Sermon – The Third Sunday After Pentecost

Text of the sermon preached
By The Very Reverend William Carl Thomas
The Third Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 6 Year B)
June 17, 2012
At Saint Matthews Episcopal Church, Charleston West Virginia
Click here to listen to the sermon.

We pray these words within the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus links “kingdom” and “heaven” 31 times in the Gospel according to Matthew as the “Kingdom of Heaven is like.” Yet the description “Kingdom of Heaven” is never found in the Gospels according Mark, Luke, or John. As is the case in today’s Gospel from Mark, the description that Jesus uses is the “Kingdom of God.” Many of the “Kingdom of Heaven” statements in Matthew match one of the 49 “Kingdom of God” references in the other gospels. So it is today with the parable of the Mustard Seed.

Scholars tend to think that Matthew was being sensitive to his Jewish audience by not using the word “God.” For conservative Jews, to say the name that is beyond human definition would be blasphemy.  Titles such as Elohim (god, or authority), El (mighty one), El Shaddai (almighty), Adonai (master), Elyon (highest), and Avinu (our father) describe rather than name. Rabbi Urecki holds true to this norm: God is spelled “g” “dash” “d.” Yet scholars wonder why Matthew also used “Kingdom of God” five times!

We have a tendency to visual God as “up there” somewhere in heaven. This fits a rather simplistic notion of transcendence. But God is also immanent: nearby in the thin spaces. Jesus, the one who reconciles us to God, is using the term “Kingdom of God” as the expression of the outcome of “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In order to do God’s will, one must be obedient. When one is obedient, one listens. When one listens, one is in a deep and caring relationship.

This is better said as, “When I am obedient, I listen.” When I listen, as the Prophet Samuel did, I discover that God desires a loving relationship with me just as much as I yearn for the same with God. When I listen, as did the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter, as did the Prophet Samuel when he discovered that David was God’s choice, I discover again and again that God uses the least likely people to do God’s work.

When I listen to Jesus, I hear the transcendent magnitude of God made immanent by the most humble of births, and then mediated by the seemingly powerlessness of the Cross. This least likely moment with God, when death is faced, experienced, and overcome is what I mean by mediated. By such willingness to be in relationship with me, God offers the transformation that lets me be most fully who and what God intended me to be.

The Kingdom of God, then, is here and now. The offer of transformation is ongoing. The manner in which we are transformed is bound up in, as the Apostle Paul writes, “Faith, Hope, and Love.” Faith makes listening to God more than a struggle to hear the still small voice within all the noise of the world. Faith is the intentional conduit to God that God is always keeping open: Because God has faith in you and me. Hope makes our listening acute. Hope calls forth the remembrance of where our relationship once was, how it now is, and what it could be. Without hope, we would never know how essential it is to love and be loved. When Paul writes of love as the greatest of gifts, he foreshadows the insight of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “God does not love us because we are loveable, we are loveable because God loves us.” As I said on Trinity Sunday, love is the music by which the Trinity, (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), (Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier), dance the dance of perfect community.

The Kingdom of God is shorthand for our mission statement. The Kingdom of God is realized when we are Christ-centered community, equipping and enabling ourselves to ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that people are drawn to Christ. A glimpse of the Kingdom of God was found this past week as Operation Overboard, our vacation bible school, unfolded.

Over 140 children were challenged to go deep with God. The response to the daily lessons: Depend on God; Dare to Care; Choose to follow Jesus; or Change the World; was a very loud and enthusiastic, “Dive-In!” Almost $1000 was raised to change the world where something as simple as the lack of clean water shackles people to the hopelessness of poverty. By diving deep with all sorts of fun activities, the essential message from the Letter to the Hebrews was reinforced:  “Faith is the essential reality of what we hoped for, the proof of what we don’t see.”

Back in January, the planners of the 2012 vacation bible school weren’t sure Saint Matthews had the energy for another VBS that would meet our expectations as well as those of the larger community. But faith called for listening to God; hope overcame the noise of lethargy; love was the music that committed the Vestry and the parish to once again “Dive-In.” Teenagers, adults, both younger and older, combined talents and taught a deeper message of the how good it is when the generations come together. At the closing of Operation Overboard, over 250 people, young and old, gathered to celebrate. This was followed by a joyous afternoon of intergenerational fun during the picnic. If you were there you experienced a glimpse of the Kingdom God. It was more than Almost Heaven, it was truly thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Church sociologists tell us that a healthy church is one in which all generations interact and have relationship with one another. The commitment of the various generations in faith, hope, and love brought forth our first renewed vacation bible school in 2006. This commitment was born of the same mustard seed from which comes our awareness of the Kingdom of God.

Generations that share their lives together seeking this kingdom are bound together in the circle of life. Jesus was well aware of these familiar words from Ecclesiastes when he used the image of the Mustard Seed:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

We are entering that season of transition when faith recalls what we have planted and plucked up; hope allows for weeping while seeking laughter; and love, ah, love… love makes it possible for the sense of loss we share as we mourn our changing relationship to be transformed into great joy. More than anything, I know that I will take with me the love that is the music of our dance.

All these words I offer in the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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