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There are a few common threads running through the lectionary passages for today. There’s a reading from 1 Samuel, Psalm 20, 2 Corinthians and Mark. We’re not going to read all four but I’ll tell you what I think those threads are. One common thread is the difference between God’s vision and our own. We have limited vision. God sees what we cannot and God sees differently than we do. Another common thread is that of God’s surprising choices. God chooses to use all kinds of people and all kinds of situations for God’s own purposes and glory. God will use what we would not and God will upend our expectations. Vision and choice, what we see and how we choose to live have something to do with God and God’s kingdom. It’s our call as followers of Jesus Christ to look for the kingdom, to work for the kingdom, and to help usher it in. So, let’s read first from 2 Corinthians and then from the gospel according to Mark.
[Read 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, Mark 4:26-34]
Jesus had a habit of teaching in parables; in fact, this passage in Mark tells us that he did not speak to them except in parables. Parables are small stories with a big punch. They are not fables or morality tales. They are punchier than that. They convict us. They make us uncomfortable. They make us scratch our heads. They teach us about how things ought to be. They usually take our expectations and turn them on their heads. There was a video floating around the internet this week of a high school state playoff baseball game. I don’t know if you saw it or not. It was of the last pitch of the championship game and this pitch would determine the outcome. The pitcher throws the ball and it’s a strike which evidently secures the win for that team. You see players rush the field and embrace one another in celebration though not the pitcher. The pitcher headed straight toward the player he’d just struck out and embraced him instead. It turns out they are best friends from childhood. He’d just struck out his best friend who happened to be on the opposing team and rather than celebrate with his own teammates first he went to console his friend. A pastor colleague of mine captioned this video as…the kingdom of God is like this. You may think well that’s just a baseball game and some high school kids. But what an extraordinary twist in our winner takes all world. What an unexpected turn, what an example of love and kindness, and relationship above winning. What a beautiful image for us to hold. The kingdom of God is like this, indeed. Parables are all around us it seems teaching us about what the kingdom of God is like. Parables also teach us about what the kingdom of God is not like and we’ve had plenty of examples of that this week, as well.
The two short parables that we read in Mark remind us that God is at work whether we can see it or not and that God often chooses to work through the things we would deem insignificant. I find comfort there because I’ll confess that I can’t always see God at work in this world. There’s something wrong with my vision. The bad news, as always, far outweighs the good. When it seems as though all is lost and hope is gone, I can remember that a seed planted in the ground grows…somehow. Like the sower in the parable I know not how it grows. It’s been explained to me scientifically and I know that a seed growing involves a death, transformation, and then new life. Something starts out as one thing, dies, and is transformed into something new. A new creation: the old is gone and the new has come. I still can’t tell you exactly how it happens, though, because I can’t see it with my own eyes.
What do you know about mustard seeds? Mustard seeds are small. I know that much. I’ve also learned that a mustard plant is invasive. It takes over with little effort on the part of the grower. So, it would seem this parable is a reminder that small things which seem insignificant can be transformed into something quite significant. In the parable, this small seed, this invasive plant grows to a great size and is used to shelter other creatures. What starts out as something small is transformed into something large which provides shade and shelter for those around it. Life giving. Sheltering. Unstoppable. Transformation and new life. The kingdom of God. That which we deem small and insignificant can and will be used by God to transform the lives of others, to transform the world. That which we cannot see with our eyes will die and rise and bring new life.
In the face of all that is wrong in our world, do you have even a mustard seed of hope? A tiny bit? Do you think God can multiply that hope? Do you think it can grow and grow and provide shelter and safety for those around you? I think it can. Do you feel buried under the weight of sorrow or outrage or any other burden? Buried like a seed? Do you think new life could burst forth from that seed? I do. It would seem that the kingdom of God is about what God can see and isn’t contingent on our own vision. It would seem the kingdom of God is about God using whatever God will to bring that kingdom about. It would seem the kingdom of God is about dying and rising and bringing about new life. It would seem the kingdom of God laughs in the face of “too small” or “insignificant” or “not worth much.” And it would seem the kingdom of God is coming no matter what. Though our call as disciples of Christ is to work for the kingdom, the kingdom will come anyway. God’s vision will be fulfilled. Like the mustard seed, the kingdom will invade and take over and provide shelter and safety for those who need it. I find comfort in that. I find comfort in remembering that God is at work whether I can see it or not. I find comfort knowing that God’s kingdom will come whether it is because of or in spite of our choices as human beings. Looking at the world now, I’d say we’re not doing a great job of kingdom living. We’re allowing injustice to thrive, we’re determining the worth of human lives, and we’re standing by as though we have no part in it.
As followers of Jesus Christ, ours is a kingdom living way of life, or it ought to be. According to 2 Corinthians, our aim is always to please God. We walk by faith and not by sight, we are a new creation, and we no longer regard anyone from a human point of view. Vision and choice. Kingdom living is life giving and countercultural. Kingdom living means seeing the world and those in it through the eyes of Christ. This kind of vision informs our choices in life. When we regard one another from a human point of view, as we did Jesus, once upon a time, we assign worth to our fellow human beings. We take Scripture and use it for our own ends. When we regard one another from a human point of view, we call people illegal, and stand beside inhumane policies that do irreparable harm to our follow human beings. We buy into the narrative that some human lives are worth more than others, that the biggest and the strongest and the wealthiest get to make decisions. And that they can justify their cruelty with the words of our sacred text.
There have been other images making the rounds online this week that tell me what the kingdom of God isn’t…images of children being taken from their parents at our border. Images of children being housed in detention centers apart from their parents. This is not kingdom living. Allowing families seeking refuge to be separated and jailed is not kingdom living. Standing by cruel policies intended to deter those seeking refuge from actually seeking refuge is not kingdom living. Ignoring the injustices that drive our fellow human beings to flee in the first place is not kingdom living. The eyes of Christ compel us to see that all is not right in our world. And the call of Christ on our lives urges us to do something about it. Read the totality of Scripture and you will find that it is our call to welcome and care for the stranger in our land, to love our neighbors, to care for the widow and the orphan, and that loving our neighbors is the fulfillment of the law.
For the love of Christ urges us on, did you notice that in the text? It’s in verses 14 and 15 in 2 Corinthians 5 “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” We live for Christ…we breathe and think and speak and do for Christ. We love others for Christ. We stand up in the face of injustice for Christ. We use our voices for Christ. We work for peace and reconciliation for Christ. That is who we are. We take our mustard seeds of faith, hope, and love and believe that God can and will grow them into a safe place, a shelter, a home, a kingdom for all of God’s children. We may not be able to see it with our eyes but we walk by faith anyway. We trust in the slow work of God anyway. We trust that God can bring about life from death just as a seed in the ground flowers into something beautiful.
We may not always understand God’s ways or God’s vision. We may not be able to see with our eyes. We didn’t read the 1 Samuel text today but it’s the anointing of David. 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 if you have a chance to read it later. Saul has failed as king and God rejects him. Samuel is tasked with going to anoint the next king chosen by God. He is sent to Jesse and told that the new king will be found among Jesse’s sons. Seven sons of Jesse pass before Samuel, all big and strong and by outward appearances everything a king should be. 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Samuel hadn’t met David yet for he was the youngest and the smallest and he was out tending the sheep. David was God’s chosen not based on outward appearance but on the heart. I’m sure that choice didn’t make sense to anyone. How could the youngest and the smallest be a mighty king? God sees what we cannot. God uses what we would not.
I’ll tell you it’s been another difficult week to be in the world. It’s been discouraging and disheartening and easy to see how despair and hopelessness can overtake at any moment. But despair is not our story. Hopelessness is not our story. The sower and the seed is our story. God anointing David is our story. The mustard seed is our story. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is our story. New life is our story. We are called to walk by faith and not by sight. We are called to regard no one from a human point of view even those we have the hardest time loving. We are called to live as though the kingdom of God is already here because it’s coming no matter what. With the eyes of Christ we can see where God is at work in the world. With the eyes of Christ we can see what breaks the heart of God. And we locate ourselves there. We sow the seeds of faith, hope, love, and peace and the seeds will grow we know not how. I suspect God has something to do with it. With the eyes of Christ perhaps we’ll see.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
June 17, 2019
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
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Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
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