Discerning and Participating in the Kingdom of God

The Rev. Robert P. Travis 3. Pentecost Sunday Sermon  –8 and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI RCL Proper 6 Year B 6/13/2021

Scripture Text: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Psalm 20, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17, Mark 4:26-34

Sermon Text:

Do you know why many conservative, evangelical Christians in this country support the nation of Israel over Palestine in the current long standing conflict over there?

For some, it is actually because they believe that the nation of Israel must be strong and in full control of Jerusalem, in order for Armageddon to be accomplished according to the book of Revelation.

In other words, they think that if God’s purpose for the end times is expressed in Revelation, then we can make that happen by making sure Israel is strong and Palestine not.

 

There are actually people trying to breed a spotless red heifer in order to make its sacrifice the consecration of the 3rd Temple in Jerusalem, because Numbers 19 requires this sacrifice, and the existence of the third temple is part of the prophesy of the return of the Messiah. “Clyde Lott, a US cattle breeder, is hoping to hurry along the Second Coming by breeding that perfect red heifer. With the support of the Temple Institute (an organization dedicated to restoring the world to the times, values, and animal sacrifices of the Old Testament), the Evangelical preacher has been breeding his cattle since the early 1990s, hoping for the genetic anomaly of a pure red heifer.”[1]

 

But if you think those things are ridiculous, we also struggle with trying to make God’s kingdom come the way we want it to.

I for one, as you know believe in the Great Commission, that our mission in the church is to go to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel, and only when everyone has been given the chance to hear about Jesus, will that mission be completed. It’s pretty easy to go from there to believing that, If we can just reach all the people in the world, we can somehow force Jesus to come back.

Because we’ve done what he asked us to do.

 

And there are plenty of Episcopalians. Who believe that if we could just organize ourselves well enough, be smart enough and get enough people involved, we could bring God’s Kingdom on earth by eradicating poverty And/or homelessness, hunger or whatever other social issue that plagues our country.

 

This sermon today isn’t even taking into consideration the people who are not followers of God, and whose motivations for making things better are different or secular, however magnanimous they may be.

This is really about us. Us as Christians.

We’ve heard Jesus proclaim the Kingdom of God.

That was one of the major aspects of his teaching that is repeated in so many places in the gospel, and therefore gets repeated year after year in our church.

 

What is the Kingdom of God and how can we be a part of it. We certainly see how The Kingdom of God is a great ideal. And many of us as we’ve read the Gospels, understand how wonderful it would be if the Kingdom of God would just happen.

And so knowing that we actually have something to offer, and wanting to help God, it’s our natural inclination to want to bring about the Kingdom.

In a sense, desiring that is what makes a person a believer, one who believes in God not for personal benefit but because one understands that this is for everyone and God really does want to make all things right.

Yet what Jesus is teaching us today in the gospel, is that we are not the ones who have the power to make the Kingdom of God happen.

 

The story of Samuel choosing the new king who would  succeed Saul from our previous week’s Old Testament lesson, is a good example of how we get it wrong. The prophet Samuel was faithfully following God. He even brought a heifer as God asked for the sacrifice! And he asked God to tell him how. Or who rather was the person who he should anoint as the next king. When eliab passed in front of him he thought truly this is the one or he was tall and strong and look like the kind of person that Samuel imagined would be a good king. And he went through seven of Jesse’s sons,

each time asking the Lord if this was the one, and each time, we presume, imagining that that one had the characteristics that would make a good king. But the Lord showed him that God was not looking at their outward appearances or anything that human beings could sense but was looking at the heart, something Samuel could not see with his own eyes.

But he needed to discern and discernment means listening to God and not judging solely based on our own reason.

 

The senior wardens of our partnership parishes and I have been discussing discernment over the past couple months and trying to discern what new direction God might be inviting our churches in in this new season as we emerge from the COVID pandemic. The book we’re looking at, you may have heard has the humorous title “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going” because that’s the situation we find ourselves in, not really knowing.

The good news is God understands that, that’s the situation we of necessity find ourselves in with respect to God. And God promises that she will be with us and help us to discern how we can be a part of the Kingdom of God.

 

The gospel message today is Jesus presenting us with that understanding of the Kingdom as something we can discern and participate in but not something that we can control or make happen. Note how he says the Kingdom of God is as if a person, scattering the seed on the ground, goes away and returns seeing that it has sprouted and grown but he does not know how. This is a familiar metaphor for us. A child can plant seeds and be shown that they grow but it would take a rather large amount of study of biology to begin to understand how those seeds grow. Yet even that child, without that knowledge of how it happens or what the greater purpose is, can be a part of those seeds growing. Jesus says the earth produces of itself and the analogy is that the Kingdom of God comes from God the Kingdom of God is produced of itself. We can participate in it but we can make it happen and we certainly can’t decide in what way it should happen or at what time it should happen.

The church has made this mistake over and over again, and sometimes with disastrous effects. When we are so sure of ourselves that we think we can decide what is the right idea of the Kingdom we can do things that are directly opposed to the Kingdom.  One of the popes in the Middle Ages, when asked what to do with a group of people many considered heretical, in other words, opposed to the Kingdom of God. He was asked how to determine which of the group of people were of the true faith and which ones were destroying the faith with their beliefs. Recognizing that he couldn’t really perceive the truth, he actually said “Kill them all. let God sort it out!” That’s an example of how bad it can be when we take it upon ourselves to make our idea of the Kingdom of God happen. We’re prone to make rash decisions that do exactly the opposite of the Kingdom of God.

But Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God has come near, and it is powerful and growing like a mustard seed into a big bush. We want to be a part of it, even though we know we can’t control it. How do we discern like Samuel did?

Samuel, remember, when he was a young boy in the house of Eli, heard the Lord and didn’t know it was God calling him. He was taught to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Bishop Knisely in his sermon for this weekend made this analogy that I think is exactly on point. He said described it being like when his father was mowing the lawn and he as a little boy wanted to help out.  I immediately identified with that, when my son was a little boy, hello I would be outside mowing the lawn he would get out his little plastic lawnmower and try to mow alongside me because he wanted to be a big boy and help and I would say to him if you really want to help come over here away from where I’m mowing and pick these weeds that way he could be safe and he could actually help with something that I wanted to get done. but he had to listen to me in order to find out how he could participate. And then when I would finish with the mowing and he would have done his part of the weeding, I would say “do you wanna come for a ride” and he would of course say “yes!” Then I would put him on my lap, hold him close, and we would ride around the lawn on the lawn mower with much excitement for my little boy.

 

The Kingdom of God if I understand it right is like that we can’t make it happen we can’t even determine exactly what needs to be done and when but we can participate if we ask God what God wants us to do and then we can have the joy of being a part of it. And in the church the best part about that is discerning together what we can do as a group, to participate in the Kingdom.

 

I invite you to ask the Lord yourselves and share with the leadership of this church what you hear God saying so that we can participate together and what the Kingdom of God is becoming right here, right now.

 

 

 

 

Amen

[1] The Rancher Trying To Kick-Start The End Times With A Red Heifer – KnowledgeNuts

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details