The Kingdom of God

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Mark 4:26-34
SMAS
(17-6-12)

Jack brought some seeds home from market that didn't look much. His mother says they can never live off of them and in anger throws them out of the window. She sends Jack to bed. In the morning he awakes to discover the seeds have sprouted into a beanstalk that goes way up to the heavens.

A fairy story which might well have been designed to teach a point or two but I doubt it would have transformed anyone’s life. Jesus’ parables were designed to teach AND to transform hearer’s lives. Ironically these parables are like seeds themselves, sown into our lives, they may sprout and grow or they may not. Whether they do or not is determined by the type of soil they land on.

Just before today’s passages Jesus had been teaching through a more well known parable, that of the sower scattering seed which landed on different soils. It explains that some seed will fall on deaf ears and into rocks and among thorns and will not be fruitful. In other words, God’s Word, has to be received into the right soil.
If that happens today’s parables show that the smallest of seeds can grow into something that is truly enormous. The Kingdom of God.

You might have always assumed the Kingdom of God is what happens when we die. A wonderful place where all wrongs are put right and there’s peace and rest for evermore. In part this is true, but only in part because the important thing about the kingdom of God is that it starts now.  Right now: this very minute. Perhaps even more surprisingly it starts here: in this building, in Willingham. The kingdom of God is not describing a physical place. It is what happens when we put God in charge, when we make him king of our lives. 

The Kingdom of God is not describing an actual time. It’s best described by the phrase ‘the now and not yet’. Matthew, Mark and Luke all use the phrase ‘Kingdom of God’. John’s Gospel doesn’t, he uses ‘Eternal Life’. Both phrases, ‘Eternal Life’ and ‘Kingdom of God’ are interchangeable. They both talk about living under God’s rule from the moment we open up the soil of our heart to receive Him, and then continuing beyond the day our physical heart stops beating forever. A present reality and a future manifestation.

Jesus taught us to pray for the coming of His kingdom. A place where His will is done and not ours. Making God king of our life means that God comes first and everything else fits in, under and around that. I wonder how well you feel that describes your life? Is it usually more a question of God having
to fit in, under and around all of the other priorities in our lives?

There’s a difficulty in not being able to touch and see the kingdom of God. No borders. No passports. Our role is to find out what God’s doing and join in. The kingdom of God is subtle which is why Jesus teaches in parables: trying to show something that’s abstract in concrete terms. Rather like poetry, music or art it can transport us to a different place, and suddenly we are in the very presence of God. Not a physical place but a spiritual realm where God rules. If God rules your heart, then that’s where you find the kingdom of God, in your heart.

The kingdom of God grows secretly, like a tiny seed in the soil.
Jesus teaches that it starts small but will triumph over the world. Helmut Thielicke, a German theologian, was removed from his university post just before WWII. Known to be an outspoken critic of Hitler, he was sent to a small town with instructions to stay there. Thielicke began pastoring a small church in the town and continued throughout the war. Soon, he decided to have his first midweek Bible study. He held high hopes for making an impact in the church, but only 3 people came to his Bible study: 2 elderly ladies and an elderly man. Outside the church he could hear the marching of the battalions of Hitler’s youth who’d sworn their allegiance the 3rd Reich. In that moment he wondered at the future of the Christian faith, as it seemed that the faith was dying while the Hitler war machine was growing stronger every day.

Was it really true that the kingdoms of this world will one day become the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah? Then Pastor Thielicke thought the story of the mustard seed that grew into a tree. It gave him encouragement and hope, and later, of course it was to Hitler’s kingdom that fell, not God’s.

The kingdom that started out in a stable in Bethlehem, will one day rule the world. One day, like Jack, we’ll awake and see the enormity of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus comes to reign in glory the Kingdom will be a physical reality

Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain hope in the coming of the Kingdom. The power of evil in the world can seem overpowering. But it helps to know that the Kingdom is not like the world which prides itself on being big and successful, important and visible.

Think, for example of the Stock Exchange. It opens each day with a frenzy of noisy and important sounding activity. Now think of a field of growing wheat – you can’t hear a thing. Jesus who is king of this kingdom says ‘Come to me and I will give you rest’. Mostly, people don’t want quiet invitations to rest. They want powerful and exciting promises of success. But Jesus said this is not how you get into His kingdom.

Jesus also said: 'Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.'

To Jesus’ audience it was a mystery like life and growth in plants they didn’t understand. The seed grows and sprouts to eternal life? With benefit of hindsight we know that Jesus was laid to earth and then rose. But when God’s saving plan rose from the tomb it was an enormous surprise to Jesus’ disciples.

Thinking of the fruit makes us realise that of course, grain is sown for a harvest.  One day God is going to surprise us all.  There will be a harvest. Then, in goes the sickle because the harvest has come. And the sickle stands not only for cutting the grain - but for also for a time of judgement.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn; he came to save. It was not the wrath of God which sent Jesus to us; it was his love. Yet the coming of Jesus inevitably involves judgement. By our attitude to Jesus we show what we are and we therefore judge ourselves. Jesus came in love, yet his coming is a judgement.

Jesus said that at the last day, the words which these people had heard would be their judges. That’s one of the great truths of life. We cannot be blamed for not knowing.

But if we know and ignore it our condemnation is all the more serious. Every true and challenging thing we have heard, every opportunity we’ve had to respond to that truth, will in the end be a witness against us. If we hear and fail to take heed - then our lives will be held up at the last judgement to witness against us.

This is hard to hear. But Jesus often speaks of judgement and yet it’s rarely spoken of. So, today, listen to what He says. Remember that the word of God has to be heard, has to be received, and then let God do the work in your hearts. And he will. Lives are changed when we come into contact with Jesus. I most certainly wouldn’t be here unless that were true.

The Lord’s prayer end’s ‘Thine is, the kingdom. God’s kingdom is not the product of our effort. God brings his plan to fruition in his own way: our activity is allowing him to take full charge.

A drought once threatened some crops. One hot, dry Sunday, the parson told his congregation, "There isn’t anything that will save us except to pray for rain. Go home, pray, believe, and come back next Sunday ready to thank God for sending rain." The people did as they were told and returned to church next Sunday. As soon as the parson saw them, he was furious. "We can’t worship today. You do not yet believe,". They protested, "but we prayed, and we do believe." "Believe?" he replied. "Then where are your umbrellas?"

We are called to have faith that God is the ruler of His kingdom, faith that God is working even when we cannot see Him, even when we have lost sight of Him or see no answer from Him. We must believe He is still ruling, He is still in charge.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, began her orphanage with such a conviction. She told her superiors, "I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage." A dream and three pennies represented resources as small as a mustard seed. "Mother Teresa," her superiors chided gently, "you cannot build an orphanage with three pennies...with three pennies you can't do anything." "I know," she said, smiling, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything."