Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13+Psalm 20+(2 Corinthians 5:6-17)+Mark 4:26-34

I love it when we get to this part of the parables. I know I’ve told you before what an incompetent gardener I am, so when Jesus – I mean Jesus – says that someone scatters some seed and then goes about his business, night and day, and somehow that seed sprouts and grows, it’s me! Putting a little water around and weeding a bit, going out in my slippers to check on things in the morning. And when something happens, it’s a cause for celebration. My new lilac tree has a few new-growth leaves on it, and that discovery sent me scurrying into the house to rejoice in telling the news to Tim. But do I know how all that happened? I do not. And Jesus is saying that this is what God’s reign looks like.

Wait. What?

That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Well, maybe the next bit about the mustard seed will give us a clue, but if you were sitting on the ground listening to Jesus tell this story, you may well have fallen over laughing. First of all, when teachers talked about the people of Israel, they customarily used those fabulous images of great cedars of Lebanon – stately and strong, a tree planted by streams of water that shall not be moved. Ezekiel used an image of the tall cedar protecting the birds of the air that build their nests in it branches (17:22-24). Jesus doesn’t talk about a mighty cedar. No, he compares God’s reign to a weed. Yes, that’s right folks, a weed. The mustard plant may come from a tiny seed, but it’s akin to what we in the South call kudzu – an invasive, fast growing weed that will cover a house in no time if you don’t rip it out at the roots.

The kingdom of God is like a weed. How about that?

A clergy colleague wrote this story about officiating a wedding with a young couple:

The father of the groom was crying. He was standing in the corner of the Church, watching his son and the wedding party pray together just before the wedding rehearsal started.

His son – the groom – had gathered the wedding party around the baptismal font. Then the groom started to pray. He thanked God for the gift of his bride, and prayed that he would be a generous husband. He also asked God to make him a faith-filled father, so that he could effectively introduce his children to Jesus once they were born.

The groom’s father was in the corner, crying. I walked over to him, and dad simply pointed to his son and said, “I am so proud of him. He grew up to be a man of faith. He loves his fiancée, he loves the Lord and the church. Look at him, leading his friends in prayer. Where did he learn to do all this?”

And without hesitation, I said, “He learned it by watching you.”

What dad did not know was this: during my meetings with this bride and groom, the groom told me that his dad was his hero. He said that many of the most important things he had learned in life, he learned by watching his dad.

He watched his dad kneeling by his bed in prayer every night. He watched his dad receiving communion every Sunday. He watched his dad, leading the family in prayer before every meal, even when they were out to dinner. He watched his dad, feeding the hungry with his men’s bible study group.

He watched his dad working hard every day, but making time for his family every night.

And most of all, he watched his dad being a husband. He saw that his dad rarely spoke harshly to his wife. How he and his wife worked together, raising the children, getting through the hard times, laughing in the good times, and creating a home where love and faith were valued above any material possession.

The son told me all of this during the marriage preparation meetings. So when dad said to me, “where did he learn all this? How did he become such a good person?” I had the privilege of saying, “He learned it from you…from your daily example of being a good Christian, a good husband, a good father.” And after the wedding, I said to myself, that dad was planting good seeds, and he didn’t even know it. He was planting seeds in the life of his son, and he was amazed at how they had taken root, and blossomed to an amazing harvest.[1]

The kingdom of heaven might be compared to a weed, but weeds flourish and grow, out-of-control, with the least amount of care. It doesn’t take much. In the words of that old Christian campfire song, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”

I can’t tell you the number of times someone has come to me or sent a note telling me how some seemingly insignificant interaction with me had changed their life. Many times, maybe more often than not, I have no recollection of it at all. This is me, the inept gardener, that sower of seeds who scatters them around and doesn’t know how on earth they manage to grow. Praying, gathering for worship, doing the things Jesus taught us to do – all of these are the fertilizers for the seeds of God’s reign. It doesn’t take much. The tiniest little bit is all God needs to set the world on fire.

[1] © Michael Renninger, 2021,

ASEPSermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas