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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

2015-06-14 Mk 04 26-34 Bitter Little Seeds

Psalm 20

From <http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Psalm+20&version=nrsv


Mark 4:26-34

From <http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Mark+4:26-34&version=nrsv




"With what can we compare the kingdom of God?" What's the first word that pops into your mind when you hear, "The kingdom of God"? What vision pops into your mind?


Is it Edward Hicks' painting, "The Peaceable Kingdom"? The one where the lion and the lamb are lying down with the bear and the leopard and the cows - lots of cows - and the chubby baby angels pointing to William Penn signing a treaty with the Native Americans where we got Pittsburgh and they got smallpox?


When I say, "The kingdom of God," what do you think of?


Heaven, right? The kingdom of heaven? Kingdom of heaven, kingdom of God - pretty much the same thing, right?


But it doesn't say kingdom of heaven. Jesus says, "the kingdom of God." Is there a difference? Does it matter to anyone but preachers who like to yammer on about this stuff?


Bible trivia time. And the Double Jeopardy answer is, "It's the only book of the Bible in which, "The kingdom of heaven" appears." Phrase your answer in the form of a question. What is… which one? No fair using your phones or asking Linda.


The Gospel According to Matthew is the only book in the Bible that speaks of "the kingdom of heaven." Everybody else (Mark, Luke, John) says, "The kingdom of God." Matthew's the minority report.


I find that interesting, but again, I'm a preacher. Matthew also uses "kingdom of God," like the other guys. For him, it's two names for the same kingdom. Tomato, tomahto. Matthew's more like us in kingdom speech.


But here's what I can't stop thinking about unless the NBA Finals are on. (King James means something refreshingly non-religious then):


The majority of our thoughts about "the kingdom" come from minority of language in the Bible. In our thinking and in our words, we equate the kingdom of God not with this world, but the next. With place we're going (hopefully) after we die. The kingdom of heaven.


But when Jesus was living (the first time), and when Jesus was teaching (in the flesh), nobody had any idea of pearly gates and streets of gold and angels floating horizontally by playing harps.


When you hear Jesus ask, "With what shall we compare the kingdom of God?" I'm pretty sure that what you conjure up makes a HUMONGOUS difference in how you live your life on earth. I think it makes a HUGE difference in how you think about God, and your relationship with God. I think it makes a whole lot of difference in your relationships with other people.


If you think God's kingdom comes exclusively in a time and a place, in a world other than this one, and if you think God's kingdom is reserved exclusively for people who correctly imagine and articulate their belief in salvation to this kingdom, you're going to behave, think, and act according to these thoughts and beliefs. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, I'm simply saying I believe that to be true.


I also believe that if you think God's kingdom is not exclusively compared to a cloudy heaven above, if you think you can oddly compare the kingdom of God to mustard seeds and untended fields of this world, you're going to behave, think, and act according to these weird and unexplained (maybe divinely unexplainable) thoughts and beliefs. Again, I'm not saying that's right or wrong, I'm simply saying I think it's true.


How you envision the kingdom of God, what you compare it to - whether you compare it to the floating angel choirs you get to sing (well) in after you die, or your earthly garden out back with bushes, flowers, bugs, and dirt - your vision of the kingdom of God shows up every day in how you act toward yourself, how you treat your friends, how you pray for your enemies, and how you relate to God (or not).




I didn't buy, but I did read excerpts last week from a couple of books that have been very popular lately. The first was 90 Minutes in Heaven. The second was 23 Minutes in Hell. (Amazon says they're frequently bought together.) I didn't know about the hell book. My favorite quote from it was, "My sincere hope is that this book is the closest you will ever come to experiencing hell for yourself." (Probably not the best marketing pitch.)


We're fascinated by questions of whether heaven is for real or if God's not dead. We have movies and books to tell us. We have a fair number of movies and books about hell, too, probably more. Whether you're headed up or down, stories about journeys there and back again can be both inspiring and motivating. There's nothing wrong at all with them. I hope heaven is like what I've read, that I get more than 90 minutes there, and that the other book really is as close to experiencing hell as I ever get.


I'm not going to judge, because I've never had a near-death experience. Then again, I'm 53. Every day is a near-death experience, nearer than the last. I think about these things more than when I was 23. But I also find, curiously, that I'm getting more like Mark than Matthew. I think more about the kingdom of God than the kingdom of heaven. Maybe it's just two ways of saying the same thing, but maybe it's about what we choose to see and where we choose to look. I'll see heaven when I get there, if I get there. For now, I'm more into mustard seeds, and mustard, and tasting the things it goes on.


You can easily find preachers who focus exclusively, who talk and talk about the kingdom of heaven. You can find lots of churches who focus on heaven and getting there. And that's fine. We need them. They remind us that life is neither permanent nor final, that the road goes on past the cemetery.


What Jesus reminds us in scriptures like today's, though, in his parables about seeds and earth and dirt and life, is that we can also find the kingdom of God right here. We can see comparisons to it in our own backyard. If we look hard enough. If we look here. Here. Here. We can see glimpses of God's eternal kingdom in every passing day. We can concern ourselves with this side of the kingdom, if we choose. We can focus on enjoying this life, and on making this life more enjoyable for everyone who shares it. Because if the Bible teaches us anything it's that amazing as we might be, we are not the center of the universe, and that other people's joy is just as important as ours. So we build houses for Habitat for Humanity. So we feed homeless people at Volunteer Ministry. So we send kids to Camp John Knox so they can get their noses out of their phones and see this wonderful planet where even the tiniest seed can grow into a home for birds and bugs and lovely things in veritable, not just virtual, reality. To what shall we compare the kingdom of God? Well, if you don't develop points of comparison, the answer is, nothing.


If you believe and if you live as though the kingdom of God is within you (as Jesus said in Luke 17:21), if you believe - as Matthew says time and again - that the kingdom of heaven has come near - and is near - then you will put your attention not above the clouds, but beneath them. So that even on the cloudiest, darkest day, you will see and know that there is more to God's incomparable kingdom.




So, last week, as an exercise in thinking about this sermon, I started thinking. I asked myself, given today's scripture, to what would I compare the kingdom of God?


I don't know anything about mustard seeds. But I do know about other things that are often taken for granted because of my assumptions about them. If the kingdom of God is like the small, like the easily overlooked, like the judged (and judged too insufficient to make a difference), well, then, I know a lot about that, if I'm in a confessing mood.


The kingdom of God can be compared to a tiny dog that Great Danes laugh at. But who barks so incessantly that all the neighbors take notice.


The kingdom of God can be compared to the People of Walmart. Who though they make questionable clothing choices, may not have the choices I take for granted.


The kingdom of God can be compared to the kids of Summer Recreation. Who though they are small, when they smile and wave to me, make me feel as though I matter.


The kingdom of God can be compared to a nurse who takes the time to listen and lift a patient so it doesn't hurt. To a caregiver who cleans up a mess. To a person who bakes a casserole that feeds a tired family.


Those are some of the comparisons I started making, just by looking around and taking notice.


I'll be you could make some, too. Make it your prayer this week, to ask, every day, the question that Jesus asked, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?" See the comparisons that you might normally miss. And then, say, "Thank you." Thank you, God, for bitter little seeds and sweet blessings that start to add up to a vision of heaven.




What is the difference between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven?

From <http://www.gotquestions.org/kingdom-heaven-God.html>


90 Minutes in Heaven



23 Minutes in Hell