Sunday, July 10, 2011

Latest sermon:Have you seen the Kingdom Tree?

Have you seen the Kingdom Tree?

Greetings on behalf of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where I have recently graduated from.
Greetings on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Synod—my Synod of origin as well as from New Jersey Synod, the Synod I have been assigned to.
(Greetings on behalf of your Pastor Rev. Churchill Wortherly, who has graciously opened up this pulpit to a young upstart like me today. )
And most importantly Greetings and Peace in the name of Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading, from the Gospel according to Matthew, is a curious one. In it, the word of the Kingdom of Heaven is compared with a seed, which is placed in a variety of soil, grows up, and bears fruit.
This is the first time in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life that a parable is used to describe the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now a parable is a simple story told to make a complex point.

For example, in order to express that God’s command to love our neighbor transcends race, ethnicity, and religion, Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan man going out of his way to help a Jewish man—That story is often entitled the Parable of the Good Samaritan. As I said, a parable is simple story to make a complex point.
And when it comes to Parables I have certain convictions about them. I believe parables are to be read in a particular way.
I do not believe parables are to be read as proof texts—that is I think it would be absolutely silly if someone was to decide who is or is not a Christian based on whether they agree, or disagree, with the proposition that a Seed is the same as a Kingdom. I think clinging to a parable and using it to define the totality of one’s belief is to misunderstand why parables are in the Bible and Why Jesus used them.
Because you see, parables are more important than proof texts. Parables are truth texts. Parables are truth texts.
Parables express something that is abstract and out there in a concrete way right here. Parables speak truths into being.
And when a deep truth blossoms forth from our Savior’s lips the raw images he uses cling to our ears, our minds, and our hearts for a very long time. Jesus’s Parables are not to be read—instead they eventually begin to read us.
And so, today I will try to stick closely to the story, and the images, that Jesus uses about the Kingdom of Heaven—because I believe this parable all but preaches itself. Therefore, I would like to ask you an extended question in the form of a sermon—this question/sermon/subject is “Have you seen the kingdom tree?” “Have you seen the kingdom tree?”
Let us pray:
Words of my lips

Have you seen the kingdom seed?
Have you seen it? So small, so unexpected? This seed of the Kingdom.
It is a seed made from that, which is called the least.
It is a seed, like the very smallest of seeds—the Mustard Seed.
It is so small it is almost hidden—like a treasure buried deeply beneath the soil waiting to be discovered.
It is so small it is almost invisible—invisible like fish hiding in the deepest depths of the sea.

Have you seen it—so strange a seed! Have you seen the Kingdom seed?
Have you seen it hidden amongst the poor, the sad, the meek, those who hunger and those who thirst for righteousness?
Have you seen it amongst the merciful and the persecuted?
Have you heard it hidden in the quiet heart of the peacemakers?
Have you seen it? It is such an odd seed—a seed sampled and savored by tax collectors, the destitute, and the prostitute?
Have you seen it in the hands of children toddling toward our Savior?
Have you seen it sought after like a single small sheep alone separated from the other 99, found by the Good Shepherd?
Have you seen it in the words of a Cannanite woman asking Jesus to heal her child?
Have you seen it buried—like Jonah—in the belly of a big fish and like Christ’s body, in the heart of the earth—for three days.
Have you seen the kingdom seed? It is so small, so unexpected.
Have you seen the Path its on?
Have you seen the path crowded by birds—cawing and clawing and crowing—gulping and gasping—as they swallow up the seeds?
Have you seen the Kingdom of Heaven—the Kingdom of God—trampled on the path by birds who practice their piety to be seen.
Those religious for the sake of men, not God.
Have you seen them lock out the little ones from the Kingdom in the name of the kingdom?
Have you seen the first firsted and the last lasted—on the Path?
Have you seen those birds swallow seeds because they have no clue that they can grow into plants bearing life-giving fruit? Birds so captivated by the shell of a seed that they have become captive to sin.
Have you seen a gaggle of birds become like a brood of vipers—dangerous because of the poison locked within their fangs—a sort of stultifying, intoxicating, drug—making the bitten believe that they have it all right—that the Kingdom of God—the Kingdom of Heaven—is nothing more than a seed—nothing more than that which they have perceived—a white washed tomb.
Have you seen the Path?

Have you seen the Rocky Ground?
Have you seen the seeds these—in their infancy—poke out and stretch their yawning arms to the sun—proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven is near—only to be faced with hard soil and strength-sapping sun—heat withering the young branches of the Kingdom.
Have you seen the roots of the Kingdom try to push down deep—but fail? Have you seen unnourished and undernourished versions and visions of the Kingdom continue go unfed? Have you seen Godly ideas wither on the vine?
Have you seen a sapling persecuted?
Have you seen it in shock as it leaves everything for the Kingdom of God?
Have you seen it at that frightened and fragile ah-ha-moment when it realizes this-faith-thing is for-real-for-real!
Have you seen it cry out with full meaning and voice—and full need, to that great and loving Father, the words, “Thy Kingdom Come!”
Have you seen a sapling flogged, crucified, and killed?
Have you seen the Rocky Ground?

Have you seen the Choking Thorns?
Have you seen those same seeds—saplings—young trees—resting comfortably upon an unnatural throne—a throne of thorns.
Those same seeds saying—not praying—the words “Thy Kingdom Come” and not meaning it.
Have you seen the Kingdom growing complacent—its love growing cold—because it just got tired?
Have you seen it shrug its plant shoulders, hearing the words, “Neither a rich man nor a camel will make it through the eye of a needle.”
Have you seen a sapling unable to keep awake—unable to keep its lamp lit?
Have you seen a sapling swept away with the overabundance of worries of the world?
Have you seen the Sapling of the Kingdom trust its house to a foundation of sand?
Have you seen the Choking Thorns?

Have you seen the Kingdom Tree?
Have you seen it! Oh how it has grown!
Like some child—groaning through a massive growth spurt—it is small no more.
From the smallest seed the largest tree—with branches reaching far and wide so that all may rest in its shade.
Have you seen it—a single gift of loaves and fishes expanding to feed a field of famished folk.
In the Kingdom Tree the last have become first!
In the Kingdom Tree kingdom-swallowing-birds can come to be redeemed.
The Kingdom Tree clapping its hands in happiness at the goodness of God.
Have you seen the Kingdom Tree? Have you seen that what was hidden has been revealed!
Like Jonah it has been spewed out in full form to forgive the forsaken.
Like Jesus’ body it rises fully and beautifully!
Have you seen the Kingdom Tree?

Have you seen the Kingdom’s fruit?
The fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven? There is so much of it—100 fold here, 60 fold there, 30 fold everywhere.
The blind have seen it when they receive sight and the deaf can hear the wind blow against its bow when they regain their hearing.
The lame lean against its trunk as they take their first fresh steps. The lepers are touched by it when they are cleansed.
The hungry—oh how the hungry feast like the patriarchs and matriarchs of old upon this nourishing fruit!
The Kingdom fruit is there when the dead are raised and when the poor hear good news.
The Kingdom fruit is Spirit.
The Kingdom fruit is leaving with joy and coming back in peace.
It is the pathway becoming straight.
It is the hard ground becoming good soil.
It is thorns becoming cypress, and briers becoming myrtle.
Taste the Kingdom fruit—know that the kingdom is near.

Have you seen the seed and its struggles, the tree and its fruit?
Have you seen the Kingdom Tree?