Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
July 28, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a
The Rev. Dr. William H. Morley
He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - July 28, 2002
If you had ventured a guess about the future of Jesus' kingdom two thirds of the way through his ministry, how optimistic would you have been?
He grew up in a despised province of the Roman Empire. He was born before his mother's marriage had become official. He did not appear publicly until he was thirty years old, and then he spent most of his ministry time in the commercialized and more heathen northern Israel, away from the religious power center in Jerusalem. After two years he'd gathered a dozen unimpressive disciples and gained a few converts, mostly among the poor and the unlearned. During the last year of his public life he generated such passionate opposition from both the moneyed aristocracy and from religious fundamentalists that they joined forces -an unlikely alliance- to have him painfully, shamefully executed.
Who would ever predict that from such bleak beginnings a great kingdom would grow?
Would we have had such a perspective?
There's a charming story that a CEO of a very large insurance company tells on himself: He and his wife were driving along an interstate highway when he noticed that their car was low on gas. The CEO got off the highway at the next exit and soon found a
rundown gas station with a single gas pump marked “Full Service”. He asked the lone attendant to fill the tank and check the oil, and then went for a little walk around the station to stretch his legs.
As he was returning to the car, he noticed that the attendant and his wife were engaged in an animated conversation. The conversation stopped as he paid the attendant. But as he was getting back into the car, he saw the attendant wave and heard him say, "It was great talking to you."
As they drove out of the station, the CEO asked his wife if she knew the man. She readily admitted she did. They had gone to high school together and had dated steadily for about a year.
"Boy, were you lucky that I came along," bragged the CEO. “If you had married him, you'd be the wife of a gas station attendant instead of the wife of a chief executive officer."
"My dear," replied his wife, "if I had married him, he'd be the chief executive officer and you'd be the gas station attendant."
Yes, we often think we have the proper perspective on an issue -- when in fact we are way off. Jesus understood this propensity for us humans to get it wrong. Especially when it comes to things spiritual. So he told a few parables.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests its branches."
I don’t know about you, but when I read those words, I can’t help but think about Growth. Growth is the very nature of the kingdom of God. When we read that passage what do we see. We find Jesus talking about the church starting off as a tiny mustard seed, but it grows to become one of the largest trees. He goes on to talk about yeast that by its very nature keeps growing until it raises the entire lump of dough. And, for that reason, the church was made to grow. God wants it to grow and it will keep growing unless we do something to make it stop. You see once things stop growing for very long, they begin to die. If we want to be strong, healthy, and alive we must continue to grow in every way. Some of us might naturally ask, “we want to grow, but we don’t know how?” I would suggest that they’re a couple of ways to grow:
Over the years, I’ve observed that whenever anyone gets together and they start talking about what church they attend, the first question without fail is: How big is your church? People have a fascination with numbers and the size. Why do they do this? They do it because in their minds if the church is big, some good things must be happening. To some degree that’s true. However, I would suggest rather, that to some degree growth and quantity go hand in hand.
Let’s ask ourselves: what causes people to come into the church? Some would say it’s a strong worship service, others great preaching, for some a viable youth program, and still for others it’s a charismatic priest. While I agree that people will be drawn to church for these reasons, they will not stay, if they don’t feel that their lives have been changed for the better. They won’t stay if they don’t feel that they are better people and enjoy a superior life to the one they had before. Programs are good, but they’re not the answer! The true answer to church growth as it relates to numbers or quantity of churchgoers is this: Each One Must Reach One.
Ponder this mathematical possibility:
o Beginning with just twenty disciples, each converting just one person a year, and their converts doing the same...the growth would be like a mustard seed!
§ End of year 1 40
§ End of year 5 640
§ End of year 10 20,480
§ End of year 15 655,360
§ End of year 20 20,971,520
§ End of year 25 1,342,177,280
o All it takes is for each person to bring one soul to Christ each and every year!
Until God’s people get on fire with the “Holy Spirit”, and start bringing the lost in, the church will not grow. Not to say, God can’t make it happen, but He has called us to carry the gospel to the lost: He has called us, just like his disciples, to “GO”. If you want to see quantity of churchgoers skyrocket in the church, only look to your next door neighbor. Now, I know that some of you may be saying to yourselves “that sounds good, Father Bill, but we live in Reidsville, NC and all our friends go to church.” Fair enough, but then maybe this church growth won’t grow by way of Quantity but rather by way of Quality! And that leads us to my second point.
How does a church that has no quality, grow in quantity?
How can a church that has no maturity grow in numbers?
There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who asked one of the old men of the desert why it is that so many people came out to the desert to seek God and yet most of them gave up after a short time and returned to their lives in the city.
The old monk told him, "Last evening my dog saw a rabbit running for cover among the bushes of the desert and he began to chase the rabbit, barking loudly. Soon other dogs joined in the chase, barking and running. They ran a great distance and alerted many other dogs. Soon the wilderness was echoing the sounds of their pursuit but the chase went on into the night.
After a little while, many of the dogs grew tired and dropped out. A few chased the rabbit until the night was nearly spent. By morning, only my dog continued the hunt. "Do you understand," the old man said, "what I have told you?"
"No," replied the young monk, "please tell me father."
"It is simple," said the desert father, "my dog saw the rabbit."
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” The merchant understood at once the value of the commodity before him and he sacrificed everything to obtain it.
Smoke and mirrors and programs can fool people for a while, but only when life changes are evident will people be willing to stick around. What do we need to do? We need to get back to the basics. We need to get back to solid Christ centered teaching. We need to examine our hearts and see, if we are truly portraying the passion of Christ in our daily lives. We need go get back into the Holy Scripture and apply those words to our lives. We need to get down on our knees and pray that God will give us boldness to speak the truth plainly to others we come in contact with. We need to remember: God is the one who makes things Grow, and we are the instruments of his Kingdom growing.
Do you think Jesus was pleased with: Fishing without Catching; A tree that bears no fruit; A lost coin not found; A Empty banquet table; Lost sheep that are not recovered; Harvest fields not reaped?
Buck Williams was one of professional basketball's most relentless and enduring rebounders. He was a top power forward for over a dozen NBA seasons, and one of only eight players to achieve 16,000 points and 12,000 rebounds in his career. His honors and achievements were many: NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA All-Star, All-Pro, All-Defensive Player, in the NBA Finals twice. A truly amazing career!
But most important to Buck Williams was his Christian faith. A sports reporter asked him once what his plans were when he faced what every NBA player ultimately
faces: the difficult transition from player to spectator. Here's what Buck said:
"Whatever I do, in terms of a second career, I want it to be meaningful, I want to touch someone's life - whether it's through business or whatever. If I touch one person's life, then my own life will not be in vain. That's what's really important."
A wonderfully impressive perspective on life, isn't it? Buck Williams expressed the need all of us feel - the need to make a meaningful difference in life, the need for significance. I believe the older we get, the more aware we become of this ultimate value. We begin reflecting on our lives, wondering about its significance, worrying about ending life without having made a difference in the world. The fear of insignificance is strong. Some researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership have remarked that once an executive reaches their 50’s, they refer to that time as the “golden age of leadership”. A time when a person often desires to share their experiences and “life’s” little leadership lessons to the next generation of leaders, and to actively participate in giving something meaningful back to their work, their community, and their religious communities.
What does the Church need in all of its leadership to build up the Body of Christ?
o We need people with vision
§ Who have the vision of Christ, as expressed in His parables
§ Who look not at an apple and count the seeds, but looks at a seed and counts the apples (with their many seeds)!
§ Who look at converting and developing disciples in the same way
o We need people willing to put the kingdom of God first in their lives
§ The seed of the gospel will produce fruit, but only if it falls on good soil – the good soil surrounding our hearts
o And, we need people willing to abide in Christ: hear the powerful words of Saint John:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Thank You, Lord. AMEN!