Sunday, January 19, 2020
Pastor Intern Teleen Saunders
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
Now, I don’t know about you. But it’s on days like this where I start to think about spring. Liturgically, we are in the second Sunday of Epiphany where we will stay until Ash Wednesday. Another name for this season is ordinal time because we are counting the Sundays with ordinal numbers: the second Sunday of Epiphany… the third Sunday of Epiphany and so on. You may notice that the color on Pastor Torgerson, on the altar, and here on the pulpit is green. This time of Epiphany, this ordinary time is a time of growth, a time of change. It’s a time to draw closer to the Christ child with an open mind for insights and discovery. The days are getting longer, and we know that even in Minnesota spring will come. The green around our sanctuary reminds us of little tiny sprouts ready to burst onto the scene. There is just something about new life and the patterns of the seasons that tie us to God’s creation with a sense of timelessness. Here we are, two-thousand years out from our Gospel text and the act of planting seeds is just as relevant for us today as it was for Jesus and the disciples. Anyone who has bitten into an apple knows what a seed is. Anyone who has eaten a piece of bread knows how important grain is. And yet, the story in today’s Gospel brings confusion.
To be honest, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the unsympathetic and frustrated tone Jesus takes with the disciples in Mark’s Gospel. “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all of the parables?” I imagine the disciples felt rather embarrassed at their lack of comprehension. Perhaps they wanted to pretend to understand, “Yeah, I get this. Everybody gets this.” But Jesus doesn’t wait for the lightbulb moment. He knows the disciples are confused so he goes on to explain the parable to them, bit by bit.
Later on in Mark we learn that this becomes a pattern: Jesus teaches the crowds with parables, the disciples are confused, and Jesus explains things to them in private. But this doesn’t seem quite unfair. The disciples get a private lesson at the foot of Christ. The crowd gets a riddle wrapped up in a parable. And in this whole scenario I have to wonder, “Am I one of the insiders? Or am I on the outside?” No one has a perfect understanding of scripture except Christ alone.
Jesus was a master of parables. The word “parable” means to cast something alongside something else. Like a combination of fable and metaphor, parables were commonly used to paint a picture of an unseen reality. And here Christ is using an earthly image to disclose the divine secret of the Kingdom of God. Parables are never straightforward but are purposely complex in order for the truth to transcend space and time. Parables are complex because our lives are complex. They lend themselves to multiple meanings, where each person can linger over a different dimension at any given time. Parables can be frustrating because we want straight forward solutions and concrete insights. But what we often end up with are more questions than answers. We end up on the outside.
But maybe, in a twist, this is just where Jesus wants us. Because when we have all the answers, we stop. We stop seeking, we stop yearning, we stop growing. And anything that is not growing is dead. So, faith is like a seed. It needs attention. It needs nurturing. It needs good soil. And when we, like the disciples, do not comprehend, the best place to be is at the foot of Christ where we find ourselves on the inside, in the good soil.
We all have times in our lives where seeds aren’t landing quite right. There are times when our faith is not a priority. There are times when we let doubt, fear, or indifference rip out our Christian roots. And there are times when the world and deceitfulness can bend and twist the true gospel message. And we would like to say, “Yeah, I get this.” When in actuality, the troubles and pain of the world are too much and our faith withers away.
Tomorrow, we as a nation will once again recognize the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life work has some interesting parallels to our Gospel reading. Like Jesus, Dr. King addressed large crowds hoping to sow seeds of change. Both men describe a new reality and both men depend on the crowd to help bring about this change. Dr. King prophetically voiced,
“I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
Are we there yet? Have our seeds bloomed? Do we finally comprehend? No.
- Yesterday’s StarTribune reported that Minnesota prisons send black and Native American people to solitary confinement at disproportionately higher rates than whites.
- 8,000 of the poorest Minnesotans are at risk of losing food assistance benefits.
- And 1,500 American children are killed by guns each year.
I could go on and on. The teachings of Jesus in Mark 4 hint at the Kingdom of God just like Dr. King talks about the promised land of the Old Testament. A vision of what should be, a vision of change and growth.
We all struggle at times. Why did I lose my job? Why do I have this diagnosis? Why am I so depressed? But it’s here in the hiddenness of the soil where we most actively engage with the gospel. It is here, in our desperation, where we see glimpses of the Kingdom of God. It is here where the parable shows its unseen reality as we listen with open minds and curious hearts. The more work we do, the more effective it will be. Christ doesn’t want our passiveness. Christ wants us to engage within the perfectly limited boundaries of our humanness even on our worst days. Change means noticing the injustice, the pain, the violence, the intolerance, the fear, and the turmoil. Change means sitting at the feet of Christ seeking guidance. Change means believing that even a wildflower can sprout from a crack in the sidewalk. It’s O.K. to not understand. The trick is to keep seeking. Keep wondering. Keep following Jesus.
The parables that make us aware of our own inability to comprehend also become the ways in which God discloses. So, go ahead and question. Questions produce deep roots. Deep roots produce faith. And faith will bear fruit. This is how God reveals the kingdom. And when we kneel at the foot of Jesus, we too are on the inside. We too can get a glimpse of springtime and the promised land. And we too will sprout like a seed in good soil to change and grow in our living faith.
 Skinner, Matthew L. A Companion to the New Testament. Baylor University Press, 2017.
 Mannix, Andy, and Jeff Hargarten. “Minorities Sent to Solitary More Often.” StarTribune, 18 Jan. 2020, pp. A1–A10.