Joan Sermon for June 17, 2018
Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:12-15; Mark 4:26-32
Sermon: "Planted in the House of the Lord"
It is a surprise and a delight to find parables in the Old Testament, We rarely think of them there!
Ezekiel tells about a time when God promises to remove the topmost part of a great cedar tree and plant it so that it might become another very large tree, where birds will live beneath it and in its branches. God will accomplish this to make known his creative power and his lordship over all.
As with all parables, there are meanings that lie beyond the story. And in the case of the cedar, God promises that the Israelite people will be restored from exile, restored as God's people once again. It is a kingdom promise.
I cannot help wondering whether Jesus remembered this parable of the cedar as he told his now famous parable of the mustard seed.
Let's turn to that parable for just a moment. Are there promises here as there are in the parable of the cedar tree from hundreds of years before?
Both parables inspire visions of great results from small beginnings.
Both parables give us insight into the kingdom of God.
As the noted writer John C. Purdy says of the mustard seed, "Of such tiny seeds God can make great shrubs. Of such small beginnings the kingdom is made."
Still, there are specific kingdom qualities to notice here in both parables:
-- Hospitality (the plant hosting birds);
-- Inclusiveness and generosity (God's creation provides for all);
-- Beauty (plant, bird, field, all the natural world).
Another scholar of the parables, Lamar Williamson, says that Jesus in his gift of parables invites us "to hear God in the familiar rounds of daily life and in familiar texts like this one…to sit and contemplate quietly until the commonplace wakes our minds and hearts to wonder."
Ultimately, the parable of the Mustard Seed might evoke in us not only wonder but also thanksgiving and gratitude for God's goodness and beauty.
What do you think?
We all want to know more about the kingdom of God.
We all want to know how to find it and whether we will be pleased when we do find it. Will it be an easy place to live or a difficult place to live?
And a question I've always had is this:
Will we discover that it was right here around us, that we have been in the midst of it all this time and didn't recognize it?
What IS the kingdom of God like?
One thing we learn from the psalm, one of my favorite psalms because it urges people even in their old age -- do not stop working for God's kingdom, even as you grow old.
You are God's people even in old age -- and you, too, can be green and full of sap.
But the beautiful image is what I want to pull out of this psalm: the image of the righteous person flourishing like a healthy palm tree, growing big and strong like a cedar, planted in God's house where they are nourished to grow and mature spiritually.
This surely is an ideal image of what we hope to do in God's church, in God's kingdom.
Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of God -- we have an abundance of clues about how to know it and how to live in it.
It is a kingdom slowly growing into a place where every resting place is safe and secure.
It is a place where there is room for all to live in love and to know God's grace.
We know because the Bible tells us so that, with God, all things are possible. (See Gen. 18:14; Job 42:2; Jer. 32:17; Luke 18:27)
God's word takes root and begins to grow, and there is no telling how fast and how high God's good word might take the people who are committing their lives to his will.
We know well from our Scripture that his work may start with a tiny seed. But that seed has all the power of the great Creator of the universe behind it.
The plans we make here in our church begin with tiny seeds, but God's power transforms those seeds and causes them to grow if only we pray for his guidance and give our all to following his guidance faithfully.
What is the kingdom of God like, Jesus asked his followers that day long ago?
He said: "With what can we compare the kingdom of God or what parable will we use for it? It is like the 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" (Mark 4:30-32).
Jesus uses ordinary images and familiar truths in his teaching. And Jesus is talking about ways people right then and there -- and for us, right here and now -- can respond to God's call to kingdom building.
The kingdom of heaven on earth begins small, with the life and ministry of one man, Jesus the Christ, who, yes, is God Incarnate. The kingdom begins in one small part of the world many years ago. But like the tiny seed, the kingdom grows as God wills it and the kingdom will become huge in the world as a result of God's action.
The mustard seed was so tiny that it usually was hidden from sight and mixed in with the other seed. The person who sowed seed containing the mustard seed might find the mustard bush surprisingly growing amid other neatly planted crops.
Could Jesus have been pointing his listeners, pointing us, toward another idea -- that is, that growth that occurs in the kingdom can come in unexpected and even unsettling ways?
Someone has pointed out that just as farmers and gardeners usually like neat rows. Church people like neat pews.
Farmers and gardeners want their pecan groves or cornfields to be orderly and predictable in their growth. Church people, too, more often than not, expect growth to be orderly and predictable.
But in God's Kingdom, growth comes in surprising ways. Are we church people ready to deal with God's surprises?
In every age, God calls people who know his grace to share it with others. God urges all who know the gospel to tell others about it -- to scatter God's word as seeds among the people around us -- again and again.
God will speak to us as we gather and pray and talk among ourselves. God will show us how we are to live and work so that the love of God is clearly shining in our lives.
Remember this: Any church can be an extraordinary church when its members gather regularly to study Scripture, to pray, and to listen for God's will.
Any church can do extraordinary things for the kingdom when it goes out into the world around it unafraid, ready to step into God's unpredictable, surprising future.
Yes, the righteous children of God, planted in God's house for God's instruction and direction, will flourish there and in them the seeds of the kingdom will take root.
Then they will become themselves sowers of the seeds -- and so the kingdom comes and grows -- ever more powerfully in God's time and through God's creative power.
With fervent prayer, let us ask God to help us to remember that our righteousness comes from the righteousness of the one into whom we are baptized, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
It is through the cross of Christ that we are empowered to be righteous before God.
Thanks be to the One Almighty God, to whom we give all honor, praise and glory -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.