the one about the kingdom...
June 18, 2018, 1:48 PM

Sermon from June 17, 2018

Mark 4: 26-34

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this past week I was able – again – to do something that I not only think is pivotal to the formation of faith life (the faith lives of those whom I’m lucky enough to serve and my own), but also something that I truly and deeply love; being at Lutheridge for a week of camp. In fact, it is something that I think is so important that Erin and I are taking the girls to Family Camp later next month so that Ashleigh and Miriam can receive their first taste of a week of summer camp.

This year, I was lucky to be able to accompany Ben Lindsay and almost 20 other youth from around the Southeast as we learned about the seasons of the church, heard about Jesus’ struggle and his passion narrative, we learned about prayers, miracles, and the Spirit that sends us out to serve God and serve our neighbors – all of them. It was a great week and it makes my heart to feel so full when kids like Ben and the others utter the words, “Pastor Matt…do I have to go home?” Especially after they stated earlier that they were a bit apprehensive to coming to Lutheridge – like really how can learning about Jesus be fun and cool.

Every time I am in those mountains and walking those well-worn paths, stepping into those areas, cabins, the dining hall, and trudging up and down that mountain; I begin to be ever mindful of what I’m experiencing around me.

Mostly, the thing I experience the most is the noise. Camp can be and is loud. And it isn’t the encroaching commercial world that seems to continue to ‘push in’ on what I consider holy ground. The noise comes from these kids. They can be loud y’all. Games of ninja red light green light (a camp favorite I might add), Gaga ball pits, the pool, the songs they sing – all the time, at every moment, and the deafening roar of the Dining Hall. That doesn’t even include the sounds that don’t stop when the lights turn out and the animals of the forest join in and continue the cacophony of noise.

It’s loud.

That loud noise doesn’t extinguish the ‘quiet noise’ that we sometimes overlook, the inter-cabin squabbles that always crop up as a new community is being formed early in the week, or those kids who pine for home as they are in a new environment and away from all their usual comforts, or even those certain youth who require just a little more attention than the others. Those noises at times can be even louder and sometimes messier than all those other things combined.

Yet, in spite of all that chaos that goes on at camp, despite all that extra ‘fun’ that a young kid might bring into camp – there is a place for them. Every single one. They are welcomed with energetic smiles that Sunday afternoon. They are helped into easing into this new community. They are encouraged to take on new challenges. They are helped to see God’s presence not only in the world around them, but in and through their very selves as well.

These young boys and girls are lovingly guided through obstacles – those that are physical; like the Group Interaction Course, working together to solve physical puzzles while including everyone in their new community. But, even those obstacles that are emotional or spiritual. Where they share something about themselves wondering if they’ll truly be accepted and loved. Where they might let a counselor, a new friend, an adult they feel that they can trust in on something personal going on in their lives.

There is a lot of noise, chaos, and mess that goes into a week of camp.

Yet, no matter the noise; no matter the mess; no matter the chaos – people are loved, welcomed, accepted, encouraged, and God’s love is shared with them. In fact, through games, songs, bible study, and more – they are told how God is already present in their lives because of who and whose they are.

God isn’t there because of the ‘them’ they share on social media. God isn’t there because of the clothes they wear or the people they know or the people they are friends with.

No, God is there because of the one God knows. The one God has created. God is there, in full and welcoming love because they – because we – are God’s own.

I thought about all that and more this past week as I read this Gospel text. Here we see Jesus tell another story – another parable – to compare the kingdom of God. This time, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.

An incredibly tiny seed that grows into an incredibly large bush.

But, not only that it starts from something so small and grows into something large, but that this large shrub welcomes and hosts all sorts of birds, flying creatures, and other animals.

It provides shade, shelter, and care to all who inhabits its branches.

As I was able to talk with my fellow pastors, my colleagues, my friends we began to notice something rather interesting about the trees and shrubs we saw around camp. They don’t really exist to benefit themselves.

A shrub or a tree doesn’t flourish to the highest of heights growing leafy branches to provide shade and shelter to itself. It doesn’t produce an assortment of ‘fruit’ to feed itself. It doesn’t grow strong and sturdy branches so that it can ‘live in’ itself. It doesn’t absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen just, so it can ‘breathe.’

No, it does all of this for others. It provides, it gives a home, it welcomes all into itself so that others are cared for. Whether they be bugs, or birds, or animals nesting in, crawling up, or hanging out – the shrub provides a home, a place of welcome.

It doesn’t ask for papers. It doesn’t threaten violence. It doesn’t separate or divide those families coming to it to find shelter and a little peace and rest.

It welcomes. It provides.

That is the kingdom of God my sisters and brothers.

That kingdom of God doesn’t provide shelter so that it might feel better. It doesn’t provide food so that it can be fed. It doesn’t welcome all so that it can feel smug. The kingdom of God does all of that because it cares for the people around it. It welcomes all those into it’s branches, it’s rooms, it’s homes, it’s lives because it exists for and with others.

So, the kingdom of God is a lot like a shrub. Or a holy place on a mountain. Or these people in a little town like Newberry, or even a country – that welcomes, and cares, and loves. A place where shelter is provided. A place where love is found and shared. A place where all sorts of creations of God can call home.

The kingdom of God is a noisy and sometimes messy place – just like all those other things that look like the kingdom. Yet, in spite of the noise, in spite of the mess – God is present there working through those communities, working through those people, working through them all to be – again and again – a place of shelter; of solace. A place that encourages and shows love. A place that forgives and provides mercy. A place that welcomes all sorts of people. A place that is a home.

That’s the kingdom of God – it looks a lot like a shrub that grows from something tiny – a word, a smile, a stand, a hug, a cross – and grows into something big enough to welcome all into its branches. Amen.

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