Monday, July 17, 2017

Next Sunday's Sermon

Become Children of the Kingdom
July 23rd, 2017
Margie Miller

Today’s sermon topic is a great challenge to us all.  It asks us to become children of the “kingdom”.  Which kingdom is this challenge all about? In today’s world, we speak of Empires and Democracies instead of kingdoms. The people Jesus dealt with were even living under the domination of the Roman Empire….not an actual kingdom. 

Most of us are aware that Jesus spent his entire ministry challenging those he came in contact with to be able to see God’s kingdom and be willing to be a part of it. On several occasions he told his disciples that the kingdom of God already existed… even in their day.  That must have been difficult for them to even imagine. After all they were living under Roman domination and living hand to mouth because of the taxes the Romans assessed against them. 

But he demonstrated what would be necessary for them to be a part of God’s kingdom. He healed the ill and accepted the unacceptable in that society unconditionally. He welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes, women, and children. Tax collectors were especially hated in that society. They not only collected taxes for the Romans and the Temple but took enough for their own use. They were considered collaborators. 
Prostitutes were considered the dregs of their society. They used their bodies to make enough money to live on but they were despised.  In that society, if a woman was divorced by her husband, no other man wanted her. Women did not have the right to divorce their husbands. Men could discard any woman they were tired of without any penalty.  All women had few options in those circumstances. They and children were considered men’s possessions. According to the law, if children disobeyed their father, he had the right to stone them to death. People who were ill such as lepers and anyone with an issue of blood were sent to the gates of the city to beg for food. They were a pariah. If they could not recover on their own, they died. It was a harsh society. 

It didn’t seem possible that they would even be able to see the kingdom of God.
But Jesus used his stories…or parables.. to illustrate what he was attempting to teach his disciples.  Let’s listen to this parable and hear it’s explanation:

Matthew 13:24-30
Tares among Wheat

24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.  But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’  But he said, ‘No, for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”

The parable, referred to as the parable of the weeds of the field, comes in two parts. The first is the actual parable and the second is Jesus’ explanation of the parable to his disciples. The parts are connected to the parable of the sower and its explanation in Matthew 13:1–23 in two ways. One is the reference to sowing seeds in the field and the other is the use of one word found at the beginning and end of these two parables. The word is “listen”. Even the expression, “Let anyone with ears listen!” is common to both parables.

Jesus used parables, a well-understood method of illustration among Jewish teachers, to explain the kingdom of God both in the future and the present. This is among the first parables in the Gospel of Matthew. In this one Jesus tells his followers he has an important message and they need to listen carefully to these stories for hints at living life in God’s kingdom.

The parable begins with an illustration of good seeds being sown in a field. While no one was watching, weeds were sown in with wheat. The servants of the field asked if they should go in and remove the weeds. They are told not to uproot the weeds because that would damage the good roots of the wheat. So the plants are allowed to live side by side until the harvest. In Jesus’ explanation of the parable, he says it was the Son of Man who planted the seeds. 

He often referred to himself as the Son of Man to imply he was a dedicated follower of God, but also involved in presenting a vision of the kingdom. And sowing the seeds was a kingdom-building activity. Everyone is given the seed to produce good wheat but some choose not to accept. We call this “agency.” At some point, Jesus sent his servants to remove the causes of sinfulness leaving the children of God to shine in the kingdom. The listener is cautioned again to “listen”.

These scriptures tell us there will be conflicting priorities in our lives. We choose the path before us. We cannot isolate ourselves from those who do not accept the instructions of Jesus… We live among them. By our example we attempt to copy Jesus and affirm his mission of invitation, compassion, and justice. We can invite them to become children of God by providing examples of the compassion and justice we learn from the life of Jesus. We listen to instructions and respond as partners to set up God’s kingdom.

Listening is a lesson in stewardship. We are given the words of a loving God to respond in ministry to God’s people. We can choose to isolate ourselves, confident in the glow of God’s presence or we can move out in generous service sharing ourselves to our true capacity. Today we are reminded to listen to the instructions that give us strength for the difficult journey ahead and share the message of hope with those waiting to be invited.

We all are created and loved equally by God.  But everyone has their own agency and everyone can choose their own way. God cannot override our choices. God can only attempt by persuasion to influence us to make right choices. But God cannot coerce us. The choices we make are ours…and sometimes others…and will often  determine what our life is to be like. We live in a world of conflicting priorities. If we follow the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples “Let anyone with ears listen”, our life should be easier to live…because we will be listening to God’s still small voice. We can choose to be a part of the building of God’s kingdom on earth.  It all depends on our response. 

Good stewardship involves listening to the voice of God and responding to God’s people. 
I admire the billionaire, Warren Buffet. He lives a very simple life. He still lives in the house he built 27 years ago, has no yachts, or luxury cars. Warren Buffet has given his billions to Bill Gates to decide what worthy projects should be funded with their vast fortunes. He began his life as a simple farm boy. He threw newspapers and mowed yards and accumulated thousands of dollars (over $6,000) which would be over $68,000 in today’s dollars… which he invested. Over the years his decisions have been sound and now he is worth billions. Those billions are being used to make other’s lives better. His son and heir is a farmer. He loves to farm and will not inherit the fortune of the billionaire father. He really doesn’t want it. That is itself amazing. 

We cannot decide for our children how they will live their lives. We cannot even be sure they will follow our paths in religious choices. That is their decision.  I have three children. I am very fortunate..their father and I did the best we could to influence them to stay with the church we chose. We sent them to youth camps each summer and we attended family camp (reunion as a family) each summer. We always felt this church is the closest to the movement Jesus began…it is service oriented and that’s what Jesus taught his disciples….to be of service to others. In our movement, local congregations have no paid ministers.    

But my eldest son, a wonderful loving and generous man, chose to attend a mega church. He met his wife there and they are both wonderful people. They are following a good path even though it isn’t the one we would have chosen for him.

Our other son, the younger one, doesn’t go to church at all but he too is a loving and generous person. He is married to a fine woman too. 

Leslie is the one child we reared who stayed with this church. She is exceptionally dedicated to service to the less fortunate of the area as a case manager at Four County Mental Health.  She too is generous to a fault.  She married a fine man 42 years ago and is still married to him. She even managed to bring him into the church. 
I am so fortunate they have all made generally good decisions.  In this world, that is much more difficult than it was for me in the world I grew up in. 

We all have the opportunity to become children of God’s Kingdom. It’s a choice…and the choice is ours. God’s kingdom is all around us but is like the seeds and the tares, that are mixed together, so are the people in God’s Kingdom. Some listen and hear God’s voice and others choose to go their own way. 

In our lives, that is a choice we each will make. May God help his guiding spirit to be apparent to each of you is my prayer.

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