Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ever Get That Sinking Feeling?

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, August 13, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling KS. Listen to the sermon here.
Read Matthew 14:22-33 and Psalm 119:30-39 here.


A boy had grown up hearing the stories from his grandmother about an amazing family tradition.  His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been able to walk on water on their 18th birthday, and on that day they’d each walked across the lake.  So on the boy’s 18th birthday, he and his friends went out on the lake in a boat, and when they got to the middle, the boy carefully stood up and stepped over the side of the boat….and sank into the water.  His friends quickly pulled him to safety.  Furious and confused, he went to see his grandmother. 
“Grandma, it’s my 18th birthday.  Why can’t I walk across the lake like my dad, and his dad, and his dad?” 
Grandma looked deep into his troubled eyes and said, “Because you were born in August. Your dad, and grandfather and great-grandfather were all born in January.”

The boy looked puzzled. “Why does that matter?”

“Because, my dear, in January the lake is frozen.”[1]
You’d think the kid might have figured this one out and known not to even try.  We might expect Peter would have known better than to try.  Then again, Peter and the disciples have just seen Jesus feed 20,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, so it was natural for Peter to be ready to try something big.  But soon Peter got that sinking feeling.

So let’s look at what was happening.

It is evening.  Jesus has fed the crowd and they’ve collected the twelve baskets of leftovers.  Jesus tells the disciples to take the boat and head across the lake to their next stop.  He sends the crowd away, and heads up the mountain to pray.
Out on the lake, the wind and waves became rough and the boat was being battered by the waves.  They were going against the wind.

This reminds me of kayaking in Morro Bay, going against the tide. The tide is strong in the harbor there as it flows in and out of the estuary. I think I spent the entire time rowing and rowing and rowing and rowing.  I thought I’d never get anywhere. By the time I finally got back to the dock, I was exhausted.  Maybe the disciples felt like that.

Jesus comes to the rescue.  He comes walking across the lake looking like a ghost upon the water.

This reminds me of Genesis 1 which says the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of creation.  When we talked about God’s work in Genesis a couple of months ago, we talked about how God was organizing.  He was making order out of chaos.  God separated the water from the sky, and separated the water from the land.  In Proverbs 8:29 it says that God set the boundaries for the water. Water is like chaos. God is Lord of the chaos.

Then Peter bravely steps out on water. How amazing is that?  I wonder how that felt?  I wonder if, before he got scared by the wind and waves, he had a moment to appreciate how it felt to be standing on top of the water?  

Speaking of wind and waves….
What did one ocean say to the other ocean?
 . . . Nothing, it just waved.[2]
One thing that has been bugging me about this scripture all week...
Why does Peter need Jesus to tell him to come? 
He says to Jesus, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
If it is you…”
Matthew tells us that the disciples thought what they were seeing was a ghost.  The disciples were terrified and cried out in fear.  Jesus immediately calms their fears and encourages them by identifying himself.  “It’s me!”

The words he used may have triggered memories for the disciples of the scene in Exodus when God speaks to Moses.  When Moses asks God, “How will I tell them who sent me?” God says, “Tell them I AM has sent you.” (Ex. 3:13-15) Those words in Greek are the same as what Jesus says.  Eigo EimiIt is I. 

But even if those words don’t help the disciples recognize that Jesus is God in the flesh, the fact that he’s walking on water should. 
  • God created the world and is the one who told the waters where to go. 
  • God parted the waters of the Red Sea for Israel to escape from Egypt. 
  • God parted the water again when Israel crossed the Jordan River to go into the Promised Land.

Maybe Peter IS remembering all of this when he says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Peter is asking for proof

This is reminiscent of Gideon putting out the fleece and asking God to make it wet, another event in which we see God’s power over water. (Judges 6)

Moses also asked to see proof.  In Exodus 33 & 34, God tells Moses to keep heading for the promised land, but Moses is tired.  He’s been leading the people through the desert for a while.  Things keep going wrong, and in anger he’s smashed the ten commandments.  God’s giving him a new set, but Moses still needs assurance that God’s going to be with them as they go forward.  God promises that he will go with them (Ex 33:14), but Moses still has that sinking feeling.  He needs something more, so he asks God to show him God’s glory.  God does, and Moses goes back to the people encouraged and ready to keep walking forward.

The disciples probably needed some encouragement, too.  They’d only recently learned that Herod had killed John the Baptist.  They were probably sad and afraid.  Might Jesus be next?  What would happen to them?  Jesus had sent them away on this boat, and all night long they’d dealt with the wind and waves.  Now it’s early in the morning, just before dawn.  They haven’t slept.  They’re tired.  They’re pretty sure they’re seeing things.

So Peter asks.  Knowing Peter as we do from other stories in the gospels, this is another example of Peter being impulsive.  Peter is the one who blurts things out.  He makes a logical request, though.

If this is Jesus, and if Jesus is the Son of God, and he isn’t just a ghost and we aren’t imagining this, then he is Lord of all creation and has the ability to make a path on the water, just like he made a path through the water for Israel.

Jesus says, “Come!”  And Peter does it.  Peter walks on water.

But then Peter gets inside his own head.  He starts thinking too much about what’s actually happening.  He looks at the wind and the waves and he gets scared.  And he sinks. 

Anxiety sets in.  Along with the literal feeling of sinking down into the water, he may also have the funny feeling in his stomach that we describe as a sinking feeling.

Peter realizes he’s out of control of this situation, and focuses on that instead of focusing on the one who is in control.

Thinking too much gets us in trouble, too.

Take playing music, for instance.  There’s a lot of practicing involved to learn how to play, to learn a particular technique or piece of music, and that involves lots of thinking.  But when it comes to performing that piece, all that thinking will get in the way.

This is also true for Samurai fighters.  There’s a scene in the 2003 movie The Last Samurai in which Tom Cruise is being trained to be a Samurai fighter.  He’s having trouble, and the trainer tells him he’s got “too much mind.”  He’s thinking too much about what he’s doing, instead of letting things happen naturally.[3]

We’ve been watching a show on the Food Network called Food Network Star.  The contestants on this show compete to demonstrate their abilities as chefs and as on-air personalities.  The winner will get their own show.  One problem they all have to work to overcome is thinking too much when they’re on camera.  The coaches want them to respond naturally to what’s happening in the moment.  If they “get in their heads” and start thinking too much, they get hung up and can’t speak, or sound too stiff.

This is like what happens to Peter.  At first he’s fine, but then he gets to thinking too much and he can’t do it anymore.  He sinks.

Peter’s response to sinking, though, is just right.  He cries out to Jesus.  “Lord, save me!”

And immediately Jesus reaches out and pulls him up out of the water.

Then Jesus asks Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter DID have faith – enough to get him out of the boat in the first place.  And as Jesus himself has pointed out, it only takes faith the size of a little mustard seed to do great things, like walking on water.
But Peter did what we all do sometimes – we get distracted by the difficulties and we start to question. 
  • · Maybe I shouldn’t have tried this.
  • · Maybe I didn’t hear God right.
  • · Maybe this is too hard for me.
  • · Maybe I’m not strong enough, smart enough, good enough.

What we forget in those moments, like Peter did, is that it never was about our capabilities, it was about God.  God is strong enough, smart enough, wise enough. 

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and sometimes we think that because it’s not easy, then we must be doing the wrong thing.  God doesn’t promise us that it’s going to be easy.  In fact, he tells us quite the opposite.  Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

What about you?  In what ways have you been stepping out in faith? 
  • · Maybe you’re about to start a new job, a new school, and new project. 
  • · Maybe you’ve made a big move. 
  • · Maybe you’re running into challenges, or you’re starting to think about the potential for challenges.

If we look at the difficulties and the challenges, we will lose heart.  The wind and the waves are scary.  We will get discouraged.

I’m here to tell you to be encouraged.  God has promised us his presence and his strength.

So many scriptures tell us about this.  I like how Paul says in Romans 11:33: 
Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgements and his paths beyond tracing out!
That morning on the lake, Peter was ready to let go of control and let God lead him, and then he started thinking too much, trying to regain control, and that’s when he lost it.

The problem is that when we’re looking at ourselves or our situations, we’re focusing on the trouble. 

But when we’re looking at God and remembering his strength and his promises, then we can put things in perspective.

How do we keep looking at God?  How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus instead of the wind and waves?

One way is prayer.  Like Peter, don’t hesitate to call out for help.  We may not always see how God responds to this right away.  Looking back often we can see that God did help us.

Another way is to keep reading the Bible and being reminded of God’s ways.  Next week during our Sunday school kick-off, we’re going to have an opportunity to share favorite verses from the Bible.  I’m betting that many of us will share verses or stories that have encouraged us in times of trouble, and helped us to remember God’s nearness and God’s strength.

One of the best way to keep our eyes on God is to worship.  That’s what the disciples do at the end of today’s story.  How could they not after all they’ve seen?  They worship Jesus and say, “Truly you are Son of God!”  It’s the first time in Matthew that they say something like this.[4]

When we worship God, we acknowledge God’s presence and God’s greatness.  We remember God’s promises.  We renew our trust and commitment.

Whenever we get that sinking feeling – whenever the doubts and fears start to take over –
Cry out to Jesus for help.
Reach out to God through his word.
Remember it’s God’s power that has us walking on water.
     God promises that he will never let us down.

[4] A commentary pointed this out, but I don’t remember which one.  I looked it up doing a word search in BibleGateway.com and sure enough, before this point in Matthew only the devil and demons have called Jesus the Son of God.  (Mat. 4:3 “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Mat. 8:29 “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


There was some great stuff going on this past weekend.  I’m realizing today that I caught almost none of it in pictures.  If I could go back, here’s some of what I would have captured:

• Dinner out with Rob’s parents at a Mexican restaurant in Lyons – all of us sitting around the wooden table strewn with baskets of chips, glasses, plates, napkins, bowls of salsa and cheese, smiling, laughing, chewing.  We were surrounded by empty tables in a room made warmer by the dark red walls.  Over our shoulders there was the silent screen flickering with scenes from a soccer game somewhere in the world.

• Grandma’s birthday party – Six-year old Raegan brought party hats, pompoms, endless energy, and a vision for being a one-woman party.  She danced.  She sang. We watched, envious of her energy, worn out from trying to keep up with her.  She danced and sang some more, skirt twirling, hair flying, feet in the air, arms outstretched, concentration written on her face.

• Sunday morning worship – First day with new sound equipment.  Lots of music filling the room.  The brightness and energy of people gathered for worship.  In a moment of quiet prayer from the pulpit, I glanced up to find the looming, serious face of Max. “Rob says to turn on your pack.” Then he turned and hurried back up to the sound board, as I continued praying, looking down at the wood grain surface covered with papers holding my notes and prompts, illuminated by the book light.

• Communion – standing at the communion table covered in white cloth and set with plates and cups and pitcher, glancing down to see my daughter Tess crouching behind the table, holding up the microphone with the fluffy purple cover.

• Sitting in my office with the installation team – Mary, Dick and Lara sitting in the couch and chair in front of the bookcase; Jim, Christian and me standing – Jim talking, the rest of us listening intently. That’s what I remember most vividly, but this group should have been in a group shot on the sanctuary steps.

• George Blake – the person I only knew from Facebook and Rob’s high school stories, now face-to-face at church to join the installation festivities.  This one should have been a selfie with me and George and Rob, or maybe just George and Rob.

These are just a few of the many pictures we might have taken.  What images have stuck with you from recent days?

"I'm a visual thinker, not a language-based thinker. My brain is like Google Images."
--Temple Grandin

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What's in your basket?

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, August 8, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church of Sterling, KS.  To listen to the sermon audio, click here.

Read Matthew 14:13-21 and Isaiah 55:1-5 here.

Follow along and take notes using the YouVersion Bible App Event page here.

There is a chef who runs the kitchen of a big hotel in Abu Dabi.  During Ramadan he has to be prepared to feed 20,000 people.  To accomplish this, the chefs in his kitchen chop up 15,000 lbs of vegetables, boil 11,000 lbs of rice, and roast 10,000 chickens.  Can you imagine?[1]

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus feeds 5000 men, plus women and children. So maybe as many as 20,000 people. All of them fed from five loaves of bread and two fish.  How is this possible? Maybe this was like when we take communion and everybody just gets a little piece of bread?  But, no, the text says that they “all ate and were filled.”  And then there were even leftovers.  Twelve baskets full of the leftovers.  That’s even more than they started with.

It’s a miracle.  A really big miracle. 

Other than the resurrection this is the only miracle that is recorded in all four of the gospels.[2]

Why is this miracle the one that all four writers made sure to tell?  Because it shows us something important about the nature of God, our generous, faithful, loving God:  He longs to bless us.[3]  The more we are participants in that blessing, the more we are blessed.

How do we become a part of this blessing?  
How can we receive and share God’s blessings?

First we have to show up.

Jesus had just heard about John the Baptist’s death and he went off by himself – probably to grieve and to pray.  He’s out in a fishing boat, and as he’s coming in to shore he sees that crowds are there waiting for him.  He could have turned around and stayed away from the crowds, but he didn’t.  He had compassion on them, and came anyway. 
Jesus showed up.

What about those crowds?  They heard that Jesus was there so they came.  Some probably came out of curiosity, just to see who this was.  Some, though, came hungry for the life and healing that Jesus offered.  Whatever their reason for coming, they were there, and because they were there they got to be a part of this miracle. 

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

We come to Jesus and find through him that God blesses us.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (5:6).  Come hungry and be filled.

So come, and come hungry, and receive God’s blessing.

Those crowds came having heard what Jesus had already been doing – preaching the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and speaking with authority unlike anything they’d heard.  Many came with expectations.  God was doing something and they expected to see it.
Psalm 145:15 tells us that waiting on the Lord with expectation is the right thing to do:  The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”

So come, come hungry, and come with expectation.

What do you think it might have been like to be in that crowd that day?  In my mind it’s like a crazy scene from a Monty Python movie, with lots of dirt and grubbiness, and jostling and pushing and yelling.  Maybe it wasn’t so crazy, but with so many people all trying to see Jesus, how could it not be?

Imagine if this was today?  Somebody would post a Facebook event:  Jesus will be at Sterling Lake tomorrowCome see the messiah!  Maybe the Facebook ad would include some of Isaiah’s words:
All you who hunger and thirst, come!  You who have no money, come! (55:1-2)

Some of us would come.  Some of us would avoid the crowd and send Jesus a private message or text instead.  But not Snap Chat…Jesus wouldn’t Snap Chat…or maybe he would.  A discussion for another time.

Some of us would be the ones organizing the event – like the disciples.  Maybe trying to manage the chaos, and protect the Messiah.  The disciples were keeping a good eye on things, and they were being fairly insightful to realize that the people were going to need food.  So they offer a solution – send the people away to go buy food in the villages.

I’m not surprised that Jesus didn’t like this idea very much.  They might not all have been able to find or afford food.  Some would surely have gone hungry. 

But Jesus has another plan:  “You give them something to eat.”
“Us?  But all we have are five loaves of bread and two fish.”
The disciples couldn’t see any way in which this little bit of food would feed 20,000 people.  Maybe they forgot who they were with?

We don’t know for sure whether this came before or after the wedding in Cana, the story in John’s gospel in which Jesus turned the water into wine.[4]  If the disciples had been at the wedding before this, maybe they would remember what happened and expect that Jesus might do something similar here. 

If Matthew is telling these stories in the order they happened, then the disciples would have just recently heard the parable we talked about last week about the mustard seed, the tiny seed from which big things grow.[5]  Maybe they didn’t connect that idea with this situation.  After all, that was just a parable, right?

Surely they would remember the stories of Elijah and Elisha.  One day a man brought Elisha twenty loaves of bread.  Elisha told him to pass it around so everyone could eat.  The man pointed out that there wasn’t enough for hundred people there.  Elisha said, “God says there will be plenty.”  So they passed the bread around and there was enough with some left over. (2 Kings 4:42-44)

Maybe the disciples didn’t see how five loaves and two fish could do the job because Jesus said, “You do it.”  You give them food.  If Jesus had said, “I’ll do it.  I’ll give them food,” they might have had higher expectations.
They hadn’t yet heard what Jesus told the disciples during his last night with them, described in John 13 through 17.  In John 14:12, Jesus says: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

If you were there that day, standing with Jesus among the disciples, looking out at the hungry crowd, what would your response have been?

What about now? In your own life, where are you seeing a situation, noticing a need? Maybe you’re saying, “Somebody needs to do something about that”?
What if Jesus were to be saying to you, “You do it.  You do something about that.”
What would you do?

Like the disciples, we tend to underestimate our resources and abilities.  We tend to forget that we aren’t working alone, we’re working with God.

If we will show up, and if we will come hungry
with expectation for God to be present
and to help us do whatever he’s given us the vision to do,
who knows what might happen?

We tend to underestimate our own blessings.  The disciples said, “All we have are these loaves and fish.”  They hardly thought they had enough to even mention.  We too have things that don’t seem like much to us but with God’s help could be of great help to someone.  We have abilities we might not think worth mentioning because they are easy for us, but to someone who doesn’t have that ability, we might be an answer to prayer. 
Wherever we see a need, with whatever we have, and whoever we are, Jesus says to us, “Bring them here to me.” (Matt. 14:18)

I read this week about a church that saw a need in their community that they could meet, so they are offering free oil changes to single moms.  To those who have the ability and resources to easily do oil changes, that may not seem like such a big thing.  To those single moms, those oil changes are such a big blessing that some are moved to tears.[6] 

What do you have?  How might it be the blessing someone else needs? 

What’s in your basket?

We’ve been talking about physical things – bread, fish, oil changes.  Our reading from Isaiah today reminds us that our deeper needs are spiritual.  Physical things meet physical needs, but spiritual things have lasting effect and bring life to our souls.  We may be discounting our spiritual blessings even more than we discount our physical blessings.

Years ago there was a woman in our church at the time who was battling breast cancer.  As the fight wore on, she made it to church less and less.  There were many days when she was too exhausted to even make it out of bed.  Those who went to visit her were always happy for an opportunity to go visit her again, because their own spirits were lifted so much from spending time with her.  As her physical strength waned, her spiritual strength grew, and her faith was an encouragement to us all.

Our spiritual blessings are worth more than we often realize.

A monk found a precious stone one day. A short time later, the monk met a traveler, who said he was hungry and asked the monk if he would share some of his provisions. When the monk opened his bag, the traveler saw the precious stone and, on an impulse, asked the monk if he could have it. Amazingly, the monk gave the traveler the stone. The traveler left quickly, overjoyed with his new possession. However, a few days later, he came back, searching for the monk. He gave the stone back to the monk and made a request: "Please give me something more valuable, more precious than this stone. Please give me that which enabled you to give me this precious stone!"[7]

It is the love and grace of the Holy Spirit living in us through our faith in Jesus Christ that allows us to be generous.

Ephesians 1:3- All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.

We worship a generous God. He longs to bless us.  The more we are obedient participants in that blessing, the more we are blessed.

Whatever we have, whatever we are, wherever we are, we can be a blessing to others if we are willing to give thanks for all of it and use whatever is in our basket.

What’s in your basket?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Jesus, Give It To Me Straight

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, July 30, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling KS.

Read Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 here.
Read 1 Kings 3:5-12 here.

Listen to sermon audio here.
Listen to the offertory here.

The kingdom of heaven is like . . . swiss cheese. . . It’s very holy.[1]

In our gospel reading today from Matthew 13, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like….a mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a pearl, a fishing net. Five different analogies, and these after Jesus has already told about the four soils that we talked about two weeks ago, and the weeds that we talked about last week.  These analogies or similes give us different ways to understand the kingdom of God, the same kingdom we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

That word “kingdom” is common in the gospel stories.  Matthew tells us in several places that Jesus was preaching the good news of the kingdom (4:23), and that Jesus sent the disciples out telling them to go preach the good news of the kingdom (Luke 9:2).  The idea of God’s kingdom would have been familiar to people in that time who had heard the words of prophets like Isaiah saying it would come.  Daniel had said that God’s kingdom would bring earthly kingdoms to an end and establish God’s reign forever (2:44). 

The prophets had also made it clear that it is God who establishes kings and kingdoms.  God had promised King David that his house, his line would have someone on the throne forever (2 Samuel 7).  That promise referred to Jesus, but back then people thought it meant there would be another king like David, an earthly king.  They expected to be rescued from the Romans by someone with great power using dramatic action. 

Jesus was trying to help them see that the kingdom of God is not like earthly kingdoms.  So Jesus tells these parables.

1.     The kingdom of God is like a Mustard Seed
a.     I’ve been joking lately about how the Bible talks about fruits of the spirit but there’s never anything about vegetables.  I was wrong.  Mustard is a vegetable.[2]
b.     There are over 40 different types of mustard.[3]  The kind we planted two weeks ago with the kids is a very tiny seed that will become leaves for a good salad. Jesus refers to a different variety that will become a large bush or tree.
c.      The idea of birds nesting in its branches is likely a reference to Daniel 4:20-21 where Nebuchadnezer’s kingdom is likened to a great tree in which birds roost. Nebuchadnezer’s kingdom came to an end, but God’s kingdom will only increase.[4]. . and be a benefit to those who find rest in it.
d.     Basically, the idea is that where God’s at work, tiny things can have big impact.
2.     Yeast is also a tiny thing that has big impact.
a.     Something super fun about yeast – it’s a fun guy.  (A fungi)  I thought that might get a rise out of you.
b.     Before there was written language, people were already using yeast to make alcohol and bread.  It’s shown in Egyptian hieroglyphics.  But we didn’t really understand what it was until the 1860’s when Louis Pasteur used a microscope to see that it is a living organism.[5]
c.      The way yeast works is it makes gas and that’s what makes the bread rise.  So if anyone has ever told you that you’re full of hot air, you can tell them that so is the kingdom of God, and that’s a good thing.
Both of these parables encourage us to hang on to hope, and to keep on trusting that God is at work in our world and in us, even when we can’t see it.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives us this same idea in another way.  He says, God “is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 2:20).

These two analogies, the mustard seed and the yeast, and the idea of the big and unexpected impact of even small faith, remind me of my favorite picture of Jesus. It’s in Revelation 1.  It’s not the nice, friendly Jesus with children on his lap.  In Revelation 1 Jesus is blindingly bright, his eyes are like fire, his tongue is a sword, and his feet are bronze.  This is John’s vision of the mighty resurrected Jesus.  For some people that’s a scary picture, but I find it comforting because when I’m afraid or worried about big things, I want to know that Jesus is bigger and stronger than my fears and worries.  My hope in the face of trouble is in this Jesus.  Strong Jesus.

3.     The kingdom of heaven is like treasure in a field.
a.     In Jesus’ time there were no banks, so burying stuff in the ground was a good way to hide it.
b.     This parable sounds like a pirate hunting for gold with a treasure map, except that the parable says that the treasure was found unexpectedly, not that anyone was hunting for it.
4.     The Pearl, unlike the treasure, was found after searching.
a.     God tells us we will find him when we seek him if we seek with all our hearts (Jer. 29:13). “Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” (Msg version)
b.     We may not always know what we’re searching for, but when we do find God, in all the various ways that we find him, there is joy unlike any other joy.
These two parables probably made good sense to those who had given up everything to follow Jesus, like Paul who says in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss compared with knowing Jesus Christ.”  Our relationship with Jesus is our treasure in a field, our pearl of great price. 

Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you,” a verse that characterizes well what we see happening in the passage that Christian read for us from 1 Kings 3.  In that passage, Solomon, who has just inherited the kingdom from his father David, has a dream in which God tells him to ask for anything (v5).  Solomon asks for pearls – pearls of wisdom.  The NRSV says he asks for an “understanding mind” (v9).  What the Hebrew words literally say is that he asks for a listening heart. What a great treasure!  It’s not surprising that God granted that request.

5.     The kingdom of heaven is like a net (funnicello. . . no, just kidding, a fishing net)
a.     The net gathers fish of every kind, but the kingdom gathers people.  All are welcome in the kingdom of heaven.  The Bible tells us in  Isaiah and Revelation[6] that at the end of time God will establish his kingdom forever here on earth, and everyone will stand before God.
b.     One commentator says that this parable is reminding us that “Jesus, unlike the Pharisees of his time, had no interest in forming a pure church composed only of the perfect.  God, in his good time, will judge” us all.  In the meantime, it is our job to tell everyone about Jesus’ offer of salvation and forgiveness.[7]
c.      The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this future kingdom looks like.  In Revelation 4 it says there are people of every tribe and nation, every kind there is.  The more we are welcoming diversity, the more we are helping to build that future kingdom now.

After Jesus has told all these parables about the kingdom, he asks a question to check whether the disciples are understanding. “Are you getting this?” he asks.  And they say, “Yes.”

But I don’t think they really did.  Because later, after Jesus had died on the cross and been resurrected, just before he ascended into heaven, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  So I wonder what they were thinking about when they heard Jesus explaining with all these different analogies.  They didn’t quite get it.

What about us?  Do we get it?

Maybe we do and maybe we don’t.   The simplest, most straightforward explanation of the kingdom of God is that it’s here and now, and visible whenever we do the will of God.  God’s kingdom is in us, because the Holy Spirit lives in us, and the kingdom comes through us whenever we bring peace, joy, love, hope. 

But putting that into practice isn’t always simple and straightforward.  Knowing God’s will isn’t always easy.  And the kingdom comes even in spite of us.  It’s the work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of Melissa or any one of us.

We’re all a part of the work of the kingdom, and so Jesus illustrates this with one last parable.

6.     Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household
a.     This is the description of a disciple, a priest in what we refer to as the priesthood of all believers, which includes all of us. Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, we have a priceless treasure, a bottomless resource, continual access to God whose amazing power raised Jesus from the dead. 
                                                              i.      The power of love,
                                                            ii.      the brightness of joy,
                                                          iii.      the anchor of hope,
                                                          iv.      unexplainable peace,
                                                            v.      the strength of a kernel of faith. 
b.     When we think we don’t have any of these, all we have to do is say to God, “help me,” “guide me,” and we will find that we have what we need to take the next breath, the next step, and the next.

Why does Jesus tell so many different parables and what does this tell us about God?  It tells us that God wants us to know him, wants us all to be a part of his kingdom.  Jesus keeps on telling us about God’s love in different ways, and showing us in different ways,
·      so that we’ll get it and share it,
·      so we’ll grow in our understanding,
·      and grow in our relationship with him,
·      and tell others so that more and more people will come to know him.

I think Jesus tells so many different parables and gives us so many different analogies because he knows that we all think and understand in different ways.  We all have different personalities, different learning styles, different life experiences and backgrounds.  Some of us may grasp one analogy better than another. 

This is one of the challenges of being the church together.  We are all different.  Some of us do well listening to sermons. Some will need to be doing something else while they listen to stay on track – taking notes, drawing pictures, knitting. Some of us connect with God more through the singing or the prayer times.  Others of us get more out of the time before and after the service when we get to interact with people, or in the discussions in Sunday school or small groups or Bible studies.

One of our challenges is to keep trying to connect with God in different ways so that we keep connecting with God.  Figure out what works for you so that you are connecting with God daily.

In seminary, I had the opportunity to figure out my learning style.  There are lots of different models for this. I’m using VAK – visual, audio, kinesthetic.  I learned that I use all three, but that I am dominantly a kinesthetic or tactile learner, which means I need to touch things and interact with information.  Discovering this was a big AHA moment for me, so I was anxious to talk about it.  As I was telling one of the ladies at our church at that time, a retired educator, she said, “Yes, I already knew that.”

There are three things her response taught me: 

1.     One is that it’s fun to talk to people because you’ll find out they know lots of interesting stuff.

2.     Two is that knowing and being who we are rather than trying to be like other people is freeing and lots of fun and allows us to be better at doing what God made us to do – each of use uniquely created for our particular life.

3.     Three is that even if we think who we are is a big secret, it’s not.  It shows in our lives in big and small ways.  That lady knew I was a tactile learner because she knew what to look for, but also because there was evidence to see.  What seemed subtle or invisible to me was obvious to her.  It’s the same with our lives as Christians.  The more we let the Holy Spirit work in us, they more we are the unique individuals God made us to be, and the more we bring the kingdom of God with us wherever we go….in what we do and what we say, and don’t do and don’t say.  In what we talk about or post on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and in email.

The more the Holy Spirit works in us the more we bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control with us wherever we go.

God is at work in our world building his kingdom.  I saw it at work this week on Facebook, when Debby Oller posted the obituary of her husband who died on Thursday.  Many of you know her because she used to attend here. I know her because she was the real estate agent that sold us our house.  Within minutes of posting the obituary, there was a long string of prayerful and comforting comments from people helping to bear the burden of her sorrow.

So the kingdom of God is like friends struggling through life together, helping each other get through the rough spots.

There are a lot of stories we could tell – analogies of how we understand what the kingdom of God is like, stories of how we’ve seen God’s Kingdom at work – in our own lives or in the world around us. 

What stories would you tell? 
How is the kingdom of heaven growing in you? 
Who can you tell your stories to? 

Who do you know who might need to know that there is love? 
            That there is hope?  That there is joy?  That they’re included?

Stories help us understand.  
But sometimes we just want to say,
“Hey, Jesus, give it to me straight.”

Maybe in response to that he’d simply point to the cross and say,
            “God loves you all so much that he sent me to show you.”

The more we say yes to him, the more we’re saying 
“thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” 

The more we say to God,
“build your kingdom here in our hearts, in our lives and in our world,”
…the more we find those moments of clarity,
 when we can see straight into the eyes of love.

Listen to the song by Rob Krabbe written in response to the sermon:

[1] http://www.funny.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/Funny.woa/wa/funny?fn=CDOJC&Funny_Jokes=Kingdom_Of_Heaven and of course I had to use this one because it’s very much like a pun my dad makes. 
[4] The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol.7, p416 (Abingdon Press, 1952)
[6] Romans 14:12, 2 Cor. 5:12, 1 Peter 4:5 All of us will give account.  Revelation 21 and Isaiah 65, according to Richard Mouw in “When the Kings Come Marching In” proposes that all will be brought into the kingdom to be judged, and God will make all things new.
[7] The Interpreter’s Bible, p421