Sunday I found myself in New York City, my home town. As I do from time to time, I went to the old neighborhood where I know no one any more. I even ambled over to the church where I was baptized. I walked in for a moment, to see the tiny church I once perceived as large as Canterbury.
The priest was finishing his sermon;
they'd read Mark 4:26-34 and he was wrapping up. His New York accent
assaulted me. I don't live there any more. So I have gone to search for
the reading (http://tinyurl.com/6v36x6z) and see if I can formulate my own sermon.
The meaning of the opening simile parable that hits me in the face
first off is the message that the reign of God is not in my hands.
often I read the papers, which I can do at work as part of work (great
job if you can get it), and become despondent. As a journalist I know
that the one bias all reporters have is for the negative: someone died,
so-and-so is corrupt, the world is falling apart. Yet I get caught up in
it as I scour for the disasters to make sure I can find the
news-of-the-day angle to my stories.
These days I am mindful of Yeats: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." I could recite all the headlines to you, but you don't need me to do that. You can go get depressed on your own.
here comes Jesus saying that the reign of God, the state of being he is
announcing to the world, is "as if someone would scatter seed on the
ground, and would sleep and rise
night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know
He does not know how.
There is nothing I need bother my
little head about it, because even if I were the seed scatterer, I would
still not know how it sprouts and grows. Yet it does by some process I
don't know. The conclusion reminds me of Julian of Norwich: "All shall
be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
The reign of God is at hand, despite all
the darkening clouds. Perhaps the clouds just bring rain. Then the seed
will become a tree and birds will nest in its branches, as the remainder
of the passage says.
I don't know for certain that this is "the message." I was spared
living in first century Palestine as a poor devout Jew who followed a Galilean woodworker-preacher, so I was not told what Mark intimates is
the secret of the gospel. At least, I was not told as the disciples were
But here's my guess.