"TRUST" - Proverbs 3:3-8; Mark 4:26-34
A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Texts: Proverbs 3:3-8; Mark 4:26-34
Listen now to the Second Reading from Holy Scripture. The lesson comes from the gospel of Mark 4:26-34:
26He (Jesus) also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet 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.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“The Kingdom of God.” This phrase is mentioned 14 times in Mark’s gospel. “The Kingdom of God,” or the “dominion of God” – this is what Jesus came to bring, to show, to teach, to embody. He keeps talking about it, teaching about it, giving examples of it in his actions as he heals people, and keeps offering parables to describe it. “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” – those are the first words that Jesus speaks in Mark’s gospel. “The Kingdom of God is like . . .” and he keeps saying this. It’s the main message. . . .
But this “Kingdom of God” idea” is NOT something we easily grasp in our modern culture. Early Christians taught that Caesar’s dominion has been overtaken by the “dominion of God.” In Jesus, a new order was coming into being. Allegiance was not to Caesar, but to God. This was radical. People were not finally accountable to Caesar, but to God. Life was NOT about serving Caesar, but serving God. And this message was intended to be life-giving, life-saving, life-altering, community-altering, even world-altering.
Yet, in the 21st century world, it seems harder and harder to grasp the importance and pertinence of Jesus and his message and purpose – the Kingdom of God. The great preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick said that throughout history, the world has used two ways of getting rid of Jesus. The first is by crucifying him – that is what the religious and political leaders tried in the 1st century. The second is to worship him without following him.
That is pretty profound, isn’t it? Worship Jesus without following him. We have seen lots of this lately related to the rationale of removing children from their parents at the border. We are always challenged to discern – if we are seeking to embody the Kingdom of God - what is faithful to Jesus? Could we follow Jesus and separate desperate children from their parents?
It has become pretty easy to worship Jesus on Sunday, and not follow him in all the other days of the week as we get caught up in our work, our politics, our thinking about various issues in the world, our tending to our own selves, NOT the Kingdom of God. It is pretty easy to be part of the church community in America, and drift away from the following of Jesus toward the Kingdom of God.
Recent scholars and theologians have been moving away from the idea of “the Kingdom of God” – because its lost its real depth and meaning in our modern culture – and been more and more using the phrase – the KIN-dom of God.
K-I-N as in kinship, as in family, as in community.
KIN, as in compassion, care, commitment to God’s good intentions. We are KIN to God and KIN to one another and that should shape everything – how we live and what we do.
Jesus came to inaugurate a new reign – far different from the practical, the selfish, the limited, the sad, the world inclined to divisions and death. Jesus came to inaugurate a world of wholeness, of hospitality, of generosity, of extravagance, of inclusive community, of joy and light. That is why I strive to follow Jesus – I want to be a part of the in-breaking, the continuing emergence of God’s redemptive work in the world, especially in these days, and alongside you.
And yet we remain so far from this precious Kin-dom of God.
We remain so fixated and challenged at borders around the world, talking and thinking constantly about walls, and security, and threats that any thought about the Kin-dom of God is squashed and forgotten.
We have been reminded again – with the suicide deaths of people like Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade – and the 30 percent increase in suicides nationwide in the last 20 years – that we continue our significant drift from the Kin-dom of God, where compassion reigns, and hope prevails, and where we seek to understand and support one another for a more wholesome and hope-filled world.
I know about this increased concern about suicide first-hand in my work with police officers. As we seek to help and support officers who have been in trauma, our newest teaching module at our seminars is about suicide – because police are now killing themselves 8 and 10 times more often than they are dying in the line of work. And police are twice as likely as civilians to kill themselves. So the rate of suicide is a significant, growing concern – and the rate of police suicide is multiplied beyond that!
We are long way from the Kin-dom of God.
And there are so many other issues like growing disparity between rich and poor, and cynicism, and racism.
Here is a true story from one of my best preacher friends. A very distinguished member of the church died. He was a regular presence in the life of the church. He served on Session for numerous terms. He gave generously. And yet, when the family was planning the funeral and clearing out his belongings, they found, at the bottom of a trunk in the attic, the full regalia of the KKK that belonged to this beloved church member and patriarch of the family. This was absolutely shocking to everyone who knew him. Was it some phase of his early life? Was this a part of the old self that no longer applied to him? If that was true, why did he still have the regalia? Or was it a clearer reflection of his heart, despite outward appearances? What was the family to think about these things? This was troubling for everyone.
The Kin-dom of God – we need it so badly. We all need the healing and help, the transformation, the growth, the compassion that can lead us to life, to God, to God’s ways, to God’s full and redemptive reign. We all have issues and the need for healing.
Jesus came preaching and teaching about the Kin-dom of God. The thrust of his message was an invitation to view self, others and the world in the light of God's love, power and justice. One of the things that characterized the ministry of Jesus was his ability to see beyond the appearance to the possibility. He viewed others, not so much in terms of what they were, but in terms of what they would become as a result of the liberating power of God's love. An ordinary fisherman became the rock on which the church would be built. A dishonest tax collector became a trusted friend and disciple. Outsiders were invited to be leaders. The unclean were restored to fellowship. The hopelessly ill were made well again. An angry Pharisee who persecuted the church became the apostle to the Gentiles. People who heard and believed the good news of the gospel were liberated from the prison of a dark, negative perspective and given instead a perspective of light and possibility through the transforming power and liberating love of God. Good things are possible not because of our own efforts, but because of the redemptive power of God.
So when Jesus speaks about the Kin-dom of God like a grain of mustard seed which is the smallest seed on earth but becomes the greatest of all shrubs, he is inviting us to look at the world with new eyes. In this very brief parable Jesus is saying, "This is the way God does things. God is like a sower who scatters seeds; it grows into a shrub that provides shelter for the creatures of this world. The Kingdom of God is like this. The initial evidence may be so tiny, but the ultimate results are great.”
And more importantly, if you TRUST that this is how God does things, then what will you do?
- You will begin to look for the mustard seeds.
- You will live and look for people and signs of this kin-dom with faith, grace, and optimism.
- You will not be too quick to dismiss the small and insignificant.
- You will not give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even on the world just because you see many signs of sin and brokenness.
- Rather, you will TRUST in God's possibilities even if the evidence is as tiny as a mustard seed.
- And you will strive to align, and keep aligning your life, not with the harsh thinking and cruelty of the world, but with God’s gracious, redemptive, life-giving, world-altering plans.
- We do not just worship Jesus. We seek to follow Jesus with how we live our lives, how we love, how we prioritize our time, how we reach out with compassion and care, advocate for justice and peace, participate in the in-breaking of God’s Kin-dom.
Glennon Doyle Melton is a name that several preachers in this pulpit have named before. She is a writer, a speaker, a blogger, and a disciple of Jesus who often speaks helpful and encouraging words. This past week she posted this: “Keep going. That is all you have to do, ever. You really don’t have to be amazing, or fierce, or beautiful, or successful, or good. Just keep going, please. Slowly is fine. Crawling is fine. No feeling is final. Except hope.” (glennondoyle. On Instagram)
If there is a seed, there is always hope. God is always at work. God never leaves us. God is never out of the picture. God is real and God is good. Keep going. Keep trusting God.
Sounds a bit like the wise speaker of our first lesson. “Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. . . . (and then there is that verse that is often not mentioned, but right there) It will be a healing for your flesh and refreshment for your body.”
This is what Jesus teaches us, shows us, embodies about the Kin-dom of God. Faith is not a package of certitudes, or just something we recite in church. Faith is rather a reliance, an ongoing, always working on, persistent striving to TRUST in a future-giving, future-hoping God who constantly makes a way out of no way – the Kin-dom.
Faith is TRUST in the news that we do not belong to ourselves, free to do whatever we want. We belong to God.
We do not belong to the rat race of the consumer society. We belong to God.
We do not belong to the national security state with its harsh and aggressive policies. We belong to God.
We do not belong to cruelty or greed or indifference toward the city’s or the world’s problems. We belong to God.
We rely on, answer to, seek to follow Jesus. This is what shapes our lives. (see W. Brueggeman, A Gospel of Hope, p. 75)
We seek to TRUST God so much – with our heartaches, with our anxieties and concerns, with our fears and losses, with everything, . . . that we live, love, and serve the work of the Kin-dom. That is what we do. That is what Jesus calls us to be about.
And how much does the world need people who really TRUST God, and who live as generous lovers and faithful workers for the Kin-dom of God?!
Prayer of Commitment: Holy God, to turn from you is to fall; to turn to you is to rise; to trust and love and serve you – that is to abide forever. We seek that way following Jesus. AMEN.
Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on June 17, 2018. This is a rough manuscript.