Read Mark 4:26-34

Christians are always concerned about the Kingdom of God and how long it seems to be taking to arrive. Do you suppose it has always been this way?  Could it be that Christians in the West have become so conditioned for instant gratification that they more impatient for the Kingdom of God than their predecessors?  The anecdotal evidence is that every generation of Christian from the beginning have been anxious for the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom just read Acts 1:6-7.

In North America, denominations are very focused on the Kingdom of God albeit in very separate ways.  The more conservative a Church / Christian the more focused they seem to be on teasing out the signs of the imminent return of Christ. Like “Preppers” storing up for the downfall of civilization, their bug-out-bag is their zippered, handle-covered Bible and instead of a sign indicating they reserve the right to shoot trespassers they warn the trespassers that will be “left behind” that their cars will be driver-less in the event of the rapture through a thoughtfully placed bumper sticker.  Their counterparts in the more liberal arms of the Church have seemed to forgotten that Jesus promised to return at all, focused instead on doing all this hard kingdom work themselves through political rallies for the justice issue du jour. In case your curious they often decorate their car with bumper stickers encouraging coexisting religious faiths / sects as though the true arrival of the Kingdom of God will look like a joint summit meeting.

These two short parables in Mark suggest where the Kingdom of God is concerned patience is required.

Jesus told them that the Kingdom of God was like a man who cast seed on the ground.  At first we may naturally think of the parable of the sower we recently looked at but here the emphasis is not on the action of the sower but rather on the seed itself.  Jesus says the  Kingdom of God is like the person who casts seed on the ground and while they sleep the seed sprouts and grows “– HOW; he himself does not know“.

Maybe this parable has lost some of its strength in a world where so many people have looked at pictures of a bean sprout plant growing in schoolbooks.  There are even a select few people who really do understand how it all works.  But it seems the point Jesus is trying to make in his pre-scientific method world is that it just happens over time and it seems almost magical.

Coupled with the Parable of the Sower, we have been given some simple instructions. We are to scatter the Word of God and then let the Word do its thing.   Apparently even while we are sleeping the Word of God is at working sprouting and developing into a great big crop ready for harvest.  When the harvest comes there is more work to be done.

This parable although short works on two levels.  On the one hand it is a reminder to Christians that their efforts do not end with the sharing of the gospel but that they also need to be ready when the harvest is evident.  So if you have been demonstrating the truth of Christ through words and actions you need to be ready when the one with whom you share is ready for the next step be it accepting Christ, attending worship, or being baptized.  The parable also works on the cosmic level.  Jesus will return when the harvest is ripe some day in the future.  Patience fellow Christ-followers, the Ancient of Days, like a seasoned farmer, will know the right time.

The second parable is another call to patience.  Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a Mustard Seed though it is small it grows into a tremendous plant.  There are some critics out their that mock Jesus because as they point out  the mustard seed is neither the smallest seed nor is the mature plant the largest on Earth.  C. S. Lewis once commented that it was incumbent upon us to read the scriptures like adults and this is the sort of ill-conceived criticism he was referencing.

Allow me to update the parable imagery so that anyone can understand Jesus’ point.

 

Sequoia-Seed-on-Fingertip

Then Jesus said, “How can we picture the Kingdom of God or to what can we compare it to? The Kingdom of God is like this seed on my finger that breaks off from the seed pod on the ground and although it is so tiny and insignificant grows to become an awesome and amazing tree like this: 

sequoia

a tree so large that it can’t be captured on film in its entirety and it would take more than a classroom of children to encircle its trunk. 

The point of the parable isn’t about the literalness of the seed or the plant, but the fact that the Kingdom is growing all the time, slowly, unseen into something massive and beautiful and only God knows when the harvest will be complete.

The mustard seed, or Sequoia seed, is Jesus.  A poor builder, a crucified criminal, in the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire two millennia ago couldn’t be more small and insignificant; yet, the 2.2 billion Christians alive today all trace their lineage back to this one man and his Resurrection around 34 C.E. (AD).  Not only that, but the estimated 13 billion confessing Christians of the past 2000 years — a Giant Sequoia indeed!

And the Kingdom of God is still growing at its own divinely ordained pace until that promised day when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is the LORD to the glory of God.

What to do between now and then?  Well, one don’t smugly look for signs of THE RETURN and forget to do the work of sowing the gospel.  To do so is to risk a self-righteousness that awaits the judgment of the neighbor without practicing the love of neighbor God requires.  Two, don’t go about trying to rework the whole world into the Kingdom of God as you think it should look because the outcome is guaranteed to be a vision of justice viewed through sinful eyes.  Third, focus on living out Romans 12:9- 13:11  as best you can individually and collectively seeking guidance always first and foremost through scripture, prayer, and confession.

And be patient for the Kingdom is both growing and coming.

Questions:

  • Do you pray regularly for the return of Christ? If so, why? If not, why?
  • When you pray for THE RETURN are you secretly hoping that it come so others will face their comeuppance? 
  • What is the kingdom working balance in your life between prayer and study and good works? 
  • Do you read the Bible regularly? Pray daily? Are you looking for the chance to spread the gospel? 
  • How are you harvesting the growth that is ready until THE RETURN?
  • What are you or your faith community doing to serve God by serving others?

As always the above reflection is given freely. If you choose to share it in a group bible study of your own or as a devotional before a small group meeting, etc. please let folks know where you got it.  It is written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is just trying to figure out the road ahead.

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