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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Keeping It Real

2017-07-30 Matthew 13:31-33 44-52 Keeping It Real


"Keeping It Real." 
I've been away for a while. 
I've been getting real with my family. 
Getting real with our yard. 
Really weeding, really pulling, really pruning. 
Really sweating. 
Really spraying real deadly chemicals. 
It's satisfying to pull out all stuff that's real dead. 
Pulling out all those weeds so the ground can have room to really breathe. 
Any of you gardeners know what I'm talking about? 
The cleaned-out, blank slate of soil? 
It looks so relaxed. 
Like the earth is saying, "Ahhh. Thank you."

I also grew a beard. 
I thought growing a beard would make me look wise. 
Instead, it just made me look homeless. 
Like I'd been sleeping in the weeds. 
So last week I harvested it. 
And my face said, "Ahhh. Thank you." 
So did Kristen. 

Just keeping it real, folks.

Farmers let a field lie fallow. 
They plant nothing in it for a season. 
Because even dirt needs a vacation. 
Any of you take a vacation this summer? 
Where'd you go? 
What'd you do there?

Vacation – most of the time – vacation means going somewhere. 
Doesn't matter. 
As long as it's somewhere else. 
The beach, Las Vegas, the mountains, your parents' house. 
Your basement. 
Your own backyard. 
As long as it's some-where else, where you can do some-thing else. 
Something different. 
Something UN-usual. 
Maybe that means you do nothing at all. 
Because always doing the same something can make something seem like nothing. 
Like it means nothing. 
Like you're achieving nothing. 
Like you mean nothing. 

So to mean something, you need time. 
You need space. 
You need to get outside the usual. 
You need to do something outside the box. 
You need something real.

God knows what's real. 
God IS what is real. 
God gives us what's real. 
It's our job to keep it real.


Jesus kept it real. 
Jesus preached. 
And you know he preached the REAL word of God. 
Good news. Gospel news.
No "fake news" from Jesus. 
We know from the Bible that on Sabbath days, he'd go to the synagogue and preach. 
You know what a synagogue is. 
It's a building. 
And what's a building? 
A building's a box. 
A building's a big, man-made, woman-made box. 
On Sabbaths Jesus would go and preach inside the box. 

But he really preferred preaching outside the box.

If you count and compare all of Jesus's indoor preaching to all his outdoor preaching, outdoor wins by a landslide. 
Why is that? 
If we look at his indoor preaching, at best – at best – the gospel writers remembered and wrote down a sentence or two. 
Maybe three or four. 
But if we look at his outdoor preaching, outdoors we get the whole kit and caboodle. 
All three points and a poem. 
Jesus's longest sermon is not the "Sermon in the Synagogue"; 
it is – as you all know and remember – which one? 
The Sermon on the Mount. 
The sermon on the mountain side.
In the peaceful side. 

What was it about being outdoors? 
What is it about being outside the box? 
Does nature inspire preachers to preach longer? 
Does being outdoors inspire disciples to listen better? 
Does a vacation from the usual help us remember better? 
Do the flowers and the trees and the breeze help us worship better?

What do you think?

Now, don't get me wrong. 
We have a beautiful building back in Knoxville. 
A beautiful building. 
With a beautiful, new roof. 
But sometimes we just have to get out of the box. 

Did you listen to that Psalm we read? 
I hope so. 
But even if you didn't, it doesn't matter. 
The trees listened. 
The sky listened. 
The flowers listened. 
Because that's who the Psalm is for. 
Not just the people. 
Not only people, who have harps and trumpets and tambourines... and guitars and banjos and basses. 
Yes, the Psalm's for you people, but you people are not the only audience of God. 
You've gotta think outside the box. 
The Psalm is trying to show us real life outside our boxes. 
"Unbox yourself," it says. 
You ever watch an unboxing on YouTube?
Somebody gets a new phone, new toy, new shorts – and they video it, so the world can rejoice with them?
Unbox yourself, says the Bible.
Unbox yourself, says Psalm.
Really listen.

It says, 
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together

The Bible is not just for Presbyterians who sit still with their hands folded nicely in their laps. 
It's not just for we who scratch our chins and mildly say, "Well, that's interesting."

The Word of God is unboxed. 
The Word of God is for the un-box-able. 
It's for the trees that sway with the rhythm.
It's for the waters that clap their hands. 
It's for the hills that laugh and shake with joy. 
Can you see them? 
Can you hear them? 
Well, maybe that's because you're all boxed and bowed and outwardly composed. 
It takes so much work to be un-real. 
Like Dolly says, "It takes a lot of work to look this cheap."
She says it herself: she barely has any real parts left.
Where are the real parts of you hiding?

But lest you begin to feel nervous, or feel guilty, hear the good news. 
It's good news that trees and flowers and waters sing praise. 
It's good news.
Because even if you aren't singing praise. 
Even if you're grumpy. 
Even if you're bored. 
Even if you're depressed. 
Even if your same-old, same-old feels like a six-foot box in a hole in the ground. 
Even if you're so stuck in your own box that you've forgotten there's a world outside - 
outside your own opinions, 
outside your own thoughts, 
outside your own phone...

Even if you can't see beyond the nose on your own face, there is a world out there, outside you. 
And if you can't praise God, or if you won't praise God, fret not. 
The earth, the seas, the hills will. 
That which is un-box-able will not be silenced.
You and I – we – are not the center of the universe. 
You and I – we – are not gatekeepers of the kingdom of heaven. 
Our success, and our failure, is barely a blip on the world's radar.
But we know something the world doesn't. 
We belong also to the kingdom of heaven.
That is true. 
That is real.
The challenge – is keeping it real – in our own heads.


Chapter 13 of the Gospel According to Matthew starts like this: 
One day, it says, "Jesus went out of the house" - 
did you catch that? 
Jesus went out of the house, out of the box, away from the same-old -- 
He went OUT OF the house and what did he do? 
He sat by the sea. 
But even that wasn't enough open space. 
People started boxing him in. 
Matthew says, "Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat, and sat there." 

I feel guilty not wearing a robe. 
I feel awkward not hiding in a pulpit.
And here's Jesus – preaching - in a boat. 
He is so weird. 
But in the Bible, in the kingdom of heaven, weird is real.

Jesus starts to preach. 
He preaches with the sea and the shore and the hills and the sky – all around him - singing, 
because that's what they do - 
singing - 
like a gospel choir - 
all around him. 
He preaches about the Kingdom of heaven. 
But he doesn't preach about a different world. 
He preaches about the Kingdom of heaven in the real world. 
In this world. 

He preaches for the people on the shore. 
He preaches for the people on the shore who can't quite reach him. 

He preaches for the people in their boxes. 
For the people locked in their boxes of achievement. 
Locked in their boxes of failure. 
Locked in their boxes of bodies that don't work like they used to.
Bodies that don't work like a supermodel. 

He preaches for the people locked in their boxes of no vacation, ever, 
For the people who can't escape from the same-old, same-old. 

He preaches for the people who can't dream. 
He preaches for the people who can't hope.
He preaches for the people who feel as insignificant as mustard seeds. 

He preaches for the woman stuck at home making the daily bread. 

He preaches for the man searching his fields for one lucky break.

He preaches for the worker who finds one pearl of worth in his job.

He preaches for the people fishing,
People with nets full of more good and bad than they know what to do with, 
who do their best to sort out what to keep and what to throw away, what's of value and what's worthless,
What's right and what's wrong in a world turned upside-down.

And then, he asks them. 
He asks them the crucial question. 
He asks them, 
"Have you understood all this?" 

And they answered, "Yes."

They understood. 
Because they knew Jesus understood them. 

You and I may not "get" what Jesus means by the kingdom of heaven. 
But we know the kingdom of dirt. 
We know what it's like not to dream. 
We know what it means not to hope. 
We know what it means to feel small and feel useless. 
We know what it means to be stuck. 
We know what it means to yearn for that lucky break. 
We know what it means to find one pearl of value among the ordinary.

And we know. 
We know what it means to sift through the big net of good and bad, of real and fake, of cheap and priceless.
We know what it's like trying to figure out what to keep and what to throw away.

Because that's real. 
That's real life. 
We know from the Bible, that those feelings are as old as the hills and as new as a morning glory. 
Those feelings, even those feelings of frustration – are a timeless treasure.
They're a sign that we're in training.
Jesus says, we who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven are like the masters of a household who bring treasure out of the old and the new.

As he was on that day so long ago, when he went "out of the house" and into a boat, Jesus is just out of our reach. 
But he is preaching to us, still. 
And if we can't hear him, or won't listen to him, at least we can hear the choir. 
We can see the trees, and hear the creek, and marvel at the beauty of a flower.
We can taste the God-given goodness of fried chicken. 
And in these real things, we can know what the kingdom of heaven is like.

The boxes that we get put in, the boxes that we put ourselves in, can get awfully dark. 
But Jesus proclaims there is life outside our boxes. 
Real life. 
We can get so caught up in ourselves that we forget this. 
Or we can spend our days keeping it real.