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Friday, June 12, 2015

The Kingdom of God is like the worst weed you can imagine!!!

To understand the provocative title of my sermon, we need to understand that the Kingdom of God is completely different from any other kingdom on earth and is different from any kingdom that you and I could ever think of. Although he uses these words in a different context, when Paul writes that "The old has gone, the new is here!"  (2Cor5:17), he is speaking to the reality that the Kingdom of God on earth is radically different to any other kingdom and those who live in God's Kingdom now, on earth, are a radically different people. God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are God's ways our ways ... Isaiah 55:8-9 ... which means that when we become God's people through Christ and living in the power of the Holy Spirit our thoughts are no longer like the thoughts of the people around us and our ways are no longer like the ways of the world. We are radically different ... "The old has gone, the new is here!"


This radically different way of thinking and doing things is revealed in our Old Testament reading where Samuel, 1000 years before Jesus, gathered the family of Jesse for a sacrifice at which he would anoint one of them, the one whom God would name to him, as the next king. Here’s the key phrase for us as disciples of Jesus engaging our ministries: “the one whom God would name to him.” When, years before, Samuel introduced Saul as the anointed king, Saul was literally head and shoulders above the others (I Samuel 10:24). He literally “stood out.” It was obvious from his appearance that he was intended to be “over” the tribes of Israel. Saul also looked the part and was just the type of person the people wanted as their king. He was a disaster as king of Israel. When we think the way of the world in God's kingdom, disaster and mess are the result. Now it's time to put things right and choose the type of person God wants. It wasn’t the oldest, or the tallest, or any other dominant physical characteristic that would mark the one God would name. God looks on the heart. This time would not be anything like the last time. It was God’s naming and Samuel’s readiness to listen for it that would mark the right way to go. God's ways are not our ways and we are called to make God's ways our ways.

Our two parables take this truth to the boundaries of ridiculous, by human standards. They are part of the extended narrative of the parable of the sower in Mark’s Gospel which we looked at last week, and the two parables we hear today are offered from a boat at the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  

Both are parables in the truest sense. They mess with our usual ways of thinking about things and leave us perplexed, scratching our heads, if we hear them carefully and take them seriously. They remind us that God's ways are not like our ways and they call us to think the way God does.

The first of these is sometimes called “the seed growing secretly.”

 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.

The usual message that comes out of such a title seems to be that God will take care of the growth of God’s kingdom and bring about the harvest in due season. While that is not an entirely inaccurate reading, the text itself is rather more shocking than that, at least to its first hearers.

Simply put, almost no one would think about a kingdom as being merely “scattered” like seed on the ground. Kingdoms don’t “just happen.” Kingdoms are exercises in sustained organization and all kinds of human effort. When we think of God as King, we tend to translate the idea of God’s kingship looking like the kingships of the world—sustained and growing by means of force, planning, and diligent effort.

Yet here, Jesus says God’s kingdom is nothing like that. It is planted. It grows organically. Fruit emerges. There is little planning or effort we do or even God does to bring about its result—an inevitable and abundant harvest. What may seem random, hidden in the earth, and even of little significance ends up becoming sustenance for God’s new world.
Here is a deep lesson for disciples of Jesus to learn. We do not build God’s kingdom. At most, we scatter its seeds, just as Jesus is doing from the boat calling back to the folks on land. Then we watch and bear witness to what God does with it over time. Whenever harvest comes, we go in and reap. The kingdom, like the random seeds, has its own logic for growth and fruitfulness.

The second parable is even more bizarre.

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.

It was odd enough for Jesus to compare the kingdom of God with a crop from seeds randomly scattered. Now he compares it with the seed of mustard weed, which, in fact, no one would try to plant at all. Mustard weed was the khakibos of Israel at the time of Jesus.
Khaki bos (Stinking Roger, Tagetes minuta), for those who don't know, is an invasive common weed introduced to South Africa by the British who imported horses and particularly their hay from Australia and New Zealand which had the khaki bos sprigs and seeds within the hay bales. The ‘khaki’ reference came from the name given to the plant by the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War, khaki being the colour worn by the British troops eventually once they realised that wearing red coats in the African bush wasn’t conducive to survival during the War. According to Wikipedia, it is still a much maligned plant as it has killed off most of the indigenous bush veld in large tracts of Southern Africa.
In this parable, Jesus is referring to the mustard which grew wild, taking over and sometimes choking out the crops the farmers did want to plant. Its seeds were spread by the birds who ate them and deposited them from field to field. Farmers would do their best to get rid of it from their fields, but the more mustard weeds, the more birds would come by; and the more birds, the more mustard seed would be spread. Jesus says, the kingdom of God is just like this. What does He mean???
A huge nuisance?
An interrupter and interferer with what we actually want?
Reproducing and multiplying despite our best efforts to stop it?

All these and worse, doing exactly what mustard weed does (but not really khakibos) ... attracting the “birds of the air” which in Scripture is often a metaphor for people “not like us,” ...  to nest in its branches (you might remember the picture I used two weeks ago when I suggested the church is meant to be like a salad which contains many different ingredients). And of course, when the birds do that, they eat the seed and spread it even more.

Bad enough that the kingdom of God seems to grow in ways we can’t predict or understand. But now Jesus teaches the crowds and his disciples that God’s kingdom happens in ways that most of Jesus’ own contemporaries, including his disciples, and maybe including some of us, if we hear him as they did, may only experience with some feeling of disgust.

Messy, noisy, disliked, irritating, taking over, unstoppable as mustard weed (or khakibos): This is what the kingdom of God is like. No fancy parades or “mission accomplished” banners unfurled. Just ongoing persistent undercurrents that transform the world.

If we’re to be disciples of Jesus, prophets and proclaimers of this kingdom, we’d better learn to get used to that and so, in following in God's way, have our spiritual senses re-tuned so that that which might normally provoke disgust in others becomes for us the way of justice and joy. We need to become comfortable with the strange ways by which the kingdom is planted and the messy ways by which it spreads.

And this has some implications for what it is we think we’re trying to build or accomplish in our ministries in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. We may be more scatterers than establishers. Our work may be more to send out some kind of seed that may grow later than “nail down a solution” that “fixes” a particular problem. And our work may best be evaluated by what it subverts, and by mess and noise than by longevity or perfection.

So, be encouraged if your best attempts at bringing God's kingdom to bare in your home, marriage, school, workplace, in your church and in your nation ... be encouraged if your best attempts are being met with derision or disgust or rejection, as if you are a stinking khakibos.Be encouraged if, like Samuel, God is leading you to make a decision or choice that makes no sense to anyone else. Remain faithful, continue sowing where you are, continue to try and think and act as God does ... the harvest will come.

Read here for A Closer Look at the Mustard Seed

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