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Sermon

I Can Only Imagine What the Kingdom is Like (Sermon June 17, 2018)

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

Mark 4:26–34 (NRSV) [1]Grandpa

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

(Mt 13:31–32; Lk 13:18–19)

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 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.”

The Use of Parables

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

This week has had me thinking about a wide spectrum of things. On one side I was thinking about Father’s Day, on another I was thinking about bar b que. I gave blood at a blood drive at the library, so I thought about how that could help someone in need, and I thought about the conversations I have had on diverse topics. I have felt like this one week has been filled with about a month’s worth of activity I almost can’t remember picking high school students from camp yet that was only six days ago. But throughout the whole week I have thought quite a bit about the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is something that I have often tried to get a grasp of, and yet every moment of every day I seem to get a different glimpse as to what it is. Over the years I have learned that the kingdom of God is more than just heaven, that is an important part of the kingdom, but I have found that it is not everything. If all the Kingdom is something beyond the veil, then what is the point of the approximately 70 years of life we have on earth?

That question might seem simple or even silly but, in all honesty, I ask it. If the Kingdom of God is only about Heaven what is the point of such a long life? Of course, seventy years is a blink of an eye in eternity so maybe it pales in that comparison, but it is a journey everyone must make before we enter that eternal realm. And if we adhere to scripture at all we find that everything in this life directly impacts our experience in the here after. Which means that if the kingdom of God is there, the kingdom must also be here and now as well.

Last week we met with Jesus at his home, well what he called home. I do not really know if they were at his actual home, but we know his family was there, so we will call it home. During that visit Jesus faced some harsh criticism from the religious leaders, they literally said he was possessed with the ruler of all the demons. And they said that because Jesus challenged their perception and position in life. Which I mention was because someone got a bit too hungry.

Hunger is not a good place to be. When we are hungry our minds do not function to their fullest. Our decisions are not the clearest, and our emotions are on razor wire. When someone speaks to us we can easily be triggered into anger, as for decisions, I dare you to go shopping while you are hungry, there is a good chance you buy at least one item that is unnecessary. Hunger can cause people to act in ways they normally would not act, it makes them think in ways they normally would not think, it may even cause someone to act without thinking because their minds have resorted to some base instinct to fulfill the body’s needs.

Hunger is an example of stress. Stress can be both good and bad but how we handle the stresses in our life are an indication of the true personality we are. This is why fasting is such a powerful discipline, it gives us a glimpse of who we truly are.

But today we are not talking about he hangry lawyer from Jerusalem who could not get to the dinner bowl. After that awkward meeting Jesus went back to the sea side and taught. It was after his encounter with the hangry lawyer, that Jesus gave his parable of the sower and the seeds. It is fitting that this would be the topic at hand, the disciple just days before had angered the religious leaders for “Harvesting” grain on the sabbath when the absent mindedly pulled heads from stalks and ate the berries while they walked through the fields. It was harvest time, and in a predominantly agricultural society this is an important season of the year.

Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” For someone with an agricultural degree I get this. For as much as we have learned about plants, and crops there is always more to learn. Like why do plants grow up? Do they grow toward the light, toward heat, is it a reaction to gravity? We after thousands of years of study, do not fully know why plants grow up. There are many theories and many of those theories have been tested in the laboratories in space. And the conclusions they have made from these tests are basically, yes, all the above. We do not know how a plant grows completely. We have made observations, we have identified factors and environmental conditions that affect growth, we have even identified portions of a plant’s genetic code that contribute to growth, but why and how is still a question whose answer is often answered by philosophy instead of science. Plants grow because that is what they do.

A plant grows because that is its purpose. It grows it produces seeds, or rhizomes, so it can grow some more. That cycle has continued from the very first plant to this day. We have made observations and through various manipulations and selections we have encouraged various plants to grow in ways that are more beneficial for consumption, but it continues to grow, and reproduce and we still do not fully know how or why. It just grows because that is what it does, unless it happens to be a house plant under my care then it ceases to grow.

Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like that. Seeds are scattered, and they sprout, and they grow, and we do not know how. Have you ever just sat and thought about that? Have you just considered what that might mean? If the kingdom of God is both life and eternity how can that possibly be like this story told by Jesus? Plants grow because that is what they do.

It is a bit simple yet profound. It is as if after all our searching for the meaning of life we are given an answer like the one in a Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The answer to the question of life the universe and everything is 42. The kingdom of God is like seeds scattered that sprout and grow, and are harvested, which means the kingdom of God is about life and life is what we do.

If life is what we do and what the kingdom of God is all about, how then should we life our life? The earth holds a seed, the seeds produce stalks, the stalks grow and produce seeds, which fall to the earth and the cycles starts again or a harvest occurs, and the seeds then give life to others. The kingdom is like a mustard seed, Jesus continues, which is one of the smallest seeds, but it grows to a great shrub with branches large enough for birds to nest. The kingdom gives life and rest to others, the kingdom grows and spreads, the kingdom reaches out, nourishes, and provides a home for those in need. What is Jesus telling us?

If the answer to how or why a plant grows is because that is what they do, then the answer to life the universe and everything is similar. We live our lives within our purpose too. That purpose God revealed to us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is not only the law of God, but that is our purpose in life. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you did that?

What would happen if we actually lived fully engaged in that purpose of the kingdom, to love God with everything we are, and to love others as ourselves? If we were to look at some of the most inspiring stories of the saints, we would get a glimpse at what would happen. Billy Graham lead numerous crusades around the world and is said to have presented the gospel to 215 million people. Graham said that his first sermon came from a Moody Press book. Which leads us to DL Moody. Moody was the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. As he worked in Chicago selling shoes he realized that his life should not be spent amassing wealth as much as on helping the poor.[2] He began his missional Sunday School drawing children and adults from the German and Scandinavian immigrant underclass. For the kids he offered pony rides, and for the adults he offered English classes. His ministry grew to a church, and eventually to a college and publishing company. Even today we are affected with the remnants of the ministry he started so long ago. Going on back we have people like George Fox and the society of Friends, who inspired DL Moody to some degree in his opposition to fighting in the Civil War. And Fox and those early Friends were inspired by earlier saint, like Augustine, Luther, and anabaptist. And all those saints were inspired by the apostles, and ultimately all were inspired by Jesus the Son of God.

These men and women of faith that inspired us began any of us. They were just common people living their lives. Yet they found their purpose in Christ. When they found that purpose their lives changed, they began to grow up, like a plant. Their lives began to produce seeds that feed others or sprouted new growth. Their branches provided rest and shelter for those in need. They lived in the Kingdom of God.

We do not know how our lives are going influence others, yet we live. Recently the movie “I Can Only Imagine” was released on DVD. We all know this song that inspired this movie. It was one of the most popular songs on both Christian and Secular radio when it was released in 1999. This song was one of those songs that helped me as I searched for my own place in the kingdom. In the movie we were told about the life of the song writer, Bart Millard. He grew up in an abusive home, his mom abandoned him and left him with his abusive father while she sent him to church camp. He tried to please his dad by playing football, but when broke his legs and could no longer play that relationship became even more strained. When he could no longer play football, according to the movie, he was given or forced into taking the lead role of a musical, and music became his dream. He was invited to sing at church and he invited his dad only to have a plate broken over his head. But his dad turned on the radio and listened. Bart left home and went on to form a band we know as Mercy Me. They traveled and sang at gospel events, and Bart’s dad continued to listen. When the band tried to get their first major recording contract they failed, and Bart began searching and went home to find answers. What he found was his dad, still rough around the edges but changed. They reconciled their relationship and when Bart’s dad died he was left asking more questions. Over the course of a few years he kept writing the words “I can only imagine” randomly in his journals. As he looked at those words a song that inspired a generation was found.

Bart’s dad was not a dad anyone would want. He was abusive and continually belittled his son, calling him a worthless dreamer. Yet as Bart pursued his dream of singing for God, his life dropped seeds into the life of his father, and those seeds grew, and the kingdom life spread from son to the father. The kingdom is like that, seeds that fall to the earth, which sprout and grow. We do not know how or why they take root, we don’t know how or why they produce but we can observe it and try our best to make the environment better for them. But even then, we still wonder.

Billy Graham, DL Moody, George Fox, and countless other saints throughout history began like everyone else. Common people just trying to live in the kingdom. We see them as great saints of the Church, but they would only see themselves as people trying their best to be obedient to God. People just trying their best to love God with all they have and to love their neighbor as themselves. What would happen if we did that? What would happen if we like DL Moody would decide that our life was more than chasing wealth for ourselves but instead it was about helping the poor in our community? What would happen if we like Fox would be so moved by hope that we would boldly proclaim wherever we were? What if we were like the apostles who so loved the lord who died for their redemption that we were to go out, even when it was illegal, to help those in need and share the message of Jesus with them? What if?

The kingdom of God is more than just some future place beyond the veil of this life, it is here, and it is now. What if we were to think of those words written by Bart Millard were not just words for the future but words now? I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by your side, I can only imagine what my eyes will see when your face is before me…today. We are surrounded by His glory today, everyone around us is an image bearer of our very creator. Do we see Him? Do we love Him in them? What will your heart feel?

Today we remember our fathers, and those men in our lives who have shaped who we are. At times they have failed, and at other times they give us a glimpse of the kingdom. We are thankful for those men of faith who inspire us, those men whose lives planted seeds in us, whose arms gave us comfort and protection. Will we be reflections of the kingdom, both as men and women of faith, to those around us? Will we be the ones to bring hope, nourishment and safety to those in our community? It is hard in our world today, but no harder than any other time. When D.L. Moody first started his Missional Sunday school he said this, “If you can really make a man believe you love him, you have won him.” Will they see the love in you?

 

[1] Image: Earl Bales, Farmer at Harvest, by Larry Bales. (Earl is my grandfather)

[2] Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. (2018). Dwight L. Moody. [online] Available at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/dwight-l-moody.html [Accessed 17 Jun. 2018].

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.

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Jared A. Warner

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