Proper 6, Year B, RCL , Track 1
2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17, Mark 4:26-34
What can we compare with the kingdom of God? I think what we first realize is that the kingdom of God is rather amazing; something beyond our explanation. Christ says it is like a seed that is spread on the ground. To understand this better, I think we need to look at this parable from our childlike eyes. I remember when I was in first grade. Each of us received a small clear plastic cup, a paper towel, and a kidney bean. We were instructed to put our name on the cup then roll up the towel. It was one of those stiff, brown paper towels that you pull out of the dispenser mounted on the wall. I rolled it up, put it in the cup, and then placed the bean between the towel and the side of the cup. After adding a bit of water; just enough to moisten the towel, each of us put our cup on the windowsill to wait.
The next morning I arrived at class and ran over to the window only to discover that nothing had happened. To my disappointment, there was no change and there was still hardly any change over the next couple of days. But then, on the third or fourth day, I saw a little shaft growing out of the bean. I remember how amazed I was. I was filled with excitement and each day after that there seemed to be dramatic changes with roots and root hairs to a stem and leaves. I remember wondering how could life come from this seemingly dead bean?
This is the amazement that Christ is asking us to see in the kingdom of God. How does it happen? Where does it come from? We don’t know. Out of a tiny seed, a large bush can be produced. Out of a tiny seed, birds can find their homes and be sheltered. Through our faith, we are offered the same. Out of the unknown and impossibilities, we can find happiness, love, and life.
Fast forward to 1992. I remember reading an article, possibly in Popular Science. The article talked about how the intricacies of a cell have been figured out; from the lipid protein layers that form the cell membrane to the DNA in the nucleus. Even the chemical components of many of the intracellular bodies within the cell had been discovered. The article went on to say that in 10 years we would be able to create living cells in the lab. Creating life seemed to come down to chemistry in which if we can just add the right ingredients together, life will be created.
In 2010, almost 20 years later, a scientist claimed to have created the first synthetic cell. But his claim was short lived.[i] All he did was remove the DNA from a bacterium and replace it with an exact yet manmade copy of the DNA. While this was historic science, scientists did not consider this creating a living cell. As of last year 2017, there are now groups of universities from across the globe collaborating their research efforts in order to create an artificial but living cells.[ii] Artificial life, however it is defined, is now a science in its own right. But life is still as elusive and mysterious as it has ever been.
Paul says “we walk by faith not sight.” I think this continues to be as true today as it was 2,000 or even 11,000 years ago. We have more answers. We understand the celestial bodies within our universe much better. We have begun to understand how life has evolved over time. Just look at the achievements we have made in understanding our own bodies, the human body and all of its functions. Yet when it comes to life itself, we can’t even agree on a definition as to what it means for something to be alive. According to the BBC, there are over 100 definitions for life and they are all wrong.[iii]
When we walk by faith we accept certain mysteries but these mysteries are not what prove or disprove God. I think we find God more easily between the mystery and our knowledge. God is beyond our understanding; He is not a human being sitting on a cloud. God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. God is beyond time and space; beyond our comprehension.
If you have ever watched a magician, at least if you are like me, you have been amazed by what you have seen. You see things but they don’t make sense. When a lady is sawed in half and the head, hands, and feet all wiggle independently of one another, we are sitting in the mystery. The magician is not the mystery. What creates the mystery is our lack of understanding of the reality we have just experienced; or possibly the lack of reality that we witnessed. Eventually, we may investigate the magic trick and we may learn what was behind the mystery. When we understand the mystery we are not quite as amazed at the trick as we were before. Regardless, whether we understand the trick or not, the magician still exists even if the trick can be explained. This is similar to how science is explaining the mysteries of the world. Yet with every explanation, more questions come about and God still exists.
Carl Sagan said, “An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. [He says,] I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists.” To be fair, Sagan clearly leaned more toward atheism than a person of faith but even he couldn’t relegate himself to the atheist camp without more proof that God doesn’t exist.[iv]
Even if we create a synthetic cell, a living cell out of all man made material, I wonder if we will ever discover the intricacy of life; what it is, or why it is. The kingdom of God is mysterious, it comes from something small, yet it is absolutely huge and through our faith, we know it is wonderful. Science doesn’t harm our faith. Science challenges us to keep looking deeper into the mysteries. Walking by sight tells us that God is these mysteries and by disproving them we are disproving God. But we are called to walk by faith. Waking by faith confirms that we know our God and that he is often between the mysteries and our knowledge in which we will continually find God and his illusive kingdom throughout our lives.
[iv] Head, Tom, ed. (2006). Conversations with Carl Sagan (1st ed.). Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-736-7. LCCN 2005048747. OCLC 60375648. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan#cite_note-Sagan2006-92