Sunday Sermon: The Kingdom of God is Inside Out

John 3:3

Have you ever locked yourself out of your house or car?

Frustrating isn’t it?

I still remember after 53 years the night my parents and I locked ourselves out of our home at 1 AM. We had just returned from an unforgettable trip to Chicago and were unloading the car when mom and dad realized that dad had accidently locked the door and left the keys in the house after the first trip into the house.

Mom started laughing and thought it was funny.

Dad did not think it was funny.

“Hush ! You’ll wake the neighbors!”

“I don’t care, I’m home!”

Dad had to break a window screen and force the window open and put me through the open window and have me unlock the door from the inside.

Speaking of doors and windows and locking yourself out, I am reminded of one of the most famous paintings of Christ which illustrates Revelation 3:20

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Now if you have looked at this painting before you probably have noticed something about the door.

There is no door handle on the outside of the door.

I did some research on doors in the Biblical period and found some interesting information but could not get a handle on the issue of whether or not doors in the day of Christ had exterior handles or not. I am thinking that they did not for security reasons. But maybe they did.

But the painting is illustrative of the point being made in the verse. Jesus is not forcing Himself into anyone’s life. He politely knocks waiting for people to open the door of their lives, hearts, and souls to Him and not the other way around. Why? Christ invites us into a relationship with Him and the choice to accept that invitation comes from within us through our willing choice to accept that invitation. The acceptance of this invitation is the way we can enter into a salvation experience through Jesus Christ. And this experience has been called many things…

Being saved

Confession of sins

Profession of faith

And when it comes to the Kingdom of God, Jesus notes in our main text for this morning that entrance to the Kingdom of God requires a born again experience. We turn to John 3:3

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Now there are three words in this verse that I want to spend time with this morning which I believe will help us come to a better understanding of this verse and how it relates to the Kingdom of God.

See
Born
Again

I start with the word “see.” In the original language that John was written in the word used for “see” was Horao. Among the many meanings for this word were these two meanings:

to see with the mind, to perceive, know
to see, i.e. become acquainted with by experience, to experience

One of the points I was trying to get across a few weeks ago with the taste test was that certain experiences we have cannot be adequately describe in words. For example, becoming a parent.

Before I became a parent, I was glad when people became parents and smiled at the little babies and said, “Congratulations.” But I could not understand the joy and pleasure that becoming a parent brought because I had not experienced parenthood.

But when my oldest was born almost 20 years ago now, I was blown away. When I finally saw all of him in all of his glory I remember thinking, “Wait, that is a real live baby!” And my world was forever changed.

And I began to understand why grown women, and men, would start using this unknown tone of voice when talking to their babes.

“Ah, isn’t she sweet… (make kissing sound)”

“Oh look at the cutie pie…”

Until that Sunday afternoon in October 1995, I believed that parenthood was wonderful and important. But on that day, I experienced the wonder, importance, and joy of parenthood.

There is a vast difference between the two.

A profound spiritual experience was needed by Nicodemus to understand (perceive) and experience what being born again meant. And this experience is a born again experience.

Now the word born as known in the language of that day is Gennao and among the definitions for this word, which makes sense in the context of our verse, is

in a Jewish sense, of one who brings others over to his way of life, to convert someone

This conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is again illustrative of the major differences between Jesus and the Pharisees (we note in verse 1 that Nicodemus is a member of the Pharisees) as to what constitutes the Kingdom of God. Jesus is here to initiate, through His death and resurrection, a new covenant, a new way to God and the Kingdom of God, very, very, very different than what Nicodemus believes to be true. Jesus is present on earth to bring all those who want to come over to this new way of life. He is here to provide a new way to be converted to a life of faith and forgiveness through Him.

Nicodemus does not get it, as we go to verse 4

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”

The word testify is important here. To testify is to talk about a personal experience.

When we share with someone about a good experience with car repair, or a good book or movie that we like, we are giving a testimonial. We sharing what we saw, read, or experienced. We are not making things up or talking about a great idea. We are sharing our personal, first hand experiences.

Being born again is an experience. It is when we believe that Jesus Christ is who He said He was and that we recognize our need for His forgiveness and salvation.

But Nicodemus could not understand what Jesus was talking about because he had not had the experience Jesus also spoke about:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

So the Kingdom of God is entered into by a spiritual experience.

Finally there is the word again.

You must be born again.

The word again in John’s writing is anothen which means “from a higher place” and “anew, over again.” Given the meaning of born as coming over to a new way of life, what Jesus means that is there has to be a starting over at a higher level, a spiritual level, of life to be able to experience the Kingdom of God as Jesus meant it to be. Not in the rules and rituals that the Pharisees said had to be upheld. But in a deeply and profoundly spiritual way.

You have to start over.

So what does this mean for us this week?

This week, two young people with their lives ahead of them were tragically and senselessly murdered on live TV while doing their jobs. They had no idea they were going to die that morning.

Two months ago a group of Christian brothers and sisters were meeting for Bible study in their church when a man, full of hate, murdered several of them. They did not go to church that evening expecting to die.

None of us want to die in such tragic ways. In fact none of us want to die at all! We want to live! We want our lives to be rich and meaningful now.

We can live and we can have rich and meaningful lives now and even if death comes, it is a transition not an interruption. But it means we need to be born again, to be changed for the better in ways that are deeper, that come from the inside out, from a change in attitude, behavior, lifestyle.

Have you been born again?

Is your heart burning right now with an awareness that your life is not what it should be and maybe it is time to give God a first chance or another chance?Slide1

Or are you finding that there is a voice calling you to come home to Christ? You remember confessing your sins to Christ accepting His forgiveness but that was awhile ago and now you are very much aware that you are not where you need to be.

When Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sin, He did so out of love NOT hate. He did so because He wanted to make a new and better way back to Him. He did so because our hearts and souls are broken by sin, a spiritual force that drives us away from God and into a life that does not satisfy no matter how hard we try to make it satisfy us.

We are going to close with a song that I remember singing as a child, Just as I am without one plea. As we sing, I am going to ask that if you are realizing that confession of your sin is something that you need to do, walk down here to the altar and simply stand. I am not going to embarrass you in any way but I am going to pray with you after we are done singing.

May be you have never done this before and you want to come up. Ask someone to come with you..

May be you have done this before but you realize you need to come home like the prodigal son. Come on home. Come on home.

We are going to sing and you respond as you need to.

Amen.

On the Book Table and Kindle

Good Sunday afternoon to you!

Well there has been a flurry of reading by this reviewer the past several weeks with the result that the book table and kindle have been busy.

And now, the book table has two books left and…

the kindle is quiet.

On the book table is…

51SGzyZbu8L._UY250_David M Weitzman’s Living a Life That Matters: A Memoir of the Marquis de Lafayette which is a fascinating first person narrative of the French nobleman who became one of America’s greatest defenders and friend during the American War of Independence. My review copy is from the wonderful people at Smith Publicity.

 

 

stiles_waitingonGod_wSpine.inddWayne Stiles’ Waiting on God: What to do when God does nothing. (Baker Books and via their blogger program.)

 

 

 

 

Once I have read and reviewed these two books, this reviewer is taking a break from reviewing. I will continue to read of course as I have several books I have bought or been given that I will be reading throughout the fall and will probably post brief reviews to my Goodreads account. But I will be taking a break and chasing my youngest around the area as he leads his High School marching band in his final year of high school.

I will also be posting a Top 10 reading list at the beginning of November featuring books that you may want to purchase for gift giving. This will replace my gift giving list that I have done for several years.

Thank you for reading and liking my reviews here.

I will be back!

See you behind the page!

 

My Review of Dick Van Dyke’s Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths About Aging

24126456Dick Van Dyke’s Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths About Aging (Weinstein Books, 2015) is a delightful look at how one legendary American entertainer has kept moving for nine decades. With the wit and timing he is known for, Van Dyke dances across his sixties, seventies, eighties, and now on the front door of his nineties and shares his thought on growing older (NOT old.)

He addresses healthy eating (chocolate Sundae every night); the value of social interaction (whistling and dancing at the grocery store); and the value and place of love in life (getting married again in his late 80’s) for a life that is full and rich.

If you are looking for some Hollywood lore alongside Dick’s thoughts on life at 90, there are some wonderful tidbits as well.  One that really was interesting to me was the emphasis on NOT using dated references in the Dick Van Dyke Show which Van Dyke believes has allowed it to be on TV for over 50 years.

The rest of the book is vintage Van Dyke gushing about the possibilities (and the realities) of growing older. (His encounter with a salesperson at a well-known and trendy retail clothing store serves as a reminder that ageism does exist.)

But Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths About Aging closes with a wonderful chapter that features a conversation with Carl Reiner and Van Dyke talking about growing older that was icing on the cake to me.

A wonderful and inspirational look at life through a senior adult’s eyes is what Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths About Aging is all about. Van Dyke hits his mark with this book.

I liked this book and give it a “very good” rating.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Roger Daniels’ Franklin D Roosevelt: Road to the New Deal, 1882-1889

25404141Having read the late James Macgregor Burns’ award winning two volume set on FDR (The Lion and the Fox and The Soldier of Freedom) and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning  No Ordinary Time, I wondered what I would find in Roger Daniels’ first volume of a two-volume set on FDR, Franklin D Roosevelt: Road to the New Deal, 1882-1889 (University of Illinois Press, 2015). What I found was an interesting and insightful study of FDR based on Daniels’ goal of making “Roosevelt’s verbal messages to the American people and the world an organizing principle.”

Ignoring most of FDR’s personal life from birth to the end of 1939, Daniel’s provides an interesting and scholarly study of what FDR said which to me provides a deeper level of study of our the longest serving American President and his administration. It is also an eminent historian (Daniels is the Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cincinnati) working with not just the words of FDR but also the various interpretations of FDR and his administration and making scholarly assessments of both the man and his administration.

I found Daniels’ first volume to be detailed without being tedious and helpful in understanding the victories and setbacks of FDR’s administration as well as FDR himself; the New Deal program, his leadership style that often had multiple sources reporting to him; his resoluteness in the face of polio and his work to eliminate the disease. Daniels’ portrait of FDR is sympathetic but also objective and the book is a well researched and documented study.

I liked this book not just for the subject itself, FDR, but also for the way it was written, scholarly, enlightening,  engaging and helpful. In other words, a well written biography and assessment of one the United States’ top three Presidents.

I rate this book an ‘outstanding’ read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from Net Galley, via the publisher, in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

The challenge of living out faith in ordinary lives

Jim Kane:

A powerful post about a view of ministry that resonated with me. Thank you Christine!

Originally posted on Christine Jerrett:

Scripture: James 1: 17 -27

A number of years ago, when George Buttrick was the minister of Memorial Church, Harvard University, he addressed a group of ministers on the subject of “preaching to an alienated generation”. One of the things he told them was, “Whenever someone says to me, ‘That was such a spiritual sermon’, I know I have abysmally failed. I did not come within ten miles of his pocketbook.”

People who tell Christians that we should stick to things spiritual ought not to expect to get very far with us. Ours is a very practical, personal, down-to-earth kind of faith. “It is no good just listening to the word,” says James in his letter. “You’ve got to put it into practice.” Later on, he says, “Faith without works is dead.” He touches very close to home when he describes what he means: “Be quick to listen, slow to…

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Sunday Sermon: Chasing after the Kingdom of God

Luke 17:20-21

(Original sermon title: The Kingdom of God is Closer Than You Think)

In an on-line article that was published earlier this week, Christine Jerrett offered a very interesting and memorable image of following the direction and leadership of the Holy Spirit as she quoted the words of Alan Roxburgh that caused me to sit up and pay attention:

“My brother,” Roxburgh writes, “has spent a lot of time studying the Celts and their missionary journeys. He lit up with recognition as we talked and said: “Do you know where the phrase a wild goose chase comes from?”

“The phrase symbolized, for me,” says Roxburgh, “a useless, futile exercise that produced nothing. I wasn’t prepared for the explanation he shared. The Celts had a name for the Holy Spirit – an Geadh-Glas which means the wild goose. By this they meant that the Spirit of God can’t be put in a neat box, confined to a vision and values statement or tamed within a strategic plan.”

He continued, “The wild goose is unpredictable (like the wind). Taking seriously this sense of God, Celtic missionaries went on wild goose chases entering the spaces, towns, hamlets, and villages of 7th century England in the conviction that the wild goose was out there ahead of them. They were open to being surprised by the wild goose, prayerfully asking what God was doing and joining there by naming the name of Jesus, dwelling among people and opening the great story of God’s love and grace…”

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I think that this image of a wild goose chase is exactly what Jesus was getting at in our main text for this morning as we continue our series on The Kingdom of God.

Our main text is Luke 17:20-21

 “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

I think that is important to note that many versions also provide an alternative reading of that last phrase “the kingdom of God is already among you,” with “the Kingdom of God is within you.”

Two weeks ago, and reemphasized last week, it was noted that the Kingdom of God is something that Jesus told the disciples as noted by Matthew in chapter 6 and verse 33 as something that needed to be sought after along with the righteousness or right standing with God.

We also last week noted, via Mark 4 and verses 30 and 31 that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed – small, insignificant, and stealthy as it grows into a substantial plant that provides shade (another name for salvation, perhaps?) for all people. So the Kingdom of God is stealthy and sneaks up on us.

Today, Jesus makes plain that the Kingdom of God is not a place or a thing, but a spiritual reality that is within us and among us in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. This is something vastly different than what the Pharisees are expecting and also illustrates the vast difference between the Pharisees and Jesus as to what constitutes the Kingdom of God And what are they expecting?

A true King. A new royal ruler, like David, but greater than David. They are expecting the Messiah, the promised one. The Messiah, though, stands before them and they cannot or will not see Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus goes on to say some other things that are important for us to know as it relates to the presence of the Kingdom of God. We read further starting with verse 22

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Jesus has now turned away from the Pharisees and to the disciples and speaks a word that they would later more fully understand. It is a future oriented statement. It focuses on His death and then what the disciples would face after His resurrection and return to heaven.

Jesus is telling the disciples that “one day, you will long for these days when I was with you and people will be saying, ‘hey you! Here he is!’ Don’t believe them! That’s not me. Don’t go off on that wild goose chase! Follow me. Make disciples. Be my witnesses.

What does this have to do with the Kingdom of God? I think the same thing as Jesus pointed out the Pharisees:

People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them.

In other words do not go off on the wrong wild goose chase!

What do you mean pastor?

One of the problems that I have had is that I have run after one thing or another in my pursuit of God. I hear about a new program, and programs are helpful and essential, or a new study, and we need good study, and I think, “This is what I need to grow and be successful.”

But when the results are not what have been promised , I start looking for something else. And I get get tired, discouraged, angry even, because I have been chasing the wild goose called “success” and it has not gotten me where I think I should be.

What is it we are to seek? Who is it we are to seek?

The Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

How do we do that?

We choose to do that. We intentionally do that.

We take our Bibles in hand and we start reading them, prayerfully and carefully and studying them and seeing what God has to say to us personally.

We pray. We seek God with a passion.

We gather for worship both to seek the Lord and to strengthen our faith and one anothers faith. We seek the Lord.

We seek God with a passion not just to get a new idea for another program (or sermon series) but because God wants us to. Do we understand this?

He wants us to. He wants us to. He wants us to seek after Him for the purpose of growing in our relationship with and faith in Him. Period.

Not to be more “productive” but more like Him. More hopeful. More peaceful. More human.

But we have trouble doing that because we are on wild goose chases to find the shortcuts we think are there to help us grow bigger, faster, and better. But what God wants us to do is to pursue Him and His kingdom and His righteousness to become the person and people of God through whom He wants to work to help others come to Him.

I believe that there still are people out there (and may be in here) who want to really connect with God and with a person who will help them connect with God. Are we too busy with our programs and activities (dare I say our lives?) that we have no time to connect with such a person?

People are seeking YOU out, even if you have not realized it yet, because they see something in You that interest them. They see a hope, a peace, a joy, a love that they want.

It is easy to get on the wrong wild goose chase! We are seeking hope and success in things that cannot give us the hope and success we seek because we can only find such things, as a church and as a Christian, in Jesus Christ alone.

So what does this mean for us this week?

 I think it is safe, honest, and good to admit that we often say in a sometimes frustrated tone of voice “Where ARE you God in my part of the world, in my job, in my home, in my neighborhood, in my school, on my team, in my band?”

He is there. He is there in the nooks and crannies of our lives and the lives of other we care about, and even we have trouble caring about. The Kingdom of God IS among us! It IS in our midst!

But we need to be aware of the fact that it requires us to be on a wild goose chase in pursuit of where the Holy Spirit is at work. And that is not always easy. But it is possible

I truly, truly believe that we have a greater influence as a church and as individual believers that we realize. It is tempting, very tempting to look around and say, “There is not a lot of people here this morning.”

The Kingdom of God is not confined to this building. If it is, we are in trouble. This building is part of the work of the Kingdom of God, but only a part. The Kingdom of God is everywhere.

There is a lot of writing these days about the decline of the church and church attendance. And there is some merit in what is being said on these two topics.

But…

But…

The Kingdom of God is more than church and church attendance.

The Kingdom of God is about the presence of Jesus where we are and others are.

I like to think that the Holy Spirit, if we are willing to “see” this, both shadows us and leads us… on a wild goose chase because the Holy Spirit is not about a static location but about a moving pursuit – of human hearts and souls who are wanting to be loved, to find a hope that is grounded deeper than in what our culture says it is to be grounded in, to experience a change that makes life immensely better.

Are you ready to go on a wild goose chase? I am. I am.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon: The Kingdom is Stealthy

A busy Sunday has me behind on my sermon post. 
Here is the sermon from last Sunday, August 16, 2015. Jim

Presentation1

Mark 4:30-32
I begin this morning with an apology and some summation that I hope will make last Sunday’s message a bit clearer. I apologize for confusing you, maybe all of you but for sure some of you.
I struggled with how to begin this series on the Kingdom of God and it was like trying to merge onto a busy highway with lots of traffic where you have to pick a spot to squeeze into and simply say, “Heere we go!” and punch it and hope you get in and going without causing an accident and riling up other drivers!
Last Sunday we started our study of this vital Bible theme with Matthew 6:33

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Jesus clearly tells His audience to pursue the Kingdom of God and the righteousness of God above all else and as they do (and as we do) our daily needs will be met. But I also want us to remember that when Jesus talked about anger, lust, honesty and some other things in Matthew 5 and the need to take care of a large board in your eye before pointing out a speck of dust in your friend’s eye in Matthew 7, that too is part of the righteousness we are to pursue as well.
I am reading some of Jesus’ statements which appear in these three chapters of Matthew 5, 6, and 7 that we call the Sermon on the Mount and as I do so I want us to consider them as statements as to what constitutes the righteousness of God we are to pursue.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all:.. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
“…when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting… But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

You might be thinking, “Pastor Jim, these are hard things to do! Do you know what kind of trouble I have keeping my mouth shut and not using words as angry weapons when people do stupid things?
Do you know Pastor Jim how hard it is to keep my eyes on my own paper when an attractive person comes into view and not enjoy it?
Do you know Pastor Jim how difficult it is to not despise some people who I think would be better off somewhere else?
Do you?
Yes I do… Yes I do…

And so did Jesus.
You are right, the kind of character and moral perfection that is noted here is impossible to attain… in our own strength.
But we have the Holy Spirit who can help us be more loving, less angry, more truthful, and more respectful of others… if we choose, and keep choosing, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit; if we keep pursing and keep chasing after, the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
So the Kingdom of God has some very high requirements which the Lord intends for us to aim at and even obtain. Jesus spells them out in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 and His pointed words require, force us even, to take a long hard look at our inner motives and attitudes.
But there is more to this thing we call the Kingdom of God and it is this:

The Kingdom of God is stealthy. It operates in very simple and discrete ways. It sneaks up on us. It is does proclaim itself, according to our text, in big and loud ways. It is small, simple (not simplistic), and stealthy.

Our text for today is Mark 4:30-32

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Now before we further examine this passage, I want us to read the previous segment, verses 26-29, as background to our main text:

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. 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.”

Today there is a great body of knowledge about how things grow. Back then, it was guessed at. But is not the actual growth of a plant something we still marvel at.

At our house, some flowers were planted earlier in the summer next to some marigolds. Our resident bunnies have helped themselves to those marigolds and we began to wonder about the seeds nearby.
The other day, as I walked up to the front door, I looked and saw that the flowers had blossomed! Susan and I were amazed not at the mechanics of the growth but that they actually came up!
There is much about the Kingdom of God and the life of faith we don’t know about.

We are still learning and experiencing it. One day, as Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13,

“…then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

 

We do not know everything there is to know about the Kingdom of God and our life of faith… right now.

As I studied this passage, and some background material on it, I started asking myself “Why did Jesus pick the mustard seed to illustrate His point? Why didn’t He use the magnificent Cedar tree as an example of what the Kingdom of God is like?’
The cedar tree and its wood was of such great value and significance in Bible times that King Solomon used it in the construction of the Temple. Cedar is still valuable today and it is used to help preserve things. We also know when a cedar chest is opened up in our midst.
But Jesus did not use the Cedar tree and its seed as the example of what the Kingdom of God is like. He used Mustard seed.
Please remember that this is a parable and understanding what Jesus meant when he used the various items described in this parable is important.
First, there is the mustard seed.
Then there is the mustard plant (not tree) itself.
Jesus also notes two additional things – the size of the mustard plant, its branches, and the birds which can “perch” in its shade.
What do these things mean as it relates to the Kingdom of God?
“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.”
What is the point Jesus is making with calling the mustard seed, “the smallest of all seeds on earth?”
Well, with His next statement, “Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade,” we get an idea that smallness of the seed is contrasted in proportion to the size of a full grown plant which grows large enough to provide shade for birds.
Most likely Jesus is referring to what is called a black mustard plant that can grow to about nine feet tall. But what is represented by this mustard plant? Some Bible scholars suggest the mustard plant represents the kingdom of God that grows from small beginnings, represented by the small size seed that will grow large and provide comfort and refuge to people (referred as the birds.) Others believe that it represents one’s faith, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed.”
However, regarding what is meant by the birds, there is a diversity of opinion as to whom Jesus is actually referring to. Some have said they represent the universal nature of God’s kingdom, others the Gentiles, or others the “sinners and tax collectors” which Jesus associated with, or even false teachers of the church. (Take your pick.)
Then I read these words about a mustard tree from a gentleman named Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder was a Roman naturalist who was born during the time of Jesus.

This is what he said about the mustard plant.

“It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”
We read a few moments ago, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. 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.”
Could the seed be mustard seed? In fact could we assume, or at least suggest, that when Jesus was speaking of sowing seed, He was talking about mustard seed and the quickness in which it takes root and spreads?
So what does all of this mean for this week?

Think small, think stealthy.

We have been living in a time of big. Big events. Big churches. Big movements. Big efforts. Big has its place but God continues to move in small, stealthy ways.
In a recent article, primarily written to pastors, Dan Darling said this
“We need to recall that God’s Kingdom means he rules over all the earth, not just over what happens on Sunday. It isn’t always the big moments—the dramatic altar calls, the big donations to fund a project, the talented new hire on the church staff—where God is working. The daily, obscure work that fills ministry life matters too. Painting a nursery wall, stuffing bulletins, conversations with neighbors, cleaning up after a potluck—this too is Kingdom work.”
It is not always the BIG event but the small and silent ways of caring that seem to stick the most. And the work of God’s kingdom is in the big and the small ways of life.
Maybe one of the ways the Church here in America can begin to really again BE the church in America is in small ways done without fan fare and hoopla. Maybe we need to start reapplying the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 to our actions:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven… do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,”
The kingdom of God requires us a pursuit of a righteousness that is to transform our character and our lives. How are you doing in that pursuit? The kingdom of God comes quietly and stealthy through the movement of the Holy Spirit and our cooperative work with Him. How are you helping to grow the kingdom of God?

Amen.