June 16: The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for June 16, 2024 was preached in response to Mark 4:26-34 based on the manuscript below.

In the name of God
in whom we live and move
and have our being.
As we settle in to the Season after Pentecost
Ordinary Time,
where the Sundays are ordinal
the nth Sunday after Pentecost
we’re moving into a mostly continuous
reading of Mark’s gospel.
I’ll change the banners this week.
Today we have two illustrations
for the world Jesus has come to usher in.
“The kingdom of God is as if…
With what can we compare the kingdom of God?”
As we’re less than two weeks away
from the first presidential debate
I want us to really pay attention
to what Mark is telling us.
I won’t be here
for most of the lead up to the election
but want to invite you
to listen to Mark (and John)
as they talk about
God’s reign
the place where we have our citizenship
over the next few months.

We have the second and third parables today
about seeds.
The first is Mark’s parable of the sower
which we don’t hear this year.
Then we have the parable of a seed itself
and then of the mustard seed.
These are things to which Jesus compares
God’s reign,
where all has been made well.
The reign of heaven
is like a seed growing underground
doing its thing
while the planter continues their life.
Jesus attributes this to the work of the earth
and this can be understood
to be God’s work
in the world around us.
There’s no irrigation or fertilizer
or biodynamic protocol
mentioned in this parable.

The reign of heaven
is like a mustard seed.
Extremely small
and grows into and like a weed.
Jesus uses irony here
because mustard doesn’t
grow into shrubs or trees
big enough for birds to land in
God’s reign, though,
grows extensively
but stays lowly
and in service to those
elevating those
whom the world has ignored and forgotten.

What does it mean
to have our citizenship
in the reign of heaven?
Where is our identity?
That’s what I want us to think about
as this year progresses to November.
I’m preaching to myself beloved,
and I know it,
but how do we maintain our energies
for what we perceive as a better world
while remembering that God is in control
and in the fullness of time
all shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things
shall be exceedingly well?
I don’t think we’re one party at prayer.
That’s not my concern,
I know it’s not true
from my conversations with you.
I know how much our faiths motivate our actions
rather than party platforms
being how we interpret the ethics of Jesus.
I hear some of you emphasizing
“your kingdom come,
your will be done.”

At Doug Sluis’s recommendation,
I’m currently reading Tim Alberta’s
The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory:
American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism.
I’m honestly learning a lot!
I’m also thinking about
the concerns I hear you express
about how different we are
and the twisting of the gospel
to be a cudgel for worldly power.
It’s a far cry
from a seed
mysteriously growing underground
or a tiny seed
growing like the weed it is.
One of the things Alberta says is,
“Perfection is not our mandate.
the process by which sinners
become more and more like Christ,
is what God demands of us.
“And what that process requires,
most fundamentally,
is the rejection
of one’s worldly identity.”

How good is that news!?
How hard is that in practice!
Particularly because it doesn’t mean
ignoring the world around us
and letting it burn
or letting those on the margins suffer
because God will fix it eventually.
We keep our eyes
on the fulfillment of the reign of heaven
while not ignoring Jesus’s calls
to live a certain way
loving our neighbors
and caring for those on the margins
working systemic change
and an approximation of justice.
As we’ve known our lives to be changed
by being freed from being stuck in our identities here
claiming our citizenships in heaven,
that necessitates talking about it.
The seeds of the kingdom of heaven
are in our hearts as Jesus changes us.
Acting as God’s agents
we share and plant those seeds too
letting God to the work of growing them
into a field of mustard
or ripe heads of grain.
Through Jesus’ defeat of the grave,
we’re able to let go of our fears
without giving up on the world around us
or giving up at all.
We’re able to know that death has been defeated
and the arc of God’s moral universe
is much longer than our lives on this earth.

It’s a tough balance
to be in the world
but not of it.
Paul writes about this
in his letter to the Corinthians today.
“For we walk by faith,
not by sight” he says.
In our fears and anxieties
there’s hope.
In our compassion for those
who may be left behind,
we need not be discouraged.
“For the love of Christ urges us on,
because we are convinced
that one has died for all;
therefore all have died.
And he died for all,
so that those who live
might live no longer for themselves,
but for him who died
and was raised for them.”

We have good news.
Letting go without giving up
is what Jesus asks us to step in to
and what Paul urges the Corinthians to do.
With or without a dramatic conversion experience,
“if anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!”
When we come out of the water
and are joined to Christ and one another
week by week at this table
the old has gone
and the new has come.
Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and on those in the tombs
bestowing life.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand
and waiting to be seen and shared.

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