Text: Matthew 13: 1-9, 31-32
Have you heard about the Governor’s race in Texas? Rick Perry, the sitting Governor, ran against a host of people including Kinky Friedman. Kinky is a singer-song-writer from Austin whose claim to fame is a song parody which is not appropriate to mention from the pulpit. He has quite a cult following. Only in the Republic of Texas does one garner such attention for a political campaign. Mr. Friedman’s personal heros are Arnold Schwarzenneger and Jesse Ventura. But I digress.
It seems that on the campaign trail, Governor Perry went to a non-denomational church in San Antonio where the preacher stated, “if you don’t know Jesus, you are going to hell.” When asked by an Austin American Statesman newspaper reporter afterwards if he believed such a statement Perry admitted that his denomination’s views supported such a statement. Needless to say, it created quite a stir among Texas voters who felt that their Governor was close minded, judgmental and condemning of those from other faith perspectives. By the way, Gov. Perry grew up Methodist. In the end, Gov. Perry retained office and the story has dissipated for the most part. Well, almost. The Dallas Morning News’ religious section ran an article detailing the differences among denominational views concerning heaven, hell, grace and condemnation.
We get excited about this topic of salvation. We get fixated on political correctness about what to say about the subject. Who is saved? Who is not? How does one know? Am I? Are you? All great questions that each of us must wrestle with. Just to set the record straight, the Methodist church professes a historic Christian faith in God, incarnate in Jesus Christ for our salvation and ever at work in human history in the Holy Spirit. I firmly believe that it is not up to us to judge or condemn. Let me make one editorial comment, only God knows our hearts and sees our faith. It is not up to me, or you, to decide who is going to heaven. Rather we are called to love God with our heart, mind, strength and soul and our neighbor as ourselves.
I once was part of an Evangelism program that had as its basis of witnessing this question, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” That was a closed-ended question intended to illicit a response from which additional conversation could flow. I always felt a bit uncomfortable with this approach to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is an important question to ask and as I have said before to struggle with in our heart. But in the end, it is selling life insurance. It is protection for the worst case. Is that all we have to offer as followers of Christ? Eternity insurance?
John Wesley said in a sermon on salvation said that “it is not something at a distance; it is a present thing; a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of.” And it is that life lived today that concerns me this day. To focus on heaven alone is an incomplete view God’s ultimate purpose. My reading of the Scriptures lead me to believe that there is much more to this life of salvation than simply a ticket to heaven. Again, don’t get me wrong, it is important, but it is not the entire story.
Jesus used the image of a Kingdom to help the people of his day understand the reason God sent Him. Jesus taught that his mission was to bring about the Kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus’ first ministry related public comments recorded in the gospel of Matthew are contained in NAS Matthew 4:17 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew records that John the Baptist began his ministry the same way in Matt 3:2. Turn from earthly ways and turn to God, for God’s Kingdom is coming near. It is my belief that these are thesis statements for Matthew that the writer seeks to prove throughout the remainder of the gospel narrative. What is this thing referred to as the Kingdom of God?
Matthew 13 is gives us a basis for understanding the kingdom of God . The chapter begins with a familiar scene during the middle of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Multitudes of people are coming out to see Jesus, to hear him teach, and to possibly be healed from some affliction. There are so many at this point that Jesus hops onto a boat and uses it as a pulpit while the masses remain on the shore to listen. As was his custom, he spoke in parables and used everyday examples to illuminate a truth. The truth this day is the Kingdom of Heaven. (The gospel of Matthew uses the phrase Kingdom of Heaven or God 36 times.) Listen closely and we too may get a sense of the truth.
There was a farmer who went out to plant seed. Some fell out of his bag and onto the road. The birds of the air quickly snatched it up and it was gone. Other seed was planted in a patch of ground without much soil, mostly rocks. In this area, the seed quickly popped up and then, because of the lack of a deep root system, dried up in the host sun. Still other seed was planted in the middle of thorns and the thorns did not allow the plant to survive. And finally, some seed fell on good soil and produces a crop, a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.
The Kingdom of God can also be compared to a mustard seed. The smallest of all seeds. An image of insignificance in Jesus’ day and context. Not only was this small seed enough to produce something of worth, it produced something of worth not only for itself, but for the birds of the air it provided shelter.
The Kingdom of God is also like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour, enough to provide bread for 100 people. And gradually, almost imperceptibly, the small amount of leaven worked its way throughout this large amount of flour causing the dough to rise.
You see friends, our heavenly Father, or should I say Farmer, spreads seed over all the earth. In all sorts of times, places, and people. Depending on receptivity and endurance, this seed sprouts and can yield a tremendous amount of harvest. What does God’s seed produce, Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” All available today. We do not have to wait to get to a heavenly home in order to receive and fully experience God’s harvest.
Sure it may seem insignificant now. It may even seem ineffective at times. Farming takes a while to see results. Planting, cultivating, and harvesting does not happen over night. In our microwave, drive-thru, take it home and plug it in culture, the Kingdom of God may just take way too long. We might think we are better off buying a self-help book, or making life-altering changes to our everyday existence. We want to see and experience the dramatic. But that is many times, not, how the Kingdom of God comes. Remember Elijah’s experience with God?
NIV 1 Kings 19:11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
We want quick, tangible, dramatic experiences and we want it on our own terms. Not too uncomfortable. We want control.
Control. The Kingdom of God, once it begins in our life, works in small, almost imperceptible ways. We do not see it coming on, nor control it, then we wake up one morning free from an addiction. Or a troubled relationship is healed. Or a besetting sin is conquered. One thing is for sure, we are no longer in control. And that is the very soil that the Kingdom of God thrives.
Funny thing about this Kingdom of God, God plants the leaven within us and then we in turn after growing in the faith we become the leaven ourselves. We become leaven within our families when difficult times come and a marriage needs reconciling. We become leaven at our offices that brings about kindness and goodness in tense situations when people have competing interests with one another and the organization. We become leaven brining love in our friendships when people fail themselves or fail us. We are, as Brian McClaren states in his book The Secret Message of Jesus, secret agents of the message. God uses us to change the world for good.
Friends, we are a Kingdom people. We are people for eternity, and today. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God near. We are called to continue in His footsteps by entering the kingdom ourselves and helping the Kingdom of God come hear…today. There is no waiting. Eternity is the fruition of a faithful life in Jesus Christ.
The seed has been sewn. The leaven offered this day. It depends on receptivity in order to flourish. In your life, will it simply fall by the roadside and be quickly snatched away? Will it begin but eventually become dry because of a lack of root system? Does the seed of God not stand a chance to take root in your life because it competes against so many things? Or is this the time that you are ready to receive the seed of faith and nurture it and see a harvest in your life?
I will end our time together with this question. “If you were to NOT die today, what or more appropriately “who” will carry you through tomorrow?”
In Joshua 24, Joshua turned to the nation of Israel and asked them to choose. “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve, whether the gods which your father’s served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living;” My prayer is that your answer will be the same as his and their’s, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”