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Do Not Fear, Only Believe! (Sermon July 1, 2018)

jairus-daughter


By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

 

Mark 5:21–43 (NRSV)

A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

(Mt 9:18–26; Lk 8:40–56)

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “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 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 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, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then 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 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

A common thing I hear when I am out talking with people is that they need to get their life together before they can come to church. It saddens me when I hear those words. Because it is as far from the truth. This is a prominent idea that runs through our human experience, because we seem to find acceptance and value in our performance. If I act a certain way I will impress people, and if I impress others then they will accept me. If we really think about it, these performance theories are how we accumulate friends, how we determine our value as a student in school, how we advance in work, and even how we win the hearts of our spouse. It is no wonder when people feel as if they have caused a disappointment, where they happen to appear less than perfect they assume they have lost value.

We have all had instances where some sort of mistake or lack of ability has caused us to feel inadequate. It might be something real or even a perception not based in reality, but the emotional response is the same. Something did not go as planned and we felt that it was our responsibility and we feel like a failure.

I cannot even begin to tell you how often I have had those feelings, but there are a few examples. The job I had just prior to moving to Kansas City was a branch manager for a rental car company. I had moved from a Manager in training to a branch manager in about a year and I was proud of myself. I was put in charge of a brand-new location, in a city this company had not had service in before. It was exciting. I went out contacting various body shops and regional airports letting them know what we had to offer them. I contacted businesses and presented the benefits of using rental vehicles. And the branch did not grow. I worked long hours, I cut costs to the bear minimum, I personally covered shifts so I would not have to hire more people because we just needed to get the customer base up enough to justify the expense. I worked hard, and after a year we were not making a profit. I had to sit through weekly conference calls where I was told how poor I was performing, I had to provide documentation on what my plans were to increase the business, yet it seemed like everything I did was not helping. I felt like a complete failure, even though there was a steady increase of sales each month, in comparison to branches in similar sized communities I was growing faster than they did their first months. For a year I struggled, until I finally had to admit rental cars were not what I was passionate about and I needed to find something else to do. I felt like a failure but there were many factors involved in my failure. The number one factor was I was starting a branch in a small town, in the middle of a recession that hit the auto industry hard. Most of the struggles I was having were not things I did, but it was the economy in general. When the last reports were entered, and my work was done I looked at the statements and I found that even through all my struggle, I was only $300 from breaking even that last month. If we were to have stayed open one more month and the trends remained the same the first month of the second year would have been profitable. Yet I felt like a failure.

I bring that up because my emotional response did not consider all the factors involved. I was so worried about making a profit, I was unable to testify to the reality surrounding the business, we were growing steadily. And the largest problem was outside of my control, and that problem was that the company had to sell several cars, so I was competing not only with the competition within the community but also with my own company for vehicles to rent out.

My example of struggle pales in comparison with the story we read here in scripture, but I hope it will provide an avenue to give us some empathy with the characters we read about. Mainly that we can recognize that at times we cannot always control or change things.

Jesus and his disciples sail across the sea, this voyage is the return trip from the one we read about last week. Last week they were heading toward the Hellenistic center of the land the Romans referred to as Palestine. In that area they met a demon possessed man who was so violent and wild that he would literally break chains apart when the community attempted to bind him. Yet when Jesus approached this man was released from bondage and the demons were driven out of the man and they then possessed a herd of swine which they inspired to run into the sea. After that the community both feared and revered Jesus, yet they asked him to leave because they could not lose any more pigs.

So, they return to the western shore of the sea of Galilee, this time they did not encounter a threatening storm, so they arrive safely. When they arrived on the shore, a great crowd had already gathered to meet him, and there was one in that crowd named Jairus. Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, so he exhibited great faith and was righteous. But Jairus’s daughter was deathly ill.

This was something that happened nearly 2000 years ago, and because of that illness was seen differently than it is today. They did not know that microscopic organism caused infections, or that people could have allergic reactions to certain types of foods. When someone was ill they attributed that illness as divine judgment for some transgression. For a leader in a synagogue to have a daughter who was deathly ill to many was a sign that maybe this man was not as righteous as they thought. He is in a struggle trying to preserve and protect the life of his daughter, and at the same time protect his own livelihood. Imagine what he might be feeling. He had done nothing wrong to his knowledge, yet he felt like a complete failure.

I also want to note that we know his name. In the many stories of the various encounters with Jesus we do not know the names of those involved. We might be told their position in the community or in the religious establishment, like a scribe or Pharisee, but rarely are we given the name. This time we know the name of this leader of a synagogue, Jairus. Why do we know his name? Because these stories were written to testify to the life of Jesus, and if someone wanted to ask they could talk to them, or someone who know them. This same story is mentioned in Matthew and Luke, and both Mark and Luke call Jairus by name. Luke tends to do this because he says he interviewed the people to give an accurate account, so Jairus must have been around after the death and resurrection of Jesus to personally ask. I would venture to say that Jairus became a leader within the early church. Yet, at this moment in the story, Jairus was not feeling like a leader among men, he was broken, worried, and terrified. His daughter was sick, and he was a failure because he could do nothing to help her. But he knew one thing, Jesus had healed others, so he did not care what people might think, he did not care that some of the leaders in Jerusalem had called him the prince of demons, he had no other options, so he would ask for Jesus’s help.

At that same time, we meet another person, a woman. This woman had spent twelve years in social isolation because of an illness. She had a hemorrhage for twelve years. I cannot even begin to think about the physical toll this took on her, to have a constant disease that cause the loss of blood in such a way that would make her “unclean” sounds devastating. I do not even know how she lived twelve years with this disease. She had spent all her money going to doctors, and none of them provided relief. For twelve years she lived in isolation. The state of being unclean at this time did not necessarily mean that she was a sinner, but it meant that she could not participate in religious activities, and anyone within her household would also be considered unclean if they encountered her, or anything she touched. For twelve years, she lived outside the community. She was unable to attend worship services with the other women. She also could not have intimacy with her husband or he too would not be able to interact with the men of the community. For the sake of their livelihoods she had to live in isolation, for twelve years.

Imagine if this would have happened today. My wife and I have only been married for fifteen years, if this had been her and if our society still lived by the same social rules, we would have only been able to enjoy our lives together for three of those years. The remaining time, I would have done everything for myself and potentially for the children that may have come during those first three years. And she would have had to take care of herself. I would have cooked meals for my family and she would have cooked her own meals using different utensils. For twelve years we would have been married but leading totally separate lives under the same roof. In today’s world this marriage would have dissolved soon after the illness began. Even then it might not have been uncommon for a marriage to have dissolved in similar circumstances. We do not know what her life was like, there is no mention of a family, only the suffering. She suffered, alone isolated from the community with a disease outside of her control. The only thing she had left was this hope that if she could only touch Jesus’s clothing she could be healed.

Two people, both broken. Both faced social criticism, both felt like failures, because they suffered through circumstances beyond their control. They looked at their lives, realized that they had done everything they could do, and decided that they had nothing to lose, so why not hope in Jesus.

I have friends that claim faith, yet they are isolated from the community of faithful because they feel they are not good enough. I have friends that reject faith, yet they struggle everyday feeling as if they are total and complete failures. I have friends that have been broken to such a degree that they felt the only escape from their torments and the torments of their families would be take their own lives. I have had friends that have cycled through relationships after relationship repeating the same thing repeatedly yet ask why nothing changes? And at times I am like those friends of mine. At times I feel I am not good enough to be in this building let alone speaking. We feel like we must perform, and our value is based on how well we perform.

The truth is our value has nothing to do with our performance. It has nothing to do with who our parents are, or what country we happened to be born in. Our value is that we are human beings, created in the image of God. And each of us has so much value that while we were still sinners Jesus came down from his throne in heaven, was born of the virgin Mary, lived within a community form the time of his birth for approximately thirty-three years, taught us, died on a cross for us, was buried in a barrowed tomb, and after three days rose from the grave defeating the sting of death and the curse of sin. We are valued so much the Jesus, God incarnate, came to live in our neighborhood with us. Yet we still say I am not good enough, or I am a lost cause.

Jesus did this all before we were good enough. We were no where close to good enough we were living completely contrary to God’s ways, yet He came to us. He came, and he calls us to follow him. Do we ever slow down enough to consider that? We continue to work ourselves up into a frenzy in our performances yet do we look at our true value? Do we just sit knowing we are loved not because we can do something, but just because we are humans created in God’s Image?

Two broken people came to Jesus when he returned from his voyage. They were not good enough in the eyes of the world. One was a leader within the religious community and the other was a social outcast because of an illness. Both felt like failures, and outcasts because of illness, and thought that they had no value because they were sinners worthy of divine judgement. They were not good enough to be there on their own, but Jesus provided restoration.

First the woman touches Jesus’s clothing. Remember she is unclean and anything she touches is unclean. So, Jesus would now be considered ceremonially unclean if he had the knowledge that she touched him. He stops walking and calls to her, those around him are confused. There is a crowd pretty much all of them have touched him at some point. Jesus persists, and the woman comes forward trembling in fear, because she is an outcast. And Jesus calls her daughter. While he is talking to this woman, someone comes to Jairus and tells him that his daughter has died, and to not bother Jesus anymore. Jesus looks directly at Jairus and tell him not to fear and to believe. Jairus, whose faith is in shreds hold on to his last hope and continues to lead Jesus to his house. The people at the house are weeping and Jesus tells them that she is only sleeping, and they laugh at him. Yet still Jesus looks at Jairus, and the same words ring in his ears, do not fear, only believe. He takes her hand and speaks tenderly too her, telling her to get up and she does. He then tells them to get her something to eat.

We all live in and through times of failure, defeat, despair and lack of faith. We feel as if we are not good enough, yet Jesus can restore our lives. Jesus can bring healing and hope. Just as he spoke to Jairus he encourages us not to fear and only to believe. Just like the woman who touched his clothes, our faith can bring healing. But to gain that hope we must stop looking at our own selves and our own abilities and performances. If we had the power and strength to overcome our difficulties we would have done it already, but we haven’t we still struggle, we feel like failures, and are often hopeless. Why? Because we do not like admitting that we need help. We like playing God in our own lives. We like to think that we can handle it all and we do not want to bother the teacher, our lord and our God. But Jesus is looking at us saying do not fear only believe. He is telling us let go of our despair, let go of our failures, let go of our illness, and let him help. Will it bring the healing we want? Maybe and maybe not, but it will bring healing and it will restore our hope.

As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I ask what are we holding back from Jesus? What are we trying to fix ourselves without his help, and the help of those within our community? Why are we holding back when all we must do is believe? It sounds easy enough, yet I know it is hard, it is sometimes the hardest thing we will ever do, but if we do let go and believe we will have restoration.

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Peace! Be Still! (Sermon June 24, 2018)

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

 

Mark 4:35–41 (NRSV) [1]

Jesus Stills a StormJesus calms the sea

(Mt 8:23–27; Lk 8:22–25)

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 behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

Have you ever had a day? You know the day I am talking about. It is a day where you wake up in the morning just knowing nothing will go right. When you finally force yourself out of bed after debating and convincing yourself it was not the weekend and it is really only Tuesday, your day fulfills the prophetic feeling within. Nothing goes right.

I have days like those often. I nearly think I need to stop using the term on of those days, because it has seemed to become my new normal. And a day should be one where I do not wake up with a stiff back and head ache. But I had one of those days recently. I don’t usually let people know the deeper things in my heart but I feel that today is one of those days where I need to.

As most of you know my oldest son is currently in the Air Force. Most of you know that James grew up in a divided family, his mom and I never married but we, along with our spouses, tried our best. And I do not think it is bragging to say I think we did a pretty good job. The day that James left for Basic Training was one of those day. I had to go to work early and I stayed up a bit too late because I wanted to see him before he left. So, I woke up exhausted. I went into work and there was this constant idea that kept repeating itself in my mind, “Does he really know.” I sent off the last few text messages that I could letting him know how proud and excited I was for him, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking does he know how much I love him. As the day went on, the words in my mind went from just a question and became an acquisition, “He doesn’t know because I was the dad that wasn’t.”

For the next six hours, my mind played every moment in his life that I wasn’t the dad I wanted to be. I wasn’t at his basketball games, I wasn’t at his track meets. I didn’t teach him to shave (Probably because he didn’t figure I knew since I had a beard most his life). I didn’t. I wasn’t there when he broke up with his first girlfriend, to be honest I probably do not know who his real first girlfriend was.  I wasn’t. I had a whole epic poem nearly written in my mind of every shortcoming I had.

But I kept asking does he know. Does he know how much I love him. Does he know that every one of the trips I made to pick him up and drop him off were the highlights of my week. Does he know that I lived for the jokes that he would tell? Does he know? Does he know that I long for each silly meme he sends me because? For six hours my mind was raging in this storm of doubt and self-accusation. I was grateful that I was basically working alone that day because I really do not know if I would have worked well with others.

In my mind I was looking at the past 18 years and only seeing where I wasn’t the dad I wanted to be. I dreaded that those moments would be the legacy that I passed on, the dad that wasn’t. And I wasn’t for many reasons. Many of those reasons are good reason, reasons that my oldest son has actually said he was proud of his dad for doing. I actually asked him if he thought I should be a pastor again after taking a couple years off while Kristy finished school. Because I knew that moving to a different town at the time would change some things. His answer was absolutely because according to him, “I was not myself when I wasn’t in the church.” James was eleve at the time, and those words were actually the ones that spoke the loudest. Yet by being and doing what I do, I felt I sacrificed too much. I felt like maybe in my pursuit in following God, I gave up something important.

A storm was raging in my mind that day. Not just a storm but it felt like an all-out tornado. And I have to admit there was some rain too. When he sent his last text letting me know that he was safely to his destination. I asked him if he knew and he said, “Yes, I knew because you never stopped trying.” So often fathers stop trying, the fight to stay involved in the lives of kids that do not live at home becomes tiring and they just stop thinking that the struggle will cause more damage and they would be better off if I just wasn’t. James knew that and he saw that. In his generation it is more common for that to happen than for parents to be together.

We all have days. Days that seem like a raging storm blasting through our lives only to leave us feeling that the pieces it leaves behind are beyond repair. Those days we feel like our jobs are on the line, our business is about to fold, our marriage is on the ropes, or countless other scenarios. There are days.

Jesus told his disciples, “lets go to the other side of the lake.” And the disciples and Jesus loaded up the boat and they went. They did not realize that one of those days was going to hit, but it did. Mark does not clearly tell us where they were at, but in chapter 3, we know that they went home, so more than likely they were in Capernaum on the northwestern shore of the sea of Galilee. After the eventful evening of Jesus being called crazy and possessed with the prince of demons, Jesus went to the sea to teach. So today they are going on a sea cruise, which will land them on the eastern shore.

We might think that this is just a casual trip, but the disciples realized where they were going. They were heading to an area that was largely Greek influenced. They were heading into an area where their countrymen lived more worldly lifestyles and catered to the gentiles, they were heading to Decapolis.

Often times we focus on the storm in this story. Yes, it was a storm but it was more than a storm. Storms happen all the time on the sea of Galilee, it is actually one of the things that particular sea is known for. Weather is a clash between extremes. Hot dry air meets up with cool moist air and they produce torrent and electricity. The majority of the land of Israel is nearly arid, on the verge of being a desert. It is very fertile but it can be extremely dry. The air coming off of this land will move over the sea which is significantly cooler and you have nearly spontaneous storms produced with very little warning.

Of all the backgrounds of the disciples, the most common among them were fishermen. These men were experienced sailors, there life and livelihood came from the sea. They knew how to weather a storm, yet here they are in the midst of a gale they have were not prepared for. The waves are high, they were crashing against the boat, and were getting so high that the water was crashing over the sides and filling the boat. I am not an experienced sailor, I do know that since boats are in water it is common that some water will get in, but I also know that too much water in a boat usually means that a boat ceases being a boat. Mark tells us that the boat was not only taking on some water, but it was already being swamped. These experienced sailors were concerned.

There is something that I learned about weather when I was growing up. Western Kansas is also known for storms, and most of us out of necessity picked up some knowledge of weather prediction. I cannot really explain it in words like the people on TV, but I can look at a map, look at the clouds, look at temperatures, and pressures and know if plans should change or not. I learned this from observing my parents. If they were not worried, and I was I looked at the information and learned. Eventually I was able to sense when to be concerned and when to carry on. Because on a farm you stay in the field until you absolutely cannot stay any longer. These men, were experienced sailors, they knew when to be concerned and when not to be. They knew exactly how to position their boat to tackle the waves and stay above the water. They knew, but they were concerned.

Yet when we read this story, Jesus was not concerned. They were yelling and bailing water out of the boat, they were turning the boat to meet the waves properly and they were fighting a losing battle. This chaos was raging all around and Jesus was asleep. The boat was swamped and his cushion was getting soaked, yet he slept. This tells us something, either Jesus is a really heavy sleeper or he was not concerned. Jesus was not an experienced sailor; his family’s trade was carpentry or stone work. The sailors were frantic, and Jesus slept. Was he just naive? This was a storm.

This storm was also brewing in their hearts. They were going out of their normal routine, they were going into the Hellenistic stronghold, more pagan than Jewish. They had just heard the respected leaders of the temple, a mosaic lawyer, accuse this teacher of being in league with the devil, and now their teacher is taking them into a pagan land. They doubt their calling, they doubt their faith. They are asking themselves if it was possible that they had been deceived. Sure, they had seen him heal many, they had seen lives being released from demonic bondage. They had seen this teacher speak with authority and even challenge the respected leaders with words that even silenced the most knowledgeable among the lawyers. They believed yet they doubted, a storm was raging in their souls. The storm inside was just as treacherous as the one without. Their souls were being swamped in the same degree as the boat. And here is the teacher just laying there on his cushion sleeping, he doesn’t even care that they are about to die.

They cry out to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I know that cry. I have cried the similar words. In the raging storm of the dad that wasn’t those same words came to mind and more. I even cried, “Lord what is all this for if all I get is a reputation as a dad that wasn’t, when all I wanted was to be a dad?” Scripture is filled with laments. It is filled with mighty men and women of faith crying to God, with the very question, “DO YOU CARE?” Mary and Martha said it when they buried their brother. David, the man after God’s heart, often wrote songs about his laments. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. And there is even an entire book of Lamentations. Life is hard. It is filled with days of raging storms. Days we wonder about our faith, where we question if God cares or even exists. It is as if he is sleeping on a cushion while our lives are being swamped.

We have all had days. Sometimes the days pile up to become weeks, months, and some of us have even had years. At times we find ourselves sea sick from the tumbling waves, unable to move forward and hanging on for dear life. We cry yet again, “Lord do you even care that we are perishing?”

Jesus stands from his cushion, and rebukes the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” The winds calm and the waves die down.

I want us to just imagine that scene for a moment. Imagine the rolling waves. Imagine the whipping winds, the salty sprays. Imagine the fear you feel as your boat is being swamped. Imagine crying out, your voice cracking from fear and exertion. Imagine seeing you teacher, your lord, the messiah just laying on a mat sleeping while your life is falling apart. Does he care? Does he know?

The reality is that Jesus did know exactly what was going on. He knew their feelings and what was going through their minds. He knew the spiritual wrestling match they were enduring, and he also knew that they needed to struggle so that they could become aware of the reality beyond the current turmoil. They cried out, and Jesus responded. “Peace! Be Still!”

He did not respond until they asked. And even after they asked they had to continue to sail across the sea. Think about that for a moment. What are we doing while the storms rage in our lives? Often, we use what knowledge or wisdom we have making attempts to fix things. Our fixes, our attempts to correct the situation while in the midst of the storm often compound the problem. Like a sailor attempting to face a wave only to turn too late or too soon and instead of riding the wave they are rolled. We try and keep trying, yet we struggle alone because we have not spoken out.

Scripture tells us we do not have because we do not ask, or when we ask we ask incorrectly. They fought the storm, they struggled, but why? Jesus was there asleep yet they did not wake him until they felt they were perishing. It is as if they do not want to worry God with their problems. Saying I can’t come to God until I get my life in order. Yet the struggle continues because it’s a storm it is out of your control. You are caught in the middle and cannot see beyond the next wave. They do not ask so God does not step in. Or maybe we do speak up, but in our torment, we cry, “take me out of this place!” We ask incorrectly. We are in that place for a reason, maybe it was a choice we made or maybe it is because that is where we are needed. And the deliverance we seek is not the deliverance we receive.

They finally cry out to Jesus and he brings fair winds, and a calm sea. Then he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Let those words saturate your soul. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? Apply those words to your storm as you reflect on the life of Jesus. Jesus healed many, why are we afraid to speak about our illnesses? Jesus released people from spiritual bondage, where is our faith as we fight our chains? They had seen Jesus perform many things, they had experienced his peace as he faced the most heinous accusation imaginable and saw his calm response. How did he do it? As we reflect on His life and lifestyle we find that he made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he would often withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and the would then reengage serving and ministering to the needs of the community. He showed us the lifestyle of spiritual peace. It requires not only personal devotion but community encouragement and engagement. It is both personal and private, and very public. Why are we afraid? Have you still no faith?

Often, we are afraid because asking for help is a perception of weakness. Because we do not want to be seen as weak we stay silent while the storms rage, and our souls are swamped. We are often afraid because we want to control the outcome, or the direction. I have this goal and I will get there and I am afraid to veer of course because that is an unknown realm. Why would we go there? Where is our faith?

We do not have because we do not ask and when we ask we ask incorrectly. The disciples struggled in vain when all they had to do was wake up the teacher. All they had to do was speak, let God know about the storm that is raging within and without and ask for peace and fair winds to move through. For hours I struggled with the torment of the dad that wasn’t, for hours even days I wondered if I did enough to show and tell my son the pride and love I have for him, I struggled but I struggled alone. Some might have known that I was struggling but I did not voice it. I did not want to be seen as weak or as lacking faith. It was not until I spoke that the storm calmed. And to be honest I did not know the words to say, yet God did calm my storm. As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends let us speak, let us ask Christ to help us through the storm and let us be still so we can find the right paths to the other side.

[1] Thorogood, N. (2018). Neil Thorogood: Jesus Calms the Storm (version 3). [online] Neilthorogood.com. Available at: http://www.neilthorogood.com/photo_11944062.html [Accessed 24 Jun. 2018].

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].

Jared A. Warner

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