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Frightened Farming: Being Brave Enough to Sow the Seeds of the Kingdom

Reading: Mark 4:26-34

May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When I was out in South Africa, I was only 19 and working in a very posh private school in the centre of Johannesburg. Being only 19 I had no idea about managing the behaviour of the children and it took me a while, naturally, to find my feet. I remember one little child of about 9 who was just hard work, because he just couldn’t quite grasp the concept that he needed to stay sat down at his desk. Instead he would often wonder around given even half a chance with the sole aim of sowing discord and chaos around the classroom. If you have ever had to supervise children, you will know exactly the kind of kid I mean.  Anyway, during one of their lessons, I was busy writing on the blackboard and this child came up and decided he would also write on the blackboard. You see one of the problems in South Africa or at least in the bit I lived in, was that in the dry season it was really dry, and without any moisture in the air, static electricity can build up and in my thick soled shoes I was forever getting zapped as I touched anything metal. As I moved my hand to grab the piece of chalk from this angel that only a mother could love, I unintentionally zapped this boy with a static shock I had built up during the course of the lesson. He dropped the chalk and looked at me in amazement saying ‘You shot electricity at me, how did you do that?’ to which I replied ‘if you don’t sit down on your chair and stay there I am going to zap you again!’ waggling my finger menacingly. He retreated to his chair and began to share with his friends that I had the magic power to electrocute children who misbehaved. This was a rumour I was happy to let spread! I was meant to be teaching them about Abraham, but instead had managed to convince this boy that I was Thor!

Of course, I can’t electrocute anyone and zapping that boy certainly wasn’t a choice. Yet in his mind, he felt that somehow, I was responsible, that it was a power that I could control when in reality it was nothing of the sort. This boy had assigned blame over something that was not in anyone’s control.

So often, particularly in churches, we can get obsessed over trying to force success, assuming that it is within our own power to make sure that the church is growing, that it is somehow our fault if things aren’t going as well as we might hope or imagine. This is true in our own walk with Christ as well. How often do we think, ‘I can’t do what that Christian is doing’. A bit like the boy assumed that I had magic powers, we can believe that there is some magic formula that will bring more people in or increase our own faith or whatever. When these things fail or don’t go as well as we had hoped, we can begin to blame ourselves or worse still, others. This can lead a church community or an individual follower of Jesus to being too afraid to try because of questions like ‘what if it fails?’ or ‘what if we are not good enough?’

In our reading today, we heard two parables about seeds, about seeds that are being compared to the Kingdom of God but from very different angles. In the first we hear about someone scattering seeds and in the second we hear about the growth of a mustard seed. In them Jesus is telling us something quite important about the Kingdom of God, and its growth.

In the first of these parables Jesus mentions that the Kingdom of God is like someone scattering seeds and after they are scattered ‘the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

Notice how the sower in this parable just does two things. He sows and finally he reaps. The growth of the seeds, the growth of the kingdom really isn’t in his control, at all. It would a be strange farmer who would blame himself if the weather turned bad and the seeds didn’t grow wouldn’t it? It would also be strange wouldn’t it, if the farmer was to sow the seeds on Monday and go out in disappointment on Tuesday and not see the seeds grow blaming himself for not making them grow. The farmer has to wait and trust that the seeds will grow when the grow. It is all rather out of his power.

In the same way, when we do something in the name of Christ in church or we step out in faith and we don’t see immediate results, it can be tempting to blame ourselves or feel that somehow we are poor Christians because there hasn’t been the results that we had hoped for. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is God who gives the growth. At the opposite end we can convince ourselves that it is too risky to do anything or to develop our own discipleship, which is daft of course, a bit like the farmer refusing to scatter seeds at all and wondering why he is hungry. God always gives the growth. Always. There is no exception to this – true growth of the kingdom is a miracle of God. Our job is to sow. And to wait for the harvest.

The second parable deals with another fear. Many times people can think we have nothing to offer the Lord, we are not able bodied enough, we are not confident enough, we are not young enough, we are not educated enough. I know because these sometimes mirror my own thoughts. But we don’t have to have the biggest faith or ability or courage. No, even if all we can sow is the tiniest mustard seed, in whatever small way we share with others about the kingdom of God, or learn ourselves about the Kingdom of God, God can take that mustard see and from it grow a tree of faith for the kingdom that will become the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ We may not see the results, but frankly that is not our concern. We are to be sowers of seed, sowers of the word, sowers of the love of God. The growth is up to God.

We don’t have to force success as church all we need to do is sow seeds and stop pretending that we have the power to build up the church ourselves. Its not within our power, it is within God’s. That is why the most effective tool for growth is prayer. I don’t suggest prayer for everything as some sort of extra piety, but because in prayer we are explicitly trusting God to lead us into growth in the way He wants not in our own strength.

We cannot hope to grow our own faith or our church in our own strength or power. But what we can do is we can sow. Being bold enough to plant those mustard seeds that bring growth. Being bold enough to trust God to be God. Being bold enough to start everything we do on our knees. So however you are called, pray and go out and sow, and lets take the mustard seeds of faith we have been entrusted with and ask the Lord to grow a forest for the Kingdom. Amen  

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