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 working.
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 worth
unless God bless the deed;
vain our hopes for the harvest tide
till God brings life to the seed.”
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.