A Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost and St Barnabas Day (June 11)
June 14, 2015
(1 Samuel 15.34 – 16.13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34)
I have always enjoyed hiking, camping, and the outdoors in general.
Accompanying this, of course, is an interest in all the equipment that makes this pursuit both enjoyable and possible. I own backpacks full of ‘stuff’: pocket knives, stoves, pots and pans, sleeping bags, utensils, lights, tents.
Although I rarely hike overnight I confess to an ongoing interest in all things portable. Just last week I spotted a pocket knife and hopefully pointed it out to my wife: ‘Father’s Day?’
I like small stuff!
And, according to our readings today, I am in good company. God, too, collects, nurtures, and grows small things!
David, son of Jesse was one of them.
We are prone to think of David as the most celebrated king of Israel. His resume includes sections entitled: Giant Slayer, Celebrated Warrior, World’s Most Published Songwriter, Palace Builder, National Leader.
But long before this there was a shepherd boy forgotten even by his father Jesse.
Samuel is hunting for the Lord’s anointed. King Saul fills God with regret. Another is chosen. The prophet Samuel is given the dangerous, unenviable task of finding God’s chosen. His clues: Bethlehem and the family of Jesse.
So under the guise of offering a sacrifice, Samuel sets out on the journey from his hometown to Jesse’s (Ramah to Bethlehem is about 20 kilometers).
But before the festivities begin the sons of Jesse parade before Samuel. Eliab. Abinadab. Shammah. Four unnamed others.
All are rejected. God’s instruction regarding the first holds for each: ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’
Famously, God is looking for ‘a man after God’s own heart’.
Upon hearing of another son, Samuel insists that the youngest be called. His father did not even invite him. Someone, after all, had to tend the sheep.
And it is this one who is anointed before our text even names him. David, forgotten sheep-shepherd appointed national-shepherd.
God collecting little things. God remembering that which is small and gently, encouragingly nurturing greatness.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the Son of the God who chose David liked talking about seeds.
Jesus does not set out to teach the latest farming techniques. The two gardening stories we heard this morning open with a clarifier: ‘The kingdom of God is as if…’; and ‘with what can we compare the kingdom of God’. These seed-stories are about God’s action in God’s world.
And the common theme is growth.
The first parable sees a farmer scattering seed. From there he is admittedly unaware of the mysteries taking place beneath the soil. The earth is at work on the seed.
Yet, despite this lack of understanding the seed-scatterer is ready: at harvest the sickle is sharp and the crop is cut. Planting. Growth. Harvest. Acts of faith, hope, trust. The ‘how’ may remain a mystery yet the barn is full.
A farmer’s action reminding Jesus of the kingdom-of-God-way.
The second story Jesus offers celebrates exponential growth.
Thousands of mustard seeds can be held in a cupped hand. Yet any one of these hidden in the soil grows out of proportion. It morphs from ‘smallest’ to ‘greatest’. Now birds who could swallow a mustard seed with ease rest in its branches!
Planting. Growth. Fruitfulness. Something where once there was nothing.
These Jesus-stories challenge me to become more of a seed-sower. They point to the power of a faith-filled word; the influence of a prayer-saturated act. Small things.
What, today, are you ‘able to hear’ in these memorable kingdom growth stories?
The Apostle Paul, seems to hold to a similar theme in his second letter to the Jesus-followers living in the city of Corinth.
There he hopes these believers will be able to ‘answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart’. He goes on to encourage the church to ‘regard no one from a human point of view’. Our passage peaks with the memorable and remarkable claim: ‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’
Perhaps as we remember St Barnabas today, we might place the life of the martyr who names our church in the same category. Barnabas, meaning ‘Son of Encouragement’ is famous for living up to his name. It was Barnabas who took the young and unreliable Mark under his wing when Paul refused. Paul will one day see the value of this young man to his mission. Not yet, however. For a long time it was only Barnabas who invested himself in this faltering apprentice.
David. Seeds. Barnabas and Mark. You as a new creation of Christ.
Don’t ever forget God’s strange obsession with taking the small and unlikely and creating something remarkable. If you do, you may overlook the very action of God – in you, in your street, in your workplace, in your friends and family, in your nation, in your world.
Perhaps we can do no better than to respond with the resolve of Psalm 20:
‘Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses:
but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.’ (20:7).