Sunday, July 22 – A Letter to the Congregation

Dear Friends in Christ,

I wrote you a sermon yesterday.  I promise.  It was about how busy we are, how tired we all are, and how we all long for more rest in our lives.  I was going to ask you a question and have you all talk about it with a person next to you, because I figured that would buy me sometime in the sermon.  I was going to be funny and witty.  I was going to talk about how busy all of our lives are and how important that makes us all feel, but also how, in the end, we all are really really tired and in need of rest.  Then I was going to talk about how Jesus’ words in our gospel text were music to my ears this past week when he says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  I planned to tell you how much I needed to hear those words because of how busy my life is.  And then I was going to have you take the notecard that was handed to you and ask you to write down 1 thing that you would not do this week, so that you can take sometime to rest. And then I was going to ask you to write down one thing you would do this week that would help give you that rest. That’s the sermon I wrote for you yesterday.  After worship, I figured you all were then going to shake my hand and tell me how you thought it was the best sermon you had heard in years and that you couldn’t wait to get some intentional rest this next week.  That was the plan I laid out.

But then I went on Facebook.

On Facebook, I saw a friend post an article written by a fellow Lutheran pastor.  Her article was an open letter written to all the people suffering through the horrible tragedy of the theater shooting in Aurora, CO.  Here is what she said,

You don’t know me. I’m a pastor at a Lutheran congregation 65 miles north of you, in Fort Collins. You may have your own pastor, or rabbi, or imam. You may not believe in God. But I am also your neighbor–and like many of your neighbors in Colorado and across the country, my heart breaks for you today.

We, your neighbors, may not have been in that movie theater, but we could have been. It could have been our children, our friends. We want to share words of sympathy, but we know no words can erase what has happened to you, as you grieve for the dead and wait in hospitals for news of the injured. What words we do share may bring little comfort.

I am only one of many voices who will speak to you, and about you, in the days to come. As a pastor, a parent, and a neighbor, here is what I want to say.

To the victims, the survivors, and their loved ones: I am so sorry. I cannot imagine the terror of being inside the theater in those deadly moments, or the anxiety of not knowing at first whether someone you loved was among the victims. I pray for the hospital staff and emergency personnel who continue to treat your wounds, and I pray for your healing. And for those who have received the worst possible news, the news of death, my head bows in sorrow.”

Suddenly, in light of that article…complaining about how busy we are and how tired I am felt pretty lame and pretty meaningless.  So I threw the sermon away.

I don’t know how it affects you when tragedy like this strikes in such a way that it really feels like it could have been you.  I don’t know if you hear about it and simply move on with your busy life.  I don’t know if you just avoid thinking about it all together, or if it disturbs and disrupts your life in some way.  Sometimes I find that I imagine myself in the situation and wonder what it would be like or what I would have done.  Sometimes, I wonder, will something like this happen to me in my lifetime?  Now, after being a pastor for a year, I ask myself, I wonder what this is like for the pastors in the community.  What would I say? What would I do?

I heard on the news that there was a 4-month-old child who was injured in the shooting.  And so, I held Elliot a little closer and a little tighter this weekend.  I think things like this always bring up big questions for us about God.  I think this Lutheran pastor does a nice job of addressing those questions.  Here is what she goes on to say:

In the coming days and weeks, you will probably encounter well-meaning people who will say to you, it is all part of God’s plan, even if we don’t understand it now. Everything happens for a reason. If these words are helpful for you to hear, I’m glad. But if these words tear at already-raw places in you and fill you with anger or despair, please know this: not all people of faith believe these things. I do not believe them.

The God I know in Jesus Christ does not use natural disasters or human-caused massacres to reward some and punish others. I believe God is able to reach into sin and death and pull out healing and life; this is a different thing from engineering tragedy for a so-called greater purpose. The God I serve and proclaim to others does not cause or desire human suffering.

I also suspect many of you, like us, may be asking why. Why did this happen? The media and the justice system will do their best to answer this question in the literal sense, trying to determine why James Holmes apparently entered a movie theater and began shooting at random. In a sense, however, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, because even if we get a “why”–an explanation from the shooter, or a more comprehensive understanding of the circumstances that comes with time–these answers will still not be enough.

In its deepest sense, the question “why?” is not a request for a logical explanation; no logical explanation will justify or make sense of what is indefensible and senseless. It is a cry of the heart, an expression of grief. It is a cry as ancient as it was new again this morning. In the Bible, it is “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

As a person of faith, I say to you: there is holiness in grief, in tears and in anger. In the refusal to be comforted, there is the understanding that these bullets have torn a rent not only in individual lives but also in the fabric of life itself, in an understanding of community as it ought to be. Such refusal proves that we have glimpsed and can imagine a better way of being together in the world. The fact that this event is one of many tragedies and episodes of suffering around the world doesn’t diminish its magnitude; in many ways, it makes it sadder.

One of the twelve dead in the Aurora shooting was aspiring Colorado sportscaster Jessica (Ghawi) Redfield. On June 5, after she had narrowly missed being present at a similar shooting at a Toronto mall, she blogged about the event, asking, “Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?”

Is this the world we live in? Yes. And no. It is a world in which evil and tragedy erupt with shocking frequency and brutal intensity. It is a world in which, despite our attempts to separate “good people” from “bad people,” the truth in writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s words stands: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

And yet, this is also a world in which immense kindness and compassion can wash over us in times of greatest need. For those whose trust in humanity has been shattered today: as you remember a young man bursting into a place of supposed safety and turning it into a place of destruction, may you also remember communities, places of worship, neighborhoods and individuals bursting into this situation with love and support. May these times testify not to the power of evil to destroy community, but to the greater power drawing a community together to stand with one another. I call that greater power God; but whether or not we share the same faith, let us share that commitment to life and love that render hatred and evil ultimately powerless.

In the end, whatever his motives, Mr. Holmes will have neither the first nor the last word. Nor will I. That honor belongs, I believe, to the indestructible love of God.   

The truth is the sermon that I wrote for all of you is true.  Many of us are too busy.  And many of us are all tired.  So take out that card you were given at the beginning of worship.  On one side, I ask you to take a moment and write down something that you can give up this week: one evening you will shut down you computer or turn off you cell phone, one appointment you will refuse to make, one obligation you will pass on.  Now, flip the card over.  Write down something you will do with someone important in your life instead. Maybe you take your kid to the park instead of their music lesson this week.  Or maybe you’ll call your daughter that you aren’t getting along with and tell her how much you love her.   Maybe you’ll walk with a friend or spouse, or play a game with a neighbor.  Or maybe you will take the opportunity to just sit, not in front of the television, but in front of the world around you, praying prayers for all that you see.

I want you to do this not so that you can get some rest, like I originally planned.  But do this so that you can slow down and spend some time with the people you love.  As we’ve learned once again this week, this blessed and holy life is just too darn fragile.

Sincerely, and with great love for all of you,

Pastor Jon

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Sunday, July 1 – Mark 5:21-43

Mark 5:21-43

Our Gospel text for today is one of the most remarkable stories I have read in a long time.  What is remarkable about it is how drastically different the two main characters of the story are and then what happens to them.  First, you’ve got Jairus, the leader of the synagogue.  Which means he has power. He has status.  People listened to what he said, so he has authority. And money.   And then there is this woman who doesn’t have a name.  And that right there is enough to show you the difference between them. Jairus gets a name.  This woman doesn’t.  And names are so important.

A friend of mine just went to a conference and everyone had a nametag made up for them except her.  She walks to the check-in table, scans the name tags only to find that hers isn’t there. You can imagine the feeling.  Suddenly, you feel uninvited, unwelcome, or even excluded when you are the only one without a nametag.  Or the only one without a name.

So this woman doesn’t have a name. But that isn’t the only thing different between her and Jairus.   She been bleeding for 12 years, which by the customs of the day, meant she was unclean.  She was supposed to stay away from society.  She was an outcast.  She is not the leader of the synagogue, she is the one nobody knows.  The one who hasn’t been around for 12 years.  No wonder she doesn’t have a name.  And then there is the simply fact that she doesn’t have any money.  And that is a huge separator, isn’t it?  Those who have money and those who don’t.

So we have these two people whose lives are light years apart.  They would never encounter one another in their everyday life.  But now notice what happens to these two people who are so far apart.  Jairus has a daughter, about 12 years old, who is sick.  And if you have ever cared about a child that they feel like your very own heart beating outside your body, then you know that when they are gravely ill, you are gravely ill as well.  If the child dies, a part of you dies too.  So Jairus comes and he kneels at Jesus’ feet, begging for his help.

So Jesus goes off with Jairus to see his daughter.  But on their journey, the people begin to crowd around Jesus, making it difficult to get anywhere quickly.  And in the midst of this crowd is this unnamed woman.  Remember she is sick and has been for 12 years. She isn’t allowed to be around the community.  But while hiding amongst this crowd, she reaches past the people just to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.  Not even his body, just his sleeve…so that she can be healed of her bleeding.  And it works!  Her bleeding stopped immediately.  But then Jesus calls her out.  He says, “Who touched my clothes?”  With a little fear and trembling, the woman steps out from the crowd and kneels before Jesus, just like Jairus.  And then she tells him everything – the whole truth, the text says.  And then what does Jesus do?  He calls her “Daughter.”  Suddenly, the unnamed woman is given a name.  Daughter.

Jairus kneels before Jesus.  This woman kneels before Jesus.  Jairus has a name.  Now this woman has a name.  Jairus has a sick daughter.  This woman is a sick daughter.  Jairus’ daughter is twelve years old.  This woman has been bleeding for twelve years.  All of a sudden, these two persons, who couldn’t have been further apart, this leader of the synagogue, Jairus – this one with status and money – and this bleeding, poor, unnamed woman are no different.  They are the same.  Their suffering brings them together.  Two hurting human beings yearning for healing in their life.

What we becomes clear from this text is that suffering and pain show no partiality.  It affects everyone.  It doesn’t matter who you are, there will be pain in your life.  We know this.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or the color of your skin, or whether you are young or old, Christian or non-Christian, or how nice of a person you are.  It just comes in ways we cannot predict.  Whenever you drive past an accident, don’t you always think, even if just for a second… “That could have been me.”  Suffering and pain levels everyone. It puts us all on the same plain.  It brings us all to our knees.

Who has experience pain and suffering in their life?  See it is all of us.

And yet it is headline news whenever a celebrity is injured or is suddenly experiencing suffering. Just last week I saw the headline: Justin Bieber falls down the stairs.  Just this weekend, it was front-page news that Tom Cruise is getting a divorce. And I think it is because we can hardly believe it.  We don’t believe that they are the same as us.  They suffer just like me?  How can this happen to them?  But it does.  Suffering knows no partiality.  We see this in Jairus and this unnamed woman.  Both kneel at Jesus’ feet.

In the end, we are all beggars.  Those were Martin Luther’s last words that he ever wrote.  We are beggars.

So Jesus heals both women, the unnamed woman and Jairus’ daughter (and consequently, he heals Jairus too).  But, notice, what does he heal them from?  This woman has been bleeding for 12 years.  What this most likely meant is that she hasn’t been able to have any children for those 12 years.  And Jairus’ daughter…she was 12 years old.  Which means she was just approaching the age when she would be able to bear children.  But if she dies from her illness first, then she would never bear any children.

So both women were being prevented from having children.  Both were prevented from bearing life into this world.  But then Jesus heals them.  The woman stops bleeding and the child lives.  Which means both might be able to have children.  So when Jesus heals people, Jesus always heals so that we can be life-givers again[1].  So that we can be people who generate life in the world.  I am not just talking about procreation.  I mean, Jesus wants us to be people who bring about life in this world.  To give life and share life with others.  Who seek abundant life for all people.  But so often suffering and tragedy prevent that for us.  They drain us from any hope and joy and any desire to live fully.

If the healing that Jesus gives is one that helps us to be life-givers again, maybe the healing we get is not always the healing we expect. As we know, too often people are not healed from their sickness and tragedy.  But maybe another form of healing can be found.  I heard a story this week about a man who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease twenty years ago.  Now twenty years later, he still lives with this debilitating disease.  But he says that his prayers for healing have been answered.  He said, “I have been healed, but not of Parkinson’s disease.  I have been healed of my fear of Parkinson’s disease.”[2]

Suffering and tragedy are the great common denominator of humanity.  We all face them in some way – like Jairus and this unnamed woman.  And so no matter who we are, we come to God with nothing but our brokenness and a plea for there to be some healing.  Whenever we are healed, however we are healed, we are always healed so that we can be life-givers again.

But so what does it mean to be life-givers?  Well, let me ask this – what gives you life?  What gives you energy to go on living each day?  For me, it means being loved and recognized for who I am, despite all of my failings in life.  It means being welcomed and accepted.  It’s about being given second chances.  Being a life-giver mean living life in a way that generates life for others.  Raven Caldwell is a perfect example of some one living as a life-giver.  She has collected a truckload of supplies and household items for tornado victims in Kansas.  She is helping to give life back to people who have had it taken away.  And I am certain there has been pain and suffering in Raven’s own life.  And maybe there has been some healing too.

Jairus and this unnamed woman both come to kneel before Jesus.  They are the same. And so it is for us.  We are the same.  We are all beggars.  And today as a Christian community, in our sacrament of Holy Communion, we all come forward to this same table with nothing in our hands.  We come to kneel before God and one another and we bring our illnesses and our sufferings and our tragedies and we lay them before God.  We all come as beggars.  Like a plastic cup in the hands of the homeless or the tattered hat at the feet of a street musician, our hands also reach out for something that will heal us. Something that will feed us.  We come to the table with open hands.  We come to receive communion and blessing.  And placed in our hands is a simple piece of bread and simple cup of wine; or marked on our foreheads is a simple blessing.  And those are promises from God that we do not live this life alone.  We do not live this life just for ourselves.  We have been named as children of God and we live this life as God’s who care for one another and support one another through these suffering and tragedy of life. And so I pray that these simple promises might bring enough healing so that we too might go and be life-givers out in the world once again. AMEN

 


[1] I am indebted to Alan Storey for this insight.

[2] Feasting on the Word, “Mark 5(21-43) – Pastoral Perspective”, Michael L. Lindvall.

Sunday, June 24 – Sermon on Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35-41

Whenever I talk with someone about church and it’s future, the conversation almost always comes around to the topic of young people in the church.  Where are all the young people?  Where are the kids after confirmation? Where are the young adults?  How do we get them back?

In a new book called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church, author David Kinnamen discovers that one of the greatest criticisms of the church recently by young people is that it has not embraced the questions of life.  That it does not embrace the doubts and wonderings that life brings.  Just this past week, a friend of mine who is in her 50s told me that when she was a child, her family would go to the Minnesota science museum.  And every time they went, they would look in awe at this big old dinosaur skeleton.  But when she asked her dad about how dinosaurs fit into the creation story, he wouldn’t talk to her about it.

Young people, they want to know if there is room in the church for questions.  And I have come to learn that at the heart of our deepest questions are our deepest fears.

When I was an intern pastor in Minneapolis, I had the joy of knowing one of the sweetest men, Harry.  Harry was a widower.  His wife died many years ago.  Every Wednesday, Harry and about six other people would get together for bible study.  And every week without a doubt, no matter what text we were studying, Harry would find a way to ask this question: “Say, Pastor, uh…when we die, our soul, our spirit, it goes right to heaven, right?  It’s a pretty immediate thing, right?”  Each week he would ask this and each week, I would tell him that I couldn’t be certain, but that I believed it was something like that.  And then he would always respond by saying, “Oh ok.  So, my wife…she’s okay then? Like right now, she’s okay?” Each week, Harry asked this profoundly deep question not because he was interested in the way the soul behaves after death.  He asked because he was afraid for his wife.  He couldn’t see her, talk with her, or smell her hair, and he just wanted to know that she was okay.  At the heart of our deepest questions are our deepest fears.

Last fall when we had our first Ask the Pastor sermon, there were many many questions about unbaptized babies and what happens if they die.  Now, I don’t think this was because you had a term paper to write about the theology of baptism.  I think it was probably because you knew of a young child who has died before being baptize and you were afraid.  You wanted to know if they were okay.  You wanted to be able to offer reassurance to someone you care about.  At the heart of our deepest questions are our deepest fears.

Perhaps these young people are not just saying that church doesn’t honor our questions, they are saying the church doesn’t honor our deepest fears.  But here is the thing. I always worry that when young adults speak about the problems with the church, the older generation will feel like it is their fault.  I don’t think we can blame the older generation.  I think it is texts like this one from the Gospel of Mark that are the culprit.  I think it just might be text such as this that has created some problems for the church.

Many of us are familiar with the story.  It is evening.  Jesus gathers the disciples around the sea of Galilee and he says, “Let’s go to the other side.”  Now, we know what he means by the “other” side.  The other side of the tracks.  The other side of town.  Whenever someone betrays another person, he’s gone to the other side…or he is with the other side.  So Jesus is taking them to a place where they don’t belong.  Where they don’t fit in.  And so they all get into their boats.  Boating at night is never a good idea, right?  And so the wind starts to pick up and waves start to get bigger.  Soon enough they’ve got half the guys rowing and half bailing out water, but is sleeping in the back of the boat.  On a cushion no less.  And so they yell at him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”  That’s a question many have for God, isn’t it? Don’t you care that we are dying here?  And so Jesus wakes up and he calms down the storm.  But it is the part right after that that gets us into trouble.  Right after calming the storm, Jesus answers their question with a question of his own, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And suddenly, for the rest of history, fear and faith are linked together and connected.  Suddenly, we all begin to think that if we believe in Jesus than we shouldn’t be afraid.  Because if we are afraid, then we must not trust in Jesus and if we don’t trust in Jesus then we don’t have enough faith, and if we don’t have faith…

And so we’ve stopped asking questions, because it reveals our fear and fear has meant not having faith.

But if we are being honest, fear plays a significant role in most of our lives. It affects the decisions we make, the conversations we have. Fear is every where.  And I think Jesus knows this.  Why?  Because the most common phrase in Scripture is Do not be afraid.  Jesus knows that fear is everywhere, because the most common phrase is do not be afraid.  So what if we are reading this text wrong.  What if when Jesus says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” he isn’t saying, “You shouldn’t be afraid.” What if Jesus was reminding them of the most popular themes in the Scripture… “You don’t have to be afraid.”

So much of the word of God is centered on calming our fears, like a storm in the night. But until we name those fears, until we ask our questions, they can’t be calmed.

In the 1970s, at a conference discussing the church’s future, speaker after speaker stood up and presented their paper, offering a confident prognosis about the future of the church.  Then one man got up there and said, “You know, I am only a theologian.  I have no idea what the future holds. I know only that it will be held in the hands of God.”  Years later, he found those conference papers lying around and he reread them.  And then he said, “You know, I was the only one who was right!”[1]

And so maybe the same is true for us.  That no matter what we fear for the future of the church or for our own lives, no matter what tortures us in the dead of night, whatever it is going to be…we don’t have to be afraid, because we will be held in the hands of God.  And maybe when that storm has calmed, we can look back and say, “You know, we were right.”

But if we don’t ask our questions, we will never be honest with what we are afraid of.  And if we are never honest about what we afraid, then how can we ever really hear Jesus when he says… “Why are you afraid?  Have you not heard…there is no need to be afraid.” May it be so. AMEN

 


[1] Thomas G. Long, “Future Fatigue”, Christian Century, June 27, 2012, p. 35.

Sunday, June 17 – Sermon on Mark 4 (26-34)

Mark 4 (26-34)

As some of you may recall from last week, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has started to make a name for himself.  An enormous crowd gathers around him at any chance they can get to hear him speak.  In our text for today, Jesus is speaking.  In fact, he’s giving a sermon.  And his sermon is, once again, filled with parables.

Jesus begins like this: “The kingdom of God is…”. Now, what do you think Jesus means when he says “kingdom of God”?  What is he talking about? Back in the days of Jesus, there was this long held belief that the history of the world would contain five great kingdoms.  At that time our great kingdoms had already come and passed and now the ruler of the world was Rome. Rome had an overwhelming military, and unbelievable economic and political control over the whole world.  So everyone was a bit anxious. Is this it?, they feared.  Is the kingdom of Rome going to be the fifth and final climactic kingdom of the earth? Will Rome have the last word? Is our world coming to the end?

But in the midst of this Kingdom of Rome, Jesus came preaching about the Kingdom of God.  Which means, he’s trying to tell the people something.  Whether the end is near or not, the final kingdom of the world will not be the kingdom of Rome.  It will be the kingdom of God.  Rome will not have the final say; God will. It is about the power and activity of God in the world, not some power and control of an emperor.  And so Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God.  To try and help the people see it.

Jesus isn’t the first person to try this. To try give an image to what the kingdom of God looks like.  Just a minute ago we heard the prophet Ezekiel describe the kingdom of God as being like a big noble Cedar tree.  This large and strong tree, so big that every kind of bird could nest in it.  Which makes since. Most of us like to think of God and the kingdom of God as large and powerful and protective over the whole earth.

But that’s not how Jesus describes it.  Remember Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God in parables.  And a parable is a lot like a riddle, or a puzzle.  The answer isn’t obvious at first. It’s meaning isn’t immediately clear. In fact, it is meant to confuse and frustrate the person hearing it before it begins to shed any light on the situation.  It is supposed to make you stop and think. Parables turn over the tables of how we normally think about something. They are meant to tear down the understanding of things that we have built up for ourselves.

So if everyone thinks the kingdom of God is like a cedar tree, large and in charge, Jesus turns the whole thing on its side and upside down when he begins to speak about the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a sleeping gardener.

The kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses some seed on the ground and goes back to bed, without the faintest idea of how it begins to grow.  It just does.  And in the end, the farmer gets to reap the benefits.

Hmmm…what’s Jesus trying to say here?  A parable is like a riddle, whose meaning isn’t quite clear at first.  But, you know, Jesus is a nice guy and so he gives the people another chance at it, speaking to them a second parable.

The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like an itty-bitty seed.  A mustard seed in fact.  It is the smallest of all the seeds on earth but when it grows, it becomes the greatest of all…shrubs.

Ahh, yes, isn’t it wonderful? The kingdom of God – it grows as high as your waist and is ugly as sin.  Come on, Jesus – you want us to believe that the kingdom of God is like the most miniscule of seeds and the un-pruned shrubbery outside of my house?  What’s are you trying to say?  Come out with it!

Truth be told, I don’t know Jesus is trying to say.  It’s a parable after all.  It’s meant to confuse and frustrate.  So your guess is as good as mine. But I do have a hunch.  I wonder if the people gathered around Jesus were a lot like you and me.  Maybe they came together hungry for a word of hope.  They couldn’t see God at work in the world and in their life.  They feared another power had more control over the world than God.  All they could feel was the suffocating weight of an oppressive government.  All they could see was their chronic illness, or a broken relationships.  They just wanted to know that God was a part of their life but they just couldn’t see it.

So Jesus tells them a parable – the kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses seed on the ground.  The seed begins to grow, even though the gardener can’t see it. He reassures them that the kingdom of God, the presence of God, the activity of God, is not something we have to wait for.  It is happening right now, though I know you can’t see it.

In fact, not only is the kingdom of God growing, you can’t stop it from growing either.  Because the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed.  And a mustard seed, when it grows into a bush, acts just like…a weed.  Those of you who are gardeners and farmers know how weeds work.  You can’t kill them.  They’ll always find their way back.  And that is what the kingdom of God is like, Jesus says.  You can’t kill it. You can try, but it will always find its way back into your life.  And then it just grows and grows and grows.

A well-seasoned preacher, Richard Lischer, wrote a book called Open Secrets.  It is about his first year out of seminary and his first parish – a tiny, Lutheran congregation in the cornfields of Illinois. Sound familiar?  Just out of seminary, Lischer spent that first year showing off his preaching skills.  He use big words.  He referenced great works of literature to show how well read he was.  He spoke with what he called a Kennedy-esque urgency and eloquence.  In those days, he said, the gospel lived or died by my personal performance…how ridiculous I must have looked to my congregation.

But then he asks the question: why couldn’t I see the kingdom of God happening in our little church? Why did I think I had to find it in a book.  People in our congregation, every week, volunteered to exercise the legs of a little girl with cerebral palsy, so that her muscles wouldn’t grow weak.  People helped one another put up hay before the rains came.  When a neighbor lost their farm, we all grieved with him and we refused to bid on his tools at auction.  Weren’t these all signs of the kingdom of God, Lischer asks?  Why couldn’t I see them?[1]

The kingdom of God, the activity of God, looks different than the world’s understanding of a kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is not the same as the kingdom of Rome.  It doesn’t look like power and strength. A sometimes, we just can’t see it.  It’s like a seed, growing slowly underneath the soil, where the gardener can’t see what’s happening beneath the surface.  But other times, when we do see it, it just seems so small and insignificant, like a mustard seed, that we don’t recognize the kingdom of God that was hidden within it.

Just this past week, five families from this congregation brought meals over to a family whose son had major surgery on his legs.  One family even threw in an iTunes gift card for him, because they figured he must be really bored. It might seem insignificant.  After all, it was just being neighborly.  But it was also the kingdom of God breaking into this world through something as ordinary as a pizza or a tater tot hot dish. Can we see it?

Today a little Ayla will get a couple of handfuls of tap water splashed over a her head.  To a person passing by, it’s just a baby getting her head washed.  Pretty insignificant.  Pretty ordinary.  But to us and to Ayla, it’s the greatest of promises.  A promise of unconditional love.  A promise of forgiveness and grace.  A promise of having a family in Christ.  And to us, it is a promise that never dries off.  It Is the kingdom of God breaking in.  Can we see it?

I don’t know about you, but in the midst of our work-addicted, status-addicted, award-winning, medal-wearing addicted society where it’s all about what you can achieve in your life, this watery promise is good news. And it is the kingdom of God breaking into this world through something as small and insignificant as a handful of water.  Ayla has done nothing in her life to earn God’s love.  And that’s exactly how it is with the love of God – we do nothing to earn it.  It’s given freely and wildly.  It engulfs the whole world, like a weed.  You can’t stop it from coming.  Which means whether you have been baptized or not, this watery promise is for you too.

Jesus wants the people surrounding him, people like you and I, to know that the kingdom of God is here. Right in front of you, Jesus says.  We don’t live under the kingdom of Rome, or the kingdom of the United States, we live under the Kingdom of God.  Even though we might not see it.  Whether we see it or not, we cannot keep it from growing – because it’s like the tiniest of mustard seeds.  A weed that when planted and set loose, there is just no stopping it. AMEN

 


[1] Richard Lischer, Open Secrets, p. 72-75.