Pentecost 3 – Sermon – June 13, 2021


Then Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. (Mk 4:26-27)   

Tin Men

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11733680

My sons and I share a common interest in films. On long drives, out at dinner, or most any time at all, our conversation often turns to a remembered quote from a movie.  Invariably it is from a scene in a film like My Cousin Vinnie, starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei.  Or Tin Men, where Danny DeVito teams up with Richard Dreyfuss.  You remember Tin Men, the 1987 film about aluminum siding salesmen in Baltimore?  We have almost memorized the film. Any mention of a line leads to us breaking into uncontrollable laughter.

There is a scene in Tin Men where salesman Sam tells us he is inspired to come to a closer relationship with God. Recalling a smorgasbord with his wife, he reports, “you know, I’m beginning to believe in God.  I’m looking at all this food, I see all these vegetables, and I think, all these things came outta the ground. I see tomatoes, outta the ground, carrots, outta the ground, radishes outta the ground. And I think, all of these things come outta the ground.  And I’m just talkin’ about the vegetables, I haven’t gotten to the fruits yet. And I think, how can that be? How can all these things come outta the ground? With all these things comin’ outta the ground, there must be a God.”[i]


Parable of the Seed

This morning, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks to his disciples in the parable of the seed. These verses are actually the conclusion of a three-part parable describing the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  You recall how the parable begins.  Just a few verses earlier Jesus speaks to an eager crowd along the shore of Galilee.  He describes the sower as he casts seed purposely and extravagantly on the earth. Some falls along a path where the birds eat it up. Some falls on rocky places where it springs up quickly but does not take hold in the thin soil.  Some falls among the thorns, where it is choked and fails to bear grain.  Still other seed falls on good soil.  There it flourishes and produces an extravagant crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold. (Mk 4:1-9)

The image of the farmer sowing is so familiar to the agricultural society in biblical Israel. There might even have been a farmer sowing kernels of wheat or barley in a nearby field while Jesus speaks to the crowd.  The farmers in that audience would have expected an average yield of tenfold from their fields. So the end of the story would have been a stunner for Jesus’ audience when he describes the abundant, the amazing yield of the Kingdom of God.[ii],[iii]

#MustardYet his disciples fail to understand the parable of the sower.  Speaking in parables is an expression of grace that allows the hearer time for reflection.  Had Jesus spoken his message directly to his audience, they would be led to an immediate decision, likely unbelief or rejection. [iv] So in a rare circumstance, Jesus takes the disciples aside and explains.  He describes how God’s Kingdom is spread as a seed.  It takes root and flourishes where there are ears to hear.  In his explanation he offers his disciples ears to hear.

And yet, like salesman Sam, no one knows how the seed comes to maturity, either as grain, fruit or vegetables.  So this morning, Jesus tells us the parable of the secret growth of the seed and the extravagance of its bounty in the example of the mustard seed.

“The Kingdom of God,” Jesus says, “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground.” In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus explains: “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God.” (Lk 8:11) Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom has been sown in this world, in the midst of every human and earthly condition. It is sown everywhere, no matter the quality of the soil or the weeds that may grow among them.  And then the sower goes on about his business, he sleeps and rises every day.  The seed sprouts, the sower knows not how. It grows by itself, in its own good time, we know not how.[v]

Frog and Toad

Perhaps you recall the children’s story of Frog and Toad Together?  Toad sees Frog’s beautiful garden and decides that he, too would like to have a garden.  Frog warns him a garden is hard work. He then gives Toad flower seeds to plant. Toad plants the seeds and tells them to start growing.  They fail to grow immediately.  So Toad shouts to the ground: “Seeds, start growing!” Frog says that Toad is frightening the seeds.  “Leave the seeds alone for a while, Toad!”  The seeds do not grow that night.  So Toad thinks they are afraid of the dark. He reads stories, poems and plays music for them. They still don’t grow. Toad falls asleep.  He wakes in the morning and sees the seeds have begun to sprout.  Finally happy the seeds are no longer afraid to grow,  Toad tells Frog: “You were right. Growing a garden is very hard work.”[vi]

By Arnold Lobel – https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22008731178, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48398446

At the time of Creation, we are planted as a seed in the divine image of our Creator. Our seed fails to grow immediately. Looking back over the ages, I suspect God would agree with Toad that growing a garden is very hard work.  I think God would also agree with these lyrics of country singer Kathy Mattea:

Sometimes I stop on my way home and watch the children play

And I wonder if they wonder what they’ll be some day

Some will dream a big dream and make it all come true

While others go on dreaming of things they’ll never do.


We’re all just seeds in God’s hands

We start the same but where we land

Is sometimes fertile soil and sometimes sand

We’re all just seeds in God’s hands

We’re all just seeds in God’s hands.[vii]

Receive the Seed that is Planted

But, as with a parable, we must be prepared to receive the seed that is planted.  We must be prepared to receive, and to understand.  Jesus is not just announcing to his audience that God’s kingdom is now present.  He is announcing that the Kingdom is present only if and when it is accepted, entered into, and taken upon oneself.[viii]  Return with me, then, to another scene in the film Tin Men. Salesman Tilly is down on his luck. His sales scams aren’t working. The Baltimore Home Improvement Commission and the IRS are hard on his heels. At the salad bar, he looks down on the luscious tomatoes, the inviting vegetables.  In that moment, he remembers. Tilly acknowledges God’s presence as he prays that God will help him in his time of trouble. The seed of the kingdom has begun to germinate in Tilly.[ix]

The miracle of the seed is that it is so tiny.  It is buried deep in the earth.  It is covered over and never seen as a seed again.  It is nourished by the warmth and moisture that surrounds it.  As we come into flower, we call upon our Creator, the one who has sown us, to bring us home to the Kingdom of God.  Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done… on earth… just as it is in heaven.  Just as the mustard seed grows from its tiniest beginnings, the Sower calls us to flower into our divine image.  Come home to me now.  Grow to become the greatest of all shrubs.  Set forth your large branches so that the birds of the air, those whom I have called you to love, the forgotten, the homeless, the refugee, the poor of spirit, can find rest in your shade.



 Works Referenced


Works Referenced:

This is a sermon delivered to the congregation of Emmanuel Church, Newport, RI on June 13, 2021.  I am indebted to the following for their insights into the lectionary: Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, Preaching the Gospel of Mark, Westminster John Knox (2008); Simon J. Kistemaker The Parables, Baker Books (1980); William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans (1974); Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, Eerdmans (2002); John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable, Harper Collins (2012); Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Together, Harper Collins (1972), and Dr. Carolyn Sharp, Professor of Homiletics, Yale Divinity School.

Roger C. Bullard, June 13, 2021


[i] Film Tin Men (1987), Barry Levinson, Director, Jackie Gayle as Sam.

[ii] Kistemaker p.31-3

[iii] Sharp, 2/23/2021 lecture, Mark 4

[iv] Lane, p.172

[v] Capon, p.77,80

[vi] Lobel, The Garden

[vii] Kathy Mattea, Seeds, in her album Lonesome Standard Time (1982)

[viii] Crossan, p. 134

[ix] Tin Men, Danny DeVito as Tilly.