You may not know who Mackie Shilstone is but for the past 30 years, over 3,000 professional athletes have been looking to him to increase their stamina and performance to win. The NFL, NBA and MLB all have looked to Mackie. Tennis star Serena Williams has been counting on him. Boxers Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. have been influenced by him so much that KO magazine voted him among the top 50 most influential people in the history of boxing! Even if you're a Braves fan you have to appreciate Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith of my St. Louis Cardinals who included Mackie in his induction speech. What you may not know is that Mackie stands tall at 5'8” and weighs in at 137. (Check out Mackie's info here: http://www.mackieshilstone.com/ms-bio/)
Mark may be the smallest Gospel, but good things often come in small packages. That it is the shortest, means for me, I need to consider just why did Mark include certain things and not others. Take for instance these two parables...
Agriculture has always been a part of life in Israel. But we're not much into farming here in the suburbs of the ATL. Living off the land is a bit foreign to us . Until we stop. Ever notice how a weed can manage to find away to grow in the smallest patch of dirt on the side of the interstate? Or check out the slow growth of a tree root as little by little, day by day, destroys a section of concrete. Over time, nature will reclaim all our work. It never complains about time passing.
As we've gone through parables in our Men's Breakfast and Bible study, we've learned that parables from Jesus are supposed to make us uncomfortable. Are their meanings obvious to you? Are these stories about size or is it about something more? That I can find, Jesus never seemed to make things too easy for them so can they be for us?
Could it be these parables about the idea of growth. Both parables are about planting, about nature and farming. Surely in an agricultural setting this would make since. Simple people were hearing Jesus so simple stories right? But there is always a secret in these parables of Jesus. It isn't THAT easy.
Maybe the idea of the kingdom of God is the primary thing they have in common. I mean, Jesus even says that in the beginning. But notice that Jesus never says: the Kingdom of God is EXACTLY this way! Nope, he only says the kingdom is like “a man scattering seed,” and “ like a mustard seed.” Maybe that is why Mark put them together, the Kingdom.
Dr. William Barclay wrote in his commentary on the book of Mark a simple observation about these parables. He pointed out that “...everything has a beginning. Nothing emerges full grown.” We have to wait. And waiting takes patience. It takes faith. It is for God to give the increase. Not only that, do not be surprised at how full that growth is going to be.
Maybe you're wondering where you've heard this idea of mustard seed and faith before. It is because Jesus liked the comparison! In Matthew 17:20 he said, “...you don't have enough faith! But I can promise you this. If you had faith no larger than a mustard seed, you could tell this mountain to move from here to there. And it would. Everything would be possible for you.”
Does knowing facts change our faith? Does knowing how tiny a mustard weed seed is change the wonder about how large the plant grows? Does knowing the process of seed growth change that we really don't know the moment the seed dies and becomes a plant?
The kingdom of God is going some place. God is at work. From us, he asks for us to go about the work by faith. If God had been interested in changing the world in a moment, he could have done so BUT HE DIDN'T! Remember...born as a baby to parents of no reputation in a backwater town in an occupied country and then he counted on the anybodies and everybodies to spread the word!
Honestly, who is the one with great faith, us who are trying to believe in an all-powerful being we can't see OR God, who has put his faith in us whose small mindedness is evidenced for all to see for all time?
The mark of faith, simply put, is to drop that seed into the ground. Sow it. Put it out there. As a people marked by grace, we've been marked by followers. We're right alongside that rag-tag group of guys and gals who wandered the countryside with Jesus. God didn't expect Jesus to turn around the world overnight. In fact, the plan was to pass the torch to us!
Nor did he say it would be easy.
There is an old story and it is told with different characters. In one, a man began watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still. The man decided to help the butterfly and so cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled. The man continued to watch, hoping that, the butterfly would open its wings and fly. Nope. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shriveled wings, incapable of flight.
Jedi Master Yoda said, “Size Matters Not!” Despite the small beginnings, God's kingdom will grow when we plant our faith no matter the size. Barclay noted that, “If God is the God we believe him to be there is no room for pessimism.” But I want to add, if we are the people God believes us to be there is no reason to doubt.
Jesus believes your life has an unlimited capacity to grow – what do you believe about you? Don't think a small thing you do matters? Then you need to be part of Cumming FUMC's One Great Day of Service. Take on the mantra of “Pay It Forward” or “Random Acts of Kindness.” Doing one thing is all about sowing that one seed. Don't overlook the significance of the small seed. Sow your faith!
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Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning... even on daylight savings time Sundays!