Friday, March 2, 2018

Lessons about the Kingdom (Matt 13:1-9;31-33;44-46) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Listen to these maxims about life: “Life is like a rollercoaster, tighten your seatbelt, and try to eat a light lunch.” 19th century Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.   Where do you turn when you need guidance or wisdom?

In Fulghum’s book:  All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten, he offers these lessons:   Share everything.  Play fair.  Don't hit people.  Put things back where you found them.  Clean up your own mess.  Don't take things that aren't yours.  Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.  Wash your hands before you eat.  Flush.  Play and work some every day. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Jesus’ teachings too are a source of wisdom about living a God-centered life.  Jesus taught his disciples lessons about the Kingdom of God in the form of parables.  These truths apply to you and me as well in our journey of faith.

What is the Kingdom of God?  In Greek, basileias tou Theos, refers to God’s reign or rule in our lives and in the world, God’s sovereign power occurring in some circumstance, God’s will being fulfilled in some event or situation.  It’s wherever and however God’s loving purpose is being accomplished whether in the life of an individual, a family, a community, a nation or in the world.   Yes, even in the church.  Today we are referring to God’s Kingdom when we say: “God answered my prayer, only God could have made this happen, it was a God thing.  The Kingdom of God is wherever God is doing something or saying something.

Jesus says:  A sower went out to sow; a planter went out to plant.   Who is the sower?  God, Jesus or the Risen Lord.  This parable shows that God isn’t lazy, oblivious, indolent and passive.  God isn’t sitting in a rocking chair sipping a mint julep, while watching his servants, you and me, slave away in the blistering sun.  God is working, busy, active, involved, intervening in the world planting seeds.  This is the God we worship.  This is the God we serve.

What is the seed?   The lesson is that seeds vary.   The seed is God’s word or God’s purposeful activity in our lives:  It may be: the gospel, a word of forgiveness, a word of encouragement, or love, or peace, or courage, or comfort or joy or justice.  It may be God fulfilling His will or calling us to work for justice.  it may be a call to repentance and faith, it may be a call to obedience, it may be a test or challenge, it may be God’s calling you to help or support someone, it may be a surprise of God’s grace.  The seed may be a coincidence.  In the Kingdom of God, coincidences are small miracles in which God chooses to remain anonymous.

Listen, Jesus says, a sower went out to sow!   What is the lesson?  That there are different types of soil or to put it into today’s language, different responses from people to the word of God.  People’s spiritual receptivity varies widely.   Jesus experienced this in his ministry.  We too should not be surprised.  When you seek to share Jesus’ word expect different reactions.  The sower faithfully sowed the seed, but he encounters hard hearts, shallow or superficial hearts, distracted or preoccupied hearts, and finally open, ready and receptive hearts.  The seed only took root in the last soil which was open and receptive to the good news.  No, not everyone is ready to receive the seed that God plants or the seed God calls you and me to sow.

Don’t become discouraged.   This is a painful lesson to experience.  But people are free to respond or not to respond.  This is a truth I suspect most of us have experienced at one time or another.

We sometimes blame ourselves for not witnessing effectively or not being a good example.  We blame ourselves for not resolving some conflict in a relationship or saving a relationship or failing to guide someone to make better choices.  You try to help.  You do your best.   You pray.  Remember this parable.  You or I may not be the one who will be successful in planting the seed.  Even Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t always win people as his followers.

I recall when I was the pastor at another church, and I regularly talked to a visitor who worshipped with us and said he was discovering a new interest in faith.  I met with him, prayed with and for him, but he didn’t make a confession of faith.  I wondered where I went wrong.   We returned to visit the church years after I had left, and there he was very involved in the church.  Someone else sowed the seed that took root in his life.  You and are I are not responsible for the response.   God does hold us responsible to sow, to scatter, to plant.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed or like yeast.  It’s the truth that great things start from small beginnings.  A mustard seed was the smallest seed planted in Israel to grow food.   When it grew it became a towering plant reaching 12 to 15 feet high.  Big, large, splashy gets our attention.  Mt. Everest, at 29,000 feet, the tallest mountain in the world, CA redwood trees topping 350 feet high, salt-water crocodiles reaching twenty feet, and the tallest skyscraper in the world in Dubai, which stands over 2,700 feet high.

But scripture teaches that God affirms small efforts and small things.  Every important accomplishment requires a willingness to begin small.   World-wide Christianity began like a mustard seed.  The Christian faith began with Jesus an itinerant preacher and 12 ordinary followers.   No Rhodes scholars or Hollywood celebrities or politically powerful people in this group.  And Christianity has flourished.

In the early 20th century there was a widespread belief, based on the theory of evolution, that religion would eventually die out as the human race became more sophisticated and technologically advanced.  Religion was needed early on because humans were ignorant and superstitious, and didn’t comprehend the world.   Science, technology and modernization would eventually eliminate the need for religion because humans would come of age, outgrow the need for religion and learn to understand and control their environment.  This universal evolution of secularization never materialized. The seed of the Christian faith is deeply rooted and growing in the world.

Christianity has lost ground in parts of Europe, true, but not everywhere in Europe.  There are over 2 billion Christians in the world and those numbers are growing.  A recent article reported Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in Iran, at around 20% each year.  Christianity is growing rapidly in Lebanon and Afghanistan.   The Christian faith is exploding in South Korea.   The church is growing rapidly in China and experts are predicting a half billion Chinese Christians fifty years from now.   Africa is close to being 50% Christian today.    Yes, the mustard seed of Christianity has grown into a towering plant.

The truth is that little things count!    God values those little seeds you plant, those little efforts you make for Jesus, because they can open up possibilities and opportunities for some future growth.  They matter in what God seeks to do through your life and in the lives and events around you politically, socially, economically, and religiously.  Small seeds you plant with your children or grandchildren, friends or colleagues, matter in the realm of God.

Like the story of a ninth grade teacher, Helen Mrosla, who was having a terrible time controlling her class and getting the students to cooperate.  Then she had an idea.  She instructed the students to list each person’s name in the class on a sheet of paper and then write something nice about each one.  The next day, she took those papers and compiled a list for each student and passed them out. The atmosphere in the class changed instantly.  One student said:  I never knew that I meant anything to anyone.  The students began to be happy with themselves and one another.  The class began to work together.  Years later, at a class reunion, some of Helen’s former students gathered around her.  One opened his wallet, and carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper which contained the list of all the good things of each classmate.  Another told Helen that she kept her list in the top drawer of her desk at home.  Another had placed his list in his wedding album.  Helen was simply overwhelmed.

Don’t say: “But who am I or what can I alone do? You never know how something you do or say, however seemingly insignificant, can have such a powerful and transforming affect upon someone for God’s Kingdom.  Remember, the Kingdom of God grows secretly, quietly, undetected.  Growth is occurring even when you or I don’t perceive it.  For God gives the growth.  I believe with all my heart and soul that one-day God will reveal to you and to me, the difference we made with the seeds we planted over our lifetime for His Kingdom.

The kingdom of God is like someone finding a treasure hidden in a field or a merchant finding a pearl of great value.  People in Jesus’ day buried their valuables in the ground.   No safety deposit boxes in that day.  Here a man finds a treasure hidden in a field.  He buries it and is so filled with joy that he sells everything and buys the field.   He did nothing wrong.  Jewish law clearly stated: “What one finds belongs to the finder.   A merchant stumbles across a pearl of great value.

God’s kingdom appears like that; it often comes as a complete surprise.  God’s will surprises you and brings incredible joy and can lead to our making important changes in our lives.  Walking daily by faith with God can lead to your setting new priorities and goals or cause you to change your attitude or behavior because you have experienced the surprising touch of God’s grace.

Think of a seed a person planted in your life and the difference it has made.  Can you think of a seed you planted in someone’s life where God used it for His purpose?  What a joy, what an honor and privilege to be surprised by God and to be used as a means of grace.     God has a passion for people and He wants us to share that passion.

Have you ever heard of a preacher named Mordecai Ham?  Very few people have heard of him.  He was a small town evangelist and traveled throughout the south during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  He never made a big name for himself like for instance Billy Sunday.  One day he arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina.  A Billy Frank went to hear his preacher, accepted the gospel, turned his life over to Jesus Christ, and became a Christian.  The name Billy Frank later came to be known as Rev. Billy Graham.

Take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, take a risk.  Trust God. Don’t underestimate God’s awesomeness.   Listen, a sower went out to sow.  God plants seeds.  What seed is God calling you to plant?   Amen!

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