Never underestimate the small…and keep planting.
Sermon for Adel Parish church – 2nd Sunday after Trinity, 13th June 2021
Mark 4: 26 – 34
Today I want to tell you a story. I won’t start with ‘once upon a time’ because as far as I know, it’s a true story.
It could be the story of a remarkable young man and what he did with his life. It could be the story of a narrow escape and a lucky break. But I like to think of it as the story of an ordinary, faithful Sunday school teacher…perhaps struggling a bit to keep a lively group of boys interested on sunny summer mornings…perhaps wondering if they’re taking anything in, but persevering anyway.
Actually, she (and it almost certainly was woman) is the person we know least about in this story – but we know she existed.
Anyway, our story starts in Uganda in the 1970s. The Uganda of Idi Amin, where innocent people regularly disappear. About 40 miles from the capital Kampala, our hero – David – is growing up in a poor village, cared for by his mother. When David is about 9, his mother and all of his siblings die of malaria within a week. Neighbours help him to bury his family – but haven’t the resources to take in an extra child.
So David walks to the capital to try his luck. For a few years he survives with other street children…scavenging for food and sleeping rough. But then he hears street children are being kidnapped to become slaves on the plantations of the dictator. What should David do?
At this point he remembers from years before, his Sunday school teacher saying ‘trust Jesus’; and he recalls passing a business with a sign declaring ‘The Jesus Garage’. So he knocks at the door – and is greeted by a huge, imposing looking man. Trying to look older than his years – David asks for a job. The man – a Christian (hence the name of his garage) takes pity on David, offers him the job of sweeper, and an old car to sleep in. His first home for years.
Actually, what the man gave David was a future…trained him as a mechanic, paid him, and shared his love of Jesus.
With his first proper pay packet, David rented a shack and took in 6 homeless orphans. He met and married Sarah, and together they had 8 children and adopted a further 9. But they did far more than that. When their children needed schooling – they founded a nursery school and opened it to locals…then a primary school, a secondary school.
Some pay fees – and this is used to provide a home and educations for orphans. When the AIDs epidemic struck, many pupils were orphaned each year – they were never turned out when fees dried up.
David is now a priest. I wonder whether that Sunday school teacher ever knew that if she taught nothing else, her message that Jesus can be trusted took root and grew.
2000 years ago, Jesus stood in front of a crowd telling stories. He was trying to make them understand that he, with his motley bunch of Galilean fishermen, tax collectors, hangers on, was actually the beginning of God’s kingdom breaking through on earth.
Well why didn’t he just say that? Why insist on talking in riddles? Perhaps because the crowd couldn’t have taken in what he needed to tell them. Perhaps because it’s a truth too big, too abstract to make sense of in one go. Jesus doesn’t deal in simple facts but deep ideas about our relationships with each other and with God.
In today’s words he was enlarging people’s vision to grasp that here was the tiny beginning of a kingdom that would grow and shelter people of all races. He gave them a narrative world they could enter and explore…which will go on teaching…will help people ponder simple ideas and complex puzzles.
Jesus talked about how things grow. He held up a mustard seed – not that they would see it – it’s far too small. But they knew all about mustard seeds. They knew that tiny though they are, with minimal effort from people they grow into bushes big enough to shelter all sorts of wildlife.
The people in these two parables don’t do an awful lot. They scatter the seed on the ground. There’s no watering, weeding, applying fertiliser…my sort of gardening in fact…but from tiny seeds come full heads of grain and massive shrubs.
Humbling, challenging and encouraging words for Christians working to grow God’s kingdom in their little patch. First a reminder that our role is perhaps both more and less important than we imagine.
We’re called to be the sowers – to plant the seeds – to tell people about the kingdom of God and the person of Jesus. Without the seed, there is no plant, no growth of God’s kingdom. That could be daunting – but remember how the sower just slept and rose and the plants grew? We don’t have to do it all. We don’t need a complete understanding – a thought out explanation – a plan for every step of someone’s Christian journey before we start to invite them into the kingdom. We sow – God’s grace brings about the growth, in a way we won’t understand.
And even the smallest of seeds can grow to a great bush.
So, if you’re a parent, managing a slightly embarrassed prayer at bedtime with your children; if you’re a Junior church or JJs leader wondering how to make sense of Jesus’ words for young people; if your evangelism to a friend consists of suggesting they try evensong, because of the peace it brings you, or ‘Ace’ because it’s fun; if the Rector’s asked you to share your thoughts at an All Age service and you can’t imagine what an ordinary person like you can say about God…
…think of David Serunjogi’s Sunday school teacher and what grew from the simple message to trust in Jesus; think of the mustard seed, and go on planting.