Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ, who sows the seeds of faith in our hearts. Amen.
For the past five years, I’ve been trying to grow grass on my front lawn. Believe it or not, it’s harder than it looks! Maybe I’ve made it hard on myself because I have been trying to do it the “eco-friendly” way. I’ve got some “eco-lawn” seed, which is supposed to need less water and fertilizer than your normal Kentucky Bluegrass. I’ve also been trying to grow this eco-lawn without any pesticides. So it never fails, that every year I find myself with more weeds than grass. And no matter what I try, it seems that the weeds always win.
Today, we hear Jesus tell a story about a farmer who’s trying to grow wheat in a field. But while he was sleeping, his enemy went and sowed weeds in his wheat field! What a dastardly thing to do, right?
This story is called a parable, and the Gospels are full of them. Today we heard three parables – the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast. Jesus says that each one of these little stories can teach us something about the kingdom of God, or the reign of God – they help us to learn something about the way that God is at work in the world.
Jesus taught in parables because everyday people could understand them. They were about the stuff of everyday life – like fishing and farming and baking and trying to find things that you’ve lost. Jesus didn’t say, “Ok you want to learn about God? Here’s what you have to do: Go to seminary, and get your Masters of Divinity. Learn Biblical Greek and Hebrew. Learn a bunch of fancy words like “exegesis” and “eschatology.” Write your dissertation. Then come back, and I’ll teach you about God.
No! Jesus spoke in everyday language, using everyday stories about things that people could understand. If you met Jesus on the street today, he might say, “So you like golfing right? Well the reign of God is like a golfer who teed off on the eighteenth hole…” or “So you’re a teacher, right? Well the reign of God is like a little child learning to read and write…” Jesus used everyday stories because he wanted everyday people to catch a glimpse of what God was up to in their lives.
The thing about parables though, is that they always have a surprise. There’s always something that we don’t quite expect. So in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the farmer tells his servants not to go pick the weeds, but to let them grow until the harvest. But if you’re a farmer or a gardener, you’re probably saying, “What are you talking about, Jesus? Do you know anything about farming? If you leave those weeds in there, they’ll take over the whole field!”
Or Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, which is a tiny little seed, but grows into a tree, and all sorts of birds make their homes in its branches. And any gardener will say, “What are you talking about Jesus? Do you know anything about plants? A mustard seed can grow into a big shrub, sure… but it doesn’t become a tree!”
Then Jesus tells the story about a woman who hides a little yeast in three measures of flour. Now three measures of flour were like 60 pounds – that’s like three big 10-kilo bags of Robin Hood! So if you’re a baker, you might be saying, “What are you talking about, Jesus? Do you know anything about baking? You don’t just ‘hide’ a pinch of yeast in 60 pounds of flour and hope that your bread’s going to rise!”
So there’s always something surprising about Jesus’ parables. And maybe it’s because Jesus is trying to tell us that there’s something surprising about the reign of God. That God does things differently than we’d expect.
Now there are a few things that these three parables have in common. One thing is that there’s something that is hidden. The seeds of wheat and mustard are hidden – once they’re planted in the ground, you can’t tell that they’re there. And the yeast is hidden in the flour as well. But over time, that thing that was hidden is revealed – the seeds grow into stalks of wheat and mustard shrubs, and the yeast leavens the flour.
And in the same way, the reign of God is often hidden. It’s not like a human kingdom or empire. We can look at a map, and say, “This is China, and this is Brazil, and this is Ethiopia.” But we can’t say, “Here is the kingdom of God.” The reign of God is hidden, but it is waiting to be revealed.
These parables are also about really small things that grow into much bigger things – seeds that grow into plants, and yeast that spreads throughout the batch of dough. In the same way, sometimes the reign of God shows up in these really small and fragile, and insignificant ways… but somehow, even though it seems small to us, in reality, God is up to something big.
And finally, these parables are parables of transformation. The field that is planted is transformed into a field of wheat; the mustard seed is transformed into a huge tree; and the flour is transformed by just a little bit of yeast. In all sorts of ways that we don’t understand, God is at work, transforming our world.
When I was about twenty I dated a girl who thought that Lutherans weren’t really Christians. She said, “You Lutherans go to church on Sunday morning, but then you come home and open a can of beer and watch football just like everyone else.” She had a certain idea of what being a Christian should look like.
Maybe she was right. Or maybe, while those Lutherans were at church, God hid a little bit of yeast in their flour. And then later, as they were watching football or curling, that yeast started to work its magic, and soon, without them even knowing it, their whole batch of dough was leavened.
So, as you leave this place and go about your week, may you catch a glimpse of the reign of God in your life. Maybe it will be like grains of wheat in a field of weeds. Or maybe like a tiny mustard seed, ready to grow into a giant tree. Or maybe like a tiny bit of yeast, leavening the flour of your life, even while you’re watching the Super Bowl. Amen.