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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost 6/14

          “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God has come near.  To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.”  The kingdom of God was what Jesus was selling and he no doubt knew that he had a lot of potential buyers because many of those who listened to him weren’t crazy about the current regime.  If Jesus was promoting a new kingdom that meant that the present kingdom would have to end and be displaced and there were lots of people ready to hear more about that. 

In the early chapters of his gospel Mark writes about people crowding around Jesus in open spaces and confined spaces, in the city, by the sea out in the desert, it doesn’t matter; wherever Jesus goes the crowds follow and find him because they want to know more.  A lot of them were looking for healing too, that was part of the attraction; but Jesus is more than just the great physician here; his healings were attached to his preaching about the kingdom and for people tired of being under the thumb of the Roman Empire, that was an appealing message.

          The healings were great, but at some point the crowds had to start asking, “What about the kingdom?” because the evidence around them was that nothing was changing.  If they were looking for Rome’s authority to be lifted, for more evidence of righteousness and less of evil, if they were hoping for material blessings to come their way, the crowds were disappointed because it wasn’t happening, not on any large scale anyway…

…and that put them in just about the same place in which the people Mark wrote for some 40 years later found themselves, except with the passage of time there was increasing impatience concerning the lack of change.  40 years later there were also other voices saying it was time to take matters in hand and force the issue through active rebellion and military action.  They were saying that Jesus and his kingdom and his way were not the answer and so the people were being pulled in different directions…  

… and that put them in just about the same place in which we find ourselves, not worried about the oppression of Rome anymore, but having experienced an even greater passage of time, still troubled by the presence of evil and violence and injustice in the world, still praying for peace on earth good will toward all but it never seems to come, wondering why bad things still happen to good people.  What about the kingdom?  A lot of time has passed and you could say that it’s not much more evident now than it was to those who first heard Jesus.  It’s no wonder a lot of people are pretty indifferent to the message of Jesus, indifferent to involvement in church, indifferent or even hostile to religion of any kind because it doesn’t seem to make much difference or some would say the difference it does make causes more harm than good.  Then you realize that these same concerns have been out there for a long time. 

          It is likely that when Mark wrote his gospel he was writing for a somewhat disenchanted community of people who were not sure which way they should go, tempted as they were by other voices that seemed to promise more.  What Mark chose to do in response to this disenchantment was to tell the story of Jesus.  Stories about Jesus had to have been out there, many of them no doubt well known, but Mark was the first one to write them down and put some form to them and part of what he did was to include not just stories about Jesus, but also some of the stories Jesus himself told. 

Paul’s letters are the earliest writings we have about Jesus, all his letters were written before Mark wrote, but Paul chose a different way to get the message across; he told very little of the story of Jesus, maybe assuming people already knew it; instead he chose to get more into what it all meant.  Mark on the other hand, knowing the power stories have, figured that even if this story was known, the best way to reinforce the message of Jesus was simply to tell it again and to let the story and the words of Jesus work on the people.   

Jesus told stories too, he knew how effective they were; he told parables, not to provide hard answers to the questions and concerns of his audience, he rarely if ever did that, but Jesus told parables to help the people engage imaginatively with the vision of the world being created through him, a vision that provides hope that stands in contrast to what seem to be unchanging realities.  That hope was and still is at the heart of Jesus’ life and teaching.    

The two little parables today both address anxiety and impatience being experienced because of the apparent failure of the kingdom of God to replace the old order.    We might tend to think that anxiety is a modern problem in a world of instant gratification, but apparently not.  It’s true that we do tend to want it now and we do expect instant results and we do get anxious when it doesn’t happen.  We want results and we want them now so  coaches get fired when they don’t win right away; all the hype about what Obama had or had not accomplished after only a hundred days is another example.   

But this isn’t new.  In Jesus’ day there were those who were anxious to see more evidence of his new kingdom, the same was true when Mark wrote his gospel and it’s still true.  Some of the anxiety has to do with impatience with God, but underlying it can be the desire for more control, to know what we can do to make it happen faster because we think we know better than God how things should be going.

But Jesus told these two parables.  Like all parables they can be looked at from a variety of angles but these two have a couple of things in common.  First of all they both describe or imply a process of growth that takes time.  You don’t go immediately from seed to ripe grain ready for harvest.  You don’t go immediately from tiny mustard seed to the greatest of all shrubs.  Regardless of what you do, the growth will happen in stages and you can’t skip a stage, and it will take time, time that you can’t rush, time that doesn’t move faster because of your effort or your anxiety.

The other thing that both parables do is to provide a vision of what the end result looks like.  Jesus creates an image of the grain ready for harvest and you can see it, a field of grain waving in the breeze, the farmer coming with his sickle.  He creates an image of a mustard tree with birds nesting in the branches and you can see it, birds darting in and out of a lush tree.  Jesus doesn’t just describe a process, he creates a vision of what things will finally look like.

I remember going to a basketball coaches clinic once and someone, I can’t remember who, was talking about teaching players how to improve their shooting and he said the first thing he did, especially with players that weren’t very good shooters, was to have them go to the foul line or someplace they were likely to take a shot, and stand there, maybe holding a ball, maybe not, and just look at the basket and visualize the ball going through the net.  It sounded silly to me but the theory was, if you can’t visualize it, it’s not going to happen.

To be sure it does take more than standing there visualizing the ball going through the net; I had a lot of players that could do that who still couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean if they were standing on the beach.  Still, it’s true that if you can’t visualize the end, if you can’t visualize the kingdom, you’re not going to recognize it anyway…so Jesus created images.

…and he reminds us that you also have to trust in the process.  As Jesus addressed anxiety in these parables, I think that’s a big part of what he was getting at.  In him the kingdom had come near.  It was and it still is revealed all around us, all the time in all kinds of ways, sometimes under the radar because good news doesn’t always make the news.  But we can’t see it when we become anxious and weary thinking that we can’t trust God, thinking that the process isn’t working, even thinking that we can take the place of the God who creates the vision, and brings about the growth and guarantees the result.  Anxiety blocks our vision and it prevents us from sleeping and rising, night and day so that rested, trusting that God is in control, we can see the images and the evidence of the kingdom.

          Jesus told stories; Mark told stories about Jesus, and we keep telling them over and over again because they do provide images and the images provide hope and hope is what we need to see that what seem to be unchanging realities aren’t so unchanging after all.  We have hope, and so we’ll keep telling the stories, because in Jesus, the kingdom has come near.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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