Today we continue our walk through the book of Mark, which has an intention to it–the process of knowing Jesus. see
Think about this. There are some things that impact or affect a us in huge ways that we don’t have much or any say in:
- Genetic factors and inherited traits
- Natural disasters and environmental factors
- Socioeconomic status and upbringing
- Certain health conditions and diseases
- Discrimination and prejudice based on factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.
- Historical events and societal structures
- Geography and location of birth
- The actions of others, such as bullying or abuse
- The greater economic conditions and market forces
- The timing of many of life’s events like when you meet people, when people die or when others experience trauma
Those are heavy, life-changing, and not in our hands. Now here is another list: some things in life that have a large impact on us–and the we are the determiner as to whether they happen or not:
- Education and career choices
- Financial decisions and management
- Relationship choices and dynamics
- Health and wellness choices, such as exercise and diet
- Personal growth and self-improvement
- Volunteering and community involvement
- Decision making and problem solving
- Time management and setting of priorities
- Setting and achieving personal goals
- Attitude, mindset and perspective towards life
What we do has an impact. What we feel has impact. What we move towards or away from has an impact. How we engage in process has an impact. The gospel of Mark is an invitation to the process of knowing Jesus.
Today we are going to run face-first into a moment where our part of the process is put into check–not in check where we are told what to do specifically, but put in check where we are tasked again and again with taking responsibility for what we have responsibility for AND tasked with trusting God with the things He has responsibility for.
So let's open the process today with a question, working from those lists we just looked at:
What is weightier for you to navigate: things that impact you that you have no say in, or things that impact you that are solely your responsibility? Why?
There are some things in life that are universal responsibilities. Things that everyone is responsible for, that no one else can do for you. Here’s a list of some potential universal responsibilities. Check all that you think are universal individual responsibilities:
- Taking care of their physical and mental health.
- Being honest and truthful in their interactions with others.
- Respecting the rights and dignity of others.
- Being a good citizen and following the laws of their community and country.
- Being accountable for their actions and taking responsibility for their mistakes.
- Being mindful of the impact their actions have on the environment.
- Continuously seeking knowledge and self-improvement.
- Treating everyone with kindness and empathy.
- Being honest and fair in their dealings with others.
- Contributing to the betterment of their community and society.
I’ll add one more churchy answer, but it’s one that is often missed:
- Having a relationship with God, or having faith.
Maybe if you grew up in the church, there was a season of life where family carried “faith” for you. You were involved and learned because of them, but ultimately, that is not faith. Faith is a personal and deeply held belief that cannot be given to someone else; it must be chosen and nurtured by the individual.
As a pastor, I have to be careful to not be responsible for the faith of others. While a pastor may guide and inspire their congregation, ultimately it is up to each person to have their own relationship with their faith. Faith is a deeply personal journey that requires an individual to open their heart and mind to the possibility of something greater than themselves. It requires self-reflection, introspection, and a willingness to question and explore one's beliefs.
A pastor, a parent, a friend, a spous, can assist in this journey, but ultimately, it is up to the individual to take the steps necessary to grow their faith.
Let's talk about the impact of responsibilities. You don’t need to focus on faith, but if it helps, you can go there. Look at the list we went through and at what you did or didn’t check, and now bring in the costs, risks, and impacts of neglecting responsibility.
What are the costs, risks, and/or impacts of an individual neglecting his or her responsibilities?
I am going to ask two more questions before we jump into Jesus’ parables today.
While others can’t take your responsibilities on for you, they can, however, help. Help is good. Think of all the help, guidance, mentorship, or support you have received. How do those things impact you?
What is the impact of a coach, boss, pastor, or teacher who believes in you?
What is the impact of a coach, boss, pastor, or teacher who tries to do “it” all for you?
In Mark 4, Jesus shares four parables. In these parables, we see responsibility. There is our responsibility–and God believes we can do it–and also God’s responsibility–that we don’t have to do it all, that God will do His part. And there is a parable of the impact when it happens.
As we read these parables, keep in mind what we have already processed this morning: things that impact us outside of our influence; things that impact us because of our influence; responsibilities and the cost of neglecting them; being believed in; and being overwhelmed by an enabler.
The Parable of the Sower: be good ground
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:1-8)
A Lamp on a Stand: don’t hoard what has been done for you
He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear. Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:21-25)
The Parable of the Growing Seed: God is going to fulfill His responsibilities
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
The Parable of the Mustard Seed: when it happens, it is impressive
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 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.” (Mark 4:30-32)
Consider this: good ground comes at a great cost. When a farmer in a modern context approaches unbroken ground, it must be cleared and leveled. Rocks are removed, topsoil and drainage issues are addressed, the ground is broken and turned. It needs to be fertilized, planted, and continually maintained. Good ground is so very difficult–in a modern context.
Now think about how it was in Jesus’ time as He was sharing this parable–as He is challenging US to be good ground.
Think about this: in our modern context, light is not free. Energy needs to be produced, whether by fossil fuels, solar or wind power, hydroelectricity, nuclear or geothermal power. Electricity needs to be transported over the grid. And then that electricity needs to work on something–incandescent or halogen or fluorescent or LED. And after an unfathomable amount of infrastructure and work, we have light.
Now bring this to the time that Jesus was sharing this parable. Light was so valuable. Why in the world would you cover it–waste it–hoard it?
What about the parable about the seeds? In a modern context, we prepare for their growth with soil management, tilling, fertilizing, planting, cultivating, irrigation, insecticides, and herbicides. And then there is the work that goes into the seeds themselves through hybridization to create seeds that grow fast, produce a high yield, and are pest and drought resistant. But in the end, a seed needs to do its thing.
Now bring this to the time that Jesus was sharing this parable. Seeds needed to do their thing–there was nothing that the farmer could do to force it.
And finally the mustard seed. Small changes, small efforts, small decisions, small perspective shifts, small attitude adjustments–they can change everything! They can change things to the point that everything rests in and on those decisions.
The kingdom of God is like a small seed. When it is put in good ground–our responsibility, a difficult and labor-intensive responsibility–and not pointlessly squelched, and when we let God do what only God can do, it will explode to the biggest, most effective and world-changing scale!
What do these parables bring into focus today?
(The Parable of the Sower / A Lamp on a Stand / The Parable of the Growing Seed / The Parable of the Mustard Seed)
Again, Mark is walking us towards knowing Jesus. It’s a process, and not something that is done to us. We’re going to end with a question nudging us into this process. While we have commonalities in process, keep in mind our unique processes. Not all good ground needs the rocks removed, but some does. Not every seed is a watermelon seed. All grow different at different rates and with different needs, perhaps needing more water or less water, more time or less time. Our responsibilities and responses and processes are in some sense unique to ourselves–and the same with Jesus’ responsibility to us. So the final question:
How can Jesus being responsible for His things and you being responsible for your things impact your growing relationship with Him in this season?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Mark 4:1-34.
- What is the extent of your farming experience?
- Of all the different types of lights (spotlight, desk lamp, recessed light, etc.), which is the best picture of you? Why?
- What does it take for you to be good ground?
- What is your responsibility and what is God’s responsibility?
- What is the cost of mixing up these responsibilities?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- Mark 4
- Matthew 5
- Luke 8
- John 8
- Matthew 7
- Luke 6