Mark 3:31-4:9 2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert 7 June 2015
When I went off to college, there were many friends and many activities but the people who made the biggest difference for me at a small Presbyterian College were two adults – a Professor of Psychology and the Director of Student Activities – who became mentors in my young adult life. They were, along with a group of friends, my chosen family. I sought their advice. I turned to them when I had difficulties. We built a relationship that had depth – that included prayer for each other. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Korrel Kanoy and Elizabeth McNair, who is now a Presbyterian minister, for the support they provided a young college student. They were both in their twenties – so not too far removed from my age at 18-19. But the time they took with me, the natural way they were both authority figure and friend, allowing just the right level of mutuality and mentorship in the relationship was crucial. Sometimes we forget the power of playing that kind of role for someone on the cusp of adulthood. But the truth is – all of us need familial relationships with friends.
Everywhere you go in life, wherever you move, you need a family, beyond the family that you call family. And part of being a mature adult is realizing your need to find family everywhere you go. It takes some initiative to find people you can trust, to try on relationships carefully so that you know who can serve well as mother, brother, father, sister. We all need some kindred spirits beyond those who are “supposed” to love us. And that’s what can happen at church, but it take intentional effort. Just sitting beside someone on Sunday morning, even if you sit beside the same person every Sunday, does not make for a familial relationship. No, you need time to talk, to share life, to learn to trust. Trust happens over time.
The other thing we all need is a fertile field in which to grow. If you plant yourself on a well-worn path, then you may not be able to take root there, because it is such a popular place that the ground is worn down, and the soil is hard and dry. People in places like that are calloused and cynical. No growth happens there. The birds of skepticism come to gobble up all potential and hope for growth.
Hard soil is bad for growth and so are rocks (If people are soil, then call them hard-nosed, critical or competitive people. Growth can happen but it is not sustainable.
If you plant yourself among thorns (or call these the people who distract you from your best self, your best practices, people who tempt you to go the wrong way) then you will not grow, because the thorns will cover you up. No, we need to plant ourselves in places where we can be fruitful.
We are reading two passages from Mark that are not usually read together, even though one story follows the other. The first has to do with whom Jesus calls family and the second has to do a healthy environment for growth. It seemed to me as we were celebrating our high school graduates today and welcoming new members into the family of faith here, it was a great time to talk about finding family (people who do the will of God with us) and finding a fertile field for God’s word to take root and grow in you. Let anyone with ears to hear, listen to the Gospel of Mark as it speaks to us today by the power of the Holy Spirit:
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 33 And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." 4:1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold." 9 And he said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!" (NRSV)
Jesus goes on in chapter four to explain the Parable of the Sower, or as I like to call it, the Parable of the Seed and the Soil, teaching that the one who sows seed is sowing the word. You can read this parable in so many directions. Is it about our sharing the Gospel with others – that we should not worry, but cast seed broadly, understanding that some will take root and others will not, depending on where the seed lands. But it is also about being good soil for the word of God to take root in us.
So today with the story of Jesus telling his disciples that his real family members are the ones who do God’s will. But today I like to like of it as a story about our lives and the need we have for the word of truth, for Christ our living word, to be deeply planted in us to grow. And if we are on the hardened, popular path, seed is quickly snapped up, no time for growth. Also in a rocky place, we will not grow. We will receive the word gladly, but with no room to put down roots, the word will shrivel up and die in us. I would venture to say that very large churches can be rocky places where the word is received gladly but the relationships, if shallow, do not provide fertile soil for faith to grow. When trouble comes, people in rocky places, or in places where they are unable to grow deep roots, they fall away, and no one even notices.
And if we are in a thorny place, we will not grow. Thorny places are places where the cares of the world are distracting, where the lure of wealth and success, and other worldly desires, crowd out growth. If your life is too full of activities, then it doesn’t matter how good the seed is and how fertile the soil. Weeds and thorns will crowd out and choke off the growth. This busy-ness is a real problem in our culture.
I read two pieces this week that inspired me – one was about taking Sabbath time, slowing down, so that we can really notice what the Holy Spirit is up to. Barb and Lee’s former church in Minneapolis is serious about taking this kind of Sabbath time. Another church I know cut out all church meetings for the whole season of Lent so that everyone could just gather in homes and at church for weekly dinners with scripture and prayer. Another piece I read this week was about a couple who served as YAVs – young adult volunteers in the Presbyterian Church. They decided to cut out consumerism for an entire year. Yes, they only bought groceries and things that they really needed (like shoes for growing children). If it was not consumable in a year, they did not buy it. They found that without shopping, they saved both time and money, but most of all, they found themselves enjoying one another more. The title of their book is A Year Without a Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Shop Shopping and Start Connecting by Scott Dannemiller.
Consumerism is one of the thorns that can choke off life, if we let it. There are other thorns like sporting activities, entertainment, and dining out that can consume so much time and money. Now if these activities are building community for you, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong. If you are still growing or if God’s word is growing in you, that’s great. But if you never rarely have time for church or for personal or family devotion or service to God, and if you never have any time or treasure to give to God, then these activities are probably taking a bigger chunk of your life than is healthy. You know the definition of a weed is a wild plant growing in the wrong place and in competition with the other plants.
So as we send our high school graduates into the world, let’s remember that they need mentors more than mothers and fathers. They need family – people who will love them and guide them gently and respectfully. We are called to be family to one another – to be sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers to each other. That means the hard, messy work of being family together and working things out peaceably and learning from one another.
We are called to model an alternative lifestyle, a life of self-giving love – not one that fits neatly with the American Dream of self-actualization. Faith is caught more than taught. If we want to influence young people so that more of them will stayed connected to the Church, all of us must plant ourselves deeper in the fertile soils of faith. If Christianity is just a nice addition/supplement to life, like other extra-curriculars, then it is not worth giving our all. But if you believe this is the life, the real life, and the only true life, then let’s get on with deepening our roots and growing. Let’s be more than friends, and truly help one another to find the fertile soil required for healthy, vibrant growth as Christ’s people.
Graduates and all people of Peace, let the word of God dwell in you richly. Grow up into full maturity in Christ. Don’t be tossed around, trampled by animals, eaten by birds, burned up in the hot sun. The Scottish pastor/writer George MacDonald once said, “All growth that is not toward God is growing to decay.” All Christian growth is gradual, like the growth of a plant. You cannot observe it happening, except to look back and say, more mature today than yesterday.
When someone asks you, “What is your field? And you, like most, don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, I hope you will say, “I studying _____ and am not sure what kind of work I will do, but my field is the fertile field. I am growing in Christian faith.” Find some good soil, and find some good friends to be family to you. You might find both of those in a church.