Reflection: "A Healing Community"
When I read through the newspapers and listen to the radio and television, I get a bit upset at what I see and read.
There are so many troubles throughout the world and also here at home.
And the scariest thing is that I’m usually not all that surprised about what I see and hear.
How easy it is for us to become immune to the news regarding the atrocities that are besetting our world.
Stories like tsunamis, earthquakes and famine – all killing thousands of people, of wars and conflicts like those in the middle-east and Africa and many other stories of terrorism, or gun violence.
And they usually impact on the lives of so many innocent people.
I guess one of the hottest local topics at the moment is that of the asylum-seeking Tamil family, who have lived in the Queensland town of Biloela for many years, yet have been repeatedly refused residency by the government.Their fate seems to be in the hands of the politicians.
Can we assume that all parliamentary representatives are caring people, who are looking to heal the past hurts and problems that beset those who seek asylum?
Do they give the people who are scared and alone, new hope in a new country, or are those who are in power more like selfish people who are looking to score political points and get themselves re-elected for another term in office.
Maybe some of them are keener not to be seen doing a political backflip from some position that they may no longer believe, rather than being the best, or most humanitarian, that they can be?
In the past, Australia had a reputation for being a Christian-based nation, running on biblical principles, but is that still the case, or have we become a nation of people who are better at looking after ourselves, than our fellow man?
Are we a healing community, or one which just wants to keep improving the standard of living for the wealthy, in a world that constantly cries out for help?
Paul, when writing to the fledgling church in Corinth, tells them how God, who had everything, came to earth in the form of Jesus and became poor, because he cared so much for us and wanted us to have more.
But Paul also cautions them to use their gifts wisely, in caring for others and sharing their wealth with others.
If others are broken, Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to heal them with the gifts that God has given them.
That advice is still relevant to us today, in the 21st century.
The Home Group that Lynne & I belong to, recently studied the books of 1 & 2 Timothy.
In these, Paul urges Timothy to deal with the false teachings that abounded in Ephesus at that time.
The church groups in Ephesus were in real need of healing, as they existed in a mixture of Greek and Roman culture, where sexual deviancy was at its height.
Here was a community desperately in need of healing, so Paul and Timothy made it their mission to try to reform them by preaching about the love of Jesus for all people, not just the Jews, and encouraging the Ephesians to abandon their wicked ways and show care and respect for their fellow men and women.
It was by showing the love that God has for all his creations, that they hoped to heal the community’s brokenness.
But what do we do today, if we don’t have men like these to help us, when we see a community that needs healing?
Luckily, we have an instruction manual that we can refer to – we call it the bible – and we can use it as a reference guide on what we should be doing and on just how Jesus did things when he was among us.
We also have the faith that God will be with us at all times and that he’ll look after us.
Our stories from Mark’s gospel today, were of people who had faith that resulted in healing.
In this instance, maybe not so much of a whole community, but more a healing of individuals.
This is a story within a story (a technique called “a sandwich”, which is favoured by Mark to create dramatic tension).
The “bread” in this passage, or the story at the beginning and end, is about the daughter of Jairus, who was sick and then died whilst Jesus was busy with the crowds and healing the bleeding woman.
When told of the demise of the young girl, Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Jesus always focussed on people’s fears and their love of God and didn’t do things just to impress the crowds. Faith can achieve a lot more than we often give it credit for.
Jesus shows that he is willing to help both people - an important man - Jairus - and a nobody - the bleeding woman.
Their rank, or importance in the community, made no difference to our Lord – he was willing to help them both - because of their need and their faith.
The woman who touched one of the tassels of Jesus’s shawl believed that he was such a great healer that he didn’t need to actually “do” anything to cure her of her ailment.
Just soaking up his goodness, through touching his garment, was enough for her.
It had a dramatic effect on Jesus, whereas if someone touched the hem of your scarf when you were walking through a crowd, do you think that you’d even notice?
Power had flowed out from Jesus to the woman, and he felt it.
He stopped and sought her out, to assure her that it was her faith that had healed her.
He was even willing to publicly bring her into the family of God by referring to her as “daughter”, even though she was considered “unclean” under Jewish law and had been banished from the synagogues and other religious activities for the past 12 years.
This woman had also exhausted all medical avenues and spent all her money on treatments, but because she thought of herself as a nobody – someone who was ritually unclean, she would have struggled with the idea that she could even approach Jesus.
And with that important man Jairus present, she hoped to become anonymous in the crowd.
She must have decided that she shouldn’t bother Jesus in person, believing that just by touching him, that she could be cured.
Who had the greater faith?
I guess we can accept that each of us has a different degree of faith and so it was with these two.
Jairus, being a leader in the synagogue, would probably have had a lot of biblical training and a long-held belief in the power of God.
The fact that he transferred that faith to Jesus is interesting, but it may have been a last resort, as his daughter had probably been sick for some time and had not been healed by the local physicians, or the religious people.
Despite the opposition to Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders, Jairus must have heard the reports of the miracles that Jesus had been performing and so it was that he came to the master to ask for healing for his daughter.
He humbled himself in front of the crowd. It’s also interesting to note that Jesus publicly cured the woman in front of a large crowd, but he chose to heal the little girl in private and even told the parents not to tell anyone about it.Why do you think he did that?
It isn’t explained in the passage, but I urge you to give it some thought and discuss it with those you meet.
Try to relate it to some modern-day healing that you might know about.
Some of you may remember the time before sale of our old Finlayson St church and how the changes that ensued, affected this church community.
Change is always a challenging time, but, when it’s handled with care and concern, it can lead to exciting times and opportunities – ones that that we hadn’t previously believed were possible.
Just like we have with this new community in this beautiful space at St Columba.
Because of the release of funds from the sale of the old building, we have been able to employ Karen as the Community Chaplain in Lane Cove and we can see that changes have taken place in the community.
We can be proud of what she has been able to achieve, with the backing of this congregation.
We’ve also been able to assist others, such as Saltbush (ministry in the outback), Grace church in Goulburn, the One Heart congregation, graduates from Margaret Jurd College and the Getting Ahead team at Bidwill Uniting Church.
Let us trust that future decisions of support will be possible, in prayerful consideration by the Church Council and in conjunction with the wishes of this congregation and that they will lead this church to be a relevant and driving force in the spiritual and moral wellbeing of the people of New South Wales, Australia and the rest of the world.
I certainly look forward with interest to seeing how that challenge develops and know that I will share in the joy of it with you over the coming years.
May God bless you all and keep you safe.
Mark 4:35 – 41 Jesus calms the storm
It’s an honour to be asked to give the sermon today.
Particularly on this auspicious occasion of the 44th birthday of the Uniting Church.
I joined the Uniting Church 44 years ago, as a university student, just after the inauguration. I have been a proud member since.
Many of the good things in my life have emanated from that decision to join the Uniting Church.
A major reason for joining the Uniting Church was that I saw it as a modern, progressive church which I wanted to be part of. I still think that.
The gospel reading today was Mark 4:35-41. “Jesus calms the storm”.
In Chapter 4 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is spending the day by the lakeside near Capernaum in Galilee, where he seems to have spent a lot of time at the lakeside.
Such large crowds had gathered that he had to push off in a boat from the shore in order to address the crowds and so as not be crushed.
He spent a busy day, teaching the crowds in parables and healing the sick and blessing people and, as we know, he turned no one away, no matter how annoying.
Then at the end of the day as night approached, Jesus seemed to make a fairly unexpected decision.
He said; “let us go across to the other side.”
The other side of the Sea of Galillee was a gentile territory of Gerasenes, now part of modern-day Jordan.
The disciples must have been very wary of this decision.
Going to a hostile gentile territory may have been worrying.
But many of them being fishermen, they were also well aware of the dangers of crossing the sea of Galilee and particularly at night.
To call it a “sea” was somewhat of an overstatement. It is actually a large shallow lake; about 12 kilometres by 20 kilometres .
It’s well known today and no doubt the same in Jesus’ time, that it is prone to sudden and violent storms.
The wind blows in from the Mediterranean and is funnelled through the mountains and can suddenly turn the calm lake into a maelstrom of waves, as many seafarers have found to their peril.
But the disciples obediently followed Jesus’ directions and set off with him in the small boat with Jesus; as the scripture says; “just as he was”.
Night fell and unfortunately their worst fears were realised.
What is described as a “great windstorm” suddenly arose.
The waves beat against the small boat and seemed about to swamp it and the disciples greatly feared they were about to perish.
It was a terrifying situation.
Then they looked across and saw Jesus, fast asleep, in the stern of the boat, on a cushion.
That may say wonders for his ability to relax and switch off, perhaps a key to his serenity.
Perhaps also it was an indication of how hard he worked and how tired he was.
But the disciples couldn’t fathom it and woke him in alarm, saying, “teacher, do you not care we are perishing.”
Jesus woke up, and shook himself.
He looked around and assessed the situation.
Then he “rebuked” the wind and said to the sea, “Peace, be still” or strictly he said, “be muzzled”.
Then the wind gradually ceased and the waves subsided and there was a dead calm.
And Jesus said to the disciples; “why are you afraid?’.
Or apparently it can be translated, “why are you such cowards?”
Then he said, “have you still no faith.”
Now that may seem a little harsh on the disciples, who had come willingly with him on this strange, trip and had genuinely feared for their lives.
But apparently his point was, “I am here. So why were you worried? Nothing could go too wrong.”
And then presumably, he rolled over and went back to sleep.
The disciples bailed out the water and continued on the journey to Gerasenes.
But they looked at each other and said, “who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him.”
So what can we say about this passage?
Perhaps put it in a bit of context.
The first thing is that I think is that this is perhaps the first written record we have of a major miracle by Jesus.
Mark was the earliest gospel writer, some 40 years after Jesus death and the first to put an account of Jesus life, as far as we know.
The only earlier writings we have than Mark are Paul’s letters.
And interestingly, Paul says nothing about any miracles of Jesus.
Mark refers to some healings and exorcisms in the first 3 chapters.
But here, in chapter 4 is the first major “nature” miracle, where Jesus shows powers to calm a storm with a few words?
What was the historical context in which Mark wrote his gospel?
To the best of our knowledge, it was probably written in about 70AD and was probably in northern Galillee, perhaps in the town of Caesaria-Philippi.
This was a tumultuous time in Jewish history.
The Roman war had just come to an end, which had seen the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the slaughter and diaspora of the Jewish people and the future of Judaism and the Jewish people was in peril.
Mark was among a second generation of Jewish believers who gathered together for support in dangerous and turbulent times.
Many people have commented on this passage, that the words used by Jesus to calm the storm, were very similar to the words he used earlier in Ch 1 of Mark’s gospel to exorcise an unclean spirit from a man at Capernaum.
Here in ch 4, he told the sea to “be muzzled” like a creature or dog.
That apparently reflects what was Mark’s belief, and the common belief of the times; that storms were caused by evil spirits and demonic forces.
They didn’t have the benefit of a nightly weather report showing a west coast low in the Mediterranean, likely to cause storms in the Sea of Galillee.
Mark wanted to show that Jesus had control over these evil forces.
This theme is continued in Ch. 5 of Mark’s gospel, as Mark shows that Jesus had control over demon possession of a person, over a woman’s illness and even over the death of child.
It is also important I think that the writers of the Gospels were not producing history or biography.
They wrote in the Jewish way, imaginatively and creatively and reflectively, taking themes and stories from the Old Testament.
It is said the Christian story emerged in the Synagogues after Jesus death, where his supporters trawled through the Old Testament scriptures to find evidence to show that Jesus was the Messiah.
And Mark used this in his gospel.
So many of the stories of Jesus have Old Testament parallels.
Here too, there are very many stories of God having power over the seas and calming storms, particularly in the Psalms; such as Psalm 107, where God “commanded and raised the stormy wind which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven…
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he brought them out of his distress.
He made the storm be still and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
So, also in this story in Mark’s gospel, we hear echoes of the prophet Jonah.
He also was asleep in a boat, whilst the storm raged and threatened to capsize the boat.
And Jonah was also on his way to gentile territory, if reluctantly and had to be delivered to Nineveh via a large fish. Jesus was so much greater than Jonah.
A Lutheran professor of theology from US, Sharon Ridge had an interesting perspective on this passage.
She observed that there are no resurrection stories of Jesus in Mark’s gospel.
Mark’s gospel ends with the women finding the empty tomb and fleeing in terror.
Perhaps, she says, this story is part of Mark’s post-resurrection stories of Jesus.
There are symbols there to indicate this, that it might be a post-resurrection story. Jesus being alone with just the disciples; in a boat, traditionally a symbol of the church; being “asleep”, a synonym for death and Jesus coming awake and alive to help the disciples in their time of need.
Maybe the memory of Jesus by the time Mark wrote his gospel, some 40 years after Jesus’ death, is a combination of the historical memory of Jesus the man, and also the post-resurrection memories and stories of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.
The great American progressive theologist Marcus Borg, in his book on Mark’s gospel, early in the book when discussing his approach to the whole gospel, points particularly to the two stories of Jesus calming the storm and walking on water.
He says for a variety of reasons, “most modern theologists think the stories are not based on the memory of something that actually happened.”
But they are what he describes as metaphorical narratives.
This does not mean they are not truthful and vital.
He says the model of seeing these stories is as with Jesus’ parables.
Everyone agrees that Jesus’ parables are meaningful and truthful stories.
But they are made up stories, not necessarily based on any event.
As Borg says; “Jesus told parables about God; his followers may well have told parables about Jesus.”
He suggests that to get into an argument about whether the events actually happened, or not, is unhelpful and the wrong question.
No matter how much you might like to get into an argument with fundamentalists, that they are missing the point by interpreting the story literally, it is pointless.
It is like getting into a heated argument about whether there was an actual prodigal son or a good Samaritan. He says, “believe what you want about whether the events occurred or not.
Now let’s talk about what they mean.”
This passage meant a great deal to Mark’s community in Casearea Phillipi facing huge challenges in 70AD, this was a story of encouragement to them.
What might this passage mean to us today?
We too all face major challenges in our lives from time to time.
These come in all sorts.
The unexpected death of a loved one in the family.
A divorce or family breakdown.
Or a redundancy or loss of employment.
A severe illness.
These setbacks can undermine our very sense of being and who we are.
How do we cope with them?
Here in this story, we have a great example of what Christian life is about.
In the dark of night, when the storms are battering us and threatening our very existence, Jesus is with us.
He tells us not to be afraid.
To have courage and things will work out.
He tells us to have faith and patience and it will cast out our fear.
Because he tells us, he is with us through these crises and challenges.
We will see our loved ones again.
We will overcome these setbacks and personal tragedies and things will work out, one way or the other.
Perhaps not in the way we expected.
This is a wonderful reassurance.
So, on this birthday of Uniting Church, this is great message for our church as well.
I pray that the Uniting Church has courage and faith and does not succumb to fear and negativity and focus on ourselves and our security too much.
I pray we continue to be the leading modern, progressive church; willing to take a new bold approach which is non-judgemental and inclusive of everyone, which does not take a narrow literalist interpretation of the scriptures, but a modern expansive one, which provides an interesting and meaningful message to people in the 21st century.
I pray as a church we reach out to all people and that we show who we are and what we stand for; by the love and care we show for each other and the love and care we show the community.
And I pray our church will continue to be a great voice of the true church for the next 44 years.
Reflection: We of Little Faith
In the Gospel of Mark, the sea is a metaphor for demonic and chaotic forces that stand against the Kingdom of God that are even now at hand, and it's a boundary, literal and metaphorical, between Jews and Gentiles.
Though this sea, filled with devils, threatens to undo them, Jesus wants to cross it because the Good News of the Gospel is never for those on just one side of the sea.
In their attempt to cross to the other side to bring hope and healing and good news, the demonic forces within the sea, lying in wait like a troll under a bridge, stir the waters into a horrible whirlwind of a storm.
It's enough to terrify even the most veteran of sailors.
It's never easy to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to the other side, but Jesus calms the storm with the simple words,
"Be quiet. Be still"
and with these words, Jesus puts whatever is raging around us to rest.
When oceans rise and the thunder roars, we can trust the captain of the boat to not only see us through the squall, but also ensure smooth sailing - that's the point of the story, right?
Well, except we read that the captain is asleep at the back of the boat, and after the disciples wake him, he accuses them of having little faith.
They’ve been following him for about 3 years, so they obviously trust in his power, when the sea is too strong.
So why does Jesus ask, "Do you still have no faith?"
When the storms of life are raging, we obviously want Jesus to stand by us and our faith tells us that he will.
Jesus says it's time to go to the other side, which is usually a scary or undesirable place, or at least we think it is.
the other side of the tracks,
the other side of the road, or
the other side of the sea.
There's always a boundary we're taught not to cross.
We're taught that the boundary is there for a reason: for our protection, for our privilege, for our purity.
It's a wall, a fence, a law, an attitude, or a demonic sea.
Demons stir when God is on the move and Jesus knows this, but he chooses to sleep, because as he taught in the parable before they set off in their boat, God's power in the Kingdom is at work even while we sleep.
Jesus trusts the disciples to lead him to the other side, through the dangerous sea.
A chapter earlier, when he commissions the disciples, he gives them the power to cast out demons, so they have the power to rebuke the demons that stir up the wind and waves - they just don't have the faith.
When I was younger, my mother taught me how to do the laundry.
I was with her when she did mine and she showed me how to sort my clothes and how to use the washing machine.
But my laundry was piling up - "Mum, my clothes need washing." I cried.
"Okay, so go wash them." She said.
I did the smell test on a few shirts and thought they’d last until Saturday when she’d be home all day to do them.
On Saturday I called out, "Mum, I have no clean clothes for church tomorrow."
That should get her to do my laundry, with the whole can't-go-to-church-without-clothes bit.
"Okay, well the washing machine is free, so off you go."
But I didn't want to do my laundry - I wanted Mum to do my laundry.
"But you're my mother. You're supposed to do my laundry for me."
"No, I'm your mother and I'm supposed to teach you how to do your own laundry, because I won't always be here."
The disciples, commissioned by the Son of God to cast out demons, couldn’t or wouldn’t, rebuke the wind and the waves of the demonic sea.
Did you notice they didn't even try?
They're too busy panicking to think of calming the storm.
They're too busy casting out the water in their own boat, to cast out the demons around it.
"Jesus is in the back of the boat” They thought. “He'll save us."
The disciples know that Jesus can cast out demons.
They have faith in him, as they've seen him do it many times, but they just aren't willing to do it themselves.
You disciples of little faith, you believe in Jesus enough to leave everything behind and follow him.
You trust Jesus with your lives, trust in his words and trust in his power, but you don't trust in his power in you.
Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, which means that he believes they have what it takes to be like him.
He gives them power to proclaim the good news, to cast out demons, and to heal every kind of disease and sickness.
In Matthew 14, when Jesus comes to the disciples over the water, striding across the demonic boundary, he tells them not to be afraid.
Peter, bless his heart, tries to trust in the power and Christ’s promises to him, so he walks out onto the water.
He trusts that if Jesus says he can do it, then he can do it.
He trusts the power and promise that the gates of hell can’t overcome him, but the demons of the sea stir up again and Peter begins to fear - fear causes doubts and he doubts that the power in him is strong enough to stand against the forces of evil, so, he begins to sink.
"You of little faith," says Jesus. "Why did you doubt?"
We of little faith. Why do we doubt?
We believe in Jesus enough to worship him.
We trust him with our lives, we trust in his words and his power to bring life and to cast out sin and death, but we don't trust in his power in us.
We’re given the power to cast out demons, but we stand trembling in their midst instead of rebuking them.
We stand on the shore, fearing the storm that's sure to brew if we try to cross to the other side with the love of God.
Will we weather the storm if we try to cross that boundary?
Maybe it's just best to stay on dry land.
We of little faith, why are we so afraid?
We're too busy trying to calm ourselves down, to be able to calm the wind and the waves that batter people's lives.
We don't believe we have the power to stand above the forces of prejudice, hatred, violence, abuse and terror.
So, we don’t stand up and we don’t rebuke others.
Instead, we huddle down in the bottom of our boats and watch the squall through stained glass church windows.
What else can we do?
"We're just disciples in a boat," we say. “We’re followers, so we worship and we sing and we pray - that's all.
He chose us for this, to be his church: his singing, praying and preaching church.
If a storm comes up that keeps us from going to the other side, well, then it's up to Jesus to calm that storm if that's where he wants us to go."
But is that your understanding of faith?
Jesus doesn't call his disciples to merely follow - he calls them to lead, to heal, to proclaim, and to cast out.
He asks them to have faith in the power he promises and the work he commissions them to do for the Kingdom of God, whether that is spreading some seed and letting the power of God go to work while, or rebuking demons and watching the power of God go to work while he sleeps.
Faith is trusting that the power of God is always at work - in Christ, in the church, and in you.
Christ calls and commissions us to be exorcists of demons and healers of sicknesses that plague our communities.
Is there discrimination?
Cast it out.
Is there division?
Are there painful words?
Are there broken hearts?
Are there storms keeping us from proclaiming that nothing can separate us from the love of God?
There's a comic strip called B.C. that chronicles the humorous everyday lives of two cavemen
A few years ago, in one strip, two cavemen were sitting together under the night sky, when one says, "Sometimes I want to ask God why God lets so many bad things happen in the world."
The other asks, "Why don't you?"
"Because I'm afraid God would ask me the same question."
Almighty God, you are powerful and you never sleep.
You’re here with us and you give us power to do great things.
Help us to use the power that comes from you, to work with you bringing hope and peace and joy and love to this broken world where demons still run amok.
Help us to cast them out and proclaim the kingdom of God that is even now at hand.
We pray in Christ's name. Amen.
Reflection: "Seeds and Harvests"
You may have noticed that our selected readings seem to raise more questions than they answer and that can be both a blessing and a curse.
I’ve chosen to concentrate on Mark’s Gospel, but Paul’s letter to the people in Corinth also relates to our theme.
I almost want to cry out after reading today’s Gospel:
“Speak plainly, Jesus. Tell us the meaning, don’t just tell your disciples, but give us some indication of what this “Kingdom of God” is about. Don’t keep speaking in circles.”
The parables of Jesus have continued to spark imagination and controversy alike, down through the ages.
As parables, they speak around things, not directly about them, so we’re left to puzzle out the words and attempt to interpret them.
But, when we’re honest, we know that our interpretation will fall short of the truth that Jesus meant.
In the middle of a chapter of Mark’s Gospel come two parables about sowers and seeds.
The first has a more famous cousin, the story of the sower and the seeds that fall on different grounds.
At least THAT parable comes with its own explanation.
But today’s parables: the growing seed and the mustard seed, that accompanies it, are puzzling, to say the least.
Trying to figure out what each element represents is problematic for several reasons.
Firstly, it assumes that we’re able to get into the mind of Jesus, which is impossible.
We might think we know what he means, however in reality, they’ll be our thoughts, not his.
Secondly, it assumes that there were meanings to these stories in the first place.
Perhaps Jesus was painting broad brush strokes, rather than offering point by point analogies.
Thirdly, we’re conditioned, over time, by listening to people who are so certain that they know what’s going on, that their answers stick in our minds and prevent us from seeing beyond them.
The problem that Jesus has, is getting our minds to focus on what God is trying to get us to understand, when our minds are in such a completely different place.
A first century Jew might have thought that the “Kingdom of God” had to do with the establishment of God’s Messiah on the throne of Israel and with that would have come certain understanding and expectations about how that would happen.
Something along the lines of:
the Messiah will come,
gather an army,
defeat Israel’s enemies and
once again rule the Kingdom of David, from David’s city and throne (ie. Jerusalem).
Today we’re less likely to think of it in that way, and more likely to look at the coming “Kingdom of God” in an individualistic way, perhaps even as something just for us.
Our interpretation might be that God is working to prepare those of us who believe, for heaven, after we die.
Actually, either of these understandings is too small.
We know that God is certainly interested in more of the creation than just Israel, or just his believers and that God is interested in more than just our going to heaven after we die.
My understanding is that, as Christians, we ought to be seeing that what we’re doing is participating in something much greater than just a way get ourselves into heaven when we die.
That’s God’s business, not ours.
One of the things that the parables of Jesus point to, is a need for a larger vision.
They talk around the concept of God’s coming kingdom, rather than defining it precisely, so that we’re forced to expand the way we think.
Our God is infinite and creative, always doing unanticipated things, in unexpected ways.
So, Jesus is trying to open our eyes, hearts and minds to new possibilities and grander plans.
Certainly, our two parables for today should help us to understand just that.
We can anticipate what the harvest might be at the time seeds are sewn and scattered on the ground, but it won’t always work out the way we hope.
Farmers make decisions about investing large sums of money in seeds and the process of sowing their crops.
There are many factors they to take into account, not the least of which is the anticipation of whether or not there will be enough rain, and at the right time, to make the crop viable and produce a good return on their investment.
Thus, even the sower doesn’t really know how it’s going to turn out.
When the grain ripens sufficiently, it will be harvested.
Thus, we see that things happen, but we don’t always know how, or when - we simply trust that they do.
The mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, doesn’t reveal, when you look at it, the size and scope of the plant that will grow from it, yet it becomes a great bush, sheltering many of God’s creatures in, and under, its branches.
Both of these stories reveal that the Kingdom of God will come, whether or not we do any work on it, and quite outside of our anticipated outcomes, for God is at work, even when we don’t see where, or how, or why.
And the outcomes are much grander than we could ever have imagined.
Of course, we still need to work hard once we’re in God’s Kingdom, but that is a different story.
God is gracious, giving the gift of harvest and kingdom alike, and extravagant, as both come in abundance.
God looks beyond the self, providing produce for the farmer, and shade for the nesting birds.
God is connected to the creation - renewing and restoring it.
God is active and involved in the unfolding of this kingdom - even when we don’t see it or understand it.
The disciples didn’t see it or get it - as is described in Mark’s Gospel.
They remained blissfully clueless to the end, even after Jesus was raised from the dead.
They didn’t understand and were afraid for most of the time.
In the end, faithful Israel comes down to just one true believer - Jesus.
And yet from that one, following his life, death and resurrection, a movement began that has swept the world and changed it forever – based on God’s love.
So, we see that there may be more to these parables, than meets the eye.
The disciples had the advantage of Jesus being with them, yet they didn’t seem to understand.
How in the world can we hope to understand better than them?
But I don’t think that we have to be, at least not according to these parables.
God will bring his kingdom, his harvest, his mustard seed, to full growth and fruit, despite our lack of participation or understanding, despite the fact that we often don’t get it, or that when we do, we still get it wrong.
When it comes down to it, Jesus speaks in parables as an encouragement and a pacifier to us.
He tells us just enough to get us on board, to hold out a vision for a different world in which God’s kingdom or rule will indeed become the reality for all creation - even though we don’t see it at any given moment.
We participate in that vision, grow in God’s love and live God’s forgiveness for our sinful self and the sinful world.
For now we just live in it - the fullness of understanding will come later.
We want to understand, we want to know, we want to see, and yet our brains are just too small to take it all in.
For now we’ll have to simply trust that, without our knowing or understanding,
God’s kingdom is taking shape,
God’s name is being hallowed and
God’s will is being done.
We simply have to trust that what looks small and ineffective to us, will become something greater than we imagine.
And in trusting, we participate in the kingdom that is coming, and growing and becoming God’s love in the world.
I urge you to keep reading, searching, discovering what blessings God has in store for you in your life and where you can plant your seeds in people’s lives.
All for his glory…………Pastor Rick
Reflection: "Taking Heart"
“But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture - I believed, and so I spoke" says Paul in his letter to the fledgling church in Corinth, ancient Greece.
Paul certainly knew what it was like to be afflicted.
He’d had many struggles during his journeys - proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But even in the midst of all his strife, Paul counted on the resurrection of Jesus to give him hope.
The little church at Corinth was one of his problem children and in this letter he urges them to not lose heart, because even though their bodies may be deteriorating day by day, their spirits are continually being renewed.
He reminds them that the one who raised the Lord Jesus (God) will also raise us all and bring us into his presence.
You may remember that it was the resurrection of Jesus, on that Easter Sunday, that had fired up that first group of disciples.
After the crucifixion of Jesus, they’d been filled with fear and despair and they were in hiding for fear of their lives.
The resurrection and the meeting with their risen Lord, changed everything about their point of view.
It lifted their spirits, their bodies, and their imaginations, allowing them to see life in a whole new way.
In his own struggles, Paul also often turned to the dynamic of the resurrection as a source of hope for himself.
He knew of the power of God in the resurrection, as seen in his own experience on the road to Damascus, when he transformed from being Saul (a persecutor of Christians) to Paul, one of the greatest evangelists the church has seen.
He emphasised to the Corinthians that the power of the resurrection, which was available to him, was also available to them and to those they brought into the church.
Based on this hope, Paul told them that "everything is for your sake," a phrase that he used frequently in his letters.
All that Paul did in relation to the Corinthians, was so that they would know the grace of God and the eternal life that could be found in Christ Jesus.
And we know that these words weren’t just for those Corinthian converts.
Their task should then be to share this knowledge with others, continually widening the circle of believers - all to the glory of God.
The point of such sharing wasn’t so much to increase their numbers in the church, but to increase praise and thanksgiving to God, which Paul says is what God desires.
Jesus repeatedly emphasized that what God wants from us is not our perfection, but rather our passion.
So, our life goal shouldn’t be goodness, but rather thanksgiving and praise - an attitude of gratitude to our God.
Paul reminded the Corinthians, and us, just why the resurrection (and gratitude in response to it) was so important.
We live in a difficult, dangerous world - a world that often makes us lose heart.
It can be scary and threatening, causing great anxiety, threatening our existence with ideas of meaninglessness.
Paul's interactions with the Corinthians reminded him of that abyss.
There’s a great temptation to lose heart in these situations; yet Paul recognized that in the very consideration of this question, in these very struggles, his understanding was being deepened and he felt strengthened and renewed.
He took this opportunity to remind the Corinthians of the realities of their lives, and indeed of all our lives, when he moved into a series of contrasts between inner and outer natures.
He pointed out that our lives DO have a meaning and purpose - in God - and we have been deepened by the revelation of God in, and through, the life of Jesus Christ.
In this revelation, we have the opportunity to see that the meaning of our own existence is not confined to the limitations of our bodies.
We discover that we have a home in God, a home not made by human hands, but a home that tells us our lives and selves belong to God, even in the midst of our turmoil, or "outer nature".
Paul calls this home our "inner nature," and we use various terms for it: "soul", "spirit”, "consciousness" and "personal identity", which is rooted in, and grows out of, our longing for a permanent place with God.
Whatever term we now choose to call it, it connects back to Paul's first-century insight that we are more than the sum of our body parts, or our accumulated personal history.
To say that we’re "more than", is not to demean the present, or our earthly lives.
Rather it’s meant to enhance the present, to enrich our lives by helping us to become aware that there are deeper and more powerful meanings in the routines and stories of our lives and of course in the lives of others.
The idea of an "inner nature", or spiritual dimension, can seem fanciful to some, who focus only on the physical.
Paul wanted to drive this point home to the Corinthians, so he used two other metaphors: "temporary and eternal" and "seen and unseen."
He wanted to emphasise as strongly as possible, that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ all point us to a reality that is deeper and richer than human history and science would suggest.
Paul keeps his eyes on the prize – which he sees as an eternal life with Christ.
It was his focus on this dimension of reality, the dimension of God's love and grace, that gave him the energy and vision to engage with issues such as the problematic church at Corinth.
So what does this mean for us, more than 2,000 years later?
Christ still hasn’t returned in his full glory and the timing of such an occurrence remains unknown to us.
Life after death and the second coming of Jesus are powerful ideas and remain metaphors for us to use in talking about the forces in our lives.
I believe that Paul would urge us to also keep our eyes focused on the prize, but he’d add one more focus:
that we not only believe in life after death, but we also believe in life BEFORE death.
In this passage, Paul urges us to ground ourselves in the "here and now."
Isn’t that what happened to the disciples on that first Easter morning?
The women who came to the tomb were captured by the power of death, as, initially, Mary couldn’t recognize the risen Jesus, even though he was standing right in front of her, talking to her.
She thought that he was just the caretaker of the cemetery.
Maybe the reason she couldn't recognize the risen Jesus was that her heart, her imagination, and her senses had been taken over by the power of his death, only a few days earlier, when he’d been crucified.
She only recognised him after he called her by name.
The thundering power of God that calls the dead Jesus out of the tomb now calls Mary out of her tomb too - out from under the power of death.
She then has the eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to receive that message.
She just has to share it - running to tell the others: "I’ve seen the Lord. He’s alive!"
Are our hearts and imaginations also captured by earthly thoughts and the power of death?
Why have we come to believe that weapons can bring us security, that war will bring peace?
Why do we believe that violence can be liberating, or that money will bring good life?
The doctrine of the resurrection is a promise telling us that death doesn’t rule - not only when we die - but even more importantly, when we live.
The risen Jesus is out in front of us, calling us to come out of the tombs of death so that we can experience that power of new life that fired Mary and even those reluctant men who had initially thought that she was hysterical.
May we, too, take heart when we hear our names called.
May we, too, know that we have been raised to new life with Jesus.
I urge you to take heart and follow him.