Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
26[Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Grace and Peace to you and peace, my sisters and brothers, From God our Father, Christ our brother and the Holy Spirit who gives us hope. Grace to you and Peace, Amen
I was once asked by a parishioner how I chose the bible readings for each Sunday.
I’m pretty sure it was a loaded question, because she thought the Sunday Bible passages were directed toward an issue we were discussing as a congregation. She was incredibly surprised to learn that I, in fact, did not pick the texts for each Sunday. That they were, in essence, assigned to us.
Now, there isn’t a biblical mandate that has us reading particular bible readings for particular Sundays, but since the 4th century there have be lectionaries, or collections and schedules of readings, that have provided the Biblical foundation for church worship and the church year. We observe, along with many other denominations, the Revised Common Lectionary – a three-year cycle of Bible texts, with 4 assigned each Sunday. The lectionary texts usually correspond with the church year – for example we hear Jesus birth story at Christmas and about his death and resurrection at Lent and Easter.
One enormous benefit is that we, as worshippers, explore and encounter many different parts of the Bible throughout the three-year cycle. This is particularly a good thing for us pastors. Because if we had to pick the Bible readings each Sunday, we would probably pick the parts of the Bible we really like and agree with. However, the lectionary of texts challenges us, all of us, to encounter and sometimes wrestle with many different parts of the Bible as we gather in worship. This is a really good thing.
However, there are days where I really wish we weren’t following the schedule.
Times where I struggle to find good news in the Bible reading that is offered for the day. Days where I would rather forget some of the things this book holds. Days like today.
Today’s Gospel is about John, the Baptist. The man who baptized Jesus. The man who baptized thousands.
I love baptisms. I love baptizing giggling children, screaming babies, awkward teenagers and solemn adults. I love the promises that are held in baptism. I love the water that is poured and representative of life. I love the family of God that gathers together about space and time.
Today’s Gospel story doesn’t remind me of this.
Instead, it is a story of horror, vindictiveness, manipulation and death. None of the things I want to associate with Baptism. However, I am preaching on this story, and not Paul’s lovely letter reminding us of our inheritance we receive with God for one important reason: Because while we do indeed inherit redemption, forgiveness, and riches of grace, in Baptism: We also inherit God’s Story. And God’s story is bigger than all the other horrible, manipulative and destructive stories.
God’s story is Life.
And I don’t just mean existence, but Life. Life that is wonderful and beautiful difficult and bittersweet. Life that is a dance between joy and sorrow; love and loss. And that is why we are here. That is why we gather on a steamy Sunday morning with our friends and family. That is why we listen to what this book has to tell us – even the really difficult and confusing parts, because God’s story, in all its confusing beauty: is our story too.
We are drawn to our church communities at many points in our lives. For celebrations and baptisms- For funerals and memorial services. But we also gather at times when the world start throwing terrible things at us:
We gather when we have been waking up in the middle of the night, listening for breathing from a loved one’s room. When we have been rocking a sick child. Worrying by a hospital bedside. Visiting family member in prison, Agonizing about relationships, Balancing a family that could fall apart at any moment. We gather even in the midst of a global pandemic – finding ways to use the gifts of technology – computers and telephones to keep us connected.
And in each of these moments, and especially in the moments of fear and uncertainty, God’s story breaks through. Because God’s story is bigger than our one fearful story. God’s story weaves all of our stories together and we find that the sum is so much greater than the parts. In God’s story, Life triumphs, not death.
John the Baptist knew this- His followers eventually would as well. And we, as hearers of this sad, sad story, know that death does not have the final say.
And so we gather here today. Celebrating hope in the midst of fear. Holding onto life in the midst of death. Affirming our connectedness at this Communion Table, remembering the promises made to us in Baptism. And then heading out those doors to share this Good, Good News with others. That is what we live out in this world. That is what we cling to
We know that life can be so very difficult, and that is the gift we are offered today by John the Baptist’s story. For it is not death that has the final say, but Life. And that is Good News. In Christ Jesus we have life. Life abundant!
This is our story. God’s story is our story. And that is the Good News we remember today.