While You Were Sleeping

If you think everything in your life is in your hands, go talk to a farmer for a while.


3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) – June 14, 2015 – Mark 4:26-34

St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia

While You Were Sleeping – Pastor Evan Davis

I spend more time on facebook than I probably should. Now some of you are probably thinking, “oh no, Pastor, Lord help him,” or maybe you wonder when I get any work done. But I love just scrolling through my facebook feed because I can see what all kinds of wonderful people are doing. Just this week I heard the testimony of youth from across our Virginia Synod about how our youth events have been places for them to name their questions and ideas and fears and have the space to grow in faith. I see fascinating news stories that I would never know about if my friends hadn’t posted them…it’s as if they handed me the newspaper and said, “Evan, you should really read this.” I can connect with people I haven’t seen in person since college and have interesting conversations that always teach me something. But you know what attracts more attention on facebook than almost anything else?

Top 10 lists. “The top 10 reasons why the church is dying” – there are about 100 of those articles. 3 easy steps to lose weight and keep it off. The top 5 reasons why you can’t sleep. 8 things you need to do today to maximize your potential. There’s a million of these! I think they’re popular not only because they’re easy to read, not only because they satisfy our need for the world to make logical sense, but also because they make us feel like we’re in control. Because if you have all the answers, if you know exactly what’s wrong and exactly what you need to do to fix the problem, then it’s just a matter of doing it. The problem is reduced to a matter of willpower. We can feel like we’re in control and doing something about it.

But farmers know better. They know that not every problem has a five-step solution. They know that when it comes to the most important and essential things in life, we’re not in control. Now, there are certain things we can control and even learn to do well – like how we plant and water and keep the pests and weeds under control. But it doesn’t matter how good of a farmer you are, you can’t make it rain, you can’t make the sun shine, you can’t make it grow. You just go to sleep and the earth produces of itself. Isn’t that cool? That the most important work happens when we’re doing nothing at all, just lying in our beds asleep, the corn and the soybeans and our backyard gardens just grow? It’s wild. It’s uncontrollable. It’s a gift of God. Jesus thought so, because he tells a parable about this to give his disciples a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

It’s kind of like the mint in my front flower beds. It just grows. It’s wild and uncontrollable. One day I dug up the whole bed and pulled out miles of mint shoots, but still it came back. We’ve now decided to simply profit from this and we enjoy our weekly mint harvest and it freshens up all kinds of things in our kitchen. Did you know mustard kinda grows like that? From tiny seeds into wild, uncontrollable weeds that will cover a whole field before you know it. All by itself. Jesus says, the kingdom of God, that is, the state of affairs when God reigns on earth, the children of God living and loving by the Ways of God, he says the kingdom is kinda like that mint in my yard, kinda like the mustard seed. It’s wild, it grows without any help from us, even when we’re sleeping.

So what do we want to do now? Scientifically study the mustard plant so we can understand exactly how the kingdom comes?? No! It’s a parable! We want to know what the parable means. What each part stands in for, what it all represents. Because then we can know exactly what to do, what God wants, when we’re supposed to do it and how. And then we’d be in control again. We’d have the answers and it would simply be a matter of willpower. That’s something that we Americans especially desire because we have a culture of hard work and individual effort. That’s a good thing, but when it comes to God, to faith, to the kingdom, it’s not about how hard we work or how committed we are – because we’re not in control. It’s God’s kingdom, not ours.

Everything is not black and white. Jesus speaks to his disciples always in parables, Mark tells us. He explains them, but not everything is explainable. The word “parable” comes in Greek from para, meaning “alongside,” and ballein, meaning “to throw,” so a parable is a “throwing alongside” of whatever is being described. Parables do not intersect their object directly…they give us a sideways glimpse of the reality they describe. They run parallel, on a different plane, a different way of thinking and speaking.

That’s the only way we can come to know God and God’s kingdom. God is a mystery revealed in parable and ultimately, most significantly, not in words but in actions – being born to a poor, unmarried Jewish girl in a stable, eating with the sinner, dying on a Roman cross, rising again and having breakfast with his disciples, being present to us in plain water, offensively ordinary wine and bread. God is a parabolic mystery, and so is God’s kingdom. It grows on its own, while you snore.

Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, teaches us that “God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask [in the Lord’s Prayer] that it may also come to us.” The kingdom comes on its own, but God wants it to come to us specifically, and even through us. It’s a pure gift – God lets us plant the seeds, and water them, and go out to reap the harvest. That’s our life of faith.

So, not because we have to but because God has grown faith in us by his grace, we just plant. Not knowing what will grow. We just say hi to someone we don’t know. We just talk to them, with no ulterior motive. We are not responsible for this person, God is. We don’t have to save this person, God already has. We just be a neighbor….and we don’t have to do anything else! A relationship grows on its own, even as we sleep, or it doesn’t, and that’s all we do. We water those seeds by caring for people around us, just loving them, just trying to be present as we can, and meet needs as we can, and see what God makes grow.

A bishop once wrote a poem in honor of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, and his poem goes like this:

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.1

The future, the kingdom, the harvest, belongs to the master builder, not to you.

It’s ok if you don’t have God all figured out, if you have questions which have never been answered directly, if you sit in silence and God doesn’t explain but just gives you a little smile, if there are mountains of things before you you wish you could accomplish, and if you don’t even know where to start…that’s ok. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Because you are a worker, not the master builder. You are a planter, not the life-Creator. You are a beloved child beholding the mystery of God, a mystery not only beyond your efforts, but beyond your vision.

And yet, that mystery is washed over your head in overflowing grace. And in a few moments, the eternal mystery will be placed into your mortal hands, becoming human flesh and blood once more. And while you sleep, the kingdom mysteriously and miraculously comes to fruition, in the world and in you. Amen.

1Bishop Ken Untener, “A Future Not Our Own,” posted by Daniel B. Clendenin on Journey with Jesus, http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Ken_Untener_A_Future_Not_Our_Own.shtml (accessed June 13, 2015).