A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

This sermon was preached on Sunday, June 17 at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity in Chicago.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the 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.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

– Mark 4:26-34

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

Working with this blank cosmic canvass, God created light and darkness, day and night. God created the waters, the sky, and the earth. God created vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind. God created the sun and the stars; creatures of the seas, the sky, and the earth. Finally, God created humankind.

“Let there be light,” God said.

“Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters,” God said.

“Let dry land appear,”; “Let the earth put forth vegetation,” ; “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky,” ; “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind,” God said.

“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” God said.

Then, God saw everything God had made and, indeed, it was very good.

“Be fruitful and multiply,” God said.

God did not say, “Let children be torn from the arms of their parents, their wailing mothers and weeping fathers.”

God did not say, “Let children sleep in detention centers, in cages.”

God did not say, “Let there be borders that divide my children from my children.”

Our God is a God of Love, of Life, of Creation.

And the Kingdom of God, as Jesus describes it, “is like a mustard seed.”

Already, already, we hear some Good News. “The Kingdom of God is,” says Jesus. The Kingdom of God is. That the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed only makes that news better.

The story of creation, as it is told to us in Genesis, does not offer a lot of specifics. When the water brought forth swarms of living creatures, in what order did those creatures come alive?

Was the strawberry bush created before or after the apple tree? When God creates the stars, we don’t read anything about helium or hydrogen.

We don’t exactly know when or how or certainly why all these things happened, but we do know that somewhere along the way, somewhere in the development of this world, the mustard seed appeared.

And, as we know, as Jesus tells us, the mustard seed is a very small seed.

The growth rate of a mustard bush is considered to be rather slow, but they have evolved to deal with poor soil, extreme heat, and scarce water.

Their roots seek out whatever water they can find, reaching for life, and pushing through the underground systems and structures that get in their way, things like septic tanks for example.

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

Right now, in this time and place, the Kingdom of God feels so tragically small.

Its growth seems unbearably slow.

But the Kingdom of God emerges even in the midst of these dire circumstances, when the ability of people to live their lives is under attack.

Poor soil, extreme heat, scarce water. Poverty, violence, racism, these things that are counter to life, are no match for God’s Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is. The Kingdom of God is full of love, life, and creation. It busts through whatever gets in its way until its roots reach out far and wide, its branches offering comfort and protection to all, even shade to every bird.

Like the drooping, weeping structure of a mustard bush, I have found some comfort this week in believing that God also weeps at the overwhelming suffering and pain in this world, that we are not alone in our pain.

I have found some comfort in trusting that the Kingdom of God will prevail. It will push through and reach out, it will fight for and gather in all of God’s people.

All of God’s people.

That includes the breastfeeding mother from Honduras whose daughter was taken from her in a detention center.

That includes the father from Honduras who ended his life in a Texas jail cell while separated from his wife and 3-year-old son.

That includes the over 1,995 children who have been taken away from their parents as they crossed the border in search of a safer or better life.

It most certainly includes these children. Not only did Jesus liken the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.”

A lot of Bible verses have been thrown around this week, some used to justify the separation of these families.

This all reminded me of our confirmation class. In our study of Luther’s Small Catechism, we spent a few sessions on the Ten Commandments, interpreting them, applying them to our lives, exploring Luther’s explanations of them.

The Second Commandment states: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

As we discussed in class, the obvious or superficial meaning of this commandment is about cursing.

But the deeper lesson here, I think, is about how God’s name can be wielded as a weapon, a justification for injustice.

We witnessed that this week.

We’ve witnessed this countless times.

We bear witness to and respond to the injuries inflicted by this breaking of the second commandment in our welcome statement which says a lot of things including “you are welcome here…regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, documentation status, socio-economic status, religious background, age or abilities. You are welcome here as beloved children of God.”

Rather than invoking God’s name to hurt or exclude, we are called to share the Good News of God’s grace and love as it extends to all people, as it crosses borders and divisions, as it searches for life, busting through the systems that abuse and kill.

We are called to embody God’s grace and love, moving beyond statements and into the streets or the halls of power or into whichever space we can fill with love and compassion.

I started and stopped and stopped and started writing this sermon so many times. Throughout this week I have had no words. I have struggled to handle all the bad news this week. And that can make it hard to find the Good News in this world.

But it’s there.

It might be small.

Maybe even smaller than a mustard seed.

But it’s there.

The Good News of the incoming, emerging, and unstoppable kingdom of God is there. It’s here. It’s in this place. It’s inside of us. It stems from seeds of fellowship, invitation, stories, compassion, liberation, hope, and peace.

If we live by faith and not by sight, if we trust in the presence of this kingdom and follow the Holy Spirit’s nudging and pushing to nurture its growth, we can keep going, we can keep struggling forward together.

The Kingdom of God is characterized by love, life, and creation. If we don’t see, hear, or otherwise experience those things in the actions of our government or in our day-to-day lives, then we know that what we are experiencing is something the Kingdom of God will overcome.

God’s Kingdom is not made up of bricks or stones, it is not guarded by a moat or a wall. It cannot be stifled by unjust policies or laws. It comes right out of the dirt, all the messy stuff.

And it is open to everyone.

“The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,” Jesus said.

“The Kingdom of God is.”

And the Kingdom of God will be.