Sermon – June 17, 2018 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost

         The kingdom of God is like…..? What? Imagine for a moment. How would you finish that sentence: The kingdom of God is like ______? What comes to mind? Hold onto that image.

            The ministry of Jesus that we witness in our gospels sets the kingdom of God into motion. Unfortunately for us, however, Mark does not do a very good job at describing what the Kingdom of God actually looks like when it is lived out in our world. Instead the author uses parables to describe the Kingdom of God, leaving us to interpret their meaning and application. There is something important to remember about parables, though. Parables are rooted in comparison. They are written to put two concepts side-by-side for contrast. In doing so, they challenge the status quo and, reorder conventional assumptions, and challenge traditional values. So, in order to understand the Kingdom of God as described by parable we must be willing to hold the parable up against our preconceived ideas of beliefs about God’s work in the world. Today we’re going to take some time going through the two parables in our gospel reading for today, and while we are doing that, I want us to think about how traditional assumptions about God might be challenged. So, what is the Kingdom of God like?

            First, the Kingdom of God is not precise or planned out. Our parable begins by describing a sower who scatters the seed. This planter has not intentionally cultivated the soil, the planter has not created tight rows in which to carefully place groups of seed. No, the seed is simply thrown out to land where it may. Later in the passage, the farmer admits to not even knowing how the seed might grow. If we think of God as the sower, it appears as though this kingdom work is not all that planned out. Can we imagine a God who does not have everything figured out? This may challenge our conventional wisdom that God has a plan for everything. But maybe what this parable is really challenging is the idea that God is the root cause of everything that happens in our lives and in our world; the idea that if something bad happens in our world, it must somehow be a part of God’s work. And while this idea may help us to understand tragedy, it makes some pretty cruel assumptions about God. This parable may challenge the idea that God has a plan for everything but it doesn’t debate whether or not God has an intention for the world. The sower may scatter the seed without a plan, but what if that just leaves more opportunity for the seed to grow. If God’s intention for the world, God’s Kingdom, is growth and new life then it makes perfect sense that God would throw the seeds of that purpose long and far.

            Second, the Kingdom of God is collective, it takes all of us. In this parable the sower scatters the seed, the earth produces of itself, the seed grows into a stock and grain, and then the reaper gathers the harvest. Not one entity is entirely responsible for the harvest, everyone has to do their own part in order for it to work and grow. This parable challenges the idea that God is the all powerful actor, able to make the Kingdom of God come about on God’s own volition. This parable challenges us to think of the Kingdom of God not as something that just happens to us, but something that we take an active part with God in creating. God needs all of us with our unique abilities and gifts take part in God’s work in the world in order that God’s Kingdom might come and flourish. Why? Because God takes delight in co-creating with us. God finds joy in all of us using our abilities to create good in our world. In doing so, we get a taste of the Kingdom that is to come.

            Finally, the Kingdom of God is invasive. In our second parable, the Kingdom of God is described as a mustard plant. Mustard plants were not traditionally beloved plants for farmers at Jesus’ time. They were seen more as invasive weeds that sometimes needed to be removed from the field. They grew shrubby and created living spaces for other threatening species, like birds that could eat the crop or dig up seed. Perhaps this parable is warning us that sometimes the Kingdom of God may seem like a threat. What is good news for the birds of the air that thrive off of a farmer’s crop may actually seem like bad news for the farmer whose crop is being eaten. This parable challenges us to let go of the idea that some of us are more deserving or worthy of experiencing the fruits of God’s Kingdom. In God’s kingdom, there is enough for everybody. But sometimes that means that those of us who have more will need to sacrifice our abundance so that others can have a share. God’s Kingdom invades our own selfishness or self-preservation like a weed and challenges us to consider the needs of our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable.

            These parables challenge us to see the Kingdom of God differently; they challenge our perceptions of God’s work in the world. God’s Kingdom may not be precise but it grows with intention. God’s Kingdom may not be solely the work of God but needs all of us to thrive. God’s Kingdom may seem like a threat but it invades our lives for the betterment of all creation. There is one more thread that is woven throughout these parables— that is, God’s Kingdom grows and expands despite all odds stacked against it.

            Seeds are scattered in every direction and on varieties of soil, yet they still grow. Growth depends on every entity doing it’s job and despite our brokenness and worse intentions, growth happens. The Kingdom of God invades the most hurting parts of our world, the places where hope for a better future seems lost, and provides safety and protection. God is a God of extravagance. God is a God of abundance. After all, we see the Kingdom of God through the lens of Jesus— who sets this new thing that God is doing into motion.

            Ultimately it is through Jesus, our great teacher and savior, that we can see God’s movement in the world, God’s Kingdom. The advantage that we have over the disciples, for whom these parables were first told, is that we know the end of the story— We know of the cross. The cross is what solidified God’s intention for the world. The cross is what shows us for good that death and brokenness will not have the final say in our lives or in our world. The cross shows us that God’s Kingdom is one of healing, reconciliation, abundance, and inclusivity because Jesus’ death and resurrection were so that all might have new life.

            As Christians, when we imagine how God might have our world, we should be upset when we witness our world falling into the confines of brokeness, scarcity, and exclusivity; when the benefits of new life, healing, and wholeness are reserved for only a few. We should be especially upset when we witness our holy scriptures, the sacred Word of God that shows us this new life, being used in violent ways. And remembering our role as co-creators in the Kingdom, we should work and advocate and yell and make a scene until a different way comes about. We should pray that God’s kingdom might invade our lives, our hearts, so that we would never tolerate or look away from the mistreatment of any human being or any of God’s beautiful creation.

            So, what does the Kingdom of God look like? Remember that image? Now, let’s ask ourselves how we are going to work to bring that image to life.  Some of us will be like the soil, some of us will be like the seed— some us will use our voices to be up front and loud, some of us will use gifts of quiet perseverance to be behind the scenes organizing. All of us are needed and we have been made and quipped for time such as this. Jesus does that. Let’s go, Kingdom People.