystery and Wonder Martin Baker
1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold." 9 And he said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that "they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.' "
13 And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."
21 He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!" 24 And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."
26 He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But 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? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet 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; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Let us Pray…
I’ve talked about my very average ability to catch fish many times now. And I don’t want to talk about that today. People, and especially people I am rather fond of, see me return from fishing and ask that question, ‘how did it go?’ And when they ask that question they are really asking something quite specific. They are asking ‘did I catch anything?’ And more specifically did I catch something edible something that we might actually have for dinner. Or perhaps, unkindly, was the justification for all that time and money spent on rod and kayak justified by the amount of fish you were able to provide?
And part of the question ‘how did it go’, creates something of inner tension. I might say it was great being out there. Saw the sun rise. Saw the gannets dive a couple of dolphins in the distance. But in truth, if I had known beforehand that I was not going to catch any fish, wouldn’t I have preferred to stay in bed and enjoyed that morning coffee?
Also, when people ask the question on my return from fishing how it did go? They are not asking my personal journey. Did I come to some deep and profound and new spiritual understanding, they are not asking did I fully immerse myself in some commune with nature. I would quite like them to mean that, when they asked that question, but really they, as I said, simply want to know if I caught any fish.
The same question can be a simple, how are you? And the answer can be simple; I’m fine how are you? or it can be rather less simple. Well I’m pleased you asked that question. I started the morning….
Questions and answers are so much part of our lives. Asked and answered in so many different ways. I’m talking about this today because often the questions asked of Jesus are the ones where people are expecting one kind of answer. Who has committed the greater sin, who will sit at the right hand and left of the father? When will the world as we know it come to an end?
And almost always it seems that Jesus gives an answer that contains some element of mystery about it. No one knows the times or the seasons, you who have not sinned cast the first stone. Most often Jesus as the teacher, answers the questions with parables and almost never speaks in a way that says yes I’ve caught 4 fish or next Tuesday at 3 pm or I’m fine.
Jesus says something today, in the midst of all these parables he is telling he says 24 And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken
I don’t think anyone could listen to that and say, oh, I’m pleased that’s all sorted out then! In fact to me it sounds like a strange thing for Jesus to say.
And so whenever we come across these kinds of verses, the verses that have this strangeness about them, the verses that have this mystery about them, we need to stand back from them a bit. And say how does this relate to other verses. Jesus’ concern for the poor for instance. Blessed be the poor in spirit for there’s is the kingdom of heaven. It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. He has raised up the poor and sent the rich away empty.
25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken
So when we are not sure what is being said, or where there seems to be a sense of mystery, quite often it means that Jesus is saying something really tough and challenging for us.
So today, all those promises we see about wellbeing associated with the accumulation of things, all the beliefs around the fulfilment of consuming more and more, our actions motived by fear or superstition or greed. These are the nothing things. This is what Jesus is talking about when he talks about those who have nothing. Once we have owned, accumulated, consumed, we discover at the end there is nothing that lasts. And even these things that we have surrounded ourselves with, these things that have been false gods, will be taken away. On that day. That day that we all face.
Remember the parable Jesus tells about the rich fool - I will pull down my barns, he says, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared—whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Jesus teaches this morning that the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing
So as we hear Jesus say 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken.
We find ourselves asking at the end a question for ourselves - am I the one who has nothing or am I the one who has abundance, has something of lasting and endless eternal value? Something that is added to and grows over time?
"The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
Right through the Gospel of Mark Jesus calls us to see something which others don’t see. He calls this ‘the kingdom of God’. A leper is healed by Jesus, and rather than see this healing as some sort of magic, Jesus says the kingdom of God has come near. Someone who is possessed and out of control is freed from their demons and restored to their community and Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God. And Jesus prepares his disciples for his death and speaks about the kingdom and we see the son of God crucified and we are confronted with the greatest mystery all. To look on the cross and see the Kingdom of God. That God’s kingdom, love not manifest in military conquest or the accumulation of great wealth or richness but present in sacrifice in giving to another in service in death on the cross. And once again we are being told today that the kingdom of God has come near. Can you see that?
A terrible virus sweeps through a nation. A terrible fire consumes trees and animals and homes. We experience loss ourselves. And all these things have a mystery, a question about them. A why question. A how question.
And we are like a farmer 2000 years ago who does not know how. The planting. The seed. The yeast. The mustard seed. Transforming what it is around.
But what we do know is this. The kingdom of God. It is not easy to see sometimes. To understand. But we have this gift. We can open ourselves to God’s forgiveness and grace. We can hear Jesus call each of us, in the midst of all of this, to follow him.
Today and every day. This morning and every morning we can ask we, can pray for help as we seek to follow Jesus. As we seek ourselves to fulfil our calling to live in this new kingdom.
We can say even at times when we have questions which we struggle to ask let alone answer, in our doubt, uncertainty even within the mystery of life, we can say to the risen saviour, my Lord and my God.
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