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5th July 2020

Planning For Growth

Passage: Mark 4;26-32


“From tiny acorns mighty oaks do grow.” Wow! Life is incredible. As Jesus said, we plant tiny seeds and whilst we sleep, they grow- into strawberries and mustard and broccoli. In our earliest days, human beings merely hunted down animals for their food. Then they learned that some of the stuff growing on trees and out of the ground was good to eat. And then they learned that they themselves could plant seeds and food would grow. It was like taking part in a miracle and human beings were filled with awe. Wow! Harvest Festivals go back a long way, as the human race celebrated the gift of growing life and gave thanks to the God by whom this gift was given.

But there is a story of a gardener who took on a plot of land choked with weeds, briars and stones. He spent months clearing and re-planting until it became a luscious garden, blooming with flowers and fruit. The Minister visited him there and said, “what a great job you and God together have worked on this garden.“ “Right,” said the gardener, “ you should have seen it when God had it all to himself.”

The miracle of growth is not all good. Poisonous weeds grow as well as fresh flowers. Many tiny acorns simply rot when you plant them. If you sleep for too long, destruction takes over your garden. And no matter how careful you are, nature itself can destroy your crop with locusts, hailstorms or earthquakes.

After centuries of faith, many people gave up on Harvest Festivals, finding it impossible to believe in a God who cared. They said, “OK. Plan B. There is clearly no God. It is down to us to do things our way.”
And there is no denying that we have made huge achievements. We have learned how to produce far more food than we need. We have learned how to protect our crops from disease and pests. We have learned a lot about nutrition- the foods which will keep us healthy and those which will make us ill.

We have also ended up with the deadly Corona Virus. And this on top of reducing vast swathes of fertile land to desert through irresponsible farming; clearing acres of rainforest to make way for cash crops; driving innumerable species to extinction; creating a carbon footprint that could render the earth uninhabitable for future generations.
So yes, I have every sympathy with people who say that, in the face of so much natural devastation, they cannot believe in a god who cares about us. I get that. I am just not sure that Plan B has worked awfully well either.

Life is about growth. It is about seeds of all kinds taking root and growing. It is not just about gardening; it is about growing people, growing families, growing civilisations. Nothing remains static. And sometimes-as in Jesus’ story- you can be hardly aware that a seed is growing until you see it in full flower. Which makes it all the more alarming that not all growing seeds are good seeds.

Jesus did tell stories about poisonous weeds growing in fields of fine wheat. He knew all about poisonous weeds: he saw the results of natural disasters and sicknesses for which there were no cures. He saw human lives wrecked by thickly growing seeds of pain and fear; hatred and prejudice; arrogance and cruelty. And his little story about the seeds growing secretly was not a fairy tale in which “they all lived happily ever after” but a parable, intended to make us stop and think. So- let’s stop and think. I have four thoughts to share:

Number one: Seeds are being planted in our lives every hour of every day. Seeds of happiness when we wake up after a good night’s sleep and the sun is shining; seeds of confidence when someone says, “well done!” Seeds of kindness when we see someone having a bad time and want to help them; seeds of hatred when a person is going out of their way to make life hard for us. Seeds of hope when the Corona virus statistics point to a way out of this pandemic; seeds of despair when they do not. Seeds of greed and of generosity; seeds of gentleness and of violence; seeds of faith and of doubt- this is going on all the time and unless we spend 24 hours a day in unhealthy “navel-gazing” we cannot be constantly separating the good from the bad. We have a life to live. But how then, can we ensure that the good seeds are given every chance to grow and the bad seeds quickly rooted out?

Thought number two: Jesus’ little story was about good seeds, the seeds which create the kingdom of God; producing love, joy, peace, justice, healing and community. And although these tiny seeds would inevitably have struggled to survive against weeds, stones and predators, they did survive, and they grew into plants far larger than anyone would have believed possible. And the driving force behind this growth was not our frantic self-examination but the grace of God.

Thought number three: does this mean then, that, if we do nothing, God will turn us into perfect people? Unfortunately, not. Think back to the state of that garden when God, apparently had it to himself….. The “natural” human state is that of a savage and I am not necessarily talking people living primitive lives here. There are savages to be found with smart clothes, huge bank balances, and places in the corridors of power. Savagery is a way of life totally given over to gratifying your own most basic desires and being incapable of relating to a wider world. We all need to make the choice to grow out of savagery and we all need help and grace in abundance to grow into children of God.

Thought number four: Jesus promised that faith, even as small as that tiny mustard seed would have the power to move mountains. Going back to Harvest Festivals, you can see how this might work out.
Living in the belief that life is a gift from God, means that your life is inspired by gratitude. Not obligation, just thankfulness. And when you live in a spirit of thankfulness,
(a) you start to believe that yes, you are worth it and (b) you become naturally generous. “I am so thankful, I want to share.”
And living in the belief that life is a gift of God makes you
(a)responsible in how you use this gift and (b) humble enough to ask for help when you find it hard to work out the instructions for use.
And this level of faith, Jesus said, combined with the overflowing grace of God will be enough to keep the good seeds growing and the weeds at bay.
We have seen what happens when the human race stops planting seeds of respect and reverence for life and it is not pretty.
We have seen what happens when human beings grow up without ever learning respect and reverence for others and it is terrifying picture.
We have seen what happens when men and women live without respect and reverence for themselves and it is so deeply sad.

Stop and think. What is growing in your life right now?
Be honest and if it is bad or destructive-which it may well be in our current situation- don’t give up. Because Jesus promises that the kingdom of God can still grow within you from even the tiniest seed of faith. You must have even the tiniest seed of faith or you would not be watching this service. Pray that God’s grace will make that seed grow into something as strong and sturdy as the tall trees in Annelise’s garden.
And if seeds of goodness or hope or love are growing in your life right now, then celebrate them, respect them, nurture them and pray that God’s grace will bring them into ever fuller bloom.

Just one last thing to share with you. I was reading an article by someone called Brian Draper and he was suggesting, like many others that we keep a diary through this pandemic. But it was more like a series of “Notes to Self.” Keep asking yourself what you hope to take away from this pandemic.
What do you hope your life will look like this time next year?
What do you hope your church will look like this time next year?
What do you hope the world will look like this time next year?
Write it all down in a letter to yourself, he said, seal it up and open it this time next year.

Plan for growth. Take Jesus at his word and plan for the growth of God’s kingdom in your life, in our church and in our world. Amen.