A sermon for 14 June 2015 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
A reading from the gospel of Mark 4:26-34 (NRSV). And just a heads up that: these few verses are situated near the end of one of Jesus’ teaching sessions. What began along the Sea of Galilee as a vast crowd gathered to listen, dwindles to just the twelve and a few others who remain with him. When they are alone, Jesus is questioned about the meaning of his public, parabolic teachings. He launches into an explanation and goes on to tell a few more parables, until, at last, he turns to the topic of the kingdom – a way of telling about what God and God’s desired reign is like. . . . Listen for God’s word to us.
“Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Figo became a hero this week. If you know this dog’s story, you might agree that he already was one before Monday. But that was the day he and his owner were out for a walk. It’s not been reported where Figo and his owner Audrey were heading. But at some point on their walk together, they had to cross a road. They safely started across the street, and then it happened– a gas station attendant saw it. A mini school bus failed to yield to the blind pedestrian and her seeing-eye dog. So that right before she was to be hit, Figo threw himself in front of the bus. He took the blunt of the blow so that Audrey only suffered a few broken bones. Figo, on the other hand, had to undergo immediate surgery as his front right leg was badly cut – all the way down to the bone. Before everyone showed up on the scene, Figo, the heroic seeing-eye dog, drug his body over to his owner who was sprawled on the street. Despite his injuries, he insisted he get back over to her side. According to those arriving on the scene, not once did Figo bark or yelp or whine. He just kept pulling his body closer to hers in order to ensure she was safe. This eight-year-old golden retriever went above and beyond the call of duty Monday in order to ensure Audrey was going to be all right. . . . It’s like that . . .
I have a potted clematis at home on the back patio. I hardly can believe what happened to it this March. For months the pot was overrun with dead vines from last season. For whatever reason, I never got around to winterizing it last year. And honestly, I wasn’t so sure a clematis would come back in a pot anyway. You know how much ice and cold we had here back in January and February – and even the beginning of March! One night late in March, I was rocking away under the warming spring breeze when the pot of dead vines caught my eye. I couldn’t believe it. A little green hint was sprouting. The next day I cleaned up the old stuff in hopes that the green indeed was an infant clematis vine instead of a nasty weed that more likely would show up in the spring. Day after day the shoot got bigger until one day I noticed a vine trailing up the trellis. By mid-April, several vines were climbing and all of a sudden, little flower buds appeared on each one. Beautiful purple stars began to greet me every morning as that clematis grew higher and higher up the trellis. The other day I noticed it’s taken off above the trellis and is threatening to keep on climbing up the bird feeder hanging above. It’s never done that before! From what seemed like an empty, dead pot; an unable to be contained clematis is bringing joy to the bees and the birds and me too! . . . Clearly, it’s like that . . .
A few months ago, my cat-loving friend sent me a You Tube clip. She and I never can get our animals together, what with her cats towering over my toy poodle. She added the caption to the link she sent me saying: “See Jule! At least some dogs and cats can come together and not fight like cats and dogs!” The clip was entitled: Orphaned Kittens adopted by Mama Dog. A beagle-sized dog is in a crate with four cute puppies and something like six screaming kittens. She lays down so each of them can feed. Four little puppies and five little kittens are busy sucking away. All the while, one black kitten lies motionless at the other end of the crate. Something in this all-inclusive mama can’t sit still while even one lies alone away from her and the source of milk she gives. Waddling over with those four little puppies and five stray kittens still glued to her, a warm nose nudges at the lone cat. She nuzzles and waits to see if this last little one will arise to join the feast alongside all the others. . . . Certainly it seems as if it’s like that too . . .
The kingdom. Of God.
The phrase is used repeatedly in the gospel of Mark. Right from the start when Mark records the first public words of Jesus to be: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15). But who can know just what that is like? Just what is God’s kingdom? What happens to show one is a citizen of it instead of some other norms of the world? After all, those within earshot of Jesus all were living under another kind of king: the kingdom, or empire of Rome. Long ago their ancestors had their own king. In the first reading today we hear how King David was chosen. Though he was one of Israel’s greatest kings, not even his reign touched the kind of rule rightly labeled the kingdom of God. In order for us to get it – while not being so specific that we take the description literally and start throwing seeds everywhere as if that’s the work of God’s kingdom – Jesus tells some stories. Parables – packed with a punch for those who first heard. The two gems we hear in the Mark reading for today are Jesus’ only two parables of the kingdom that find their way recorded in Mark. The kingdom of God is like scattered seed that somehow, significantly grows! The kingdom of God is like the smallest seed that grows into shade enough for all. It’s like that . . .
As we’re getting ready to discuss the adoption of a statement that summarizes the reason why this church exists and what difference you seek to make in the lives of others, I can’t help but think of how else it is. The kingdom. . . . A few months back when the session continued discussion about all this, the following Thank you notes were shared. “To My Church Family: I want to thank you for your kindness during the illness and death of my wife. Your prayers, your cards, your phone calls are all greatly appreciated. You are a loving family.” It’s like that, the kingdom of God. . . . “Dear Church: What a beautiful surprise to receive such a wonderful gift, and delivered by the smiling face of one of you! It makes me humble to think of all the labor of love you put into my Christmas gift. Your expression of God’s love is in every stitch! I try to walk every day and the beautiful cap will keep me warm. The wind can be pretty brisk at times. I love you all. You are dear to me. May God’s blessing be upon you all.” It’s like that, God’s kingdom. . . . “Dear Church Family: Thank you to everyone for all the thoughtful gifts, cards, well-wishes, food, and other support that the church has offered us at the birth of our baby. We are so appreciative of our church community and are very lucky to have found this wonderful group of people!” It’s like that, the kingdom of God. . . . You might remember the story told at the church’s Annual Meeting this January. A woman showed up in the office one day late in the month of December. We get folks coming here a lot – you all know that. Typically we hear of something they need during the difficult period they are facing. And typically, this church responds to fill that need. This woman was different. She merely showed up to give a check to the church. She said she’d be back with another check after she paid her property tax bill. And, incredibly, she did come back. Another check in hand. When asked who she was and what connection she had to the church. In other words: why in the world is this complete stranger showing up to give money to us? Her response was: I used to visit both my mother and my aunt at the nursing home across the street. As the primary care person to both, it often felt overwhelming. Sometimes she’d just need a break – a little peace and quiet to re-group. She explained that she’d often come across the street to just sit here in the courtyard or rest on the swing out back. No one ever shewed her away or asked her to explain herself. She merely was left to sit in the quiet to get her mind and spirit re-freshed in order to go back to take care of her mom and aunt. It’s like that, God’s kingdom.
People who actively seek to support those facing life’s challenges. A body (a church) providing a space for others simply to rest and be renewed by the loving presence of God. It’s like that . . . the kingdom of God already in our midst. The reign of God expanding to touch the life of another and another and another. . . . Don’t ever forget: it’s not just making a meal, or offering a prayer, or knitting a cap, or having a spot for refuge. It’s living the ways of God’s kingdom. Being citizens of the rule without end. Alleluia! Amen!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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