26 Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”Mark 4:26-29 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
This week we distributed seedlings from the Vicarage donated to us by the lovely people from Grow Speke, a community garden in South Liverpool. People from the St Michael’s community were able to collect seedlings which they could take home and plant in their garden, windowbox or backyard.
There’s something really vital about growing things ourselves. Being able to plant and watch sees sprout and grow into plants re-connects us with the natural rhythm of life and engenders respect for creation, of which we are an integral part.
Jesus taught stories largely from creation. In Mark chapter 4 there are three such stories, or parables. All involve ‘seed’ – the story of The Seed & the Sower (lockdown lessons no.1: gardening the church), the story of the Secret Seed, and the story of the Small Seed. It is possible to read these three stories as if they were mini chapters in a bigger story.
These stories, Jesus tells his followers, illustrate what the Kingdom of God is like: “To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables”, He says (Mark 4: 11).
The Kingdom of God is like seed. It is a living, growing thing. It starts out small, and spreads. And it grows in secret.
Scattering & Planting
“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground…”
There is a difference between scattering and planting. Its an important distinction.
Planting is when we take a seedling and plant it in a pot or in the ground. The plant is already newly established before we plant it.
Scattering is different. In modern agricultural terms scattering is known as ‘broadcast seeding’, a ‘method of seeding that involves scattering seed, by hand or mechanically, over a relatively large area’, as opposed to ‘precision seeding’, which is more akin to planting, where seed is placed at a precise spacing and depth.
Church Planting & Kingdom Scattering
Churches are planted. A group of believers dig into a particular neighbourhood, plant themselves and nurture new growth as new shoots emerge from the original plant. Eventually, when the plant reaches maturity, seedlings can be taken and planted elsewhere. This is how the Church grows. At its best, its a beautiful thing to behold and to take part in.
The Church and the Kingdom are not the same. The Church is the Community of the Kingdom. The gathering of Kingdom People.
The Kingdom of God is wherever The King – Jesus – reigns, which is not confined to the Church. The Kingdom of God is within you and among you. It is here now and yet to come. It exists in time and beyond it. The Kingdom of God is like seed blowing in the wind. Who knows where it might land?
And who knows how it grows? Only God.
Church planting is a good and necessary exercise. Those of us who are Jesus-followers can’t all be church planters. Yet, we are all ‘Kingdom Scatterers’. Wherever we go we scatter seed. We tell stories like Him and about Him. We serve Him as we serve others. Seeds scattered on the wind, taking root in the lives of people and communities. As we sleep and we rise, as we go about our lives, the Kingdom spreads around us.
The Kingdom, like the earth, produces of itself in stages – stalk, head. full grain. There are seasons to Kingdom growth. There is ‘a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted’ (Ecclesiastes 3: 2). The ‘sower and reaper may rejoice together…one sows and another reaps.’ (John 4: 36 & 37).
As we emerge from our lockdown hibernation, could this be such a season of reaping? It has certainly been a season of growth for so many of us. We have become acutely – and for some of us, painfully – aware of the cycle of life and death. Is the grain ripe? Has harvest has come?
The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.Amos 9: 13
Keep on scattering!