Sermon for Third Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 1 Samuel 15:34–16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6–10, 14–17 & Mark 4:26–34
Just over a year ago I became aware of the increasing popularity of YouTube reaction videos. If you’re wondering what reaction videos are, they’re essentially videos of other people watching videos, or listening to audio. The creators of these reaction videos record their spontaneous reactions while watching an existing video, or listening to a piece of audio, such as a well known song. They often show those videos within their own video.
People who watch these reaction videos do so because they enjoy the momentary emotional connect of seeing someone on screen react to a video, or piece of music, in the same way they would. At times I enjoy watching reaction videos of songs that might be favourites of mine. The majority of people making these reaction videos seem to be people aged between 20 and 40, and I’m interested in seeing, and hearing, their response to songs that I’ve been listening to for more than 40 years. I’m particularly interested in hearing their interpretation of the lyrics in certain songs. Often there is a huge range of different interpretations, because the lyrics of songs speak to different people in different ways.
When we think of different passages, or stories, from the Bible, we might think that they, like the lyrics of a song, are also open to interpretation. However, this is when we need to be careful to consider the context of the biblical passage or story. Unlike the lyrics of a song, which might relate to an autobiographical story from the writer, or perhaps express the feelings the writer might have towards a particular person or topic, a biblical passage or story is usually based on a particular context. That is to say, that passage or story was generally written at a particular point in history, by a particular person, to a particular audience, for a particular audience. So while we can always read or listen to a passage or story from the Bible and read our own meaning into it, that does not mean our meaning is correct.
Unfortunately we hear of people who quote passages from the Bible, and who apply a literal interpretation to it, because it supports a particular argument or point of view that they have. Fortunately, we have access to endless numbers of commentaries written by scholars and theologians that provide us with the context of passages and stories from the Bible, and that also seek to supply us with an interpretation based on that context.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus tell two parables – ‘the Seed Growing Secretly’ and ‘the Mustard Seed’ – to describe the kingdom of God, and we also hear that he only talks to people in parables. He explains the meaning of the parables to his disciples, but not to anyone else. The two parables from todays passage are just a small part of the teaching that Jesus gives to a large crowd by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ teaching takes the form of parables, but most of the crowd are unable to understand the meaning of the parables. Jesus even has to explain the meaning of several of the parables to his disciples in private.
What this suggests to us is that there will be resistance or opposition to the Jesus’ message concerning God’s kingdom, and whether the message is heard and understood will depend on the receptiveness of each individual who hears the message.
That is apparent from the first of today’s parables – the Seed Growing Secretly – with the seed being sown representing the seed of the kingdom of God. The “seed” has been sown in the teaching of Jesus, but after that there follows a long period where nothing seems to be happening, at least nothing visible or dramatic. Those hearing the parable are urged to think of God in terms of the man who sowed the seed and then sat back and waited for the growth process to take its natural course. In the context of the kingdom of God, that time of waiting is the time when the seed of Jesus’ teaching takes hold and begins to grow in the hearts of those who are receptive to his message.
Disciples of Jesus, both in Jesus’ day and in ours, should understand that the absence of any visible or dramatic sign does not mean the Kingdom of God is not already at work. It continues to be both present and active, producing the “fruit” that will obviously be “harvested” by God when the time is right. We are reminded therefore to put our trust in God.
These days there is a sense of expectation on smaller parishes such as our own to generate an increase in the number of people who attend church on Sunday mornings, so that ministry in the parish remains viable and affordable, and it can sometimes be disappointing and disheartening if we don’t see any obvious result from our efforts to create engagement with people in the local community and bring more people into a relationship with the church. However, we need to be patient and put our trust in God, knowing that all of the various activities we undertake, or events that we are hold, are the seeds of God’s Kingdom that we sow on His behalf, and that now is the time for the growth process to occur, and that ultimately God will “harvest” the “fruit” of His Kingdom when He sees fit.
In today’s world, which is driven by instant gratification and immediate responses and results, it is easy to become disheartened if we don’t see any reward for our efforts or labour. But as the Apostle Paul reminds us in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians, “we walk by faith, not by sight”. Paul tells us that for those who are disciples of Jesus, “there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The way of God’s Kingdom is not the way of the world. As disciples of Jesus, we are in the world but not of the world.
Let us put our trust in God.