“Disparate World Views” Ephesians 4:25-5:2

We have no greater challenge as followers of Jesus than this, holding together two very disparate world views into a new one of the Kingdom of God.   That is the truth.

When we get to this section of Ephesians it is good to be reminded that what the author is doing is bringing together two very different communities, Jewish followers of Jesus, and now the Gentiles, who are the Greek speaking Romanized inhabitants of this area.

A little history lesson might be in order.

In 587 B.C. Judea was conquered by the Babylonians, and their normal procedure for subduing a population was forced resettlement, and so it is in this timeframe that the people of Israel lose their land and their Temple.  They make a transition from being a people of place to a people of a book, a story, a narrative and sharedbmoral codes by which to live.  Torah becomes the unifier in the midst of what comes to be know as the “diaspora” – the scattering.

Jews continued to live in diaspora communities like the one in Ephesus all around the Mediterranean long after the end of the Exile and the rebuilding of Nehemiah and Herod the Great.  They continued worshiping at Synagogues locally, gathering around the scriptures, the Torah, and adhering to the customs, teachings and practices that set them aside as a unique community.

One may have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, at least once in their lifetime, but the matter of how we behave and live together as a community continued to be as a people who kept the Torah, circumcised on the 8th day, kept the laws, the commandments and the ordinances.  To be a Jew was to observe the Sabbath and keep the Festivals.

In short, how we choose to live tells the world who we are as God’s people.

This is how a Jew in Ephesus would be marked as unique, by living in covenant with God.

When those Jews living in Ephesus became followers of Jesus, (who himself observed all these things as well) they had no difficulty incorporating the teachings of Jesus into the rhythm of their daily lives.   Sabbath was still observed, the festivals were kept, the while the commandments took on new dimensions, they were still taught and observed.

“I came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.”  Jesus had said.

Gentiles however, behaved quite differently.   We get clues about that from Jesus in the Gospels when he says, “you know that the Gentiles love to Lord over each other, arguing for positions of authority.  It shall not be so amongst you.”

In the code of conduct for the Empire the world works in a hierarchical “quid pro quo” fashion.  To get something one has to give something in return.  “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours and if I can get a ‘deal’ at your expense, well that’s just your bad luck.”

The code of conduct for the Jewish community was one of understanding that all good gifts flowed from God.

The code of conduct for Gentiles was the understanding that what you received flowed down as a blessing from the Emperor who was the one who granted property, position, title, authority, and who expected something in return for what was granted.

The Emperor expected fealty, loyalty, productivity, etc.  That “chain of reciprocal gratitude” extended down throughout society, so if you were a Gentile official with a title, you could grant positions to those beneath you, but the expectation was that you would receive something in return.  If you were a soldier, you were granted a position of authority, but you were expected to perform certain services in return.

You get from someone, and then you are obligated in some way to give something in return back to the granter of the favor, the person of power, or the one who holds the position.

These are two conflicting world views when you think about it, and they extend to the present day.

One is tuned to a gracious God.

One is tuned to a “get what you can and pay it back” earthly master.

What Jesus was talking about to his disciples at that time was nothing short of a cultural and behavioral change.

“The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

“Whoever would be great among you must become slave, and servant of all.”

These are ideas that fit pretty well in the Jewish understanding of all things coming from God, but not so well in the Gentile world of reciprocal gratitude.

We tend to hear those pronouncements of Jesus as simply metaphorical.  “Oh, you want me to be like a slave, like a servant.”

But the force of Jesus’ words, and those of the author of Ephesians are much more than just polite suggestions.  The matter of how we treat one another becomes the core of who we are to be as followers of Christ.

Listen to this again with the ears of upsetting Empire.

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.   Nice sentiment, but how does that fit with the way Empire works? How do you do that in a system where falsehoods and guarding information is a way of life? How do you hear that when the understanding is not that you are not members of one another but rather an implicit hierarchy, where some are “naturally”  above others?

 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

With Jewish ears we hear the commandments echoing here, do not kill, do not bear false witness, do not provoke to anger, be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

But Empire hears this as weakness.   Grudges must be kept, tallies held on to, anger is a useful tool for control and manipulation.   Anger is a useful tool for exacting payment, imposing will, and demanding returns.

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

You might think the end of thievery would be in the Empire’s interest of Law and Order, but in truth, many of the transactions of Empire required theft of resources.  In the scarcity model of Empire, there is not enough to go around and so one must take from the less deserving to meet the demands of those more “worthy.”

God’s ordinances and decrees made special points to talk about fairness and accuracy in weights and measures.

To Jewish ears “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” rang as the assurance that there would be enough for everyone.

But Empire runs off of supply and demand, and if one can manipulate one or the other one can increase one’s profit margin.

It’s not blatant stealing that is disparaged here, it is the business as usual of taking advantage of the neighbor to in order to advance one’s own wealth.

If there are “needy” it’s because they haven’t figured out how to game things toward their own advantage, Empire has no obligation toward the neighbor unless it is useful for pacifying or getting something in return.

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 

You can figure this one out yourself.   In the world of politics, and influence peddling, and negative campaign ads, the game is not about building up but rather tearing down.  Tearing down one’s opponent to get the upper hand.

That’s why this section of Ephesians seems so pertinent and accessible to us, we still live in the tension of these two world views!

We live in the tension of what our calling to be followers of Christ would have us do, and the plain fact that all of these “Gentile” activities tend to “work” in the “real world.”

Falsehood and half truths are useful if you’re trying to sell something, or influence a vote, or neutralize opposition.

Anger is a power unifying force.   Getting people to “hate” makes them susceptible to manipulation.

The transfer of wealth from a less powerful or organized group is the easiest way to rise in one’s own power, influence and wealth.

Evil talk is useful for holding on to constituents, or power, or dismissing arguments against your actions.

So the author of Ephesians begins to address these points where the Jewish and Gentile communities differ in their understanding and world view, and the author does it with full knowledge that the reason it is hard for the new combined community to give up some of these things is precisely because they work!

He is asking those Gentiles who are skilled and schooled at the ways of Empire to give up that way of living.

He is asking the Jewish Christians who may be skilled at God’s expectations to give up something as well.   They are to give up their judgmentalism about the Gentile’s actions.

This is hard work, forging a new culture out of two disparate ones.

It will take all the grace of God found in Christ’s living example to get both communities to move off of their predisposed ways of acting and thinking in order to make of them a new community.

It’s a move that pulls no punches.  “Put away then….”

It’s a move that recognizes the struggle.  “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgive one another as Christ forgave you…”

It’s a move that lifts up Christ as example, as the one to imitate in the midst of a world of disparate viewpoints.  Imitate Christ as one who knows sacrifice is a part of journey.

This is the work we continue to engage in, just as the Ephesians did, every time our decision making process bumps up against the collision of these two world views and ways of thinking.

It’s why we have the polarization that we have in our society today.

I wish I could say that everything was finally resolved at Ephesus, that they two communities worked everything out and eventually became the “one” that Jesus prayed for them to be.

There is no story about that happening recorded in the scripture.

Instead scripture is witness to the fact that these tensions are part and parcel of our journey, part of the work for all of us to do.

And that work begins by examining the world view from which you are operating, or demanded to operate by virtue of your job, your upbringing, and your experience.

Today, it is enough to realize that this is the struggle of faith.

We will feel the tension of communities who look at the world in very different ways, and Jesus bids us find ways to overcome those divisions.

Today it is enough to see how each of those worlds work, and to look to Christ as the one to imitate and to show us how to live as we straddle them

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“A Life Worthy of the Calling.” Ephesian 4:1-16

This discipleship stuff is tricky business, no doubt about it.

You get a sense of that from today’s Gospel lesson, where Jesus once again encounters large crowds coming out to greet him.   You would think he would be delighted, his message gaining traction, from outward appearances nothing but success and forward momentum.  Each day the crowd gets a little larger, and they press a little harder upon him to perform and out do what he’s done before.

You or I might have been hooked right into that, continued to just do more and more and more convinced in our minds that this is what is required of us, and so this is what we must do, put out more… more bread, more compassion, more healing, more favors, more of what is attractive!

But Jesus calls the crowds out on their expectations.

“You just came out here for the bread, didn’t you?”

He flips the narrative on them, making them think about what their part in the work of God and the coming kingdom is to be.

What am I here for?   Is it just for the bread that fills my belly, or is there more to this following Jesus than getting my needs met?

What is it that will really satisfy my hunger, fill me up?   Is it the stuff that fills my belly, or is this “bread” that Jesus offers something that does more, that fills my soul?

In a similar way the author of the letter to the Ephesians shifts gears with those who receive his writing as well.

The author of Ephesians has been building up the community, reminding them how much God loves them.

He has been commending them on their actions, encouraging them to consider and take in the height and depth and breadth and length of God’s love for them.

It’s been very much a “filling station” kind of experience up to this point in the letter, and that’s a good thing.   Lord knows we could certainly all use some good news and a little “filling up” in our lives!

But now the letter shifts to the matter of what one does once one realizes that one’s heart and mind is full and their faith renewed and strengthened.

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  He says.

The author begins to remind them of how they have been gifted for service.

This is the tricky move, and we know it.

It’s the move from studying something for the sake understanding it to moving to application.

It’s the move from practice to actually entering the game.

It’s the move from anticipation of what it might be like to do a task to feeling the expectation upon you to actually perform that task or duty.

We know this shift and all the trickiness found in it because we have likely all lived it at one time or another, and sometimes over and over.

I went to Seminary, studied the scriptures and theology, practiced worship leadership, delivered sermons to my professors and fellow classmates, and all of that gives you a pretty good idea of what it might be like to be a Pastor.

But there comes that day when you graduate and the call is extended by a community and the keys to the building and the trust of the community are placed into your hands, and it is suddenly different.

The day comes when you ascend the pulpit to look out over the congregation, your congregation, and you suddenly realize that all the preparation, the study and the practice has led up to this… the eyes that look to you.

You begin to feel the weight of leading a life worthy of the call.

That’s my story, but I’ll bet yours is much the same and you can parse it out.

You studied and prepared or apprenticed or were brought along, and maybe it seemed pretty seamless at the time, but there was probably a moment when you felt the weight of it all.

The moment when as the nurse you entered the room without a supervisor at your heels and you noticed something that needed attention.   There is no one else but you, and the eyes of the patient look to you with trust and hope or pleading, and so you step up to live a life worthy of the calling.

The moment when as a clerk, accountant, banker, financial planner you were pouring over the books, doing the routine calculations you’ve done a thousand times, but this time the mistake or the opportunity became apparent, the accounting piece that no one else has caught.  You sense the consequence this will have for life of your client, or for the company.  You feel the weight of stepping up to live a life worthy of the calling.

It does not have to be such a life or death kind of thing.   Maybe you bus tables and bust your butt in hospitality.   You get a certain sense of satisfaction that you are making this moment for your customers.   Your smile and demeanor in the midst of a mishap — of a knocked over wine glass or a child in the midst of a tantrum communicates that will be all right and we will get through this.. stepping up to live a life worthy of the calling.

These are moments when you understand that you are full.

You are full of the knowledge and assurance that others have given you.   Teachers and co-workers, Mentors and supervisor, parents and friends.   From the abundance that you have received and from the way you have been filled, you are now able to spill over yourself into the lives others.

You live a life worthy of the calling.

You may have started out in this job just looking to fill your belly with the bread.  You might have thought this was just about getting a paycheck, paying the bills, having money to do others things, the things you really love.  I’ll just do this for a while until something better turns up.

But, somewhere along the line, something changed on you.  You began to understand that there was more to life than collecting a paycheck and more to what you are empowered and equipped to do in this moment than rote repetition of a task.

This thing you do became your vocation.

The thing that you have the unique gifts and talents to do well gave you a sense of being filled up.  It gave you meaning and started to become an extension of your life in the world.

You begin to live to see the congregation respond to God’s call, or find challenge in how to make that more clear.

You begin to live to see the patient recover and move on to recovery and full life, or help them to end life well, as life does that as well… ends.  You become the steward of the transition.

You live to find that magic in the books, to solve that puzzle in the numbers, make clear what others only see as fog, or point out how the trend line can be changed.

You live to make your customer’s day, to see them fed and smiling and to walking out the door knowing that this has been a little respite of hospitality in an often too inhospitable world.

Insert your own experience here as you are able, the moment or moments when you began to sense that what you do is not just about what you do, but about fulfilling a vocation, a purpose in life that changes the world in some small, or large way.

In that moment the words of Ephesians spring to life.   “I beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

In that moment, you begin to understand he words of Jesus as they find their deeper meaning.  “For the Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”       

The Bread of God gives meaning to what you do.

The Bread of God provides purpose to the task, no matter what it is.

The Bread of God provides satisfaction in the action and ability, in making the difference, and discovering that you are doing what you were created to do!

The Bread of God is about leading the life that changes the way the world works into the way God desires this world to work.   Making of it a place of interdependent relationships where all gifts are honored, all talents are lifted up as good.  The world becomes a place where (like the body) all things begin to work together to accomplish that which it sets out to do, and it finds delight in the working.

This is the Bread of God.

This is living a life worthy of the calling.

You know, in another story in the Gospels when the Disciple were arguing over which one of them was the greatest, Jesus’ response was to remind them that while the Gentiles love to make distinctions and to lord their positions of authority and power over one another, “…it shall not be so with you.  Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.   For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”

This is what the life of Jesus reveals.  This is the “Bread” Jesus has to offer – not just the bread that fills the belly, but what it is to live with a filled soul.  For, that which fills the soul is finding purpose, meaning and value in what you do.  That which fills the soul is understanding the gifts you have been given, and attending to lifting up those gifts and abilities, not just in yourself but also in others and giving thanks for those gifts.

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” This is the calling of Jesus.   Not to Lord over or look down, but to lift up and to build up one another.

What is it that I could do today to make someone else’s day?

If I shared this bread of God with them, — appreciating who they are and what they do and giving thanks, would I not also receive from them the same?

“How To Take It All In?” Ephesian 33:14-22

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe’re not really sure how to do it when it comes upon us.   How does one take it all in?   You’ve likely had such an experience, somewhere in your life, perhaps more than once.   The experience that overwhelms, that you have a hard time “taking in.”

It’s the experience one has at the birth of your child.  For months you go through stages of preparation, wondering about it, experiencing the changes in the body, the moods and the relationship with spouse and the extended family, but none of that ever quite prepares you for that moment when the fragile new life is placed within your arms.

How do you take this all in?  This moment?  This feeling?   This awe?  This responsibility? This joy and fear all wrapped up into one?

Or it might be the moment of graduation from school, be it high school, college, or graduate school.  The years of experiences all rolled into that moment of a few steps across a stage, a handshake and a piece of paper (or even empty placard – you get the diploma later!)  It is all handed to you and it is like receiving your whole life.

How do you take it all in?   This moment of going from who you were to who you are about to become?   How do you take in the transition from someone who has had to meet requirements and regimented goals, and who has been told what they can and cannot do up to this point.   This moment when suddenly you are responsible for your own life and advancement, with all the rights, privileges and fears thereof?   You will now be making decisions on your own that will have effect on your whole life!  How do you take that in?

Or, it might be that milestone achievement within a career.   The moment when you hit the pinnacle, when you win the award, when you make the difference you always hoped you would make, and are honored or recognized for an achievement.   You want to dwell there, bask a bit, but you also feel the pressure to move on, to do more.  How do I top this?  Where do I go from here?

Or perhaps the milestone is the moment when your retirement is final, and you move from the regiment of achievement and striving toward measured goals to stepping back or stepping away from what it is that has likely defined your very identity for decades.

How do you take this in?

The relief and joy of not having to punch a clock or file the paperwork ever again, but also that empty feeling of wondering what comes next, and just who and what you are now that you are no longer defined by a job or a title?

It helps to imagine forward sometimes in situations like these.    Try to imagine what it might be like.

You imagine what it will be like to be a parent, take the kids to ball games, Disney, etc.

You imagine what it will be like to finally snag that ideal job, win that award, what you think it will feel like when you are successful.

You imagine what it will be like to finally retire and have all the freedom it will afford.

But all you can do is imagine.  What it will actually look like is never quite what you imagine, and you know that.

In Ephesians the author is trying to get us to use that same kind of “forward thinking imagination” not to consider your future or your own life, but rather God’s love and hopes for you.

“Plant your feet firmly in love and take in if you can all the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.”   The author says.

How does one do that?  How do you take all that in?

I suspect one does it the same way one does the other kind of creative imagination.   It is a mixture of what you observe in others and what you experience yourself along the way.

“Plant your feet firmly in love” the author implores, but he does so after revealing that he is praying fervently for these people in Ephesus.

So one part of this creative imagination is getting in tune with the experience and observation of others.

They see the graciousness, the love this author has for them in his writings, and that gives them an access point to think about this love of God.

This love that brings the author to his knees, … not in fear or terror, but in awe of the God who loves and who provides all things and blesses.

This is an access point is it not?

It’s not unlike looking to our own parents when your own child is laid in your arms.   They got through this, they did all right, they are there for me… there is richness of experience already placed within me just by being nurtured by them.

It’s not unlike looking across the stage at those professors who taught you, and who beam now at you in pride.  They made this journey themselves and look at where they are!

You can do the walk as well.

You can imagine what lies in your future because of what they have shared of themselves with you.

It’s not knees that they bow, but caps in recognition of what they see in your future as they hand that token of recognition to you.

It’s an access point, not unlike the encouragement of co-workers or well wishes of colleagues who believed in you and who worked beside you to bring you to this future.

None of us gets to see what the future holds ahead of time.

What we are privileged to see is the kind of gift of inner strength that is conferred through love, relationship, and encouragement.

So the author of Ephesians wants us to imagine how much God is pulling for us.

 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

I don’t think we hear encouragement like that nearly often enough.

I think the propensity in our world is to point out shortcomings, and faults, and to evaluate based upon where further growth is required.  When the world speaks, it most often says “do better next time.”

The net result of that is to fall into a kind of scarcity thinking that clouds our vision of the future.

We’re always assuming that whatever it is we need, there just isn’t enough of to go around.

Scarcity tries to make things precious by convincing you that there is a finite quantity of this, and so for you to get yours it must be taken from someone else, denied to someone else.

Gold markets thrive in scarcity thinking.

Diamonds are considered precious because they are rare and difficult to obtain.  DeBoer’s capitalized on that to put one on the finger of every fiancé or wife as a sign of their value or worth, “how much I love you.”

I imagine that it comes as really bad news to DeBoer’s that scientists now understand that there are trillions of tons of diamonds 150 miles down.  They are not rare, just hard to get to.

God will have none of that scarcity thinking.

For God, blessing is expansive, and love is a commodity that increases in value the more of it that is spread around.   For God, the resources of love are unlimited, and potential for more is always increasing, and it is out of the abundance of God’s grace and love that there is more than enough for all.

Ponder that, the next time you get to the end of a nature show and they start the inevitable downbeat trend of how fragile this world is.

That is nonsense.

The earth will carry on quite merrily for at least another 7.6 billion years until it is consumed in the corona as our Sun becomes a Red Giant.   Our demise is not because things running out, but rather because they become too full!  The Sun moving from hydrogen to Helium for fuel, and now too full of Helium to remain its old size and shape!

Whether humankind will be around, or the current flora and fauna configuration, well that’s another matter.

That will depend upon our capacity to move from scarcity thinking to expansive, love filled thinking.   Do we care enough about the wonder of this world to love it, preserve it, or will we fall into the scarcity thinking that drives the acquisition of resources and the accumulation of wealth.

The earth won’t end with us, it will just transition beyond us… which is again not a matter of things running out but rather God being too gracious with pouring out things!

The author of Ephesians invites us to try to get our heads around the expansiveness of God and God’s grace, but not in abstract, but rather in how it applies to you.

The power to work within you!

The power to accomplish abundantly!

The power to do far more than we can ever imagine, and far greater things than we could ever ask for!

This is the invitation today.

Engage in some creative imagination on the limitless love and goodness of God, and how God’s great desire is to channel all of that right through you to make a difference in this world.

We’re really not sure how to take all of that in, are we?

That’s why we’re in this together, and why we have a choice to make every day.

We can join with the voices of this world that turn to fear, scarcity, exclusion and try to use those things to make us afraid as well, and make us cower back, make us lose our imagination.

“Maybe they’re right, maybe there’s not enough…”

Or, we can listen to the author of Ephesians and consider for just one moment the height and depth and breadth and fullness of God’s love for this world, and then look around us at those who have encouraged us, prayed for us, believed in us, and passed this message on to us as a message to be shared with a scared and scarred world.

Can you dare to imagine what it would look like if acted as if God’s love was inexhaustible, and given for all?

Can you dare to imagine living into that future, with your next action, your next decision?

“Walls or Calls?” Ephesians 2:11-22

Christ brought us together through his death on the cross.

The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility.

Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

That’s plain enough, isn’t it?

 

I hope you’re finding Eugene Peterson’s translation helpful as we make our way through the book of Ephesians.

The apostle Paul and those who followed in his writing style were masters of the Greek language with all of its nuance.  In Greek one communicates emphasis by piling up clauses and expanding thoughts.

It never quite comes across the same in English.

We tend to stumble over the jumble of complex sentences and get lost in what the author believes they are making quite clear.

So, it is that the reworking by Eugene Peterson into shorter thoughts helps me immensely as the author tries to speak to this fractured community, where division and distinction and conflict have been so deeply ingrained.

“The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of hostility.”

I’ve been pondering just that phrase.  From our perspective down range of the events of Jesus, we tend to think of the Cross and the events of Jesus’ Crucifixion as matters for theological consideration.

What did Jesus do on the Cross?  That’s the question we ask.

Was this Atonement by Satisfaction?  God demanding someone or something to make things right?

Was this “Tricking the devil?”  (You can’t REALLY kill God!)   Christus Victor over all?

Was this some Substitutionary action?  Jesus putting himself in our place so we wouldn’t have to suffer like this?

We usually debate the crucifixion of Jesus clinically, and from a safe historical distance.

But try to imagine this story a bit differently.

Try to imagine it from the perspective of an outsider to the situation hearing the story of Jesus for the first time, and then measuring their reaction to it.

“This Jesus was an itinerant teacher, he healed the sick, fed people, cast out demons and proclaimed love, and they did WHAT to him???”

Tragedies tend to unite us, pull us together, give us a unified vision.   Think of the Cross less as something to debate as to how it works, and more as a story of injustice done, a tragedy witnessed, and how you would react to it.

Think of a few recent tragic news stories, and how you reacted to that news.

Think of the news when you first heard it from the border, that a policy change had meant Border Patrol was no longer admitting families and letting them stay together as they processed their request for asylum, but now were enforcing a policy of separation, and removing children from their parents, with no clear plan for reuniting the family.

I’m not asking for a debate about policy, or “rightness” or “legality”… just your visceral response.

Did you think about that?

Did you think, “About time someone took care of this situation!”

Or did you think, “WHAT?”  They are breaking apart families?!

Or, (on a less controversial scale) perhaps you heard the story from Minneapolis of the 14 year old young black man who decided to be entrepreneurial and who opened up a little hot dog stand for the summer in his neighborhood.

Someone called the police on his operation.   He had no food vendor license, after all.

What is your first reaction to that?

Is it “Well they should shut him down such a health risk!”

Or did you think “WHAT???  Kids have been doing lemonade and kool aid stands for years!

That’s what is going on in Ephesians.

You have in the community of Ephasus these two groups of believers.

One set of believers come to the story of Jesus from the perspective of being Jews.  They are well acquainted with the nuance of the law, the demands of the covenant, the dietary restrictions, the festivals, and the keeping of the traditions.

For them, the story of Jesus is one of an insider debate.  Was he Messiah or not?  How did he fulfill the law?  We’re on “this” level in conversation about the events of Jesus, because we have all this insider knowledge from years of being in the tradition.

We’re not Galileans, not emotionally invested in the story of Jesus.  For us this is a question of how he fits into the grand scheme of how God has been at work for generations.

But there is another set of believers who have come to Jesus because of the teaching of the apostles.  They are Gentile outsiders to the community of faith, curious and ready to receive the teachings of Jesus but a little confused by all the other precepts and commands of the old covenant, and not really sure how any or all of that might apply to them.

They know nothing of what is referred to as the “rich history” of God at work with God’s people.  They know only that Jesus was someone who had regard for them in their station in life, and that what he talks about is “good news” to them.

They are like the strangers in the church kitchen, if you will.

They want to help.

They are eager to be involved.

They are willing and ready workers… but they haven’t got a clue as to where anything is usually kept or where anything goes after you’re done using it, and so they put things where they think it would be good to put them.

That, of course, upsets the folks who have used this kitchen their whole life and who KNOW where things ought to be kept, have always been kept!

These two groups end up irritating one another.

Conflict ensues.

Now there are two ways to resolve such conflict of course.

The human propensity is to revert to the restraint of the law.   We can build walls, label the cabinets, scold when we find something out of place, or ban from use altogether.

Walls are easy to erect.

But the author of Ephesians offers another vision of what God has done, which is to build something new.

Not a wall that separates, but rather a new household, a new structure.

This is hard work, of course, but this is what the Cross is all about.

The Cross is a tragedy.  No one should ever die in such a way, we can all agree on that even when we can’t agree on just exactly what mechanism for salvation was happening there.

“The Cross got us to embrace.”

“The Cross “reconciled us in one body.”

That’s the way it is and should be with tragedy, and God knows that.

The Duck Boat sinks and lives are lost and we all pull together, mourning the loss of so many members of the Coleman family.   In southern Missouri, where race relations are not always stellar, this we can agree upon.   No one should have to watch their whole family drown in front of them.

The pictures come from the border, and we hear the cries of the children in the detention centers, and the anquished tears of parents who do not know where their children are or how to contact them, and whether you agree with the policy or not, this we can agree upon. No child should be forcibly taken from their parents in this manner, and no parent should live in the terror of not knowing how to reconnect with their child.

The young black man showing initiative, trying to find a way to earn a living in a North Minneapolis neighborhood with few opportunities before him is reported, and we are in agreement on this.  No one trying to better themselves should have to put up with discriminatory calls or have opportunities taken away from them, no matter what their skin color.

In the face of tragedy boundaries are no longer so important.

That is why you will see hundreds of people from Branson come out to sing and light candles and grieve for strangers they do not really know.

In the face of tragedy, policies and procedures and “letter of the law” are of less concern than the bond of children to parents, and so judges will act, and policies are called to be rolled back, and demonstrations are held and the hard work of reconciliation begins.

In the face of denial of opportunity, the community finds a new way.

Rather than simply shutting down that reported hot dog stand, the police officers called, and the community organizers in the area, and the health department stepped up to say, “you want to run a hot dog stand?  Here let us help you make it up to code.”

The community rallies, a hand washing station is donated, the health department gives the young man instruction, a food thermometer, and then assists him in filling out the proper paperwork to be in good standing, and a young entrepreneur is built up instead of an illegal stand being torn down.

This is what the author of Ephesians encourages these opposing groups to consider.  How can we join in the call to build up rather than resorting to the easy action of tearing down and dividing?

God is using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what God is building.   God used the apostles and prophets for the foundation.   Now God’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together.

What if we decided to look at all the things that tend to divide us as instead opportunities to build something with Christ as the cornerstone?

What if we could look at the Cross as a tragedy again, a terrible thing that should never have been resorted to or implemented?

What if we resolved  to “never again” become so divided over something or someone that we would ever be tempted again to cry “Crucify Him!” or “Get that bum out of here!”

What if (as the author of Ephesians proclaims) we claimed “this Kingdom of Faith” as our home country now?  What if we put everything else that threatens to divide us and separate us in a subordinate position to working for God’s Kingdom.

I will not engage in debates over flags or knee taking, for my citizenship resides with God’s Kingdom, not so much here, and God calls upon me to seek to understand the actions of my neighbor rather than to accuse them or condemn them.

Maybe it’s time we put that bowl (in other words) that we listen to the newcomer to the Kitchen.   They might have something here about where that bowl ought to go, where it might fit better.

I will not debate over Governmental policy, or legality, for my citizenship resides with God’s Kingdom, and so I will instead ask whether what I see is in keeping with God’s call for us to love the neighbor.  I do so recognizing that if I do not love in such a fashion today, it may very well be that the tables may well be turned on me in the future.  That tragedy will be repeated.

What could we build, brick by brick, with Christ as the cornerstone if before we ever picked up a brick to do anything else with it, we thought of the tragedy of the Cross, and how part of what God in Christ Jesus show us is that no one ought to have to go through that… ever again.

“What Am I Living For?” Ephesians 1:3-11

What does it take to get you motivated in the morning?

For some of us it’s that “elixir of life” that flows from the dark grounds, that hot steaming cup of java in our mug.  Coffee.

Others prefer a cup of tea, or some other caffeine delivery system.

“Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my first cup/mug/soda/ etc. – for the day!”

For the author of the letter to the Ephesians however, what motivates is reflecting on the goodness of God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”

I can be a little envious of that kind of positive motivation and attitude.

For me, the days seem a bit dark.

The news reminds me of the ongoing litany of what is wrong with this world, and the problems that seem insurmountable.

The “investigative reporters” launches into her hard hitting tactics, microphones are thrust into people’s faces, doors on knocked on, all trying to get “answers” or “results” using strong-arm tactics or public shaming.

Government inquiries degenerate into partisan shouting matches, where personal shaming tactics are employed by both sides, and all sides end up being equally hypocritical in their words, actions and accusations.

The events of this world are clouded in tariffs and retributions, protests and demonstrations, counterpointing rallies and counter-punching arguments played out on the world stage and in rooms where we sense that we have ultimately little access or influence.

We feel sometimes like Aaron Burr in the words of that song from “Hamilton”

“No one else was in the room where it happened, the room where it happened, No one really knows how the game is played, the art of the trade, how the sausage was made, we just assume that it happens, but no one else is in the room where it happens, the room where it happens…”

Indeed, for some the temptation in midst of all of this in the morning is not to get up and find motivation, but rather to want to pull the covers back over their heads and hope it all goes away.

“What am I living for?”

That is a question that can be inflected any number of ways.

For some, like my 98 year old Father-in-Law “What am I living for?”  is a legitimate question of profound wonder.   Having lived a full and rich life, when health is failing, eyes are growing dim, hope is found not in the continuation of this life but in the promises of God.

“Why am I still around?  Why can’t I just exit this weary world?” he wonders.

Of course, that’s a question that also crosses the minds of those who struggle with depression or anxiety, having lived perhaps not a full and rich life, but rather one that is filled with pain and confusion.  Why struggle on?   Why seek to live another day?  Why not end this pain?

Or, you can inflect that question in a way that accentuates the personal element.

“What am ­I living for?  What is my motivation for trudging on?  What is the plan for me in this world?  What is the grand plan, the reason for my continued existence?

Or you can inflect that question in a way that lifts up questions of larger purpose and global meaning.

“What am I living for?”   What is it that I am willing to invest myself in?  What is the difference in the world that I am willing to charge ahead for, to accomplish, or to carry out?

You can also inflect that question as a means of raising awareness or questioning personal motivations and purpose.

“What am I living for?”  What do my actions betray about what I think is really important, or what I acknowledge as being first priority in my life?

Do I work for a living, or do I live for my work?

Am I living for the weekend and some escape, or do I bury myself so much into my work that everything and everyone around me seems to suffer?

So many possibilities about how to inflect and understand this question, and all of them revealing in some way one’s motivation, or some examination of it, which gets us back to this letter to the Ephesians and its incredibly upbeat and positive beginning.

What is it that motivates this author to be so hyper-caffeinated and up-beat about life?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”

We might assume it was because he/she lived in a happier, easier time that it is so upbeat, but that’s not the case.   Whether this is written by Paul or one of his followers, the circumstances are pretty much as bleak then as they seem in the world in which we find ourselves right now.

It was written in the midst of Roman occupation of the land, soldiers with spears on every street corner, threat of violence ever present.

It was written in the midst of plenty of “room where it happens” decisions being made – all of which affected people with little or no say in the matter.

It was written when Jews and Gentiles were at odds with each other, and when the matter of following Christ was just as hotly debated, and when polarized sides pummeled each other with competing viewpoints drawn from scripture and from tradition.

The author of Ephesians does not deny any of the complexities of this world, or the real struggles with which we must continually engage.

Nor is he/she afraid of entertaining all those “What am I living for?” inflections that life in uncertain times and circumstances are bound to surface.

No, what the author does instead is to proclaim into the cacophony of all of that — a vision, loud and clear, of God’s intention and activity.

With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Into a world that is altogether too scattered, loud and conflicted the author of Ephesians proclaims (without a question or shadow of doubt) that God has a plan, and the plan is Christ Jesus.

This is who gathers us up.

This is what pulls us together in the end.

This is what will eventually tie up all the loose ends and will bridge all the gaps that exist between earthly concerns and heavenly hopes and dreams.

It is in Christ Jesus, and in God’s Grace poured out upon us, abundantly, lavishly, that we will find hope and motivation for the future!

We find it not because of anything we have done, or any stand we’ve taken or any activity we have engaged in, but simply because God chooses to pour it out – to lavish such grace and love upon us.

Before the foundations of the world, God had in mind to love us.   Period!

Before we had anything at all that we could claim as our own, God had in mind to give us an inheritance, a legacy of God’s own choosing, this world and all that is in it, as well as all that is beyond it in God’s coming Kingdom.

It’s all for us, all of us!

Before we set out to do anything at all, God had in mind to accomplish in and through us all things, including the redemption of this world, that we might live in it to praise his glory.

With breathless repetition the author of Ephesians pours out on us the assurance that God is good, and that God is here, and that God is pouring out upon us blessings upon blessings.

The author assures us that God is gathering up the pieces that are scattered, those things that we feel are just floating around there out there, unsupervised and uncontrolled.

God is moving in the heavenly realms and on the earthly realms to accomplish what God has set out to do, and guess what, first and foremost in God’s mind is us… you and me… safeguarded in the midst of the cacophony of competing voices of this world.

What motivates you in the morning?

Is it the coffee?

The sense of purpose you long to find?

The duty you feel to others?

The hope to just make it through another day?

Whatever it is that may motivate you, well that’s just fine!  Find your motivation somewhere.

But know this.

God is motivated to enter into your life, and to enter into the messiness of this world.

God is motivated to gather up all things in Christ, and we know that because of the life of Jesus, who did just that, entered into all the messiness of this world to show us love in action.

God in action!

God has always been in action.

God has been sending prophets like Amos and John to call the actions of those who live at the expense of others in this world to account.

Plumb lines have been held up, actions have been measured, warnings have been given, and unheeded, and still grace has been extended.

Words have been delivered, judgments have been decreed, and Christ still sent.

Awful things will happen even to those who bear God’s word and truth and who witness to God in this world.  That is true.

Even Jesus finds that out.

But what is just as true is that love wins in the end, and grace prevails!

Long after all the tin-pot tyrants and the strong-men of this world are nothing more than a byline in a history book, the God of Grace and mercy who sent his son, Jesus will still be at work.

Long after those who thought by denouncing, or beheading, or crucifying they could get rid of God, God continues to lavish blessing upon blessing.

Resurrection is stronger than death.

Love has a longer reach than hatred.

Grace and forgiveness are more powerful than recrimination and blame.

Love has a way of silencing the loud, and the blustering, and the turning in the end to rags those who trust in their own riches.

This is what motivates the author of Ephesians, the sure and certain knowledge that the God who is in this world working in the earthly and heavenly realms for the long haul is not about to be sidelined now — or ever!

Let that knowledge be your morning motivation and carry you all day through.

“Where Did He Get All This?” Mark 6:1-13

It comes as a bit of a shock to us that when Jesus comes home to Nazareth he is greeted not with accolades, but rather a tone of skepticism and offense.   “Where did this man get all this???”   You would think that if Jesus’ message was going to resonate anywhere, it ought to be in his own home town.

We can after all, be a bit obsessive about the “local youth does good” response to things, and we are usually quite proud of “our own.”

High School loyalty, and college alumni associations depend upon this sense of “our own” for recruitment and for fundraising.

Here in Kansas City for instance we celebrate the folks who have gone off to make their fortune and who then come back to share with us.  We are inspired when they come back to support us or speak of us.

The “Big Slick” folks roll back into town, Paul Ruud, Eric Stonestreet, Rob Riggle and company, and we are delighted.

They raise funds for Children’s Mercy Hospital and we fawn all over them.

They throw the switch to light the plaza lights or toss out the first pitch at a Royals game and we clap and wave with approval.

“Aren’t they doing well and doing good!  Our own “home town” heroes.”

Of course, those folks that we love and admire when they are raising funds for charity or mugging for the local news become a little less glamorous if they start to speak out publicly or share their political views.   Then they become part of the “Hollywood Elite” whom we wish would just shut up, concentrate on their acting and not act like U.S. Citizens with an opinion about the state of our democracy, or anything like that.

“Where do they get off foisting their viewpoints on us???”

I think we can use that little piece of insight as a way of understanding this Gospel lesson today.

As I said, it comes as a bit of a shock to us that when Jesus comes home to Nazareth he is greeted not with accolades, but rather with a tone of skepticism and offense.   “Where did this man get all this???”

We tend to forget that the opening salvo fired as Jesus begin his ministry was this: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

          We tend to forget that the announcement of the Kingdom of God coming near is accompanied by a call to repentance, and I don’t know about you, but I never really like being called to repent.   Even (and especially) when it may be justified.       

My spouse is a wonderful corrective for me.  I can get a little carried away sometimes in public, or get into a rut, or go off on a tangent and she will call me back.   She can do that with just a look sometimes, or a carefully chosen word of reminder.

That’s a gift.  I realize that here is someone who cares about me enough to correct me or remind me of who I am, or what I stand for in this world.

“You need to not say things like that….”  She will tell me.

“You need to remember you have a collar on, even (and maybe especially)  when you don’t have it on!”

It’s a gift, it really is, but dang it, a call to repentance even by someone who loves you very much never feels like a good thing.

I think that’s a part of what we experience in this Gospel.

Jesus is doing deeds of power, the home-town crowd has heard of them.

He’s gathering disciples, what a great thing, the teacher is collecting followers.   We never imagined it Jesus, you were always just “Mary’s little boy” or “James’ brother.”

Jesus is clearly becoming quite a teacher of wisdom.  The home town crowd has heard of how he has taught with authority and confounded the scribes and Pharisees.

“What a sharp wit, a good mind he has to pepper his teaching with such pithy parables!  Aren’t we all proud!”

But then Jesus comes and speaks to the home town about the Kingdom, and there’s that stubborn “Repent” piece again.  Jesus persists in talking about repentance even here among his own home-town crowd, and that is what they find offensive because… well… no one really likes being called upon to rethink and repent of things!

In order to repent, you first have to give consideration of the things you’ve done, what you may have neglected, and we don’t like self-reflection much.

In order to repent, you have to begin to consider that perhaps your own actions might have been inappropriate in some way, and no one likes acknowledging that they may have done something that wasn’t right, proper, or a good idea.

Indeed, whatever we do always seems like a good idea at the time, doesn’t it?

I’m sure post July 4th, you could talk to any number of people involved in fireworks related incidents and they would all say, “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

That’s our nature.  We find ourselves easy to convince of any number of things that (upon further reflection) were really bad ideas but that seemed perfectly good at the time.

It was one thing for Jesus to leave Nazareth and talk to the neighboring communities about their need for repentance.

Lord knows those folks down in Capernaum probably needed a good talking to, a firm shaking up!

But when Jesus comes back to Nazareth with the same message of repentance because of the nearness of God’s Kingdom, that is not so well received!

“Where does this man get all this?” they exclaim.

Well, he gets all of it from this Kingdom that he comes to proclaim, which of necessity sets itself up to work differently than the current Kingdom of this world.

We don’t get a lot of detail in Mark’s Gospel in terms of Jesus’ teaching.

What we do get is an awful lot of action, and the action appears to run contrary to the prevailing structures of this world.

So, if a person is sick, they find healing, and we like that, except Jesus heals all kinds of folks, whether we think they deserve it or not.

If a person is unable to work because of a withered hand, even though it’s not strictly according to the rules, restoration of health is done, even if it is the sabbath.

Make no mistake, Jesus isn’t just doing things to intentionally tick off the Pharisees.   His goal is not just to “make waves” or simply thumb his nose at authority.

No, he is bringing in a Kingdom which will of necessity bump up against the prevailing viewpoint of the current kingdom of Caesar that is in place.

In this Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims, the care for the individual overrides the rules that are already in place.   This will always draw criticism.

The poor have good news preached to them.  They are not reprimand for being who they are, or labeled as lazy or of less concern than others.

The Lepers get touched, even though it is against the community code to associate with them at all, and by being touched they are healed and made part of the community again, which means those who we threw out we have to deal with again.

The same is true of the demon possessed.   The demons are revealed when Jesus comes into a place, and they scream loudly.   He exposes the powers that prefer to remain hidden, or to operate in secret.  He casts out the demonic leaving those who witness it both unsettled and stuck with dealing with those whom they had previously dismissed.

Sometimes we prefer the devil we know, to the angel with whom we have not yet had experience.  Which is really what the home-town crowd is saying when they ask, “Where does this man get all of this?”

Who is he to upset the status quo?   Call our preconceptions into question?

To entertain who is neighbor, and how people are treated, and who we will associate with and who we won’t is to have to repent of the way you’ve always looked at things and done things in the past.

Jesus will make you do that as God’s Kingdom pinches on the status quo of this world, and it’s exceedingly uncomfortable, even though you know he’s loving you all the while he’s doing it.

I don’t want to have to repent of my thoughts about the “poor.”

I don’t want to have to think about who should and should not get health care, whether it is a universal right or a privilege for those who can afford it, because dang it… Jesus seems to make it a universal right… but that doesn’t work in my well laid established system of health care coverage.

I don’t want to have to reconsider who I label as “leper” today, all those untouchable immigrants, because Jesus is going to want me to welcome them and make room for them, and that certainly bumps up against the desire for well ordered immigration policies and “secure borders” to keep out those whom we are urged to fear.

You see why Jesus offended the home-town crowd?  He’s sharing God’s vision for the Kingdom of God, and it bumps repeatedly into the ability to exclude, or to excuse, or draw lines of difference from others that we find much more comfortable.

This is what is offensive, and it’s the same debate raging in our current situation, the vision of God’s Kingdom bumping up against the Kingdom of this world.

There are no easy answers in the collision of Kingdoms.   And sometimes, people who need to hear what Jesus says most will stop listening.

That’s o.k.   Jesus knows that will happen.  “A prophet is not without renown except in his own country and amongst his own kindred.”

But knowing the home town will not listen, Jesus moves to bypass their rejection.  He instructs his disciples to speak for him with the same message of repentance.

If they won’t listen to me, they may listen to you, if the message of the Kingdom comes from many lips.

Which of course gets us into this matter in our own lives, for we are the “sent ones” now, those whom Jesus says will go out seemingly ill prepared and ill equipped, but who will be empowered to bear witness.

“So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.”   Mark tells us.

This is the call of discipleship upon you and to me.

We speak of what Jesus has shown us, and sometimes that bumps up against what the world expects or wants to hear from us.

But repentance, self-reflection and consideration must be proclaimed.

The Kingdom has come near, and it will come, and no action of humankind can hinder it for long.

This is what offends the hometown crowd, the call to think about the Kingdom of God coming in our midst and what it will mean for us, right now, and right where we live.

“Like Ragweed” Mark 4:26-34

Jesus tells parables to kick start our brains into thinking in a new direction.   This is never more evident than it is in Mark’s Gospel, where just a few of those parables are recorded but where they also carry their most enigmatic punch.

The parables Jesus tells do not so much answer questions as raise them.

So, this first parable, “The Kingdom of God is as if someone were to scatter seed upon the ground and would sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.  The earth produces of itself…”

This is what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus says.

It happens by itself!  It happens mysteriously.

Which prompts us, (or at least people like me,) to say, “Then what am I doing pounding my head against a wall as a Pastor then???”

Why am I up here preaching, and going to all these meetings, and fretting about stewardship and pink walls and art pieces if the Kingdom is supposed to grow all by itself?”

If the Kingdom is supposed to grow by itself, why isn’t this place busting at the seams with people?

There are two things that I think this parable has to say about that.

The first one is easy for us to get.   The truth is, growth is a mystery.  It does happen on its own.

I put a whole package of seeds in my planter box for parsley, anticipating a thick tangle of the herbs by now.  What I have instead is a few sprigs here and there in the window box.  Some seeds grew, some did not, and I know not why.   The seeds all looked the same to me when I put them in the ground.

So, part one of what Jesus is saying in this parable is that the growth of the Kingdom of God is indeed a mystery, and really not ours to control.

That should jar you a bit.

We can’t force seeds to grow.

We can’t force people to be good disciples either.

We can’t guarantee that everyone we meet will be followers of Jesus, no matter how much we plead with them, or how much we provide for them, or how much we nag at them, or how much we love on them or how much we want them to be faithful.

This is a painful thing to acknowledge.

Sometimes this hits very close to home.  We have kids, we brought them to Sunday School, we did everything right, and yet they are not taking their place in the church.  They have their own call, their own pathway, their own way of doing Kingdom of God.

Our great temptation is to go after them with everything we’ve got.

Our great temptation is to think that if we just have the right program, or the right building, if we just used the right kind of music in worship, the right brand of communion bread, maybe put in a full-service coffee bar with latte’s – people would come back, or stay around and grow.

But the truth is, Jesus says, the Kingdom grows by itself, and there is no sense losing sleep over who isn’t here.

That jars us a bit.

Instead, Jesus says, be ready for the harvest!

Watch and see what does grow, see it mature, and then be ready with the sickle when it is time to gather the grain!

We can’t determine in whom the Word of God might take root, but we can certainly gather up the harvest when they bear fruit!  We can reap what they have to offer to the life and mission of this congregation and the Kingdom as it unfolds here.  We can rejoice when they bear much fruit!

So part one of what this first parable has to say to us is that we can’t force anyone to grow into participating in the Kingdom.  Don’t waste time and effort in trying to make someone “get it”, instead be ready to receive the ones who do!   No matter how surprising the “who gets it” might end up being to you!

But there is a second parable in this Gospel lesson for today, and we should spend some time with it as well, because it also has something to say about our assumptions about the Kingdom of God.

The choice of a Mustard Seed and plant is a curious one for Jesus if the point he wanted to make was that the Kingdom was going to be impressive.  There were better examples of impressive plants out there for him to use, quite frankly.

Jesus could have chosen the Fig Tree, which also has small seeds but that grows into something substantial and useful.

Jesus could have chosen the great Cedars of Lebanon if the point he wanted to make was that the Kingdom of God was to grow into something strong and sheltering and impressive.

But he chose the Mustard Seed, a shrub, a bush that is pernicious in the fields of the middle east, and not always a welcome plant.

Let me re-tell this parable in a way that I think will help you see what Jesus is doing.

With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?   It is like Ragweed, which, when scattered on the ground is the smallest of all seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Ragweed!  Pastor that’s awful stuff!  It grows where you don’t want it to grow!  It irritates the nose and eyes and makes the news nightly for the way it makes people miserable!

That’s the point.   It is invasive.  It is persistent.  It is not terribly attractive.  It is an irritant.

Mustard grows wild in Galilee. It pops up in cultivated fields, and it is as big a nuisance there as any weed you might like to compare it to here.

This is what Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to – intentionally!

In the Northland where I live, a few years ago there was a ragweed plant that took root in a highway median at Prairie View Lane and Barry Road.  It grew there all summer long.  I marveled at it.

It grew out of a crack in the pavement.   Surrounded by blistering hot concrete and brick, no other vegetation around, dependent upon whatever water there was already under the pavement or that would trickle down through the cracks.  It was a most improbable sight.

I watched it get taller and taller – and no one took notice of it, not even the workers on the road.  It would have been a simple matter to slice it off, but they ignored it.

I watched as birds would jump underneath it for shade, for relief from the scorching heat, looking for insects.   For them it was a place of refuge amidst the whir of traffic.

For me, and other allergy sufferers, it was just an irritant.

I wish I had taken a picture of it.

It was the perfect example of the Kingdom of God, taking root in the most unlikely of places, growing without apparent reason, providing a refuge for those few unlucky creatures that found themselves in a most in-hospitable place.  It was a plant having an effect on others far outside the range of the place it occupied.

Is that what Jesus is telling us the Kingdom is like?   If so, that requires some re-arrangement of our own expectations.

The Kingdom becomes a place that is never really as safe, or as permanent in this world as we might like it to be.

The branches are big enough to give you some cover sure, but not big enough to build nests in that will last year after year.    It is not the nesting place of Eagles, perches from which power and majesty can be projected.   It is the nesting place of those who want to stay out of the line of sight of such predators.

Those who come underneath it for shelter are still within easy reach of all the hazards of this world.  You’re “on the ground” so to speak, and subject to the dangers of this world all the while you’re under this Kingdom.

Is this what Jesus is saying?

If so, we may have to re-arrange our thinking about this Kingdom into which God has called us

I thought the Kingdom was going to be a place that was safe.

Instead, it appears that perhaps it only offers a bit of shade, a bit of cover and respite in the midst of an always dangerous world.

I thought the Kingdom would be marked by success and security.

Instead, this parable makes me wonder if the Kingdom of God is instead a rather transient thing in this world?

Is the Kingdom of God something that will grow where ever it finds opportunity?  Could it even be seen as a nuisance to those who do not seek or appreciate the shelter it gives?

I thought the Kingdom would be a grand and glorious thing, eventually taking over all the other realms of this world and of this life.

Instead, could it really be a weed?

Oh, weeds will take over if allowed to grow.   They are marked by their persistence and hardiness, but not necessarily their beauty?

Is this what Jesus has in mind for the Kingdom of God?  A Kingdom that takes over because it eventually chokes out competing growth?

Is the Kingdom of God really known best for its ability to grow in the toughest of conditions instead of looking for the best places to grow?

If so, what does this have to say to us?

I read these parable of Jesus and have to wonder if it wasn’t Jesus’ point to shatter all our cherished expectations about being a part of a Kingdom that looks like this world.

This is how it appears to be with God.  In the birth of Jesus God shattered the expectations of a world looking for a savior in a military leader like David, and came instead as a baby born of a refugee family, forced to flee from threatening powers and rulers, doing his work on the fringes of society.

Could it be that God is shattering expectations still?

What cherished assumptions about the Kingdom will we have to give up in order for it to grow in us?

The Kingdom of God is like ragweed?

If it is, then may it infect and infest all my otherwise well-planned gardening.

May I not be too hasty with my hoe when God is scattering the seeds of the Kingdom in my life and in my community