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The Most Powerful Idea

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come.” - Mark 4:26-34

Take a moment and think of heaven. What comes to mind? Billowy clouds, pearly gates, winged angels robed in white, a feeling of warmth of all your loved ones? I imagine it is something different for everyone but as its core it’s a vision of splendor.

Now picture the Kingdom of God. At first, we might assume these two are equivalent but when you try to picture the Kingdom of God it is harder to conjure.

This is because the Kingdom of God is less a place you go to when you die and more the realization of perfect harmony amongst all centered around the presence of God.

Think of the lion laying down with the lamb; the picture is peace with no more enemies. That is a Kingdom of God type vision. This in turn means we can experience a measure of this Kingdom in this life. Heaven is the place we go to be with God when we die. The Kingdom of God is the reign of God breaking into this current world.

Because we have fallen so far, Jesus knows it will require poetry, metaphor, and parable to access our imagination to tap into the place in our souls that can still connect.

So, He tells us this Kingdom is like a pearl of great price, like yeast, like three measures of choice flour and in today’s passage like a mustard seed.  

Of course, our immediate thought of this parable is the power of tiny things. An average microprocessor in today’s computers can literally process 2.8 billion calculations in a second. 2.8 BILLION! And those computers can send a rocket to Mars!

So, something as unassuming as that processor or perhaps a bacterium, has gargantuan capabilities to build or destroy.

But nothing has more power to move mountains than the smallest, simplest idea. Let’s build a railroad to cross this country. Let’s build a building that scrapes the sky. Let’s fashion a country which brings equality and freedom for all.  

And no idea has more depth nor more power than that of the Kingdom of God. And so, it is like a mustard seed because it is tiny and unassuming but if it grabs hold of you, it grows, and grows, and grows, and grows, and it will never die and it takes over…not only your mind, your heart, and your soul but the whole world just as Jesus did.

But to get to this world, to reach this simplest of ideas requires death, death of the old ways of things in your own life and the world, and it requires change. Change in your heart and in your soul and in your mind.

Just telling people to change does not work. So, Jesus comes at it sideways with these evocative and perhaps even bizarre parables of yeast, and net, and king, and a pearl and so on. 

So, the mustard seed, this tiny seed, is not simply a preformed bush but the potential. And the notion of the Kingdom of God, while a tiny and simple idea, is one that must grow inside of us not all straight and ordered. But wildly and unpredictably and bushy. Not like a tall cedar that grows straight and strong but like that bushy plant of the mustard seed, that is filled with branches upon branches that grow in directions and ways and turns that you could never ever predict by looking at that seed before it was planted.

In fact, trying to control and reign in its growth can stifle it and kill it. That was the Spanish Inquisition. They literally killed the faith out of people by trying to manage its growth in people’s hearts. That is the travesty of both extreme forms of Christianity on the right and the left– they seek to dictate to people a linear singular view of what Christianity is all about and that was never Jesus’ intention.

They are trying to force feed doctrine and faith and dogma down people’s throats. That’s not our job. Jesus told us it’s about one thing: love. Love of God, love of your neighbor, and love of yourself.

Jesus taught us we cannot access the Kingdom through purity laws, extensive moral codes, or policies and procedures. That kills the power of story which is how the Spirit seeps deeper into us.

The Kingdom of God is not a well-manicured lawn but clumps of wildflowers growing by the roadside in random places. I have come to appreciate those lawns which burst forth full of clovers and wonder to myself why I spent so much time and money trying to weed them out. 

The Kingdom of God can spring to life anywhere even during a hot breezy day on the golf course with people you just met.

If you’ve ever spent time on the golf course you realize the last thing that, particularly a group of men want to do, is talk about anything significant. The cries of agony and despair are not matters of the world but dubbed chips, missed putts, and errant drives. 

It is a welcome respite from the challenges of life and the green grass, generous sand traps, and majestic trees bring you closer to God’s creation. At least this is the normal manner of things but like that mustard seed that sprouts up and suddenly shoots off in an unexpected direction – the Spirit can work even on the golf course.

I had the tremendous joy of playing in a tournament in Princeton with my brother, Steve, last week. As per usual I set my own personal expectations for my game entirely too high. I have hardly played at all these past four years, and I take the game too seriously. But thankfully the Holy Spirit released me from my sometimes-infantile perspective on what is important.

In this tournament we played six matches with six different groups of people. In one of those pairings, we played against a father and a son. And though it began like all the others with casual informal conversations, talk of our golf game but something happened that resonated so deeply in the depths of my soul that speaks about how the Kingdom of God is growing here at Brick Church.

Once my brother let the cat out of the bag that I was a pastor, both father and the son talked about the church. Neither of them were attenders or would even consider themselves Christians but the more they shared I could tell that not only did they have a deep respect for what the Church does and offers; both of them had a deep spirituality that was very important to who they were.

This is precisely what we have been talking about at Brick Church. How can we be a congregation that maintains its center on our faith in Christ, but does so in such a way that people don’t feel that they have to conform to all of our doctrine, but are welcome to share in our prayers to sing our hymns with us, to enjoy our food and fellowship, and to feel that they are a full and valued and respected member of the community?

Jesus’ words this morning make it clear the growth is not our job. That is the problem with the extremes of the faith.

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” The growth belongs to the Holy Spirit. Our job is to plant it. To respect people’s conscience. The Spirit gives it life.

I believe this is one of the things Christ wants from us more than anything not so much to force people to believe certain things about Him but to share the exact same kind of love that He shared; to be a people and a place that reflects His invitation, “Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and give them rest, rest for their your souls.”

You see I asked the father what I thought was an innocent question when suddenly in his response I realize that there was a soul fracture and weariness in both of their hearts.

The father told me that they had an apartment on the Upper West Side. It was a curious piece of information that I let sit for several holes. Suddenly I became curious why with an apartment on the Upper West Side it didn’t sound like he had ever worked in the city. And so I asked him. 

He paused for a moment and then suddenly his eyes glistened and I knew then that we were going to break a cardinal rule of the golf course and talk about something that really matters.

It turns out it was his other son’s apartment before he had passed away a few years ago. His wife didn’t want to sell it because they could still feel his presence there and could remember him better and find solace and comfort in going there. For the next several holes father and son both shared not only the heartache but a sense of the glory of life, the importance of giving and sharing love which sometimes is only discovered fully through pain. Though they don’t believe all of the same things about Jesus that I do, it seems to me they have the heart of Jesus just right.

And I was given this amazing privilege, as a person of the cloth so to speak – they felt open, sharing the tender parts of who they were. I could see that God had made them these two amazing, and loving, and caring, and respectful people, and moments before I had no idea not only what they had gone through but now I had a glimpse of their true beauty as human beings. 

I know each one of you has a story as a place of pain and it is my hope in my prayer that as a servant of God, as a Church of God, that we can be a bushy and branchy part of the Kingdom that’s open, and welcoming, and as loving as we can possibly be. Amen.

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