“The Mysterious Middle”

Mark 4:26-34


            We are currently living in the midst of this “mysterious middle.” Who would have thought to be here in the middle of June and still be planting the spring crops? With a late planting, the question of what the final harvest will look like. With a late planting, there can be an increased risk of crop damage from pests, diseases, and weeds. The thing is … farmers won’t know until the crops start to come up. A lot will also depend on the type of summer and fall we have as well. This time period between planting and harvesting … in light of our sermon this morning … this is the mysterious middle.

            Jesus knows a little about bit this mysterious middle, actually, He knows quite a bit about it. It’s you and me who know very little. Jesus in our gospel reading this morning, talking about the Kingdom of God, says, “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 4:26b-29).  

            Let’s break this parable down some, shall we?

With the seed in hand, the man sees the beginning. He sows the seed into the ground with hope. Hope in that over the next few months he will see it grow and see it produce a grain that matures he can then harvest. After a period of uncertainty while the crop is doing its thing, we come to the time of harvest. At the time of the harvest, the man goes out and brings in the finished product. He brings in the grain with joy.

            But notice that line Jesus says toward the middle of this parable, “though he does not know how”. In this period of uncertainty, in this mysterious middle, the seed is doing its thing. The dead seed in the ground develops roots, it develops a sprout, a stalk, a grain. While the man doesn’t understand how, he trusts. While the man has no control over it, he trusts.

            Living in a community with farming all around us and as a part of us, we get this parable, it makes senses to us. Farming requires faith, it requires trust in God. Trust in that God will do what He has promised … He will take care of His children.

            So why then is it so hard to actually apply this to our life? We can look back and see the beginning, where it is that we came from. We can look to the beginning of this day and know where we came from. We look ahead to the end of the day, the end of our life and as Christians, we know the ending. We know that at just the right time Jesus will come again and at that time, on that day, He will raise us up from our graves and we will get to live with Him forever. We know this, we believe this, we confess this … and yet, we struggle with this. Why?

            We struggle living in this mysterious middle because the fact is that we don’t know what’s going to happen next. And because we don’t know what is going to happen next, that bothers us, it drives some of us insane. Today, knowledge is key. If I know what is going to happen, I can take it and use it to my advantage, I can take it and use it to make the next best decision. I can take it and direct what my ending is going to look like. With Siri, Alexa, Google, and AI available at my finger tips or just by the sound of my voice, I have instant information. But where is this putting faith? Where is this putting trust? Faith and trust are tossed out the window and onto the compost pile. Solely relying on information and knowledge is putting all the reliance on me, which even worse than the compost pile.

            But let’s go back to the man in the parable. Notice what it is that he does. Jesus says that “A man scatters seed on the ground … he puts the sickle to it” (Mark 4:26, 29). That’s all he did. He’s there working in the beginning and in the end. “The seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”

What do you think would happen to that seed if not too long after it was planted, the man decided he wanted to dig up the seed and see what the seed looked like? What do you think would happen if part way through the growing season or right before the grain is ready, the man decided to dig up that seed to see what it looked like? … The seed, the plant would die. If the man interfered in the middle, the plant would likely die and the harvest would not happen.

            Let me ask you, how many times have you gone to bed, worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow? In your worry, you toss and turn and you don’t sleep well at all. After what sleep you do get, you wake up the next morning tired and still concerned about whatever it was that you were worried about. Your worrying hasn’t changed a thing. The thing you were worried about is still there.

            As Christians, we know the beginning, we know the end … the mysterious middle is just that, mysterious. Just as seed sprouts and grows, though the man does not know how, know that God is at work, causing it to sprout and grow. The mysterious middle is a time, it’s a season, where you don’t know what God is doing, but know, He is doing something. There in the middle … God is still at work. You and I may not understand the who, what, whys, and hows … but then again, we aren’t suppose to. “The seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”

            Here in the middle, this is where we are called to have faith. This is where we are called to trust that God knows what He is doing. This is where we are called to believe that God has a plan and a reason.

Isaiah reminds us that God has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (55:8). God’s Word that goes out from Him will not return back until it has accomplished what it was intended to do. God is always at work.

God is always caring for you as well. Again, Isaiah reminds us that “a bruised reed {God} will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (42:3). Psalm 121 says you have a God who watches over you, who will neither slumber nor sleep. He will keep your going out and coming in from this forth and forevermore.

            As a congregation, we have been praying, asking, and at times begging God to give us an Associate Pastor. You have been, my family has been, and I most certainly have been praying and begging for one. In this mysterious middle, while it may feel like God has abandoned our congregation, we need to remember and have faith that God will take care of us and provide for us, just as He is now and has in the past.

            In the midst of chemo treatments, in the midst of physical therapy, in the midst of forgetfulness, in the midst of grief, in those times of life when it seems like God is absent … we are called to lean in on God. Believing, trusting that there in the mysterious middle, in the darkness of uncertainty, Jesus is there.

            Jesus is there in the middle. In the middle, hanging on the cross between two thieves. Hanging on the cross, in the midst of the mysterious middle. With the Pharisees and others mocking him, with his mother there crying, and with the disciples who ran away in disbelief … Jesus hangs in the middle, suffering the penalty for the sins of the world, for you and me.

            In the middle between Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples gather together. They know the beginning. They know when it was that Jesus called them to be disciples, they know the miracles He performed, they know the teachings He taught and the promises He made, and yet … in the mysterious middle … they too wonder. What is going to happen next? Has God abandoned us?

            The answer is the resurrection happens. Jesus victoriously rises from the dead to win for all who believe eternal life with our Savior. Jesus ascends into heaven so that the Holy Spirit may come to live and dwell in our hearts and in our lives. In the middle, between our beginning and our end … God is with us.

            The mysterious middle of our lives, like the unseen growth of the farmer’s seed, requires patience, faith, and trust in God’s process. We may not see immediate results, and we might not understand how God is working in our lives, but be assured, God is at work. According to His perfect plan and His perfect timing, the harvest will come, God’s gracious plan will come to fruition and you and I will no longer be in the mysterious middle. Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.


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