By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 27, 2021
Mark 5:21–43 (ESV)
21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The stories in today’s scripture are some of the most powerful stories of healing in the Gospel accounts. I say this for a reason. The main reason is because of who is being healed and our jaded and somewhat incorrect understanding of ancient cultures. I also say this because of how Jesus interacts with the people.
Last week we saw Jesus getting on a boat to go across the sea. He was leaving his adopted hometown of Capernaum and going to an area of Roman Palestine that had a denser demographic of Gentiles. Because of this population density those that lived in the area found it more profitable to serve the people or their customers than to remain religiously pure. The people began raising animals that were considered by Hebrew people as being unclean, and they did this not for their own consumption, but instead to sell the animals to others. They were contributing to what they considered sin. This highlights the hypocrisy of many that claim to be religious. I, myself, will not do this but I will provide access for others. That is a discussion for another day but this type of lifestyle weakened their spiritual resolve. Since they were relying on sin to provide for their lifestyle, were they committed to following the ways of God?
Jesus stays in that region for a short time. The community out of fear and greed basically drove Jesus back to the boats because the consequence of his ministry hit them financially. The redemption of one man, carried a steep price for the community. And this I think is important. The cost of redemption is paid in part by the members of that community.
We as humans are social beings. Early in our spiritual history we are told that it is not good for mankind to be alone so God created a helpmate. There are many theological, sociological, and political theories that can be derived from that statement, but the one I want us to focus on is simple. We need other human brains around us to assist us to fulfill our purposes. We are not complete without others. We as strong and as intelligent as we cannot function to our fullest capacity without someone beside us to communicate with. We need others, because the others that we communicate with will look at the same things with different eyes and provide a different perspective. Those others we interact with provide us with more information and allow us to broaden our knowledge.
Adam had a simple job. He was to name all the animals, and to tend the garden. This does not seem like a two-person job, but we are looking at this from a cultural perspective. Animals to us are, by in large, a source of income. God created humanity to be farmers, naming animals and tending a garden. Farmers may take care of the livestock, but very few have names. There is power in a name. By giving a name we are giving that being a place in a community. We are giving it a purpose and defining its essence. After a while we as humans begin to see things in generalities and without a different perspective, we miss aspects of a being around us. When I was a child, we had farm cats. At times we had as many as thirty cats running around our farm. These cats were there to work and were not pets. Because I had that perspective, I regarded these animals very differently than my sister. I had one name for thirty individuals, where my sister saw the individuality of all thirty. And consequently, how I interacted with these beings was also different. If I approached one of these cats, I usually was met with claws. But my sister, who interacted with these animals based on their individuality could pet and hold nearly every one of these thirty nearly wild cats. She saw them and named them and they were part of her community. I saw them only as animals and we interacted as such. The name defines how we interact and care for what is around us. When we know a name, we begin to build a relationship. Without a name there is no relationship.
Jesus gets back on the boat and a great crowd gathers around him. In that crowd is a synagogue ruler by the name of Jairus, and this man has a sick child. This child although we do not know her name, we know something about her. She is Jairus’ daughter. If we were to listen to all our history books and what is being taught, we would notice something off in this story. We are told that women are not valued in antiquity, and that might be true, but in our Christian text and in our faith, women have value and are part of the community. This daughter is loved by her father to such a degree that he would put his own name in jeopardy by asking a man accused of being possessed by Beelzebub to come to his home to heal her. I want us to just let that sit in our minds for a moment. We do not always apricate what is in scripture when we do not consider historic and cultural context. The historical and cultural context would tell us that Jairus is out of the ordinary, this is true. But the fact that this out of the ordinary activity being recorded in our Christian text is also telling us something profound. We as people of Christ should not see this as out of the ordinary, instead this should be the norm. A father should have just as much concern for a daughter as they do a son.
Jesus listens to Jairus’ plea and goes with him to his house. And a great crowd is following him as he makes that journey. And there is within that crowd a woman. I do not know if you have noticed, but women make up a significant portion of the stories within the gospels. This woman had a discharge of blood for twelve years.
Bodily discharges make people ritualistically unclean. This is something that we struggle with today. We do not fully understand this concept of uncleanness. Blood was regarded as the life force. In a simple and unscientific understanding of the human body, when blood leaked out of the body people were believed to be losing their life force. This is understandable because if you lose enough blood you die. Similar ideas are given to other fluids in the body as well, although blood was the greatest.
Those that are losing blood are unclean, not because of sin but because they are losing life force. They must be protected and cared for, and those that care for those cared for individuals that were discharging life fluids would need to be isolated from the larger community as well. We often see this as being barbaric and inhumane but we must remember that these cultures did not understand as much as we do today. They did not understand germ theory and that microscopic organisms transmit disease. All they knew was that life forces were draining out of the body and to prevent others from having life forces drained from them these people needed to be isolated or quarantined for a period.
Adult women have a unique place in this understanding. Every month there is a discharge of life force that renders them unclean. They were required to isolate themselves from the rest of the family during this time, and everything they touched was to be cleaned before this unclean status was transferred to others. We often regard this as being terrible but I want us to be a bit more gracious. An ancient understanding of the human body would not understand a cyclical discharge of fluids that maintain life, like we do today. There was a fear that a woman might die during this time, because she was losing life in their minds. The isolation was not because of sin, but concern for her wellbeing. The men in the family were to step up and care for the children so that the mother could do all she could to care for herself during this fearful time. That was the intent, but that was not always the practice.
We have similar concepts today. We know more and we do our best to act on the knowledge we have. That is why we encouraged people to wear masks during the pandemic. And yes, we know that there are differences of opinions in this but that is the intent. We wanted people to wear masks out of care and concern for the community. And those that were unable or unwilling to wear a mask were encouraged to isolate as much as possible. In many ways we implemented a concept of ritual uncleanness. These ideas were implemented to prevent the potential spread of agents that could drain life from people.
This woman had this discharge for twelve years. She had been in isolation for twelve years. We know the length of time because that is important. There are social ramifications to this that we can interpret. For twelve years she did not bear a child, because she could not have contact with her husband. She was regarded baron. Unable to produce life because of this life force draining problem. Most likely because of this condition she was divorced, and her dowery would have been used to pay for care so she was also impoverished. She was isolated and rejected by society. And yet she was in the crowd.
We do not give this woman enough credit. She would have been regarded by her society as someone cursed by God. Unclean, contagious, and a drain on precious resources. She was incapable to bear life and slowly she was draining life from herself and everyone around her. Yet she heard about Jesus and went to him. And she thought to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
We are told that her faith made her well. I want us to think of this. Jesus healed her, but she had a part in the process. We as individuals must participate. We often look at faith from the wrong perspective. We often look at faith as passive, especially when it comes to health. I have faith that I will be healed. I prayed and that is all I need to do. No. She suffered much under many physicians but she was still active. She still pursued reports and acted on those reports. She, even in her delicate state, pursued information in whatever way she could.
We need to be active in the kingdom if we want to see God working. We must have the correct perspective or the distractions around us will cloud our vision. The crowd was pressing in on Jesus yet when this woman touched his clothing, Jesus asked who touched me? The disciples were surprised at this statement because they saw the crowd. Everyone was touching Jesus; how could he isolate an individual in the crowd? But Jesus was perceptive and knew. He turned around and looked for the woman, who at this point was swallowed by the crowd because she stopped surprised while everyone else surged forward. Then when the crowd stopped and she heard Jesus speak, she was fearful.
She was afraid for many reasons. The first she had just made everyone in that crowd unclean so she could face consequences for that. But also, what she had just done could have been considered theft. She stole her healing because she touched Jesus without his knowledge to gain the healing. She stole her healing. She fell before Jesus expecting the worst. But what does Jesus do? “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” He calls her daughter. This is a term of endearment and concern, not just a term of female progeny. Jesus looks at this woman and gives her value and restores her to the community.
This takes us back to Jairus and his daughter. He valued his daughter enough to risk everything for her life. We do not know why and that does not matter. He valued her more than his standing in the community as a ruler of the synagogue. People came from his house while Jesus was speaking to this woman, and informed Jairus that his precious daughter died. Jesus turned to this man when he overheard what was being said and spoke to him. “Do not fear, only believe.”
Faith is action and faith is hope. Jesus told Jairus that he would heal his daughter, and the people were attempting to distract Jairus from that promise. We must remain true. Continue to seek, continue to believe, and continue to live with the hope that Jesus will overcome what we perceive as obstacles.
What does this have to do with living today? If we believe something to be right and true, let us live it out. Early Friends looked at the church of their day, a church that claimed Christ yet were killing people that practiced faith differently, and they said the rituals that claim righteousness are empty unless the truth of those rituals are lived. They decided it was not good enough to eat a piece of bread and claim to have Christ if we would not actively live the love of Christ with others. They would not claim baptism as authentic unless the life lived was in keeping with the kingdom call. Faith is action. Faith is living hope. Faith is living our beliefs every day of our lives. It is seeking healing even when it could cost everything, even if the world around us finds it foolish.
Each of us here today has available to us everything those first believers had available to them. Use what we have, to bring individuals from the multitude into the community, like my sister did the cats. Call them by name and see them, give them value, and hope in the name of Christ.
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 20, 2021
Mark 4:35–41 (ESV)
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The past couple of years, we have heard many people say things like, the new normal, we are learning as we go, and in my circles, they did not teach us this in seminary. I personally can honestly say they did not teach this to me in seminary because I did not attend an actual seminary, but they are saying these things because our society had things thrust upon us that not even one of us ever expected to endure. We all have our opinions on what should or should not have happened, we are all passionate about our opinion, but the one thing I want us to remember is none of us really knew what to expect. And no matter what our communities did we would be wrong in many people’s perspectives.
That is now part of our past. We need to move forward now. We need to admit to each other that the decisions that were made were based on the information we had at the time and were made with the desire to do what was best for the most people based on the information we had. Offer grace if you were offended and as a leader, I also ask for forgiveness if I caused offense. I think that this pandemic experience has shown us a great deal. I believe that many of us have grown because of it, and it has caused us to reexamine our lives and priorities.
We have had to think outside our normal traditions. We have had to consider what is most important and what is not, and it has allowed us to realize the things in life we have neglected because of the busyness of life. How well did we do? We did good and we failed miserably. The reason we did is because we had to live lives based on faith instead of relying of what we have always done. And yet it was difficult, we struggled, we complained, and wondered about our future.
I feel today’s passage speaks to these feelings that we have. We all have feelings of overwhelming stress and our health is not what we would like it to be. Some of us might be struggling financially and others may be having stressful issues within the family. These are real problems for us. They seem to be sucking all the life and joy out of our lives. And I often find myself crying out like the disciples. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Does God care? I have heard this question more often than I would like. I have asked this question more often than I care to admit. Does God care? Does God care that there are children facing hunger every day because they do not have access to school lunches during the summer? Does God care when the violence in the streets seems to be out of hand? Does God care that war has been the constant state of being for my children’s entire life? Does God care?
This question has left many people asking another question, does God even exist. They ask this because in their mind if there was a God, then certainly God would care, and since there is so much seemingly wrong with the world that many are left feeling empty.
I want us to sit with these questions as we contemplate today’s passage. The evening had come and Jesus told his disciples that they should go to the other side of the sea. Jesus was in his hometown and while he was there the crowds were so great that they could not even get in to eat. These crowds were asking questions, seeking deliverance from disease and oppression. There were religious leaders seeking to pin Jesus down on theological issues and Jesus’s family was also there out of concern for his wellbeing.
Jesus was working. He barely had a break. When we read these accounts in Gospel account of Mark, we can almost feel the stress that Jesus and his disciples were facing. Mark always has Jesus on the move doing something. But as evening approached Jesus says, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Jesus had just finished presenting some of his most recognizable parables, things like the Sower and the seeds. He had to face down accusations that he was possessed by the vilest of all demonic entities. And was being accused of being mentally unstable by his own brothers. And as the day ended, Jesus wants to sail to the other side of the sea.
If we were to skip ahead, we would see that Jesus was not only going to the other side of the sea, but he was going into an area that was unclean. A place where it was not uncommon for people to tend to swine herds instead of sheep. A place where a demon possessed man lived within a city of the dead. Jesus said after he faced some of the most difficult situations, let us go to an even darker place.
The disciples knew what was on the other side of the sea. They knew who lived there and what they did, but they did not object. They simply left the crowd and helped Jesus onto a boat. They describe this scene in an interesting way. “And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”
Just as he was. That phrase has lodged itself in my prayers this week. Jesus did not make any special effort in preparation, and neither did the disciples. They were about to embark into one of areas of Roman Palestine that was not adherent to the customs of the Hebrew faith, and they did not even bother packing meals. They just listened to Jesus’s voice and jumped onto the boats. Just as he was.
Does this phrase stick out to you? We often have the mindset that we just are not ready to do certain things. Before we can embark, we need to prepare. Before I speak, I need to prepare. We must set our affairs in order before we are free to leave. This is not how Jesus approached the mission set before him. He was guided to the other side of the sea, just as he was.
We should be in that sort of position as well, ready to jump on a boat or in our cars to go at any moment. But are we ready to go? I have often been asked to explain aspects of the Testimonies of Friends over the years. People seem to understand our Peace testimony, they may not agree but they can see why it is there. But what about the other testimonies. While I grew up my pastor Edith used the acronym SPICE to help us understand the testimonies of the Society of Friends. This was not her construct because it is used almost universally among the various groups of Friends in the United States. S for simplicity, P for Peace, I for integrity, C for community, and E for equality. These are important testimonies because they speak about our intent and purpose of being, but we often forget why they are important.
I will not spend much time on all the testimonies but I want us to consider Simplicity for a moment. Why do Friends almost universally feel that simplicity is one of the most important things in our lives with God? The answer is as complex as it is simple. We believe that all people are called in some manner to participate in the ministry of Christ. And if we are all called, we need to be living a lifestyle where we can be like Jesus, ready to go to the other side of the sea at a moment’s notice, just as we are. If we have lived beyond our means, we are not free to embark, because we have debts that need to be repaid. If we are engaging in too many activities we cannot embark at a moment’s notice because we would have to free up our schedules to be able to participate. If we are worried about what others think about our fashion or our education, we are not free to embark into the ministry of Christ because we must first pack our bags and read some books. The simple life is a testimony of Friends because we should always be ready to participate in the Ministry of Christ and to become a blessing to others.
Jesus is encouraging that kind of life. To be able to go, just as we are. We struggle with this. And we should be convicted in our spirits to make this a greater priority. How can we live the love of Christ with others if our minds and lives are stretched to a breaking point?
Jesus gives us that example and his disciples seem to resemble that because the do not question their teacher at that point, instead they jump in the boats to leave. But as they traverse the sea, they encounter a great storm. The wind is blowing and the waves are breaking into the boat, and the boat is beginning to fill with water. This is not an uncommon occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. Due to the geological and environmental factors in that region storms can build and hit rapidly.
This storm is blowing in, and the waves are filling the boat. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. We have already discussed the massive amounts of stress that the crowds had recently placed on Jesus. We can understand that the fatigue within the human body. Jesus was tired and he slept. Jesus slept on a boat in a sea where intense and randomly occurring storms were commonplace.
We cannot fault Jesus for taking a nap, but even the most fatigued of us when entering on a potentially perilous journey would do all that we could to stay alert. Which is why it is strange that Jesus was asleep, and even more curious that while waves are breaking over the sides of the boat Jesus remained asleep. This phenomenon is something that has struck me this past week, how could Jesus be secure enough on that boat to sleep? Is this something that has ever occurred to you?
There is one thing that kept coming to mind while I prayed with this passage, Jesus was not afraid. You might say well of course not Jesus was God. But when I say afraid, I mean he was not concerned. We can quickly assume that Jesus was did not have concern for the safety of his own body and that of his disciples, because of his power. But he was not concerned because he knew the crew. He knew that they could handle the situation they were in, and even though Jesus knew that the storm that was about to roll in would test them to their limits he was confident in their abilities. They already had all they needed; they were ready just as they were.
God has given us much. He has gifted us with abilities, we have had knowledge of countless ages compounded into our brains, and we have been blessed with resources. Yet like the disciples we look at the world around us and we cry out in fear, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” We fear, we cry out, but why? We are often unaware of what God has already done and currently doing. We look at the world and we make assumptions based on a perception that is incomplete. We fear because we narrow our view. We cry out to God. We cry and we are often left wondering why the answers we seek are not the ones we are given. We wonder why does God not care that we are perishing? Could Jesus be asleep on the cushion because He has already given us what we need?
The disciples do interrupt his slumber. Jesus rises from the cushion and rebukes the wind and the sea. He speaks, “Peace! Be still!” and the wind ceased and the waves were calmed. Jesus looks at and rebukes the things that distract us. For the disciples, the distraction was waves that they had experienced countless times before. The waves were breaking over the sides and water was beginning to settle in the bottom of the boat. This had happened before; they had probably been in a similar situation several times while they lived their lives in the fishing community. What made these waves seem worse than the ones they faced before?
Jesus turned to them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus rebuked the waves and the wind, but he cuts the disciples to the core. We each seek after a life of faith for different reasons. Some of us hope for a better future. Some of us hope that God will take us out of a bad situation. This is not wrong. God can give us a better future and God can take us out of a bad situation if it by doing so it brings glory to Him. But what if God has given us what we need for these things already. Could it be possible that God has already answered the prayer of our hearts, but we have been so distracted by small nuisances around us that we have not seen what God has already given? Jesus looks at the disciple and asks, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The disciples had built expectations in their own mind as to how God would respond. We see this throughout scripture, the Samaritan woman told Jesus, “When Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us.” That statement speaks volumes. When Messiah comes, he will take care of it all. When Messiah comes all our troubles will be taken away. When Messiah comes things will be perfect. We have this idea in our head that if only we believe God will remove all our troubles. But what happens when the life throws us a curve ball? What happens when we overlooked a bill and now our account is overdrawn? What happens when our child informs us that they are expecting a child out of wedlock? What happens when a relationship dissolve? Are any of these things truly unexpected? The reality is that we are distracted and these things hit and we are unprepared. We are unprepared because we have taken our attention away and expected God to just take care of it. And now we cry out, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
God does care. God cares a great deal. He cares to such the degree that Jesus, God, came to live among us. Jesus taught and showed us how to live a life with God. And because there are things that we cannot handle on our own he took those things on himself when he went to the cross and rose from the grave. He defeated our own mortality so that when we believe we can have life with him. That is the gospel. But that life is not just in the far future, that life is now. When Jesus told us that the Spirit will come, God lives with and in each of us that believe. God teaches us and leads us if we are willing and learn to listen. And we learn that life when we look at the teachings and the life of Jesus. Jesus made it his custom to worship with the community. He withdrew often to pray in the isolated places. And he ministered to the needs of those around him. He was able to respond because he was ready. He was able to go across the sea just as he was, because he was already prepared to face the challenge set before him.
When we take the name of Christ on ourselves, we are saying we trust and entrust our lives to him. We say that we will take his life and lifestyle onto us. That means we need to live as he lives. We too need to make it our custom to worship together, to step back from ourselves and our desires to put God’s will as first in our life and in our community. We need to withdraw to isolated places to pray and commune with God. And as we do these things, we will be ready to minister just as we are, because we are already prepared to live the love of Christ with others. Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? Jesus asks us. He has already given us all that we need to do what he is calling us to do in our community today, what is stopping us?
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 13, 2021
Mark 4:26–34 (ESV)
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 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 without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
What is the Kingdom of God like? This is something we each deal with, we deal with it in our communities, in our Meetings, and in the Church. The reason we struggle with the idea of kingdom is because of our misunderstanding of the word. When we think of kingdom our minds begin to think of nations and governmental entities. Throughout history this has been our understanding. A king is a ruler within a monarchy, and this king presides over the government. The first image that our mind develops in this passage is this concept of government or nations.
Jesus begins this passage with the word kingdom. Everyone has an idea of what a king is. It can mean one who possesses the land. When Israel first came into the land of promise, they did not have a king. God was the one that possessed the land, and God gave that land to the people. But Israel began to demand a human king. This is a change in perspective. God is no longer seen as being the one that possesses the land, but the people. We own it and we need a human government. This perspective again changes when Israel lost the land because they yet saw themselves as a nation. Even though the concept of nationhood in those ancient times was couple with geography and the power of a nation’s god was also attached to the land, Israel did not loose sight of their God. God is no longer attached to geography. God dwells with the people.
Another look at kingdom has nothing to do with nations, but influence. The influence a person has over others represents their dominion. Though the United Kingdom is a relatively small island nation they have influence that stretches far beyond their boarders. Though Israel is in some places mere miles in width their influence over the people of the world far exceeds the geography they possess. How can this be? Nationhood is a construct of man. Governments are compiled by human minds and we as humanity submit to governmental influence. If a political construct can maintain phycological or physical control over a population they maintain their influence. But there are times where this influence wanes. When people stop trusting their political entities, when they stop believing that they have their best interest in mind that political entity loses phycological influence and their nation weakens. And this political entity must make a choice, do we exercise force or do we change directions to regain influence?
Jesus arrived on the historical scene during a time of political uncertainty. The Roman government was stretched. Its span in this era of history encompassed most of Europe and the areas that bordered the great sea. Israel was on the frontier of the empire. It was on the borderlands between the remnants of the late Persian empire and the lands connected to Rome. We do not always understand the instability of this small province because we live in a stable culture ourselves. When Jesus was born Herod was a puppet king of Rome. He expanded Roman influence by force and if he remained loyal to Rome, they allowed him autonomy. When the Magi from the east entered the land seeking the one born king of the Jews, this caused distress in the nation. Officials from Persia came into Roman territory to recognize an individual other than Herod as a possessor of influence over the people.
What is the kingdom like? Is it an empire like Rome or Persia? Is it dynasties like that of Egypt or a Hellenistic Republic? What is this sphere of influence that is to be ushered in by the messiah?
Jesus ask how he can describe the kingdom of God. Imagine all the ideas and concepts going through the minds of those listening to him. The Pharisees may have been promoting a theocracy because they were teaching the people that if only, they were more righteous then Messiah would come. Some may have been influenced by the Hellenistic philosophies. The Herodians took on the name of their political identity, they wanted the restoration of the dynasty of Herod, even though his rule was filled with marvels and wickedness. We can think of many concepts of what we think the kingdom should be, but Jesus does not describe anything that resembles the kingdoms of men. The kingdom is like a farmer that scatters seed on the earth. This farmer goes to bed n8ght and day, and the seed sprouts, grows, develops, and fills seeds, and then when the time is right harvest comes. This process occurs year after year, the farmer dedicates his life to this mystery yet he does not fully understand.
Even today we do not fully understand every aspect of plant life. What causes the seed to germinate? Is it the soil, heat, moisture, or a combination between them all? Why do the roots grow down? What causes the sunflower to track the light through the day? These are questions we continually ask and will until the end of time.
If we were to plant a seed on a hillside will the roots grow at an angle or straight? The roots grow at an angle, which suggests that gravity is what tells the seed how to react. But what if we remove gravity? This is why the research done in space is so important. When we can remove a factor that is common on earth, we can begin to see things from a different perspective. Scientist have taken plants into space and watched them grow. And by taking them into space they noticed some interesting things. Gravity does play a role but not completely. The roots of plants in space grow very similarly to those grown on a hillside. The plant can sense micro gravity within space and will grow accordingly. Meaning the roots will always slant toward the earth while the leaves will always grow toward the heat and light source. There are other factors at play, gravity and light are important but the soil is also important. Every plant needs some growth medium. This varies with the plant. Orchids do not need dirt, but they do need some sort of growth medium. Plants in space also need a growth medium to begin to.
The kingdom of God is like a farmer scattering seeds.
We do not know exactly how our lives will affect those around us. I want us to think back through our journey of faith. Who walked with you along that journey? If we are honest with ourselves, the sermons the pastor gave did not make the difference. I say this even though I hope that the words I speak will mean something. What really makes a difference in people’s lives is each one of us living our lives of faith authentically around others.
Salvation is a mystery. Seeds are scattered, words are spoken, various actions in response to the Spirit’s leading are performed for those around us. And all the various factors are combined and through it all we are moved from denying Christ to trusting him with every aspect of our lives. In each of our lives there is a story. A story that can be traced back through countless lives all the way back to the apostles. We might not know the complete linage, and that does not really matter. What matters is that seeds were planted and took root in our lives and we became part of the Lord’s harvest.
Consider the history of your story. You might not think much of your life. You might think you are unremarkable. The truth is you are a miracle. You, being in this place currently is a mystery and a story worth hearing. Sure, you might seem ordinary but you have overcome obstacles, you have faced trials that those around you know nothing about. You have found a source of strength that has helped you face life’s difficulties. The things that could have broken you completely, the scheme of the powers of evil were somehow foiled, and instead of you sitting helpless and hopeless you are sitting here. Does this mean you are perfect; no, we continue to struggle but the mystery of the kingdom of God is flowing through our veins what was sent to destroy us is not taking root because we have faith. We have faith that the same Spirit and power that rose Christ from the grave is active in our lives and though we stumble, He will lift us up to glory.
How did we get here? For some of us we were born into a family that had faith and we just grew into it. For some of us we did not have family that encouraged us yet some one scattered seeds and they took root. Some of us have face abuse and neglect that would make even the strongest among us stagger. Yet each of us in our own way moved into a life and lifestyle that is not defined by what we were but who we are in Christ. We made that move gradually like the mystery of a growing plant.
The story does not stop there. Something took root in us; the life of faith began to grow and as it grows, we take on a form dictated by the center of who we are. This is our heart. We are warned to guard our heart, not because our heart is filled with passions that we should not reveal, but we guard it because our heart is where the essence of who we are resides. Our hopes and our dreams spring forth from our heart because this is the place the Spirit of God resides in each of us.
I want us to again consider our lives. Do we realize how much influence we have? Jesus continues to teach us, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.” I want us to stop and consider the mustard seed. It is a small seed, granted it is not the smallest of all seeds. I am not saying that Jesus is wrong, but we need to consider who he is talking to. We do not gather seeds unless we intend to use those seeds for a purpose. In ancient times, due to the amount of labor involved in obtaining seeds they did not take the time gathering seeds for things that would not be used to feed their families. What Jesus is meaning is that it is the smallest seed that the people in this agriculturally based community are going to gather for personal or commercial use. Today because our economy and lifestyle has moved beyond subsistence, we can take the time and energy to harvest other seeds. We can even use land that in ancient times would be used to grow either food or herbs for growing things of less nutritional value. We have lawns that and landscapes, we have people that make a living growing plants that in agriculture might be considered weeds. And we purchase these things. Often in agriculture the smaller the seed is, it is most likely a weed. I say this because we have spent countless generations selectively breeding plants so that the fruit of those plants will provide what we or our livestock need to live healthy lives. This usually includes larger seeds because it makes gathering the seeds especially from a dirt floor easier to collect.
The mustard seed is a small seed. Jesus uses this seed as an example because it seems small and insignificant. We can often think of ourselves in this way too. You may not have the flashiest testimony. You might not sense a calling to vocal ministry, and because of this you do not see yourself as having a major role within the church. I want us to stop thinking that way.
While I was in school, I took a class that focus on the life of prayer. One of the exercises that we did in this class was to write a spiritual autobiography and a timeline of significant events in our lives. If you have never attempted this, I strongly encourage you do, because it will reveal amazing things to you. It will show you that during the most stressful times of your life God was doing the greatest work in your spiritual development. But it will also reveal other profound things, those people who encouraged you the most. While I considered my spiritual autobiography, I found that the most important people that encouraged my faith were not the pastors in my church, but my grandfather, my great uncle, and an elderly man within my home church that was not related at all. As I grew different people took prominence in my spiritual development. In all my years I have had many exceptionally good pastors, but when I look at the most influential people in my life only one of the pastors made a significant mark.
Outside of my hometown not one of those people would be regarded as heroes of faith, but each of them was important to me. My great uncle spoke out of the silence every meeting for worship, and he said the exact same thing. “I thank God for what he has done for me.” At first is though what has God done for you? My great uncle never married. He lived and died as a poor Kansas farmer, but one day he told me his story, while I was reading the instructions of a game I bought. He told me about his life in the amphibious army during the second world war and how he was saved certain death through God’s providential hand. My grandfather showed me simple faith. In all my years I never saw my grandpa worried. This sounds strange, because there was a great deal happening through my childhood that caused many farmers to worry. The 1980’s were not favorable for the farmers of Kansas, there were several years that it was more profitable to till the crop under than to take the time to harvest it. Yet in my grandfather all I saw was joy. He would whistle while he worked and would break out in the strangest songs I had ever heard. And the only Sundays, I did not see him in church were the Sundays that he was visiting my aunt out of state.
Seemingly insignificant individuals encouraged my life just like a seemingly insignificant seed represents the kingdom of God in Jesus’s teaching. Jesus goes on to say of the mustard seed, “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This is the most significant aspect of this parable. Why did these people influence my life to such a degree? The reason is because their example of faith became a refuge to me. When I was anxious, I longed for my grandpa’s songs because they seemed to take away my troubles. When I wondered if God cared, I listened to my great uncle’s testimony. If I heard him praise God for what he had done for him, I had confidence because if this man that I assumed had nothing could praise God I figured I could continue to trust God too. These small seeds grew around me and provided the haven for the seedling of faith to take root in my own life.
But what does this say about the kingdom? It tells us that what is important to God is not what humanity regards as important. We are worried about the policies our elected officials are enacting and Jesus is talking about seeds. This tells us a great deal. The most important thing for us to do is live our lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. The kingdom of God does not revolve around the election cycle, but it revolves around ever interaction we have with the people that intersect our lives every day. Those we vote is less important than the conversation we have with the people sitting in this room. The kingdom of God is not connected with geography or politics it is focused on the encouragement we as people of faith give to those people around us that might at this moment be struggling and trying to find a reason to continue to live. You are important, because you bear the image of God, and are loved so much that God himself came to live, die, and raise again to give us hope.
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