Text: Ezekiel 17.22-24 and Mark 4.26-34
Watch this sermon by clicking here: https://youtu.be/bx5S7nEacXk
Clare and I count ourselves extremely blessed to be custodians of one of the larger gardens in this parish – a garden that I hope we will be able to use for a Strawberry Tea, or a parish barbecue before too long. In a recent Chronicle poem, Marian Porter reflected on the sheer variety of plants contained in the 200 yards of border planting we look after – including a surprising number of ‘mahonia japonica’ – far more than our fair share, in fact! I am frequently amused by horticulturally-minded visitors to the garden, who love identifying strange and rare plants among our borders. But I have to confess, I usually have little idea how they got there.
Clare and I are lucky recipients of the efforts of
previous Rectory occupants. Trish Jones
and Susan Gibbons before her spent many hours labouring to create the lovely
garden we now have, for which we will be forever grateful. Because, frankly, neither Clare nor I have a
clue what we are doing. Most of our attempts
to plant anything at all have ended in complete failure. The Rectory garden is now where all new
plants go to die!
But when they die, wonderful things happen. New, wild seeds blow in upon the wind and
establish themselves where the latest expensive, cultivated marvel has slowly
died its death. In place of the
expensive garden-centre plant, which showed so much promise, wild flowers now
bloom. Slowly, year by year, with each
new season of our gardening incompetence, Mother Nature is asserting her
creativity and her inevitable dominance.
This is an all-to-familiar pattern to the Kingdom of
God, as well. We human beings strive and
struggle to build the Kingdom of God. We
embark upon initiative after initiative, desperately hoping that our latest wheeze
to establish alternative forms of ‘emerging church’ will bring new believers
crowding to our door. Messy Church, Café
Church, Pioneer Ministry, Wild Church, Men’s Groups, Women’s Groups, FaithTalk,
God in Art – they all have value, and they all have their place – just like the
professionally grown plants we buy from our garden centres. But God, we find, has God’s own unique way of
working out God’s purposes, and building God’s vision. Like Mother Nature in the Rectory garden, God
just keeps on building God’s kingdom in God’s unique way.
“The Kingdom of God”, says Jesus in this morning’s
Gospel reading, “is like a mustard seed”.
It’s often a tiny little seed, but it has the potential to grow into the
greatest of shrubs. Through Ezekiel, God
promised the exiles of Israel that it would be God who would replant the Nation
back on Israel’s own mountain, after their 70 years of captivity. God’s activity is wild and unfettered. The Spirit blows where it wills, and is
constantly at work in the lives of all God’s creation.
Often, I find, it is not my clever new initiative that
draws new believers into the Kingdom. It
is God himself, working unceasingly in all human life, which causes that
potential new believer to take the first steps of faith. It is the person who wanders into church,
seeking shelter, or comfort, or answers, in whom the Spirit of God is already
Am I implying, therefore, that all our endeavour for the Kingdom is meaningless? No, I’m not. But let me remind you of the last verse of the opening hymn we sang today:
“All are efforts are nothing
unless God bless the deed;
vain our hopes for the
till God brings life to the
If you had told me, even 18 months ago, that more
people would be attending our services via computer than in person, I would have
laughed at you! Some of our online
services now attract more than a thousand viewers. Hundreds of people are reading our homilies,
history and humour every week via the Chronicle, and responding to the deeper,
more thoughtful contributions in a variety of ways. New members and friends who live hundreds (or
even thousands) of miles away are signing up to support our work financially
and prayerfully. Some of the deepest and
most profound faith conversations I now have take place on Facebook, or via
email. If you had predicted any of these
things to me only 18 months ago, I would have wondered at your sanity!
You see, as our opening hymn proclaimed – “God is
working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year”. There’s an old Jewish proverb, which is
reflected in the Scriptures (especially some of the Psalms) and it goes like
this: “Men plan. God laughs!”
Here’s a final thought. It is an arresting moment when we realise
that the Church does not have a mission.
Rather, the mission of God has a Church.
We, the Church, are a part of
God’s plan. Jesus established it, and
proclaimed that he would build
it. We are co-operators with God, and
with God’s plan. Our mission has to be,
and must be, God’s mission – otherwise, all our efforts are nothing worth.