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Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24, Mark 4:26-34, True Christianity 350:1-2 (see below)
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Today we heard two parables, both about seeds, both trying to tell us something about the kingdom of God. Many times, when we consider these parables, we might be thinking about the kingdom of God, out there. We watch the sower in our mind, but out there in the field, or the mustard seed growing into a tree, but out there in the meadow and we naturally (or automatically) think of the kingdom of heaven as out there too. We see the little plants growing, we see the tree growing, and we make the leap to seeing the kingdom growing, but out there.
This is a totally appropriate application of the metaphor. However, what about the famous bible quote from the gospel of Luke:
17:20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
Likewise, Swedenborg writes: A person has heaven in their internal, so in their willing and thinking as a result of love and faith. (1)
Now we are invited to see these parables slightly differently. Yes, they are telling us about the kingdom of heaven but not necessarily out there, but inside our own selves. What are we being invited to see?
Let us first take a look at the parable of the sower:
He 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.”
What is at first noticeable is the sense of wonder that is evoked. Seeds are like magic. You can scatter them, leave them alone, and then with a process that is essentially out of our control, they burst forth in growth and create something new, something useful, fruitful.
Perhaps part of the invitation held in this metaphor is to regard the growth of the kingdom of God within us with wonder as well. What does that look like? What are the things that grow within us? We heard in our Swedenborg reading:
A seed in the Word means simply truth… The human mind resembles the soil in which spiritual and natural truths are planted like seeds, and they can multiply without limit.
So when we think about seeds as truths, I think they are less facts or axioms but rather true ideas that can grow. Let’s try to think about an example: Let’s say we want to learn something new, like a new instrument. From this one endeavor, we come into the understanding of lots of different truths like: I am capable of learning, I can derive enjoyment and fulfillment from creativity, it is good to stick to things even when they are difficult, hard work can lead to improvement.
We can see that a small seed like, I would like to learn to play an instrument, contains so much within it. The idea grows and expands, and unfurls new leaves and then maybe even creates some new seeds, some new ideas, some new realizations.
And the question that the metaphor poses is: are we doing that growth, or is it God? As our own inners self expands in order to integrate these new ideas, where does that capacity come from? Our Swedenborg reading says further: People acquire this capacity from the infinity of God, who is perpetually present giving His light and heat, and His generative power. When we look at the miracle of the growing seed, we can marvel at, and be grateful for, the ways that God is growing our own internal spiritual capacities.
Now, let us take a moment to consider the parable of the mustard seed
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.”
This parable evokes a similar kind of wonder as the first, but with a slightly different focus. It is lifting up the miracle of smallness, that something small and seemingly inconsequential can grow into something bigger, something beautiful, something that is integrated in to world around it.
When we consider the smallness of the seed, what are the assumptions held within that premise that will eventually lead us to wonder? First, in its smallness, it might be considered insignificant, incapable, disconnected from everything, kind of meaningless, disposable. But what we learn is that these assumptions do not hold when it comes to the spirit. Smallness is no measure of potential.
But it is not even so much that something small magically becomes big. It was more common in literature of the bible’s time for nations to compare themselves to the mighty cedar (2), a magnificent tree. But this parable sees the kingdom of heaven being pictured by a mustard shrub, really a just scruffy bush, a few feet taller than a person. But the question becomes, what can it do? It provides shelter to birds and animals. The most important thing is that it is enfolded into its own environment, that it contributes, that it connects. Size, might, beauty - none of that matters as much as holistic usefulness.
And so we see that we are invited to consider how the kingdom of heaven grows within us, that it may not grow in ways that the world considers powerful and beautiful, but that in God’s divine design, the growth will always be purposeful and integrative, something that has the goal of enfolding us into community with others.
Two ordinary miracles, both focusing on the miracle of growth but in slightly different ways: one focusing on the miracle of transformation, that a seed sheds its seedy existence in order to become a plant, and the other focusing on the miracle of purposefulness, that something small might actually become something integral and essential.
When we look out at the garden that we will be planting after church today, a garden planted with the intention that it might provide something of use to the “insects of the air” we can also see an image of our internal selves. We can see ourselves reflected in nature, and nature reflected in ourselves, and we can become more deeply embedded in this place, this world.
“…the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”
“‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
(1) Emanuel Swedenborg, The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine #234
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. “ ‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” 33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
True Christianity 350
350. (i) It is evident that the truths of faith are capable of being multiplied to infinity from the wisdom of the angels in heaven being for ever increasing. The angels also say that there is never any limit to wisdom, and the only source of wisdom is from Divine truths analytically arranged by means of the light which falls on them, coming from the Lord….
 The way the truths of faith multiply to infinity can be compared with human seed, each one of which can propagate families for century after century. The way the truths of faith reproduce can also be compared with the way seeds in fields or gardens reproduce; these can be propagated to make hundreds of millions and for ever. Seed in the Word means simply truth, a field means doctrine, a garden wisdom. The human mind resembles the soil in which spiritual and natural truths are planted like seeds, and they can multiply without limit. People acquire this capacity from the infinity of God, who is perpetually present giving His light and heat, and His generative power.