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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

I have a riddle for you this morning:


What is stronger than God, more evil than the devil,

poor people have it, rich people don’t need it, and if you eat it, you’ll die? (Repeat)


The answer is: “Nothing.”


Only 17% of Stanford graduates figured out this riddle, but 80% of kindergarteners knew the answer.


Literally, the word parable means “a riddle.” They are stories that leave the listener with the responsibility of figuring out just what they mean. Jesus told more than 40 parables during his ministry, and he only explained one of them to his disciples, so that left the disciples with a lot of figuring out to do.


And then Jesus took the answers with him when he ascended into heaven. So here we are, some 2000 years later, still pondering what Jesus must have meant when he told the stories of the sowing and the Mustard Seed. And Mark concludes this Gospel account with this: “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.”


Well, why didn’t he explain them to us? Why leave us scratching our heads? Maybe he hoped  we would be as smart as those kindergartners and figure it out for ourselves. Perhaps that is why we hear these parables again and again.

Because the more we read them and try to enter their truths, the more they will affect us and gradually mold our understanding of exactly what gems of wisdom they hold for us.


I don’t think we need a Stanford diploma to see that today’s parables are largely about growth. A second lesson comes through the Mustard Seed narrative: sometimes even small deeds can produce greatness. So, I thought I’d share three short stories that illustrate these two themes.


The parish youth group was sorting, folding and packing clothing for a homeless shelter. They made a game of it, trying on items that caught their imaginations, creating costumes and merrily clowning as they worked. One of them felt a lump in the pocket of a worn cardigan sweater. He reached into the pocket and found a little bundle. When he opened it, a gold wedding ring dropped out. On the paper wrapped around the ring was a note written in a shaky hand: “I have no need of this now. I hope it will help you.”


The giddy tone in the room was hushed. The ring glowed as it was passed silently and reverently from one young hand to another. No one joked, nor did anyone try on this unusual offering, left anonymously for a needy stranger. Tenderly, the ring was refolded inside the note. It was secured inside the pocket of the sweater with a strong safety pin; the sweater was then packed off with the other clothing. For the students, the radiance of the ring remained. A small instance of thoughtfulness had made a huge impact.


The Kingdom of God is like the small mustard seed.


A young reporter wanted to get a feel for agriculture, so he called upon a farmer and said, “How's your wheat coming along?” The farmer replied, “I didn't plant any.” “Really?” asked the reporter. “I thought this was supposed to be wheat country.”  “Some say it is,” came the reply, “but I was afraid we might not see enough rain this year.”


“Well, what about your corn? How is it doing?” “Didn't plant corn this year,” the farmer said. “I was afraid of disease.”


“Alfalfa? “No. Afraid the price might drop.”


“Well then,” asked the reporter, “what did you plant?” “Nothing,” the farmer,” said. “I just played it safe.”


And if we do nothing, we'll have the same result.


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.


Melissa Bane Sevier in her book “The Potato Kingdom,” says that God's Kingdom may be more like planting potatoes. You can't really see what's happening until harvest time. But all the while, the thing you planted is developing into something valuable. Invisible, yes, but growing nonetheless.


The kind way you raised your children will probably someday, some way, help to make them into kind people. The justice you work for now may not be harvested for years, even decades. The way you treat someone else will likely come back to you in similar form.

The time you spend in volunteering or study or prayer or family life or your job will make you a better person, and those around you will also benefit.


One day that potato will see the light of day, and when you add the butter and sour cream of experience, the product will be rich and delicious.


The point for us is that wheat, potatoes, corn, alfalfa and the Kingdom of God all grow in hidden, mysterious ways. All growth is really a miraculous work of God and harvest is the outcome that is both gift and miracle.


And we don’t need to be a Stanford graduate to see that.

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