Mark 4:26-29: When Christ Dies There Will Be Strange Fruit
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Fridays open hours at my church—a simple affair with coffee, wi-fi, tables, lunch, music, crafts, and a sign out front telling people to come in--are a kind of homecoming for me. Monday through Thursday I listen, I pray, I talk, I plan, I wonder. I go places, I meet people, I say things. But Fridays I offer—my time, my self. I plant myself in one place.
Fridays aren’t a separate thing, they are the fulfillment of the weeks’ prayers and plans and conversation. The plans you’ve made are there in front of you, and so are the people you’ve prayed for, and the conversations you’ve wanted to have. Monday through Thursday is the seed, Friday is its strange harvest.
In this passage, there is a seed that is sown, that bears, in its own time, and in it’s own way, a the strange fruit of a strange kingdom. In the gospel of John, Christ refers to himself as the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, bearing fruit. In such moments, Christ makes it clear the Gospel is not a program or a set of instructions: it is Christ’s gracious offer of Himself. When Christ dies, strange things will grow.
This life, this life offered to us, this life laid down for us, bears out its own strange logic to us, in us, its own strange trajectory. Christ's life in us is born through hearing, deepened in prayer, and established by offering.
Protestant though I am (living by grace alone through faith alone), I’m reminded there is, indeed, an offering we make, and obedience that is the fulfillment of Christ’s own offering, an obedience wrought and furnished by His. This is a time, a moment, when Christ dying for you becomes you dying with Christ.
Such logic is strange, the first priority of a Christian’s life is not to imitate Christ but to depend on Him. The rich and precious flower of our dependence on Christ is an obedience to him: those rare and beautiful moments when which the small, humble offering of ourself participate in and briefly manifest the joy and power of Christ’s own gracious offer of Himself.
But such small, humble offerings cannot be coaxed from the earth. Such obedience, such dying to self, such extending of the kingdom by laying down ones life, cannot be cajoled or commanded.
It is a fruit, a harvest fulfilled and established only through vigilant hearing, and gentle and consistent prayer. We depend on Christ through hearing and prayer so that, in its own time, a strange and specific obedience might be offered.
There are a few rare moments, when I am sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that an obedience has been offered in my life, or should be offered.
A small man comes to our open hours. His clothes are frayed and worn. His face haggard. He is young (early 30’s?) and small. He has never been here, he is nervous. He gets coffee and notices we are doing a craft. His eyes light up. He asks me if we have pastels. He explains what he means. He takes out his phone, shows us pictures he’s drawn.
“When I lived by the river,” He says, “I drew this.”
They are pictures of flowers. Perhaps it is not a great picture. But it is, in some strange way, a beautiful one.
He asks me if we have pastels to draw with. I say no.
But I tell him next week, we will.
He has, of course, in sitting here, in stopping in, in taking offer his winter jacket and showing us his pictures, made himself vulnerable. It was only later that it dawned on me: pastors have been asked to touch the most vulnerable, and people's vulnerability must be respected as sacred.
This week he will be prayed for, I will see his pictures again in my mind. I will bury Christ’s promises deep in my heart through listening. Pastels will be prepared. An offering will be made. An obedience will be offered. Coffee and pastels for a new friend.