Sermon for June 13, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for June 13, 2021

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     A major news story of late is the severe drought in the Southwest. On the CBS Morning News the other day a farmer from Utah was interviewed. You can only imagine his worry over the lack of rain. A farm that has been in his family for over 125 years is threatened. He cannot sleep at night as more troubling thoughts invade his mind, like food shortages for the country. The report than showed a brief clip of the governor of Utah asking his fellow citizens to pray making it clear divine intervention was needed. Another man was interviewed and asked to comment on the governor’s call for prayer. His response was “God helps those who help themselves.”

In the gospel lesson we heard Jesus tell two very down-to-earth parables. You cannot get earthier than planting seeds, getting your hands dirty by digging in the soil. Some of you have planted gardens and are happy to see the seeds popping up through the soil, nourished by sun and rain. Jesus used the common sight of planting seed to tell us about the kingdom of God coming down to earth. In the first parable the farmer did not have trouble sleeping at all. The seeds planted germinate and grow with progress day by day, and the farmer cannot explain how. The parable said the “earth produces of itself”, first the stalk, then the head, and then the full grain appears. When the barley or wheat is ready, the farmer does not dawdle but at once begins the harvest.

This parable is meant to be one of encouragement. At the time the Gospel of Mark was written it was a very unsettling, even chaotic time. The Roman Empire had just finished destroying the city of Jerusalem, looting the holy Temple of its valuables and then with military efficiency tearing it down. The Kingdom of Rome appeared to be winning the day and the faithful would worry about persecution.

The church throughout the ages has faced troubling times. Some may wonder if there is such a thing as the “Kingdom of God”, when will it arrive. Like the governor of Utah we may wonder about divine intervention. Jesus’ parable teaches that we do not understand the mystery of the kingdom of God, yet it is revealed among us even when we do not know how. When we are troubled by what we see in the world and even in our own community, we may very well lose sleep. It is human nature to worry since we feel so powerless at times. If God only helps those who help themselves, what if we feel helpless?

Jesus did not begin his work by saying “Run for your lives and hide because disaster is near”. He said “The Kingdom of God is near, repent, and believe the gospel, believe this good news.” The very heart of the Kingdom of God is found with Jesus. A few chapters further in the gospel of Mark we read what Jesus saw. Crowds were gathering around Jesus for good reason since his acts of mercy and healing revealed the kingdom of God at work. Jesus saw the crowds and he had compassion for them. He saw people who were harassed and helpless by what was happening in their lives. You and I can feel harassed by many things: bills, medical issues, higher prices on just about everything, rude drivers on the road the list can be long. It is common for worry and fatigue to take their toll. We can be like sheep without a shepherd and the meaning of that picture is that we are lost in conflict and chaos. But we do have a shepherd. Jesus is our shepherd who seeks and finds the lost with his mercy, forgiveness, and steadfast love.

May the compassion of Jesus be our help. Jesus does not tire of calling us to cast our cares upon him. This will not mean our cares will suddenly disappear but it does mean we have the encouragement of Jesus with us. Let us continue to put our lives into Jesus’ care. It is a mystery how things work out, but the good news Jesus is at work for us and with us providing the grace we need. Instead of worry in charge, listen to Jesus who said in the Gospel of John, “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God and believe also in me.” May we pray like the Psalmist, “It is a good think to give thanks to the Lord, to herald you love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.”

A boy and an old man were sitting on a dock fishing one day. The boy was full of questions about why the fish act the way they do, and why the sky changes colors at sunset, and why people do the things they do. And then the boy asked, “Does anybody ever see God?” The old man looked across the water and he smiled. He said, “Son, it’s getting so I hardly see anything else.” The Kingdom of God is not some distant reality or just a reference to life after death. The Kingdom of God is among us now. The coming of the Kingdom is God’s work and not ours. Just as a seed grows to maturity and ready for harvest, the Kingdom of God is among us now bearing fruit. The Kingdom’s grace is revealed when people no longer live for themselves, but for Jesus who died and was raised for them. The kingdom is known when the love of Christ encourages and urges us forward with acts of kindness and mercy. Our Assistant to the Bishop likes to ask “How have you seen God at work today?” Just think about that: the Kingdom, the rule, the ways of God are often known in small but significant ways as we allow the love of Jesus to work through us. Be careful when you pray “Thy Kingdom Come.” As Luther explains the Kingdom comes without our prayer but we are praying the Kingdom comes to us equipping us to shine with God’s love for others.

The second parable we heard was about the mustard seed. It is a parable of comparison: it is the smallest of seeds. But when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of shrubs. Commentators tell us that the mustard plant Jesus knew in Galilee indeed could grow into a large shrub, eight feet or even ten feet high. Certainly the birds of the air would find it perfect to make nests to shade and shelter their young from the blazing heat of Palestine.

Study Bibles will tell you that the mustard plant that Jesus knew was used for medicine and food flavoring. But one commentator found this parable of Jesus funny. He thought his first hearers might get a chuckle from his telling this parable. Some would think if Jesus wanted to talk about the growth of the Kingdom of God, would it not be more impressive if Jesus used one of the majestic and towering cedars of Lebanon? When we think of the Kingdom or rule of God, we must think of grace and God’s gift. When we think of God’s grace at work, be ready to be shocked and surprised. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this in the First Lesson today, “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.” Think of Jesus fulfilling those words. He brought down the high and mighty who thought they had the market cornered on God. Instead Jesus lifted up the lowly and forgotten revealing the love and mercy of God has no favorites, since all are favorites and beloved of God.

From ancient times the cross of Jesus has been called a tree. From all appearance the cross appears nothing but a dead tree. The death of Jesus appears to show the triumph of the kingdoms of this world. But the death of Jesus on the tree of the cross bears the fruit of our salvation. In a Lenten hymn “There in God’s Garden” is the stanza, “See how its branches reach to us in welcome; hear what the Voice says, “Come to me, ye weary! Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing.”

The cross reveals the power of the Kingdom of God: surprising love. This love has the power to forgive your sins and make of you a new creation, faithful and trusting Jesus to be not only with you, but for you.

When Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, listeners who were farmers or gardeners would have been shocked. Mustard tended to grow and take over things. It could be a true irritant. The kingdom of God is an irritant to the powers of this world that are opposed to the justice and will of God. Think of the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. She is small in stature and not an imposing or towering figure. But as an advocate for warning about climate change and the imperative for nations to change their ways, she has become a worldwide irritant.

A governor of a drought-stricken state has called for divine intervention. In times of crisis prayer reminds us of whom we are to trust. The Kingdom of God has intervened in this world God loves. We call the church, the beloved people of God, the Body of Christ. May we think of the church as Christ’s Body of intervention, God indeed at work through us encouraging people with the love and hope God provides.

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