One of the gifts of ordained ministry is the opportunity to attend continuing education events. I’ve been to all sorts over the years, from emergent church events to Episcopal Church conferences to one United Methodist Conference sponsored gathering to a one-day social media bootcamp. Even my four summers in the Advanced Degrees Program at Sewanee counts. The broad spectrum of opportunities has helped me continue to grow in my ministry, but I’ve also started to notice some similarities. Most, if not all, of these events end up in small group sessions. Most, if not all, of these small group sessions require you to make an introduction. I’ve introduced myself in a lot of different ways over the last decade, but perhaps my favorite is as a Wal*Mart Theologian. That is, I am a firm believer that what I am preaching on Sunday morning has to also work in the cereal aisle at Wal*Mart. (1)
This understanding of theology and preaching came back to me this morning as I read the Gospel lesson appointed for Sunday. This passage offers two fairly familiar parables from Jesus. The first, maybe less commonly cited one, is about the sower who scatters seed, which grows, though he knows not how. It is a parable about the Kingdom of God, and how it is constantly in motion, coming ever closer to our experience, even if we can’t always see it or feel it. The second parable is of the mustard seed, which, though small, will grow to be a large bush that offers shade to the birds. It too is a parable about the Kingdom of God, and how seemingly insignificant acts of love and grace can make a profound impact on a world desperate for redemption.
The particular nuanced understanding of what Jesus is saying isn’t what took me to the cereal aisle at Wal*Mart, however. Instead, it is Mark’s narrative reflection on the way Jesus taught that caught my attention.
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it…
Jesus shared the Kingdom of God with the crowds by way of commonly understood images. He didn’t sit in the Synagogue and pontificate academically about a systematic theology of soteriology, but rather, he told the people stories, using the world they knew, to try to explain the unexplainable love of God. Jesus was a first-century Wal*Mart Theologian, and by way of parables, which we often scratch our heads over, dig too deep to understand, and make super complicated, he taught the people of God’s saving love.
While you are working hard, dear reader, to prepare a sermon for Sunday on the content of these two parables, remember the example of our Lord and simply tell your people of God’s mercy, grace, and love in a language all can understand.
(1) Wal*Mart made me angry several years ago, so I rarely shop there anymore. I guess I’m a Kroger Theologian now, but regional grocery store brands don’t carry the same weight.