Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

A Safe Place to Shelter

13 Jun 2021, 12:30 a.m.

The Bible is not the only source of learning we have about eternal truths though it is an extremely important one. We also learn from the living world around us.

Many of the parables, (comparisons) that Jesus made were drawn from nature. Other than to his disciples, he rarely explained them. He left us to work out their meaning ourselves. Jesus didn’t waste words. Most preachers, particularly me could learn a lot from him.

The amazingly complex, beautiful, ordered natural world around us shows us much about God and ourselves.

Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is like growing seeds. He reminds us of what is obvious. Most of us as children would have grown cress and like the farmer in the story, would have kept checking to look for signs of growth.

The phrase Kingdom of God means the place where he reigns; where everything is perfect as God would have it be. We pray “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Taken literally, this parable speaks of creation. On the third day of creation according to Genesis, “God spoke and the earth brought forth vegetation, plant yielding seed and fruit trees of every kind and God saw that it was very good.” In the Garden of Eden there were no weeds and the first human beings were vegetarians.

The luscious fruit and vegetables which God the gardener had produced from the seed scattered was varied and attractive sufficient for all human beings nutritional needs.

Fruit and vegetables show God’s goodness at the creation of the heavens and earth and at the end, for in God’s new heaven and earth, we see fruits for the healing of the nations.

When God reigns, there is more than enough food for everyone. Think of the seeds within a melon, a pepper or a pomegranate! God is generous. It would take us more than a lifetime to see and enjoy all the beautiful plants and flowers and to taste all the amazing fruits. We are still discovering the medicinal and healing properties within different types of plants.

Working hard by the sweat of his brow on dry ground which produces thorns and thistles was the judgement given to Adam because sin entered the world. All creation Romans tells us groans waiting for the redemption of the children of God and God’s Kingly reign. Greed and pollution has brought about climate change and the death of many species. It is not only human beings who need redemption through Jesus dying for us on Calvary; the whole of creation will be made new.

When God’s Kingdom comes the vegetation and fruit we will see and eat will taste better and look more beautiful.

Gardening is hard work. Vegetation and weeds grow whether we plant them or not.

I love unexpected surprises such as a beautiful flower a bird or the wind planted. However most seeds need sowing by us, lawns need mowing and soil needs weeding and feeding.

Our efforts are never enough. the miracle of life and growth is God’s gift to us. He sends seasons, darkness and light, the rain and sun. We cannot grow plants. Only God can.

We cannot eat bread or taste wine unless someone harvests the crop. If we leave our luscious fruit on the trees, either the birds will eat them or they will go rotten.

We have to watch and reap when the fruit is ripe. We fit in with God’s timing. If we go on holiday when the harvest has come, even for a fortnight, we will miss the harvest of God and our labours.

This parable is more than about sowing and reaping. It is about how God’s Kingdom grows in us and our world. Mark’s gospel is about the good news of God’s kingdom having drawn near to us in Jesus. His words are the seeds that bring life and enable us to grow. Jesus is the word of life who calls us to repent and follow him. When Jesus reigns in our hearts and minds we become a new creation and are rooted and grounded in God’s love.

We need Jesus to make us beautiful on the inside. He died so we might be forgiven and come into his Kingdom. We cannot be cleansed and changed through our own efforts alone. Just as seeds grow in secret, we grow in the secret place as we pray and read our Bibles. What starts in a small way grows as God continues to work within us moulding our characters, changing us into his likeness.

Jesus uses the second parable to show how this growth spreads so that others benefit and become part of what God is doing.

A mustard seed doesn’t grow into a huge tree like the cedar in our Old Testament reading. This tiniest seed grows into a shrub with many large branches under which the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. The mustard shrub is not one which dominates the landscape or calls attention to its self. It provides safe places for birds to nest.

We want to be safe places for our families to grow, for our friends to come in time of crisis’ safe places where little ones are sheltered.

When we act with kindness and strength, enabling others to flourish we show what God’s Kingdom is like.

When our branches grow and reach out to others so they hear about what Jesus has done for us, God’s Kingly reign is extended.

The mustard shrub is a pest when left untended. It has medicinal and herbal properties and flavours our food but like the weeds in our garden it multiplies and takes over. We would uproot it if it was in our garden. Jesus is like the mustard shrub. He is a safe place to come to, he provides healing and flavour to our lives, yet the authorities uprooted and killed him.

However the mustard tree keeps growing. The birds sheltering under the branches give us a vision of the end times and compares with the parable of the cedar given in Ezekiel. The birds of every kind represented the different peoples from across the world who would find safety under Israel’s rule on the Day of the Lord.

We find shelter under the protection of God’s love extended to all who will come to him from all over the world and repent and believe. We are called to extend God’s invitation of shelter and safety to those in our parish. I am excited that New Starts have bought the betting shop which was destroying those with gambling addictions that socialised there. This gives them and us at St Leonard’s the opportunity to extend God’s shelter to others through a week day service.

We see God’s generous, life giving, beauty every time we spend time in our gardens and eat and drink what he has provided. We are grieved by the damage done to our earth and long to see our earth restored and healed.

Thank God for his generosity in sending Jesus to transform our lives and world with the vibrant, spirit filled life he gives when we come to him. May we sow the seed of his word so that his Kingdom will be extended and may we be a safe place where others will find food and shelter?