Tag Archives: kingdom

Setting aside our mustard seed dreams for a mustard bush Kingdom

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (read the whole passage)

To consider the immensity God’s kingdom usually defies our imaginations. For those sorts of people who ponder the mysteries of life, thinking about the Kingdom of God, about heaven, is as attractive as it is frustrating. There are so many possibilities, yet few particulars. Dreaming big comes pretty easy for most of us. We are taught to dream about the future at an early age. “What do you want to be when you grow up? A Hockey Player, an astronaut, a rock star, prime minister or maybe all of the above! But the motivation to dream big doesn’t end in childhood, but rather it is ramped up and stakes are higher as we grow older. Imagine life with that new car, with that new house, with no debt, with a wealthy retirement, with that new and better paying job.

We like our big stuff in this part of the world. And to dream big about the Kingdom of God, about Heaven is fair game. To imagine a lavish wedding banquet, or a cloudy paradise where friends and family greet you, or perhaps dozens of golf courses all empty and waiting to be played on nice sunny days.

There is no shame in dreaming big, and yet there is the inevitable downer of not having these dreams realized, of our hopes and dreams always and only being only hopes and dreams. All too often, our expectation, our anticipation is of something big and exciting happening in our lives. We spend a lot of time waiting for the next mountaintop experience by simply glossing over the rest. Weekdays are for getting us to weekends, school is for getting us jobs, jobs are for making money to spend on weekends and to save for retirement… retirement is about waiting to die? I hope not.

Jesus presents us with a scandal today, but we may have glossed it over waiting to get to the good part. For Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, like a treasure small enough to bury in a field, like pearl only worth a lowly merchants wages, like a net that catches fish. For Jesus, the Kingdom of heaven seems to be nothing like we have imagined it. The Kingdom of heaven is more like these mundane and trivial objects, than the great golf course we imagined. We almost should ask, “What are you talking about Jesus?”

But Jesus is the one who has asked us first, “What are you talking about?” Jesus sees through our dreaming, and addresses us at our deepest insecurities, at our fears. Our fears that are hidden by our dreaming. Our fears about what we are capable or incapable of accomplishing in life, our fears about our futures, our fears about death. The Kingdom God is stripped from our dreaming and replaced with something that we don’t like, something that we want to avoid. Jesus names and points to the Kingdom of God, right here in the mundane boringness of everyday life.

Jesus’ examples of the Kingdom of God challenge everything we have been taught. It challenges each incidence where we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What school do you want to go to?” “Where do you want to retire to?” Jesus’ proposal about the Kingdom is not the way we are supposed to imagine things, it challenges our constant future orientation, our glossing over of the present, our displeasure with reality. For to imagine a Kingdom of God in the future is to deny that this world has much meaning and importance, this unsatisfying existence is not what our selfishness nature desires. And for Jesus to see the Kingdom of God in small, inconsequential things is to go against our desire for always something bigger and better.

And yet, when Jesus names the Kingdom right here and right now in the world, it changes and transforms this reality that we are constantly wanting more from. The world becomes something that we do not expect, something that we have never anticipated or dreamed of. It becomes God working among us.

To see this small thing, this small mustard seed is to see the Kingdom of God at work. What Jesus is getting at today, indeed, initially challenges our dreams of bigger and better. But once we those dreams are set aside, we see that what Jesus is describing is a dream much bigger than we can imagine. It is to see God’s Kingdom right here among us, right here among in the unsatisfying and undesirable conditions of life. Right here among us turning the tiny and trivial into life changing and life altering experiences.

God’s Kingdom comes to us in the present, it comes to us where we are. And it comes in forms that we do not expect, in ways that we cannot imagine. It comes to us in the flesh of Christ, in God as a lowly human being. It comes to us in small seeds, hidden treasures, and fishing nets. God’s promise of love and grace for us small and insignificant sinners will be made known the Baptism that we will see this morning. In the Holy Bath that we all share, in simple water that changes who we are and that makes us members of the Body of Christ, of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus says today, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds bringing about the fullness of God.

Advertisements

‘Course Jesus isn’t safe. But he’s good.

It has been a while since my last post, but I am hoping to get back into posting after a few weeks of holidays. Welcome to 2015 on The Millennial Pastor. In the meantime, here is my sermon from today. See you around. 

Mark1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”… (read the whole reading here).

Sermon

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.

Today, we pick up the story just 14 verses into the Gospel of Mark. In the last two weeks we have heard the story of Jesus’ Baptism, and last week Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel. Today, he continues the call to Andrew and Simon, to James and John sons of Zebedee.

As this story comes 3 weeks after Epiphany, it seems to continue with the Epiphany theme. Epiphany tells the second half of the Christmas story. At Christmas, Christ is revealed to us as the child born in a manger – Christ revealed in flesh. On Epiphany Jesus is revealed to the Wisemen come to meet the Messiah born in Bethlehem – Christ revealed as the Son of God. Today, as Jesus calls these new disciples, he seems to be continuing his Epiphany journey, revealing himself as the Son of God.

But before Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him, he does something else interesting. He preaches his first sermon. The first words that Jesus speaks in the gospel of Mark are:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The Kingdom of God has come near.

That sounds simple enough to our modern Christian ear.

But for the Jews that Jesus was preaching to, it was radical. And it was radical because the Kingdom of God was something that didn’t feel near. God was NOT close by. God was far away. God was too righteous, too holy, too big and powerful, to come near to sinful human beings. That was the whole point of the temple of Jerusalem. God lived in the centre, in the holy of holies, and people needed to be purified in order to come near to, to access God. God was dangerous, unsafe. Being in the presence of God would make anyone of us drop dead. The annual tradition of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, was based on this idea. Some poor priest was send to the Ark of the Covenant at the centre of the temple to purify it of the sin of the people that had accumulated over the year. The priest was sent with a rope tied around his foot, in case he dropped dead being in God’s presence, so that his body could be pulled out.

This holy and righteous God was unsafe and dangerous, being near to God was not necessarily something to be sought out.

And yet Jesus comes preaching, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus preaches a radical and dangerous message. One that upset the way the people understood their world, one that made their world unsafe. One with God near by.

eye-of-aslan“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”

“ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.”

Most of don’t worry about dropping dead when we come forward for communion, or when we walk behind the Altar. Yet, like the Ancient Hebrews, we too feel far away from God in our own way.

For the Ancient Hebrews, it was that God was too big, too righteous, too holy for human beings.

But for us, it is that we are too unrighteous, too small, too unholy for God.

As a pastor, one of the most common concerns that pastors hear from church people and non-church people alike is about not being good enough. We might not think that God is too good, but we often think we are too bad, too sinful, too flawed for God. So many of us sit in the pews and wonder if God would listen to our prayers. We wonder if God cares about someone like us and all the things we have done in our life. We believe that we have done things that are unforgiveable.

For many Lutherans, it is why we prefer pastors to pray, just incase God ignores a sinner like me. It part of why we hesitate to have communion more than 4 times a year, just incase it becomes corrupt by having regular contact with us. It is why we wait for children to be confirmed before they commune, in case they aren’t good enough.

But most of all, we worry that the selves we present to the world, the selves that we hide – our flaws and imperfections, our history and our baggage, the selves that cover up our shame and weakness… we worry that God sees our true selves. The naked, vulnerable, shameful versions of our selves.

And so while we might not be frightened of dropping dead in front of God, God is just as unsafe for us. For us it is not dropping dead, but dying of shame. Of being vulnerable and exposed in front of God.

This God. This God who is bringing the Kingdom near in a wild and untamed kind of way, is unsafe.

And still Jesus preaches his message.

“The Kingdom of God is near to you.”

And for the people of Ancient Israel, the wild, untamed, unsafe Jesus of Mark, declaring that the Kingdom is near is also declaring a world changing, life altering message. The Kingdom of God is near, not hidden away in the holy of holies of the temple. The King is near, the King who is too holy, too righteous for sinful humanity is coming near anyway. The King doesn’t care about holy or unholy, clean or unclean, this King wants to be with the people.

And so while the Kingdom coming near might have been unsafe, it might have resulted in death, it was also radical, transformational, it was incredible. The great king wanted to be near to humans, to you, to me. This is a King who cares about and is concerned with people. One who breaks the rules of clean and unclean, breaks the rules of lawful and unlawful, of righteous and unrighteous.

It is no wonder the disciples just drop their nets and follow. They were experiencing the presence of God like never before. Maybe they didn’t know in their heads just who Jesus really was, but in their hearts they must have been seized by nearness of God.

6a00d8341ec10c53ef00e54f60744f8834-800wi“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”

“ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Course he isn’t safe. 

But he’s good. 

He’s the King, I tell you. 

Here is the thing about being safe. It is safe to God stay in the holy of holies, to keep God at distance. And it is safe to keep God contained in neat and cozy Sunday morning church services.

But this morning, God isn’t safe.

Jesus is not preaching a safe sermon. Jesus is preaching a dangerous sermon.

The Kingdom of God has come near.

The Kingdom is near and we are left exposed, sins and all.

The Kingdom is near and God can see our shame and weakness.

The Kingdom is near and we cannot hide our true selves.

And so we come together, come to this place to meet the King who has come near to us. And we confess our sins, we reveal our need for love and forgiveness. We openly admit that we do not have life figured out, that we need God’s Word of eternal life. We declare that we are the hungry masses, that we need to fed by God’s body and blood.

And Jesus comes near to us.

Untamed, wild, unsafe, lion-like Jesus comes near.

And our lives, our worlds are changed.

Jesus comes near and changes us. Transforms us.

Jesus comes near and forgives us.

Jesus comes near and speaks a word of life to us.

Jesus comes near and feeds us with the Body of Christ.

Today, we hear Jesus’ first sermon. We hear Jesus revealed again and again to us. Revealed in flesh, revealed as the son of god, revealed as coming near. Today, we hear an unsafe sermon, one that threatens to knock us dead, or least to make us die of shame.

‘Course he isn’t safe.

But Jesus is Good.

Jesus is the King I tell you.

And this unsafe, untamed God might just make us die, but also shows us untamed and wild New Life.

Amen.