Absalom Day 5
This is not exactly how I preached it on Sunday at the church picnic. I forgot to record it, and so have reconstructed it from my 'copious' (i.e. nonexistent) notes. I’ve added some things I meant to say but didn’t, and probably left out some things that I did say. This service was held 5 days after my cell phone rang with the news of the death of one of my children, which puts some of the remarks into context. The text is the Gospel of Mark, although the parable is also in Matthew and Luke. SDG
You’ve all heard the parable of the sower many times before. Today I suggest we think about the fragility of the seed that is sown.
We’ve passed around a bowl of pumpkin seeds and one of mustard seeds, and you’ve taken some of each.
We know that you can plant seeds, and some will grow, some will not. In the parable Jesus describes the seed being eaten by birds, before it has a chance, dying without soil to root in, and being choked by weeds.
I wasn’t planning this next bit, but I hope today of all days you will indulge me a bit. I think we need to know about the wrath of God.
I know you may think suddenly of some irate preacher pounding a pulpit and frightening children. And in fact, in the old testament, the wrath of God is demonstrated with forcefulness and violence, that God seems unpredictable and dangerous.
This week in my devotions I was reflecting on a Psalm celebrating God’s judgement with stark images of broken weapons and dead soldiers scattered across a field of battle. We recoil from such images and the apparent joy the psalmist takes in it. Then I saw the line , “you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.” The voice of the psalmist is one who was rescued from oppression, and the oppressors were utterly defeated and will torment the men, women and children no more.
There is a phrase in the New Testament that describes Jesus’ response to certain situations. I can think of two times when it is used.
The first is when Jesus is in a synagogue on Saturday, teaching, and a man with a withered hand is worshipping there. Twisted by who knows what - arthritis, stroke, injury? The eyes of all are on him, hoping, perversely that Jesus will heal him - Perversely because they want to catch Jesus making a mistake. Healing on the Sabbath would break God’s law, they think, and so they could accuse Jesus of faithlessness.
I mean, really!?!
The Scriptures , in many translations will say, “Then Jesus was deeply moved, and his compassion rose up in him.” We can go ahead and think that means he was moved by his love for the man, and we’d be partly right. The phrase however has a stronger sense. Compassion, as we use it in english means something like pity or empathy, but we can see that its root is ‘to be filled with passion.” And this deep, strong, passionate response of Jesus is shaded with anger: anger at what disease and age and injury has done to this man, and anger at the callous stupidity of the self righteousness surrounding him.
Jesus is the wrath of God here. And he focuses his wrath against it’s true target, the lies of self righteousness, and against all the things that bring harm on his holy mountain. He rebukes the people and heals the man.
The second time it is at the grave of his friend, Lazarus. Lazarus’ sisters are there, confused and sad and angry; “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” The crowds are mourning as all funereal crowds do, both Lazarus’ death, life’s accumulated losses, and their own mortality.
Seeing this, Jesus is deeply moved and his compassion wells up within him. Love and anger are bound so closely together. And so his wrath is unleashed on the enemy here- he summons his power and destroys death in Lazarus and brings him whole from the grave. He summons his truth and destroys the lie that this is all there is, this is all we can hope for.
There is so much pain in our world, in our lives. Pain that we’ve suffered and pain that we’ve caused. And the ‘wrath of God’ is Christ’s unbending determination to destroy the sin and selfishness and foolishness and lovelessness that hurts his beloved: you and me and everyone. Jesus is the perfect manifestation of the wrath of God against all unrighteousness, against everything that harms and destroys on his holy mountain. He unerringly draws all our hatred and insult and rejection and violence and bitterness and rage and, and, and.. All upon himself. No collateral damage here. No one needs to be destroyed with the sin, hurt and disease that he alone takes to the cross, he alone, with all our sin dies alone there, and we live.
You each have a pumpkin seed and some mustard seeds. Jesus speaks about mustard seeds. See how small they are? (BTW they are not the smallest of seeds, Jesus was using HYPERBOLE here, ok?) So tiny yet they grow into a great bush. Go ahead and try when you get home. But I kind of like the pumpkin seed. Think of just one pumpkin grown from this: thirty fold, sixtyfold, one hundredfold? I’m not even sure what ‘fold’ is! But the pumpkin itself is thousands of times bigger, and the number of seeds inside! Plant it, grow a pumpkin, and in the fall you can give it to our pie-master, Barb, and we’ll eat some great pumpkin pie and remember, God is good.
Yet some seed grow, and some don’t.
In the parable the seed is the word of God, planted in our hearts.
What’s the condition of the soil in your heart?
On the pathway, the soil was hard, and the seed never sunk in, the word could not be understood, and the devil snatched it away. In our congregation there are people in our bible studies who can tell you that a few years ago, they’d read the bible and it just didn’t make sense. What was God saying? How could it mean what I think it means? Yet now they are growing in understanding, and the words stay with them as they ponder God’s character and will.
Maybe you have heard the Word but find yourself without an anchor - hard times throw you for a loop, and you just can’t stand. And today, of all days, you know I get it. Life is hard, so, so hard. We need roots, but we just haven’t been able to go that deep. We’re not “a tree planted by streams of water, whose root never fails.”
The soil can be fine, but the weeds have grown up. Cares of life, and wealth, troubles and good times can choke the good seed, so it does not produce fruit. And you can say from experience that you don’t have to be rich to be caught up in money, and you don’t have to be down at the bottom of the barrel to live in anxiety and fear.
Where is the good soil? Where is the fruitfulness, of love joy peace, patience kindness goodness, gentleness faithfulness and self control?
I’m going to tell you a story, but some of you with particular scruples might wish to skip past this next line.
I Used to work at Sleeman’s Brewery. :-0
I was doing general maintenance, polishing the great big copper kettles, painting, cleaning, landscaping. Out back there was a barley mill, a great silo above a grinder that pumped barley flour into the plant. When I started there the mill had not been visited for a very long time, as it was all automatic and worked very well.
Inside the silo barley had spilled from time to time, and the heavy dust of flour covered everything. The mill area had two small vents that admitted a bit of light and, when the wind blew the wrong way, a little rain as well. There under the vent a story was told. Barley grains, wet with rain had germinated, but on the hard concrete had no root. The first generation had died soon after the rain, in the heat of the mill. The story had repeated rainfall after rainfall, new grain starting, stopping, dying decaying. But as you might have guessed already, a mini miracle had happened. The old seed formed rich soil, held the moisture, and supported thin tendrils of barley sprouts reaching unerringly for the light. I know, right? - it sounds like some kind of parable. By the way: yes, I swept out the silo, gathered up those valiant sprouts and tossed them in the garbage. Sorry, not the happily ever after you were hoping for?
Can I speak about mulch? Mulch enriches soil, mulch solves every gardening issue. Erica and i got tired of mowing weeds so we’ve covered the entire backyard in mulch. We can plant a few things here and there, and the weeds are kept at bay without having to pull out the good plants with the bad.
In your spiritual life the mulch is the same as the seed. It is the word of God. does the word seem to slip away as fast as your read, listen or discuss it? Keep going, the mulch will cover the hard ground, and the soft rain of God’s Holy Spirit will soften the worn, beaten path beneath.
Are you rootless, or even shallow in your faith, does every trouble and every wind tear you from your faith, and leave you withering and dying? Mulch! Much Mulch! Keep in the Word and prayer, let others encourage and pray for you, Mulch can turn a rocky garden into just a garden, a rich, firm place to grow and bear fruit.
Are you caught up in distractions, anxieties, games and cares. Mulch! Let the word of God fill you and tame those fruitless passions.
And don’t wait to start your garden. It’s going to take time, and you don’t know when the phone or the doorbell will ring and your roots will be tested, and your heart torn to pieces. Yes, I went there. . .
Wherever you are starting today, there is opportunity to work the soil of your soul, plant seeds, and grow character with faith. We worship on Sundays, meet in discipleship groups and Alpha, we do daily devotions, even sharing together online through the Life Church YouVersion bible app. We meet for coffee, pray over the phone, bring meals, give hugs, give thanks, give love.
Come into the garden, with Jesus, with us, with the light and the warmth and the grace of God.
Grow, pray, love. All of that.
Let’s commit ourselves to this joy in prayer.