The following is a reflection on Mark 4:26-34, the Gospel lesson properly appointed for Proper 6B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
If you had to describe the sight of the ocean, to someone who’d never seen it before, where would you even start?
If you had to describe the mountains to someone who has never left the plains, how would you begin? How would you begin to convey the magnificence of Van Gogh’s Starry Night to someone who’s never set foot in a museum?
If you were to attempt to describe snow to a little boy in Haiti…how would you do that?
I might start with ice, that maybe he once had in a drink. And how snow is like that ice, just much, much smaller, and that it comes down like the rain.
I’m writing this reflection on one of the regular sermon-retreats that I make in New York City. It’s a glorious day—after a string of cold and rainy weeks. I just took my shoes off and walked across Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park.
How can I describe that experience? I could talk about the warm grass. How thick and lush it is. How my feet have been cooped up in shoes all winter long, and how incredible it feels to let them loose! I could describe a park that’s alive, and how there’s music, and people throwing frisbees, and how because schools haven’t let out for the day yet it’s still kind of quiet.
But, that’s still a totally inadequate description.
Trust me, it’s fabulous.
So, how does Jesus talk about, and describe the Kingdom of God? In Mark chapter four he doesn’t use sweeping, grandiose language. He doesn’t lift our eyes to the hills and the stars.
He uses metaphor that’s so incredibly simple: the kingdom of God is like a seed that is sown and grows up for harvest. It’s organic. It grows. It needs fed. It comes to completion at a set time. It has a life cycle. It feeds others. It brings life.
The Kingdom of God is like the mustard seed, which while it’s so small, can grow up into a grand shrub. It’s mysterious. It shatters expectations. It looks like it packs a small punch, but then it surprises. Looks are deceiving.
I love how down-to-earth Jesus is here. Using agricultural metaphor, he left almost no one guessing in that day. He wasn’t intent on dazzling people.
He was earthy. And gritty. Even when talking about the Kingdom of Light and Life.
I think that preaches. I think we need to hear that. And preach that.
Sometimes when talking about God, we try too hard. Always swinging for the cheap seats. Shock and awe. Makin’ them laugh and makin’ them cry.
We put pressure on ourselves—or others—that each and every sermon needs to set people on fire. That every piece of music needs to be profoundly moving. That the kids need their attention kept, and the youth need to engaged enough that they stop texting each other, and that the old-timers need assuaged and comforted.
And, some of that is good. There’s a time and place for high-drama. There are those moments where you need to transport the church to another level altogether.
But, here in Mark, I think we’re challenged not only to learn about the Kingdom of God, but how to communicate it. In word and action.
Sometimes you don’t need to dazzle. Sometimes we need to get earthy.
Sometimes we don’t need to look to the heavens, but we need to look down to the dirt. And shrubbery.
There’s an exquisite elegance in simplicity. Simplicity which surprises. Shocks.
And shatters all expectations.
Like the Kingdom of God.