Mark 4:1-9, 30-32
“You reap what you sow.” Many of us have heard that old adage and used it to advise someone else. Even non-farmers could tell you that if you sow corn you will reap corn, and if you sow wheat you will reap wheat. The apostle Paul uses this phrase as he writes to the Galatian Christians….but he is not talking corn or wheat. He uses the planting and harvesting image to show that we make a choice on what comes at the end of life’s season by what we do at the beginning and middle of the season. If we plant only by our desires, our personal human agenda, we will end up with weeds. If we plant in response to God, we will end up with a bumper crop, a crop of real life that lasts.
The farmer’s almanac has a long, long tradition of providing valuable information for the year round work of farming. It is an insider’s handbook for where, how, when and what to plant. It is a collection of garden hints, moon phases, and weather predictions sprinkled with short informative articles, jokes, poems and quotes to make it more enjoyable reading. Perhaps Jesus’ message in Mark chapter 4 can be identified as a farmer’s almanac of sorts, an insider’s handbook for discipleship, for kingdom living. Jesus teaches in parables, and most of his parables recorded in this gospel of Mark are found right here in chapter 4. Parables are like talking in code. They are designed for some people to get it (those who are ready for the kingdom) and set up so that some will never get it (those who refuse to be open to receive it). He uses parables because his message is so subversive. Talking in code keeps the Romans from intercepting what he is planning as well as it holds off the Jewish leaders who would find the core of his teaching blasphemous, ludicrous and dangerous all at the same time. Maybe the parables are like a farmer’s almanac for believers then and now. What might the entries in the farmer’s almanac be for this week? Let’s start with the weather.
We’ve got the SHORT RANGE WEATHER FORECAST first: a real live storm coming this evening (check out the end of chapter 4).
Then there is the LONG RANGE WEATHER FORECAST: Another storm is visible on the horizon, as there is quite a bit of energy gathering around the actions/preaching of this man Jesus. Clouds of indignation and anger are building up, the meetings of the existing leadership are filled with thunderous complaints, and gossip about one who acts like he is God is spread like lightning from village to village. Jesus’ parables add rumbles to the sound of the coming storm.
ADVICE OF THE DAY: Never underestimate the power of something very small.
Almanacs can even include a RIDDLE OF THE DAY: What grows in winter, dies in summer and grows roots upward? If you think you have the answer, check in with me later.
Here the WORD OF THE DAY is: yield—verb (used with an object) There are many uses for this word, but definition number 1 is:to give forth or produce by a natural process or in return for cultivation. Jesus clearly expects God’s word, which he equates with the seed in his parable, to produce. When sown in the proper conditions, the word of God will yield the visible fruit of more and more people who will be excited and ready to be a part of his kingdom. Jesus describes the kingdom as starting as a small seed and growing to be like a bush large enough to house birds and provide shade. Yield. Not slow down and look for entering traffic, but produce, create results. What can your life yield? Children, either yours or someone else’s, who grow up loving God and believing that God loves them? A neighbor who shares with you in prayer and Bible study? A ray of hope in the life of someone who is down and out?
And finally we come to the pages for GARDEN PLANNING: If farmers are expecting a high yield, they have to plan ahead. They purchase the amount of seed needed for the space available following suggestions in the almanac, they add nutrients to the soil as they till it, turning it over so that it will be best ready to receive the seed, and they wait for the right temperature and moisture levels before planting. The sowers of the Word have to be sure to sow at the right time, when the receivers are ready to hear the message of the kingdom. Sowing on hard packed soil or rocky soil or patches full of weeds will not be successful. The gardening tip for the day: Pay attention so that you do not waste seed, but don’t get frustrated when you find that not all seed will germinate, that not all germinated seed will flourish, and that not all plants will produce. Prepare the soil, remove the most obvious obstacles like weeds and rocks.
And one more bit of history: BORN ON THIS DAY… Martin Luther King, Jr. Actually born on the 15th of January, our nation has set aside the Monday closest to his birthday to remember his work, to give thanks for his life, to reflect on how we are doing at reaping from the seeds he planted. Looking in the mirror, we know that the yield has not been what it could be or what it should be or what King intended it to be. Rather than sit at home tomorrow if you are off work, rather than follow your regular Monday routine if you regularly don’t work, why not participate in the Martin Luther King day of service, finding a place to volunteer anywhere which will assist others in some way. If you don’t have a plan, you can meet me at Edmondson High School at 10 am. We will be serving the school and the students of that school in a variety of ways. That is a way to honor Dr. King.
And there you have it. The farmer’s almanac for today. These parables speak to what was happening as Jesus’ ministry gathers steam. Some people were following him very intently and inviting others to come on board. Others were quite suspicious and held back. Because they are human beings, some will hear the message and then forget it, some will be excited, but only a short-lived excitement, and there will always be some who have too much else on their minds and hearts. Seems like the parables speak to what is happening in our lives as well. Maybe we are the sowers. Maybe we are the soil. Maybe sometimes we are the rocks in the way of other seeds trying to grow. Maybe we are all three. Let’s get busy for planting season. In our own lives and in the lives of those we interact with on a daily basis. Amen.