Pastors have a frequent question when they begin to discover mimetic theory. “That’s great. But how does it preach?”
Reverends Tom and Laura Truby show that mimetic theory is a powerful tool that enables pastors to preach the Gospel in a way that is meaningful and refreshing to the modern world. Each Wednesday, Teaching Nonviolent Atonement will highlight Tom and Laura’s sermons as an example of preaching the Gospel through mimetic theory.
In this sermon they discuss the power of story to transform us through Jesus’ use of parables. They talk about their personal transformations and the transformation of their church. It all starts with a mustard seed, “a weed no farmer wants,” but a seed that is mysteriously like the Kingdom of God.
New Things Have Arrived!
What is the Kingdom of God like, Jesus asks. Then he answers his own question. He has a clear vision but his vision is so different he must boggle people’s minds for them to even have a chance of seeing it. He must start with something they all know and then infuse it with enough strangeness to get them thinking out of the box. We see this in the story of the mustard seed, a weed no farmer wants, deliberately planted in the field. They must scratch their heads and puzzle on what Jesus is saying because he is talking about something they can’t imagine on their own. Anything referencing the Kingdom of God comes from a place outside typical human thinking. To understand what Jesus is saying we must prepare ourselves to think new thoughts. Are we ready?
Listen to the mystery and drama in the first two sentences of today’s first story. “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground.” It could be anyone who scattered that seed and it could be any kind of seed. Jesus is setting up the story. The one who scatters the seed than sleeps and wakes night and day and we don’t know how long this goes on. It is indefinite and mysterious. The story takes us out of common time and into the realm of mystery as a sense of fascination takes hold of us.
“The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer does not know how.” Suddenly we discover that the seed-scatterer is a farmer and so one mystery is resolved but another mystery intensifies. Mysteriously seeds and sprouts grow, (is this not true?) the earth produces crops all by itself but we don’t know how this happens, not really. Jesus makes clear that even the farmer can’t explain it and yet it happens. Once he has scattered the seed the farmer doesn’t do anything except sleep and wake. There is a strange passivity here. Is the Kingdom of God like this? His story goes on.
“The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain.” Something seems to be happening organically, without human control or intervention. And it’s happening by stages.
First the plant stools out and produces a clump of stalks. Each of these stalks has a head that grows up from the base through the stalk and emerges from the top. When the head first comes out it is soft, green and lacking in distinct form. But soon it pollinates and then the seed fills out producing the full head of grain. Does God’s Kingdom grow by stages? Where are we in its growth pattern? What about the church as a movement in history? What stage are we in from the perspective of this biggest of all pictures?
When I apply the story to myself I find I am changing and I don’t know how. I am not trying to change but I am changing. The word “love” comes easier now. Now I am gentler with myself and others. I feel more solid inside my skin. My wife notices it and I think you do too.
Come July 1st you and I have been together for nine years. Something is mysteriously happening in us. Has Jesus scattered some new seed while we sleep and wake night and day and it has sprouted and grown? Could this be God’s kingdom doing its mysterious and powerful work in our lives? Whatever it is we can’t claim credit for it. It’s just happening. Jesus has sown a seed and that seed has sprouted and is growing.
For many years I think I was like the wheat grass taking in the sun and absorbing the rain and stooling out. I looked no different than any other grass. But even then God was forming me, preparing me for further growth. And then a stalk developed and it began to bulge. Something was forming and moving upward. Eventually it burst from the stalk but was green, immature and amorphous. As I look back I can see evidence of this in my sermons over the years.
For over three years now I have been carefully writing out my sermons and sending them to a lectionary based website for publication. Since we use a three year lectionary cycle I am now encountering the same scripture I used three years ago. When I read what I wrote then I often can’t use. I have changed and can see things I couldn’t see then. And not only do I see more, but what I see, I see more clearly. I find I can express it in my own words and therefore you find me more accessible. I think this is an example of how the Kingdom grows in us even when we are not aware of it.
The emerging wheat head has changed from that soft green, light-weight blob to a distinct head that is ripening day to day. And who knows when the harvest will be. I know the growing season of my life has to be toward the end of its life cycle and I think about that a lot. And here is another change. The coming end is not bad, it just is. It is not a judgement, it is just a reality. Maybe that’s the meaning of harvest time. Jesus’ story ends with this line, “Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.”
That’s not a threat. That line can be read softly with no feeling of dread or judgement. There is no apocalyptic aftertaste. It just refers to our natural end when the farmer, beaming in love and joy, brings home the harvest. I am thinking now that Jesus is the farmer who planted the seed in the first place and God is the one who has given the increase. That’s a new thought for me as I interpret this text. Maybe Jesus didn’t even know how God would use him as farmer and seed but he trusted that God would. Maybe Jesus is bringing us home to the one who created us. Maybe the Kingdom of God is being taken up in this process and it’s all good.
Paul wrote, “So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord.” Maybe the Kingdom of God is knowing where our true home is and orienting ourselves in that direction. Paul continues, “We live by faith and not sight. We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord. So our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home.”
As my theology and anthropology have matured, like the wheat in its life cycle, I am increasingly comfortable in joining Paul who says, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.”
Living in the awareness of the Kingdom of God changes everything because our frame of reference changes. We belong, we have a purpose, and we have a direction. We are “in” something that orients us toward things that exist outside of time: things like relationship and love. Again Paul expresses it beautifully:
So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
We are discovering that the love of Christ more and more controls us and it is happening while we sleep and wake day after day. It just happens as the words and actions of Christ sown in our hearts week after week secretly germinate and grow. A swelling appears where it had not been before and it grows upward and at some point burst out. When it does it is at first incoherent and green, not ready for seeding, but the Spirit continues to work and then seed develops quite to our surprise. Now we do have something to share; a truth, a perspective different from any we have had before. It just happens as we take in the grace of God. As Paul says, “Old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” Amen.
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