Ezekiel 17:22-end; Mark 4:26-34
3rd Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 17.06.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Every four years England reaches something of a fever pitch – will this be our year? will this be the year when we finally win the world cup? Mercifully expectations have been much lower, the hype more low-key, this year, but imagine if we get through to the quarter-finals, and miracle of miracles, we are actually playing half-decent football, expectation and excitement will begin to reach frenzied levels. Even if you are not that interested in football, it will become difficult to avoid getting sucked up into it all.
Those living in Israel at the time of Jesus did not have a world cup to get fixated on, but they had something else that stirred even stronger passions. Under the rule of a foreign military power, the might of the Roman Empire, they were desperate for freedom, for a return to the glory days when Israel was a great and glorious nation again (the equivalent of Stanley Matthews and Geoff Hirst streaming forward in attack). And they called this hope, this expectation, the “kingdom of God”.
So when Jesus starts talking about what the kingdom of God is like and how it will come, one can imagine the frisson of excitement that would have swept through the crowd. But the only thing is: Jesus’ description of the kingdom is unlike anything they had ever heard before.
The first thing is that this kingdom will not be achieved by human effort. Some Israelites hoped for military victory over the Romans; others hoped for a return to a religious and moral purity, but they all expected their efforts to be key. But Jesus is clear. God’s kingdom, a kingdom where God reigns with peace and love and compassion and justice, will not come about through human effort. It will come about by his grace.
Its like a farmer watching his seeds grow. Or, as I experienced yesterday in north London, a fiercely contested potato growing competition. The farmer, the potato growing entrants, may help to provide some helpful conditions – good soil, a bit of watering, and so on – but ultimately whether the seed grows or not is out of their hands.
It is a humbling message. Too often we can act as if everything depends on us. How our children grow up, what kind of difference we make in our jobs, what kind of legacy we will leave behind – we can fool ourselves into thinking it all comes down to us. But the truly important things in life, the things of God’s kingdom, are ultimately down to God.
That’s why when we baptised Ella this morning we entrusted her into the hands of God. There is only so much that her parents, and her family and friends can do. It is God’s grace, not our own efforts, that are key.
Ponder on that for a moment. In a world where so much emphasis is placed on taking responsibility, taking power and control into our own hands, Christ encourages us to hand over control to God instead.
That is a humbling thought. It is also a thought that can give us great confidence. The coming of God’s kingdom – the coming of peace into our war-torn world, the coming of hope for those in the darkness of loneliness or despair, the coming of justice for those who have been wronged, the coming of reconciliation for those who have become divided – is not dependent on the effectiveness of our own efforts. It is dependent upon God, and he is one in whom we can have confidence. He is the one who will bring the seed to fruition.
As Jesus points out in the other parable we heard – of the mustard seed – the signs of such a work may start off very small but they will grow and grow. We can have confidence in God.
So if the kingdom of God, the place where love and hope and compassion will triumph, is brought about by God, not human effort, should I just put my feet up and do nothing?
The opening ceremony of the World Cup on Thursday reminded me of a friend of mine who performed at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, which has to be said was a far grander affair. He was one of the two thousand drummers that beat their way through the two hour and more extravaganza. I remember asking him why he had endured the days and days of rehearsals for a part which no-one would have noticed if he had not been there, to do something that would have happened, with or without him. His answer: “It was the most incredible privilege to be involved. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”
The Christian life into which we have welcomed Ella this morning, into which each one of us is invited to participate, is the most incredible privilege. Who wouldn’t want to work alongside God in being part of his kingdom? Who wouldn’t want to be reaching out with love and compassion to those in need? Who wouldn’t want to be standing up for justice for those who have been wronged? What an incredible privilege! Ella at the start of her life; all of us at whatever stage in our lives; are invited to work alongside God in his purposes for the world.
We are invited to be part of God’s kingdom not because without us it will fail, but because without us, we will miss out. God invites each one of us to join him in his work, not because he needs us, but because he loves us. When my oldest son was a toddler, I used to love involving him in tasks I was doing – washing the car was always a favourite. I have to say it made the task harder – buckets would be knocked over, streaks of dirt would mysteriously appear on parts of the car I was sure I had already cleaned— but it was wonderful to have my little boy alongside me.The God who created the heavens and the earth feels the same way about us.
The kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, compassion, grace and hope, may sometimes start off small, we may at times have little idea how it will grow, but we can have confidence that one day God will bring it to fruition. And, wonder of wonders, he invites each one of us to play a part.