13 June 2021

“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.” Mark 4:30-32

Many schools have been celebrating their graduations these past few weeks.  Most colleges had their graduations last month, for the first time in a year and a half.  Bellevue High School also graduated their class recently.  We hope that they were able to learn something before they came to their graduation day.  In my own high school experience, I remember some of my teachers saying that they wanted us to remember some of the material after the test was over.  Midterms and finals helped to do that sometimes, because it forced us to re-study the same material that we had already been tested on.  But, years later, how much do you actually remember from your school days?  Do you remember how to find the cosine of x squared?  Do you remember who Herbert Hoover’s Vice President was?  Do you remember the fifty states and their capitals?  There is a lot of information that we learn which we hardly ever use in our actual lives again, and we forget when we do not revisit them.  My Greek professor in seminary told us that we needed to keep using our Greek skills so that we would not forget what we had learned.  It is important to continue studying and learning so that we keep building on what is important to us.

We do not need to remember every detail that we learned in school for every class, but we do learn some other valuable skills.  In addition to learning material, we also learn about how to live our lives.  We learn how to be responsible in turning our assignments in on time.  We also learn when it is appropriate to give grace through the teachers who are kind enough to give us extensions.  We learn about the value of friendships, and we also learn that some people do not need to be a part of our lives.  As we grow up, every teacher has the opportunity to plant a seed that will grow into a blossom.  We remember how we were taught to love one another, be accountable for our actions, and stay determined to never give up.  Still today, we remind ourselves that we never stop learning.  We learn how to be better people, better citizens of our country, and better vessels of the Holy Spirit.

Our farmers have been busy during this planting season.  When I have driven around these past few weeks, I have seen some fields that appear to be fallow, and others that already have three-foot-high corn stalks.  I wonder when or if certain fields will be touched this season, because I understand that fields need to be rotated and perhaps some do stay fallow to give the ground a rest.  Yet I have been amazed to see how fast some of these plants have come up out of the ground.  I watched a farmer plant a field one week.  The next week, I am already seeing tiny sprouts of green come up out of the soil.  Nothing else had been done that week, but there they were.  It is the miracle of life starting from something very small.  They will continue to grow, and eventually they will bear corn, and beans, and whatever else farmers are growing.  The harvest will come, the crops will be gathered, and the cycle will start all over again.  This summer though, I will get to watch the plants as they grow.  By the time I arrived here last August, they were mostly full size already.

Spring is my favorite season because of the new life that springs into the world.  First, the daffodils and the lilies appear as the trees begin to bud.  The buds turn into fresh green leaves and though the lilies don’t last forever, you do not have to wait long to start seeing other annuals spring up out of the ground and many bushes in bloom.  Last month, at a park near Lake Erie, my family and I saw a family of geese.  In Job 12:7-10, we read, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you.”  What can they teach us?  When I look at the animals, I often wonder what they might think or what kind of lives they really lead.  Do they worry and stress like we do?  Do they always think about what needs to be done tomorrow?  Perhaps we can learn about the lesson of simplicity.  What can we do to live a more simple life?  What can we do just to appreciate the newness of the season that we are in?  We can sing with the psalmist, “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number- living things both large and small” (Psalm 104:24-25).  Or with Louis Armstrong, as he sang, “I see trees of green; Red roses too I see them bloom for me and you And I think to myself What a wonderful world.”  We can praise God for the seeds that blossom into the beauty that we see around us.

The Amalekites were a group of people who attacked the Israelites in the Sinai Peninsula as they were heading to the Promised Land (Exodus 17:8-16).  Joshua fought the Amalekites, and “whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.”  When Moses grew weary from holding up his hands, Aaron and Hur held up his hands for him so that the Israelites would win the battle.  God promised, “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”  When Saul was made King, Samuel came to him and said, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.  Now, go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).  When Saul attacked them, he won, but he spared King Agag and the best of the cattle.  God’s voice came to Samuel and told him that Saul had not followed all of his commandments.  In other words, Saul had not done God’s will.  We might remember last week, when Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my brother” (Mark 3:35); Saul is not doing well to get himself included.  He saw value in their possessions, and he took them for his own people.  From one angle, it seems that he wants to keep things that appear useful, even when God tells him something else.  This may seem familiar if you have ever told your mother, or your son, that she or he really doesn’t need that pile of papers that she or he wishes to keep.  But you are dismissed anyway.

God therefore tells Samuel that he will anoint a new king.  When Samuel tells Saul that he has lost favor with God, Saul is devasted, telling Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.  Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord” (1 Sam. 16:24-25).  But the Lord does not return Saul’s favor; God does not offer Saul grace here.  He made one fatal flaw; he obeyed the voice of the people instead of the voice of God.  When we ask God to help us understand God’s will, and so that we might be brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are asking God to help us live above the world, its worldly desires, and the peoples’ desires within this world.  It will always be extremely easy to bow to the wishes of those who are pressuring you to do something, or to save something because of its usefulness.  Yet, if it conflicts with the will of God, it is problematic.  Jesus told us that we are not of the world, because we are not.  We need to ask God to help remind us that we are not in the world.  We live to help others prioritize God over the world.  We live so that we all might eventually prioritize God over the world.

We know that David was not perfect either.  He succumbed to the desire of the flesh when he looked on Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and he essentially made sure that Uriah died in battle so that he could claim her as his own (2 Sam. 11:15).  Yet David, who was the youngest of the sons of Jesse, was anointed by Samuel as Israel’s king in the town of Bethlehem of Judea (1 Sam. 16:4).  Samuel was afraid when God asked him to do this, for he said, “How can I go?  If Saul hears of it, he will kill me” (1 Sam. 16:2).  Yet God assured him and he went.  He carried out the will of the Lord without another word.  He may have wanted to give Saul grace, but since God did not, he did not.  And he knew what the voice of the Lord told him, as he was guided by the voice of the Lord at every turn.  As the story of the anointing of David concludes, “The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam. 16:12-13).  The Spirit of the Lord travels with all who do God’s will.  We are able to do God’s will when we hear God’s voice.

How might we even hear God’s voice?  How can we know the will of God when we do not know the difference between the voice in our head and the voice of God?  Mark Batterson wrote a book which won the Christian Book Award: Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God which is one of two books that our book group is considering starting in late summer.  This will teach us new perspectives on how we can hear God’s voice.  But the simple answer to give right now is that we can hear God’s voice by praying.  We can hear God’s voice when we try to live a more simple life, free of some of our distractions.  We can hear the voice of God when we stop listening to all the worldly voices around us, and start listening more to the voice that started it all.  We cannot discern the voice of God right now because we have two many voices swimming in our head.  We have to cut them down.  When St. Francis preached to the animals, I wonder if he was learning something from their simplicity.  They have less to distract them and take away their focus.  That is what we need to be able to do when we wish to carry out the will of God.

We plant seeds in the young ones among us, and we hope that they will cause them to grow in the Spirit.  Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which starts out as the smallest of all seeds but then grows up and becomes one of the greatest of shrubs (Mark 4:31).  Our faith may be small now, but we know that with time, if we give it the right nutrients, it will grow like the seed of a plant does in the field.  When the harvest comes, we want to be able to show that we are growing fruit (or corn, or beans, or whatever the plant is meant to grow).  It is okay that we are starting out small right now.  It is only the spring.  We are still learning, and we rely on God’s grace when we make mistakes.  But if we do not give the seed what it needs, good soil, sunlight, and water, the seed will not grow.  If we place the seed in the forest with so many other thoughts around it, it will not grow.  The same is for the seed of faith in ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is here to help it grow.  The Spirit wants to enable us to plant this seed in others.  It may stay unrevealed for while, but one week it is planted, and the next week, if it is free to grow unhindered, it will blossom into the magic of a green plant.  Be assured; when you trust God, God will help you grow.  It is okay if you do not remember the whole Bible from Sunday School; if you remember how the people taught you to live, and the spirit that Jesus taught you to live by, God gives us a promise: “in our doubt, there is believing; in our life, eternity, unrevealed until it’s season, something God alone can see.”  Trust God.  God will see you through.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
15:34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul.
15:35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
16:2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’
16:3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”
16:4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”
16:5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”
16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
16:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”
16:11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”
16:12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”
16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Mark 4:26-34
4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,
4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.
4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
4:30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?
4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
4:32 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.”
4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;
4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

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