Joseph M. Constant
June 14, 2015
Pentecost 3, Proper 6, Year B
St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beltsville
I love church bells. I love to hear them in the distance — every time I hear the church bells, they stop me in my tracks and make me think. What time is it, where should I be? As a child growing up in Haiti, the church bells were the timekeeper. You see, in Haiti, except on the first Sunday of the month, church services started at 6:00am. Power was never consistent and most of us did not have an alarm clock to wake us up. And so, the church bells were our call to church on Sunday morning. The first time the bells rang around 5:20, they said, ‘time to get up.’ The second time the bells rang, they said, ‘you better be on your way to church.’ And then the third time, the bells rang, they said service was about to start. I love the sound of the church bells here at St. John’s which ring on Sunday morning to announce that the service is about to start.
In today’s gospel passage (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus is announcing something that he wants us to hear. The passage comes from the fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel. In Mark chapter 1 verse 1, Mark begins the gospel with these words, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Unlike the other three gospels (Matthew, Luke and John), Mark is very direct in his message of who Jesus is and what Jesus is about. Mark shares briefly the ministry of John the Baptist, a ministry that calls people to repent and to come to the water of baptism because the Kingdom of God is at hand. John the Baptist was sent to announce the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Jesus begins his ministry with these words, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Jesus, the Son of God, is the king who has come to establish the reign of God on earth. The bells are ringing, announcing to God’s people that the king is here and the kingdom of God has come near: repent and come to Jesus.
In the first 3 chapters of Mark, we find Jesus fully engaged in his ministry of healing the sick and proclaiming God’s word. But the response to Jesus’ ministry has been somewhat mixed. In chapter 3, Mark tells us, a “great multitude from Galilee followed Jesus.” People came from all over to experience Jesus’ ministry and to hear him proclaiming the good news.
But at the same time, many people questioned Jesus and his gifts. When Jesus casts out demons from those possessed by evil spirits, even the religious leaders from Jerusalem say that Jesus himself must be possessed by Satan. People are drawn to hearing Jesus speak but struggle with Jesus’ identity and the message he brings.
In chapter 4, Jesus uses parables to illustrate the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that he came to establish. Jesus uses parables hoping to transform the heart of the hearer; hoping to bridge the gap between the head and the heart.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus seeks to convey that God is at work in the world in ways that we can’t even see and understand. In the first parable, Jesus talks about how God is spreading seeds in our hearts. These seeds have the potential to grow and bear fruit. It may be slow to harvest, but eventually it will bear fruit. In 1 Peter 1:23-25, it says, “for you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” Here the growth of the Kingdom of God is a mystery that is beyond our human understanding.
For instance, teachers have a wonderful way of planting seeds in the hearts of their students. A teacher might say to a student, you have the potential to become a doctor someday. Or, I can see that you will be a teacher yourself when you grow up. Teachers have a wonderful way of identifying a gift in us. We tend to remember their words when deciding on what our majors will be in college. The Word of God is the imperishable seed that Jesus came to plant in your heart and in my heart.
In the second parable, Jesus uses the mustard seed, which is one of the smallest seeds you will find. Although it is a very small seed, when you plant it, it spreads rapidly and it can grow very high. Jesus uses this parable to illustrate the fact that Christianity begins with a small group of disciples and it will grow. Today, Jesus is worshipped in every language and nation. We know how wide Christianity has spread. Yes, the kingdom Jesus came to establish will continue to grow. But there is still work to be done and God is using you and me to be a part of that work of watering, fertilizing, nurturing and tending the seeds that have been planted.
God planted a seed in the heart of the Apostle Paul. God called the Apostle Paul to plant churches and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul writes, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
God sent Jesus into the world to plant a seed of love and forgiveness and reconciliation in the hearts of God’s people. God sent Jesus into the world to show us a new way of living, to make us into a family. It is this new way of living that Jesus refers to as the Kingdom of God. Here, the Kingdom of God is not a political system. It does not have physical structures. The Kingdom of God resides right here, in your heart and in my heart. The Kingdom of God is made manifest when we share God’s love with one another. The Kingdom of God is made manifest when a hungry child is fed and the naked is clothed. The Kingdom of God is made manifest when we allow love, compassion and mercy to inform our decisions and our actions.
We are blessed to be a part of tending a garden that will harvest in a future time. That is the ministry we are called to. That is God’s invitation in our lives.
The question for us this morning is, as children of God’s Kingdom, how do we live in the here and now? Here, the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, helps us. Paul reminds us that whatever is going on in our lives, we can rest in Jesus’ eternal hope. We walk the Christian journey by faith and not by sight. We cannot always see how God is working in our lives and in the world. We walk by faith and not by sight. What keeps us going is the love of Christ. What keeps us going is our prayer life: our study of the word of God, our offering of our gifts, talents, and resources.
My brothers and sisters, we can be confident that we will get to our final destination. There, we will be at home with our Lord. For now, we take comfort knowing that we have a friend in Jesus. In Jesus, we have a friend whom we can bring our fear and anxiety to at all times. In Jesus, we can rest assured knowing that we have a friend who bears all our sins and grief. In Jesus, we have a friend who goes ahead of us to prepare a place just for you and just for me.
Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and one of the poorest countries in the world. In spite of the material poverty that I grew up with in Haiti, I can also testify to the fact that the spirit of God is in full abundance. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church in Haiti. I was blessed to have a Sunday school teacher, thank God for Sunday school teachers who taught me about Jesus and his love for me. In Sunday school, I learned that God loved me so much that God sent his son Jesus to die for me. In Sunday school, I learned the 23rd Psalm that the Lord is my shepherd and I don’t have to worry about the material things we did not have. I grew to love the Episcopal liturgy. One of my greatest joys was being trained to serve as an acolyte. On those Sundays, I was so excited about serving on the altar; I did not sleep the night before. I was so excited that Sunday morning, I was up and ready to go to church before the first church bells rang.
How is it possible that a small mustard seed can grow and produce such a large tree and spread to cover such large areas? That’s the power of the God who is our creator, redeemer and sustainer. That’s the power of the God who calls us each by name to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ in the world. That’s the power of the God who is at work here at St. John’s using us as individuals and as a community to make an impact in this community and in the world. Our response to God’s call in our lives is to make Jesus our choice.
When we make Jesus our choice, we realize that we hear with our heart and not our ears. When we make Jesus our choice, we realize that we belong to God, sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. To belong to God’s Kingdom is to allow the Holy Spirit to use us as a vehicle of God’s love, God’s Kindness, God’s forgiveness to a world that’s thirsty for it. Like church bells, we need to pay attention to Jesus and the message he brings. We need to pay attention to God’s call and we need to answer the call of the bell. Amen.
Copyright 2015 by Joseph M. Constant.