Sermons

"Growing the Kingdom:" Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 6, Year B

"Growing the Kingdom:" Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 6, Year B

Jun 14, 2015

Passage:Mark 4:26-34

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Love, Discipleship, Grace

Keywords: boost, grace, kingdom of god, love, mustard seed, parables

Summary:

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus speaks to his followers in oblique parables. Sometimes we forget that the actual purpose of these parables is to talk about the Good News--not bad news. In the two parables discussed in the passage Mark 4:26-34, Jesus is explicitly discussing the nature of God's in-breaking into this world. The Kingdom of God is coming, perhaps slowly, but it is coming. And that is wonderful news!

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Many of you probably know that these past few weeks I had the tremendous privilege of spending time with my family as my father, Rudy, continued to weaken in his illness and eventually succumb to death.

I am so grateful to have had that time. Being able to be with my father and share precious time together before he lost consciousness altogether... Spending long hours sitting with my family. We laughed and cried. We joked a lot (I got my goofball sense of humor from Dad). And we remembered many, many stories about Dad's life and ministry.  

One of the things that I tried hard to do over the past few months, as I realized that Dad was dying, is I tried to see what wisdom I could get from him. I was determined to try to sit and listen for any bit of advice he had for me. Now, mind you, this was a difficult project these last few months, because Dad had a form of dementia that meant he had a difficult time communicating verbally. You could watch as he struggled to find words, often losing his train of thought in the middle of a sentence. In so many ways, this has been hard to watch, because Dad loves conversation.

So, when I visited him a few weeks ago, he was tremendously weak. He had said "hello" to me the moment I arrived, but did not really speak at all in response to anything I said for days after that. All of his communication was nonverbal. In addition, Dad was finding it difficult to eat most foods. But he did enjoy drinking the "Boost" brand vanilla protein drink we gave him. One day, as he sipped this drink, he looked up to me and started to say something. So, of course, I was excited. I was ready. I had been waiting for him to speak to me for days. This was it! I was now going to have the great wisdom I had been waiting for from my dying father.

His words came slowly. His mouth worked hard to get them out. There was the old familiar twinkle in his eye as he looked straight at me. He proclaimed: "Boost! You know--if you can afford it--you can drink up to six of these a day!"

I have to say, that was not the private word of wisdom I had been looking for from Dad. And what's even worse is, I don't even know if it's true!

But it does call to mind for me today's Gospel reading from Mark.

Jesus is talking to his closest followers. He has taken them aside after having been surrounded by the crowds at the seashore. Jesus wants them to glimpse what the Kingdom of God is like. But he has to tell them in a way they can hear it.

You can picture the disciples. They are waiting eagerly to hear Jesus tell them all about the Kingdom of God. "Tell us, Jesus! Tell us!"

But Jesus doesn't just look them in the face and say flat out: "The Kingdom of God is ..." (You fill in the blank).  Instead, Jesus is much more oblique.

Jesus speaks to them in parables. He compares the Kingdom of God to someone scattering seed on the ground. Then that gardener goes to sleep and then goes about his day and night without having much to do with the seed. In the meantime, the seed is sprouting and growing, and the gardener doesn't know how. Jesus goes on to say that "the earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head." But, he concludes, when the grain is ripe, the gardener once again pays attention and "goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."

Well, that's just as clear as can be, right???

Jesus might as well have said: "The Kingdom of God is like drinking six Boosts a day, if you can afford it!"

But Mark tells us that Jesus spoke to those around them in a way that they were able to hear. Speaking in parables was a way of explaining that the audience could make connections to the in-breaking of God's Kingdom.

Sometimes, in order to understand something, we have to hear about it in a variety of ways that connect to us.

Jesus also compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed--the smallest of the seeds known to his audience.  He said that once that seed is sown on the ground, it becomes "the greatest of all shrubs, with great branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

So what are we to make of this?

How are we to react?

Well, one reaction I have is that as I reflect back on my father's wisdom about the protein drink, I believe the Kingdom of God is like drinking six Boosts a day--at least for him it was.

That Boost protein shake was the only thing that had flavor he enjoyed--at least toward the end--but it also had great nourishment to sustain him. So, we bought cases of it and had them sitting around his bed ready for him when he wanted them.  

With that scene in mind, we might say: The Kingdom of God is like a Boost Protein Shake because:

The Kingdom of God is joyful--it has a "flavor" we will enjoy.

The Kingdom of God is nourishing--it sustains us, even when we are weak and do not have resources.

The Kingdom of God is Abundant--it is ever-present, and will be there for us when we need it.

But what is our role in all of this?

What are to take from it?

What's at the core of all the parables, we have to remember, is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Too often, I'm afraid, we listen to the oblique nature of parables, and we take from them lessons that are "less than" good news.

For example, in our bible study the other day, we were discussing this passage and members of the group brought up one popular interpretation of the mustard seed parable. It goes something like this: "all you need to have is faith the size of a mustard seed, and God will grow that to the size of a mighty bush."

The problem with this interpretation, is that it makes the beginning part of this action still all about YOU.

YOU are the one who has to act in order for the Good News of God's grace to kick in. YOU are the one who has to be able to have faith the size of a mustard seed in order for God to decide to do anything good in the world.

But if we look at these parables, the seeds are not about OUR faith. The seeds are the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the thing that is breaking into this world slowly and steadily and surely. But it is doing so.

The Kingdom of God--this new reality where God's love rules, where guilt and shame have been banished, and where death is conquered--that kingdom starts off as the tiniest seed but grows to the largest bush.

And it grows through our attention to being faithful to God's love for each of us.

We don't have to worry about whether we have enough faith for God to love us. We don't have to worry about whether we are doing enough "good things" for God to love us. We don't have to worry about whether we are smart enough, or sweet enough, or happy enough, or simply "enough" for God to love us. God loves us!

To quote my father's favorite saying: "There's nothing you can do to get outside the circle of God's love."

But we should respond to that love.

We are to love one another. And when we love one another, we "scatter seeds on the ground to grow the kingdom." When we love one another, we "sow a mustard seed, to grow the kingdom." When we love one another, we "drink six Boosts, to grow the kingdom."

Let's all grow the kingdom together.

AMEN.