The Message – The Whimsical Hand of Providence, Mark 4:26-34

A sermon preached by Patrick H. Wrisley on June 13, 2021

Mark 4:26-34

26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.[1]

I want you to imagine that you’re living in early first century Palestine. Is there really any question about who is in charge and running the show? It was Caesar and the power of the Roman empire. Rome imposed the taxes, built the civil infrastructure in the cities as well as a huge, conscripted army to be feared; its legal system favored the well-connected and wealthy. There was no confusion as to who was “in charge”: Tiberius Caesar. The Romans were swift to silence those who challenged Caesar and that’s why our text this morning is really quite scandalous. Jesus is describing a different type of kingdom that is over and against that of Caesar. Jesus was making a political statement that in contrast to the kingdom of Caesar and Rome, he’s saying, “let me tell you about the Kingdom of God and what it’s like!”

The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who slept through growing season only to wake up and find a bountiful crop had grown while they slept. Forces that are greater than the farmer and the very earth itself are at work to produce the grain.

The Kingdom of God is like a little tiny weed that grows so large so quickly birds make their nests in it. The Kingdom of God will spread its subterranean roots where it wants and will grow as God sees fit whether we want it to or not. Weeds are like that, aren’t they?

Yes, Jesus was describing a revolutionary new kingdom in contrast to Rome. The Kingdom of God is one that arises out of surprising grace instead of violent power. The Kingdom of God grows whimsically fast and in unexpected places. If you were Tiberius Caesar and heard these parables and understood what they were saying, you’d become anxious because these words are subversive to your power and rule. This backwater Rabbi Jesus is describing a competing system of power and governance that is not in synchronicity to Roman rule!

Jesus’ audience struggled to understand this fact expressed in these parables about seeds. So did the Romans and religious officials. If we’re honest, we live our lives as though we have forgotten the meaning of these parables, too. We have forgotten Jesus is trying to describe a different way of living and relating to one another. One that is governed by the ever-gentle hand of Providence in the most whimsical way.

What is Providence?  Providence is the unseen but ever-so-intentional care of God that works in your life, my life, this church’s life even when we are not aware of it; it’s kind of like a seed that is planted and grows grain while we sleep.

What is whimsy? Whimsical is someone or something that acts in a playful, fanciful, or amusing way.[2] It’s like having a bird make its home in the middle of a giant weed instead of a solid, sturdy tree; the Kingdom of God grows on its own and in places you would not expect.

I like to think of our parables this morning as our reminder to remember God’s whimsical hand of Providence in our lives and in the life of this congregation. Just as Jesus’ listeners centuries ago did not understand the parables he told them about the in-breaking Kingdom of God in their Romanized world, so it’s difficult for us to discern the movement of God’s whimsical Providence in our coronavirus-plagued and fatigued world. Friends, Jesus’ parables today are our reminder that though our lives and our world today is not what it was like 14 months ago, God has been at work expanding the realm of Christ’s reign in ways we may have not noticed. Let me give you some examples.

For the last year, we have been a church distributed. In other words, we have been separated by time and place and have been worshipping from our homes, hospital rooms, or offices as we engage in worship. The spread of the Good News has emanated from this church to literally all over the world from Taiwan to New Zealand, from Miami Gardens to Clewiston as a result of Livestreaming!

The Kingdom of God has been growing while we ambled through the pandemic in the way you have faithfully given to maintain the ministries of your church. If I were a Happy Land teacher, I would hold up a little clear cup of dirt that had a seed put in and we could watch the sprouts begin to snake their way to the surface. You have trusted God’s unseen hand of Providence to take what you give and join it with other faithful givers to spread the canopy of coverage the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God has been growing through your spiritual depth as a people of God. This congregation is not the same as it was five years ago. It is a congregation that has evolved from conflict to a congregation of grace.  There was a time when this church was known for what it was against; today, the whimsical nature of Providence has us known as a church for who and what we are for and about. We are becoming a place where we can model to the community what it means to “come and reason together” about those hard issues and seek to learn from one another.

The Kingdom of God is reflected in relationships that were once torn but are now healed between the church and the presbytery. We are truly partners in ministry again and are making a difference!

The Kingdom of God is sprouting with a passion to make Sunday the best two hours a week you can have as we move to a two-service worship model with fellowship and spiritual nurture sandwiched in between Contemporary and Traditional worship! Your Elders have said we need to spend more time together in fellowship and in growing our faith, so we are building schedules and structures to make that happen.

The whimsical weeds of the Kingdom are showing forth in the students who have received the $115,000 in scholarships we awarded to both undergrad and graduate students this year.

The Kingdom of God’s roots have been quietly burrowing in the soil as we work on our twenty-first Habitat House.

The Kingdom of God is budding with our new Minister of Music, Reid Masters, and his infectious enthusiasm and vison for all ages of this church to sing and play music to the glory of God.

Friends, the Kingdom of God is when a community realizes that that even though there is no “going back to what was normal” because everything has changed, the whimsical hand of Providence is on the tiller steering the ship.  Beloved, all I know is that while the economy has held its breath the last year, as our nation was fighting for its soul, as we buried our loved ones who died from the pandemic, God’s Holy Spirit was moving in and through this place, through you, in ways that have made us stronger, more resilient, more accepting, and more welcoming and affirming.  Beloved, the overarching trajectory of God’s character is bent towards love and justice, and we recognize the fruits of the Kingdom of God when love and justice are visible.  Look around you! They’re sprouting here!  

This week, I ask you intentionally set aside at least 15 minutes to pause and reflect over the last fourteen months.  It’s so easy to look over the year and see all of the no’s and negatives it brought, but I want you to reflect upon all of the yesses and positive outcomes that have emerged as well.  Think upon where the whimsical Hand of Providence has been at work in your life. Once you recognize it, turn into a prayer of praise to God! Amen.

© June 13, 2021. Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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