Pastor Lynn Rubier-Capron’s Sermon
June 17, 2018
My Father, Bob Rubier, was an old school husband and Father. He brought in the balogna and my Mother kept the home. He loved fried balogna, and when I sent him a roll of Taylor ham, he declared that he was a converted man.
I have been thinking a lot lately of what it must take to be a Father, especially a Father who wants to provide well for his Family and who is also a Christian. When I think of my Dad in relationship to his different priorities, I can see that many Fathers have basic and compelling things in common whether they live in the old or the new school of parenting.
For one thing, there is the need to be a good provider. This is not a topic that is limited to Fathers or men in any way, so maybe this topic belongs to us all. See if this description of my Dad rings true for you on any level. He was a gas turbine repair man, gifted to extreme in numbers and precision engineering. He worked for GE, and they sent him into gas turbine repair shops to reduce cost and increase income.
When I was a child, he would come through the door at the end of the day, and Mother would tell us kids to give him a minute to settle in before we started pulling on him. We had no idea. I found out years later that, every quarter, if he didn’t “make his numbers” for the company, he would loose his job.
These are matters that all of us can understand because they describe the stresses of life. And, as modern as these things sound, they are not new. The gospel of Mark was written over 2000 years ago, and one of it’s primary topics is “the kingdom of this world.” That is what the Bible means when it talks about “this world.” It’s the pressures, the realm of power and prestige, the need to secure one’s place in a company or other means of survival and making sure that it provides what you and your family need to survive.
Here is the double bind, the priority of “providing for my family” is a priority of compassion. And the bible has plenty to say about working so we can provide and even be generous. The difficulty comes when that priority requires us to plant ourselves firmly in the realm of what the bible calls “the kingdom of this world” in order to make a living. Because we are God’s people, we want to live our lives in what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.”
The Spirit of God has been shaping creation into God’s kingdom in many different ways throughout history, and scripture is filled with stories that can help us recognize what God’s rule and reign look like in our time.
One of the Old testament readings from the revised common lectionary that we did not read speaks of the kingdom of God when it was not a metaphore, but a literal kingdom. It’s a passage from First Samuel, and describes when the very first king of Israel died. His name was Saul.
For Saul, the kingdom of God was largely about fighting wars against local enemies who made skirmishes into his land to take produce, live stock, land and people. Israel was not united into a large and powerful kingdom, but rather she was 12 tribes who had to conquer, settle and defend their land. In early Israel, the kingdom of God was about going to war as much as anything else. I know it sounds funny to our ears, but there is good news for us here.
God needed to infuse world history with God’s kingdom, so God worked with a very particular people to form their kingdom in a way that would do just that. God was willing to insert God’self into the kingdom of this world – of battles and settling land and and giving laws that kings and courts and officials had to enforce. Over time, Israel’s nation did infuse the world with a sense of what God’s kingdom looked like, and things changed in human history. That happened because people responded to God’s kingdom even as they had to live in the kingdom of this world.
Israel did eventually unite under the leadership of king David. She had her opulent courts and large holdings of treasury, her large military and all the trappings of “the kingdom of this world.” She struggled for most of her history to figure out how to live in both kingdoms. We have some beautiful stories of how Israel became a nation where widows and orphans were cared for, where prophets spoke truth to power and were legitimized and protected against the wrath of powerful leaders who preferred to have their power upheld. We also have stories of when the kingdom of this world made too much of a mark on Israel.
The Old testament reading that we did read is from Ezekiel. It’s much later in Israel’s history, and shows God speaking to Israel after she had become powerful and then suffered loss of power, land and prestige at the hands of other nations. It’s God saying that God’s kingdom will continue to reign and God’s people can count on that. It uses the metaphor of an old tree finding new shoots of growth in spring.
Jesus was born hundreds of years later in the land of Israel and in another kind of “kingdom of this world.” In fact, Rome had invaded Israel and become one of the most powerful nations ever to conquer. Once again, God’s people had to figure out how to survive in this worldly context: What would happen to the temple and weekly gatherings to read Torah and the observances that made Israel who she was if her rulers didn’t negotiate power, prestige, payment and status with Rome?
When Jesus walked the dusty roads of Jerusalem, this was the way that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world overlapped.
And one day, he spoke to a gathering of very very poor people. They were subsistence farmers, most of them lived hand to mouth. They planted seed and desperately waited for it to produce what they needed to survive every single day of their lives.
And that’s when Jesus gave us our good news for today. He said “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
If you are a parent with children of any age, and if you are here, you have been trying to help your child enter into God’s kingdom. You have had to do this with the sweat of your brow, through much stress and while giving most of your time and energy to the kingdom of this world because you needed to provide for your family. Some days, you might have been like my Father, coming home at the absolute end of your rope and needing to simply recover, but you were at the end of your rope for good reasons. You scattered your seed. The promise is this: that’s all you can do. God has been building God’s kingdom in exactly this way throughout human history, and God is building God’s kingdom through you and your relationship with your children.
We may be able to look at the life of our young or adult children and see very clearly how God’s kingdom is germinating through their choices and priorities, and sometimes we may not be able to recognize it. We don’t have to “know how” God’s kingdom will come to fruition in other people and in other generations. Jesus’ story about the seed, that gives us what we need to scatter the seed and trust that God’s kingdom actually has a ruler who is doing things to make God’s kingdom happen.
As you look to the next week, know that your daily work to provide, your engagement with “the kingdom of this world,” your desires for your children whether young or old, are not a problem for God. They are exactly where God wants to be, through your life and through your faithfulness. That’s how God’s rule infuses the real world both in your life, and also as it bears fruit in the lives of your children.