Posted by: owizblog | June 14, 2015

Small… Far away…. Sermon, UCB, 14 June 2015

Mark 4:26-34

26 He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’ The parable of the mustard seed 30 Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’ 33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.


There are some television moments that just stick in the mind, and are never forgotten. The moment in Only Fools And Horses when Del-boy and Rodney are standing on stepladders with blanket between them waiting to catch and take down for cleaning a fabulously expensive chandelier, which Grandad is unbolting under the floorboards of the floor above. They brace themselves to take the weight, as Grandad delivers the final tap – and the next-door chandelier, in the hall behind them, falls to the floor and is smashed to bits.

chandelier

We’ve probably all seen it, and we will all have the image of the smashing glass and frozen horror instantly in our minds as we recollect it. Or there’s the moment, in Dad’s Army, when the platoon is being held captive by a U-boat crew in the church, and Private Pike (“Stupid boy!”) offers cheek to the nasty German captain, played by Philip Madoc.

pike

“Your name will also go on the list! Vot iss it?” And Captain Mainwaring blurts out – and you can probably all say it with me: “Don’t tell him, Pike!”

I had a very strange sensation when I read over the Gospel reading for this morning. More of Jesus’ Parables of the Kingdom. Very simple parables, these, almost no moving parts, almost no action in them at all, just like very brief clips.

‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how…”“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like…? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

These aren’t the big story parables, like the Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan. They are indeed just wee short clips, images with a tiny bit of movement, that stick in the mind. And the odd sensation I had was of being reminded, inescapably, of another wee short clip.

It’s this one.

small far away 2

Whether or not you have ever watched Father Ted, you may well have seen this clip. It comes out of the blue, as so many things do, in Father Ted, with no preamble, beyond what we know of the characters. And we know that Father Dougal, played in a wonderfully bemused manner by Ardal O’Hanlon, doesn’t get many things about the world, and that Father Ted, the late Dermot Morgan, finds Dougal’s obtuseness endlessly frustrating.

So, suddenly, here he is, yet again, sitting trying to explain something to Dougal. He’s holding a couple of plastic toy cows, and his gaze shifts between them and the window, as does Dougal’s.
“OK, one last time. These are small…”

small far away 3

“…but the ones out there are far away.”

small far away 4

“Small…”

small far away 1

“… far away…”

small far away 2

But Dougal doesn’t get it, and shows every sign that he’ll never get it.

In a rare display of frustration, Father Ted throws down the plastic cows: “Ah, forget it!”

small far away 6

It sticks in the mind, as a tiny fragment, not even a story, hardly any movement, hardly any action, just a tiny gem of meaning in a small, small space. Just like today’s two parables.

More than that, it’s exactly what today’s parables are about – small, and far away, and the difference between them.

Because sometimes Jesus’ Parables of the Kingdom say that the Kingdom is coming. From far away. And the distance between here and the Kingdom of God is measured by the difference between here and the Kingdom of God. SO many of Jesus’ Parables of the Kingdom are about the way the coming of the rule, the Kingdom of God into a world so far-drifted from the rule of God, the Kingdom of God, will turn everything upside-down. The respectable, stay-at-home son, who thought his dependability made him more precious than his prodigal brother, his world will be turned upside down. The rich man, who overlooked the scab-ridden pauper at his doorstep, his world will be turned upside down.[1] The world as it should be and shall be is not like the world as it is. It comes from God. It comes from the future. It’s far away from things as they are. It’s nothing we can build by our efforts. Our job is to wait and witness and anticipate the life of the Kingdom – its radical justice, its sacrificial love, its world-inverting hope – now, in a world that’s not like that, that’s far, far from that.

And these parables also say that. But they combine it with something else.

A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how…”

The kingdom comes, the rule of God grows, and it doesn’t come from us. Far from it. We only wait for it.

Yet it’s also here. Here in Jesus, in the radical way he lives, in the radical impact he has, in the grace, hope, forgiveness and freedom he preaches, in the radical demand he makes.

But it’s small, here. The tiniest of seeds, the sowings of the harvest, tiny, lost to the eye against the detail of the dark soil. Small, hidden, but here already.

And growing.

Small, far away, far away, small – coming, and in Jesus, here…

And here in us, says Jesus when we walk his way and do his will, and share and show his love, and call for his justice, and, by our shared lives as his people, his church, point beyond things as they are to things as they should be and shall be; point to the Kingdom…

So is the Kingdom of God small, or far away?

The answer to that question is “Yes…”

The kingdom is far away because the world isn’t as it should be. It’s the calling of all Christians, radical, conservative, liberal, quiet and unassuming, “Ah-widnae’-presume…” to live in the world as it should be, while simultaneously living in the world as it is. When Jesus calls on us to forgive, and to forgive until it hurts, he means it. It’s the only way to show our freedom from what was, and to embrace the freedom that God offers. When Jesus commands us not to judge, not to be judgmental, he’s deadly serious. Because our petty judgments, and miserable little dismissals of others, our assumption that we know enough about people’s lives to be able to sit in judgment on them, these things belong to the world as it is, and usurp God’s place, and displace his kingdom. When Jesus calls on us to turn the other cheek, he is calling on us to absorb and break the cyclical violence, the violence that breeds more violence in response – which is exactly what he will do on the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Our lives in the world as Christ’s Church, as Jesus’ folk, should point to the gap between the world as it is, and the world as it should be.

But our lives as his people are also pointers to the presence of the Kingdom. As seed, as promise, as what is small.

Far away, and coming.

Small, but here.

Both are true.
Small Far Away

Because with Jesus, and the proclamation of Jesus, the Kingdom comes, and is announced. Far away, and coming. Small, but here. And we, Christ’s Church are called to be the people who listen to Jesus’ Parables, and get this, and live it, every day.

NOTES

1] This theme is referred to by scholars as “eschatological reversal” and it seems to derive from Jewish eschatological expectations. The Magnificat (The Hymn of Mary in Luke 1: 46-55):
[52] he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
[53] he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.

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