The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have become parents again, this time, welcoming a girl, Lilibet Diana, into their growing family. Like all doting parents, they no doubt have high hopes for their new-born daughter, as they do their son, young Archie. I am sure all fair-minded people share their joy as well as their expectations for their children as they grow. However, as we all know, sometimes our children do not turn out the way we envisage, despite our best efforts
This is reminiscent of the farmer that Jesus mentions in his parable. There is little doubt that when planting the seeds, the farmer expected efficacious growth. No sensible person would consider less – or why else bother! Despite this, regardless of the skills or experience that a farmer may have, ‘success’ is not always guaranteed, as there can be a plethora of factors that hinder growth.
These two parables are some of the most difficult to grasp in some respects. The word seed is not used in the Greek - in the first parable it’s a spore and in the second it’s a grain. In the first parable the spores are not scattered but thrown hard away from the farmer (ek ballo). It’s almost like Jesus is throwing something covered in mould and fungus away from him to discard it. In the parable of the mustard seed, mustard doesn’t grow til it becomes a shrub with large branches - it’s a small shrub - and if birds nested in it, it would be squashed and as to shade? Well maybe to caterpillars…
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. The earth produces of itself… I love mushrooms. I was given a mushroom growing kit for Christmas one year. All I needed to do was dampen the compost in the box and wait. Without any further input from me, a few days later mushrooms! I needed to harvest and enjoy but then save the microscopic spores from one mushroom placed upside down and then shake them onto the soil for another crop. I had no idea how many mushrooms would grow or where in the container they would appear, but within a few days - they did!
Jesus says that the kingdom of God, God’s reign is like this. It appears without any input from us. God acts where God wills. This isn’t something you will hear those who are encouraging us to grow our churches numerically and spiritually speak about much. It’s the main reason why in my Chronicle piece recently and in my email to you I talked about us needing to spend time praying as we move out of the worst of this pandemic. If our churches are to flourish we need to ask God - the kingdom is revealed where He wills it. In the weeks that lie ahead we will continue to use our parish prayer - but I want us to pray for growth in our intercessions and also to meet together in small groups to pray and I’ll say more about that in a few weeks and ask for your input too.
Jesus said the Kingdom of God 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… I was at a couple of meetings this week hearing about how to build communities up post COVID. It was good to hear of small initiatives like ours where a team of folk have used phonecalls to keep in touch with people to bigger projects where both supermarkets and closed pubs have worked together to provide shopping and hot food for people. Many of the projects started small - phoning a few people, making a handful of meals, and grew in unexpected ways when the right people’s paths crossed.
Mustard Jesus. What sort? One grows into a sturdy shrub - is he referencing the passage we heard as our first reading? Israel as home for the peoples and nations? Or is he talking about wild mustard, which puts out rhyzomes underground and was a first century weed that filled fields unnoticed.
Whichever sort of mustard Jesus means, as I said in my recent piece, we need to prepare as we move out of the worst of this pandemic to gather people together for fun; to renew older friendships and make new ones - social events, coffee mornings, afternoon teas, in the church, in the grounds in our homes. We need to intentionally build community and be at the heart of doing that. I need your help to make that happen. It’s daunting and maybe a bit frightening but I believe it’s key to our thriving.
A shrewd first-century farmer may not be able to address the whole field to tackle the wild mustard, but if they notice where it first grows then they can work there. We need to do the same and look at ways of using our human and financial resources well going forward - we may not be able to do all we once did, so how do we best use what and who is available to grow the kingdom - what sort of a church do we want to be and what are our priorities going forward? And again I’ll say more about that in a few weeks and ask for your input too.
Farming was and is an uncertain task and you can live a bit hand to mouth, not sure you can make it through the months ahead. With some shrewd decision-making and a bit of luck, many farmers do. God I believe is asking similar of us as we move cautiously out of the pandemic. We may feel uncertain maybe daunted at what’s ahead, but I believe with some intentional and intensive praying; some planned for playing together with others in our community and shrewd planning for the present and future, the kingdom can and will be revealed and God will reign in visible ways afresh.