Pleasant Valley Sunday
A sermon given by C. Andrew Doyle on June 17, 2018 at St. Francis, College Station. You can listen to the sermon here.
If we opened up the Gospel of Mark and began in the beginning and made our way forward, we would see clearly that Jesus is in the mode of confrontation. He has been confronting both the religious and political leaders of His day. He has been doing works of power casting out demons and He has been casting a vision for the kingdom of God. As we reach Chapter 4, our gospel today, one would not be surprised as He launches into His teaching that those in authority are not happy. They are displeased. And Jesus's own message whether, it'd be subtle or in your face is wearing on them.
So to them and those who gather around He says, "People look, but they don't see. They listen, but they don't understand. This is the moment for seeing. This is the moment for understanding." There is an urgency in Jesus's words and in Mark's gospel. There is a literal urgency. Jesus speaks urgently the Words follow, come here, go there, do this, listen, see, hear, and do. Everything is in the present tense and it is urgent. There is an immediacy to the situation in which Jesus and His followers find themselves.
Jesus gives the story first about the sower that we normally recognize, and the seeds, as well as the story about the light, the lamp, and the basket. These are the ones that come right before our gospel today. If you have eyes to see and hear, then you will hear this differently. Jesus did not enter the world to be hidden like a lamp under the bushel basket. He is the light of the world and all are to see Him. The world is like a seed taking root, like the sower it has been planted. Jesus is present. It is growing.
The kingdom is taking root and growing quite frankly without your help. It is as if you went to sleep and you woke up the next day and the kingdom like a great field has grown up all around you and it is ready for harvest. This is a kingdom that will not be controlled by the powers, but when they wake it will be too late. The earth itself is responding to its creator's presence in their midst. The images of growth and harvest time are meant to conjure up in our own eyes and in our own ears this notion that it is a kingdom that is being brought forth because God speaks a word into it, and it is a good word. It is a word of hope and joy, of mercy and forgiveness.
When the creator, and the light, the sower is present, the bridegroom, nothing can stop the kingdom. God is present. And just as the prophets told you, this kingdom will grow like a mustard seed, like a weed by the way, the bane of farmers. I mean, I love mustard. If you're a good German, you love mustard. But let me tell you, the mustard seed is a pain for anybody who finds it in their roses, where it is not to be. The kingdom is like this voracious weed, this bush. It is large enough for the birds of the air to nest in it, and it will not be like one tree in the middle of a valley sucking up everything around it so that it may live. No, it will thrive in the barest of circumstances and spread until your whole field will be filled with mustard which is bitter to the farmer or the powers that bees own taste.
No, the kingdom will be like a massive infestation that will overcome whatever you have tried to control. And many who have not found a home in your society will find a home in this kingdom. I will tell you that in Jesus community there was a sense of immediacy, of urgency. The bridegroom was present. It was time, hope, and light, and love had come near, and people felt it. It was a movement because people were in that moment moved. This is something that continued in the first decades after Jesus's own resurrection. People felt God's presence in the spirit and had an own sense of urgency to share the good news.
Author and Pulitzer Price finalist Arthur Herman in his book "The Cave and the Light" characterizes this moment as a message that had resonated with the deepest needs of the citizens of Rome and their dissolving empire. They had a sense of belonging in the midst of disintegrating institutions. They found a moral purpose as their government had lost their way. It was a message of hope in an age of cynicism and pessimism. This gospel, this word, this light had a sense of abundance to it in a world filled with scarcity.
There was a God in the midst of these words and images and this preaching of-- teaching of Paul and the apostles of a God who is close. Of a God who cared of the things of men. And a God who was not happy at the injustice. These first Christians felt this so much that in their time they translated this urgency into care and into good deeds where hope and love were of substance and made a difference in the world around them. They were people who acted on behalf of those who had been forgotten by the Romans.
Now perhaps you and I, in our time hear these words. But perhaps we hear them in the midst of what The Monkees called a "Pleasant Valley Sunday."
Here in the status symbol land, mothers complain about how hard life is and the kids just don't understand. For creature, comfort, goals, they only numb my soul and they make it hard for me to see. Or maybe you live in a world where your ears are numbed into passivity because of the cynicism and pessimism which is all around us.
Either way, I fear we may have lost our sense of urgency. And that we may feel as though there is not much movement left in this movement. God and Christ Jesus come to us in Mark's gospel today in the midst of our service. Jesus invites us like the farmer in bed to wake up and see that in fact God is on the move. The seeds of this kingdom have been sown and the harvest is plentiful. Like a weed this kingdom will not be stopped and it is even now spreading. The light will not be hidden. And those that have no place to call a home, or lay their head, or dwell among loved ones are the ones who, like birds of the air, will find a home and nest in the arms of the true Jesus followers.
As it was in Jesus's time and Paul's, so it shall be in ours. The time is now. There is urgency for word and deed. We are being judged by our actions and our inactions. So hear, see, go, do, follow the way, follow, and like a weed you will grow.