Is the Kingdom of God here, or is it something that is coming? For Jesus, it was God’s activity on earth, right now. The word ‘Kingdom’ isn’t the greatest translation for us. It seems like a ‘thing’, a realm that is kind of static, and it is what it is. But the word translated as ‘Kingdom’ is really more active, God’s activity moving among us.
Jesus throws out ideas to give us a taste of what it could be like. The word ‘Parable’ is formed from para (beside) and balleus, like ball, (to throw). He throws out an idea beside an opposite idea, to get us thinking and questioning and wondering.
Gods’ activity among us is like a seed planted by the farmer or gardener. He plants it and it springs up overnight while he is asleep, and branches out and becomes beautiful and full grown. I love this image, because the planter doesn’t plant it, then water it, fertilize it, and go off and work in somewhere else, and it grows. He or she plants it, AND GOES TO SLEEP! The planter has absolutely Nothing to do with the rest of it! God takes over, and sweeps it away, completely out of their hands.
That would grate on the ears of the hearer. “What! What about weeding it? Wouldn’t it get choked out? What about watering it so it doesn’t wither? Did they prepare the ground well beforehand? Aren’t we supposed to be responsible? Who plants something and then neglects it?” We know we need to follow through with our responsibilities. But this person doesn’t, and God reaches out, snatches the situation from underneath him, and takes over, bringing it to fruition. There’s Jesus, throwing two opposite concepts together to tease our brain.
Then the Mustard Seed. We’ve heard this a hundred times. God’s movement among us is like the mustard seed, a tiny tiny seed that the grower plants, and then God takes over and it becomes a huge bush, so big that the birds come and rest in its branches.
The people Jesus was speaking with were Jews. They were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. They would have recognized our first reading from Ezekiel. God cuts off the top of a ‘lofty cedar,’ and replants it to become
“a noble cedar, and under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.”
The cedar was a tree of nobility, used by kings for building, and for religious materials. Jesus was playing around with images. That’s why this is a parable. He uses the same image, but in place of ‘the noble cedar’, he replaces it with the ‘mustard seed’ which is defined in some farming states as a noxious weed. Then Jesus calls it “the Greatest of all shrubs.” The Greatest of all Noxious Weeds. That was the point when people were snorting milk out of their noses.
That’s the Kingdom, the Movement of God. We start it moving. We do our job, what we are supposed to do, but then God takes over, and we can go back to sleep. It’s not up to us. It’s completely out of our control.
This is something we want. It’s not just God’s good idea for the earth, that we are supposed
to work towards some day. Right now, there are over 65 MILLION people displaced from their homes because of war, civil unrest, terror, violence, crushing poverty, and climate change. –
(MPR Morning Edition, and Working Preacher, Luther Theological Seminary)
We have little children separated from their parents and living in foster homes, not knowing if they will ever see each other again, due to Our immigration policies. What does it mean then, that in the Movement of God, all small things will find safety, comfort, and shelter in his branches? What does that mean towards us? We better start working towards it. And, it isn’t about us. It is, and it isn’t. We light the initial spark, and God takes it, like wildfire.
The mighty, noble cedar, and the Greatest of All noxious plants, remind me of Father’s Day. This is what Fathering hopes to do. Create an environment where all can shelter in health under God’s branches. One of my church friends writes articles for her parish newsletter. She wrote
Drs. Without Borders told the story of the migrants from northern Africa fleeing in rubber rafts, rescued from the waters of the Mediterranean Sea by a Doctors Without Borders ship – and then turned away by both Italy and Malta. They are now on their way to Spain.
One doctor told how the migrants suffer from chemical burns. He explained that the rubber rafts are leaky, unstable crafts and these brothers and sisters of ours sit crowded together on the bottom of the raft in a toxic mixture of gasoline and water for hours and hours. Their skin breaks down. They suffer extremely painful second degree burns.”
When I was a little girl, about 8 or 9, my parents bought a pony for our farm. My sisters and brother and I were riding in the barnyard, and my dad was working in the garden across the yard. When I was on him, the pony suddenly started to buck, and I knew I couldn’t hang on. As I was thrown high in the air, I looked over and saw my father running across the yard. As he ran towards the fence, he reached down with one hand on the gate and leaped over it. I was so impressed. I’ll never forget that. His kid was in danger, so he leaped the fence.
How would a father respond, seeing his children sitting in in toxic water for days on end, or babies crying because they were separated from their families, and placed with strangers hundreds of miles away?
We are called to ‘Father’. We Father each other. We Father our friends and relatives. We father the nation. When we try to spread this concept of shelter for the vulnerable, of safety for the threatened, of strength for the weak, a strong voice for the voiceless or kindness towards the wounded, we are fathering. This activity is so important that for thousands of years, we gave the name to God.
Thank you Fathers, and all of you for Fathering. The world has never needed it more. You plant the seed. Plant a lot of them. Then go take a nap. God can do the rest. Amen.