Ezekiel 17:22-24 Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 Mark 4:26-34
The closing verse of today’s gospel says, “Jesus did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” There is a reason for using for using parables and stories to teach us about God and what God wants of and for us. It is quite simply that stories and images evoke feelings and inspire our imaginations.
There is a prayer, a dismissal, in our prayer book used at the conclusion of Morning and Evening Prayer that reads, “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.” This is part of a prayer found in Ephesians. I love how the Apostle Paul says in this prayer that God, working in us, “can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” Not only do I believe that with God’s help we can achieve more than we can imagine, I believe that God is more than we can imagine.
Parables are needed to talk about God for this reason. Whenever we speak of the nature of God, we speak from what we know – and God is so much more. Thus, Jesus uses parables and explains them to his disciples. Jesus does not use parables with others and tell his disciples something different – he uses the parables for us to begin to imagine something greater – something beyond our current situation. He then continues to teach his disciples, because these parables do stir their imaginations and, in private, they ask questions.
There is a teaching series which focuses on the parables which begin with “the kingdom of God is like – or “as if” in today’s lesson. Jesus cannot tell us what the kingdom of God is, because it is beyond our comprehension. The series uses these statements and parables to open a discussion among the disciples of Jesus.
One thing we know is that Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s kingdom may be more than we can imagine here on earth, but we are to pray for it and trust that God, working in us, can achieve more than we can ask or imagine.
In one of my past lives, I was lobbying for improved access to care for children who needed continuous medical care at home. The person that headed the State’s Medicaid program was working to decrease the amount of money spent in the care of these children. Among the parents and providers he was demonized. I, too, began to see him as evil, so I started praying for him each morning. What happened next, was not something I had asked for or imagined. I’d like to say that he changed and that we achieved what we were trying to accomplish, but that is not what happened. What changed was me. The angry and frustration that was within me was replaced with care and compassion for him as a person. I was able to understand that we had different opinions about what was needed – very different opinions, mind you. But I began to see that he, too, was a beloved child of God.
We live in a time when the divides seem insurmountable. We are quick to categorize people as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, caring and compassionate or cold and unfeeling. This categorizing of people leads us to the believe that people are with us, or against us. What actually separates us is our beliefs about what is best for our country, our state, our community, or our lives together. I do not believe that for us to achieve God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven, we need to all be the same or agreed on everything. We need to be willing to truly listen to others, we need to appreciate and respect our differences, and we need to be willing to compromise. We need to love one another and see each other as children of the same God.
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God,” Jesus says, “or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 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.” I love this parable because it reminds us that even the smallest change can lead to great things.
My prayers changed me and how I view others. It enabled me to love my neighbor even when I strongly disagreed with the policies he was putting into place. I never stopped lobbying against those policies, but I no longer viewed him as evil. The parable of the mustard seed speaks to me about God’s love and what it can accomplish – which is far more than we can ask or imagine.
God’s love can help us grow as a church into the greatest of all places – a place where others might make this their home and be shaded from the evil that threatens to divide us – one from another.
Let us pray.
Loving God, fill us with your Spirit that we might find common ground and grow together to make a difference in this community and help bring about your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We offer our prayers to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.