sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/03/2010
[audio link not available]
Dearly beloved... The very thing that feels to you like the absence of the Kingdom of God, the very thing that feels to you like you’re going backwards when it comes to spiritual growth, the very thing that is most troubling in your life right now, that just might be the very thing that God wants to use to prepare your soil to receive the seed of his word that brings an explosion of life into your life, and through you into the world.
Maybe it - whatever it is - is painful, hurtful, terrifying, empty, hard, a struggle, confusion, unsettling. It may also be, by the grace of God, the disruption that opens your heart to receive something from God that transforms the whole landscape.
I don’t say that lightly. The most significant seed that led to the most powerful and transformative spiritual growth I’ve seen in my life found its entrance into the soil of my heart when my life and sense of myself had been so disrupted that I was as close as I’ve ever come to giving up on life. If we have time at the end today, I’ll tell you the story. In the meantime...
[Ragamuffin Gospel story, pg 127-130...]
I'm neither wise enough nor experienced enough to comment on the pros and cons of tough love, but I will say that without disruption, it's very difficult for the seeds of God's kingdom to take root in us. So when disruption comes - whether it comes harshly or graciously - if it makes room for a seed to be planted, then thank God for the disruption.
Invitation to turn to Mark 4, which is where we will land, but not quite where we will start. We’re going to back up a little bit - well, ok, a lot bit - so that we can get a running start.
The truth of the universe is that God’s love is always bringing new things into existence, new things which are always a disruption to the no things. So wherever you find the creative, life-giving activity of the dynamic-generative-joyous-overflowing God, you also find disruption. [Lights off]
[shhh...] Perhaps you remember...
Unformed, unmoving, barren emptiness, darkness over the surface of yet deeper darkness.
And the Spirit (breath, wind) of God, hovering. Hovering over the welter and the waste. Hovering, waiting, just above, not quite yet landed, but oh so close, biding time, potential energy on the cusp of bursting into kinetic generosity.
Then, the immaterial Spirit imperceptibly but definitely interacts with the not-yet-but-almost material; the Wind is harnessed to fill a sail that won’t exist until the Wind blows; and the Breath is gathered into a Word that disrupts the deafening silence and formless chaos. Which is, after all, what words do, isn’t it? New vibrations disrupting the old vibrations and, in this case, the non-vibrations.
And this particular word? “Light.” Insistent, but gentle. An invitation really. Let there be. Light is allowed now. Matter and energy, particle and wave, the one thing that is everything and everywhere all at once and forever.
And there was light. [Lights on]
It’s as if God’s word is a seed implanted in the void, and the void receives it and gives birth to light. Like God is waking up the universe. Nudging it. Rousing it from a beginning-less slumber. Then more and more words, multiplying now. Let there be, let there be, let there be. Sky. Water. Land. Grass. Each word a seed bringing disruption to that which was before the word so suddenly arrived. And each seed taking root, and growing into something good, and blessed, and holy. Until finally, the soil itself is disrupted, invaded by the breath (word) of God, bringing humanity into being.
The whole of our universe and this earth and ourselves, the fruit of creative, disruptive words. This is how life for carbon-based life-forms starts.
Now fast forward to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, circa the beginning of the first century of the common era. For the people gathered in that natural amphitheater, hanging on Jesus’ every word, things aren’t right in the world. They are longing for things to change. They are under Roman oppression, their freedom restricted, suffering crushing poverty and taxation, ruled by corrupt officials and sometimes equally corrupt religious leaders. And they are beginning to hope that Jesus just might be the one to set everything right.
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
We know what it's like to feel that things aren’t right, right? Somebody is placing demands on you that are a real burden. Maybe it’s even a burden you’re glad to bear, but man oh man, it’s a real burden. Or your job situation is just really pressured - time, stress, the work itself is difficult and you’re not getting the help you know you should to get it done. Or key relationships are in trouble - maybe with your spouse, or your parents, your kids. It’s a constant drain. Or you’ve got a health issue, an addiction, something that just doesn’t seem to be going away.
What do we want? We want things to change. Usually for this person or that person to get their act together, or cut it out, or for their needs to not be an issue anymore. Or for this situation or that situation to resolve, to shift, to end, to give way. Or for our health problem to be healed, fixed, or our addiction to be lifted, for us to wake up and find out that it’s gone and not oppressing us anymore.
Sure, sometimes the Kingdom of God reveals itself to us in just the way we desire. Sometimes you’re out in the woods doing some business with God about your cocaine addiction and something like a jolt of electricity runs through our body and we are set free. A taste of the rule and reign of God, resurrection life, the future coming kingdom leaking into the here and now. Sometimes your small group prays for you and when you get your MRI results back, the tumor is gone. A sign of the Kingdom, a glimpse of the King’s power and favor. Sometimes your sister who has been off the radar for years calls up and says, why don’t you let mom come stay with me for a few months - you could use the break, and I could use the time to reconnect with her. Hallelujah! Sometimes you come home from the unemployment office and there’s a message from your old employer telling you they want to bring you back, and with a raise. There is a God!
But even though this is how the Kingdom sometimes reveals itself - and more regularly than we might imagine - it is not the primary way the Kingdom of God brings transformation to the face of the earth.
Consider what this parable is saying. Notice some of the key elements. A farmer sowing seeds. A soil into which the seeds are planted. Seeds that are God’s word. Soil that once it receives God’s word, multiplies.
If you are a Hebrew person familiar with the scriptures when Jesus tells this story, your mind goes to another story, the story we started with. The farmer brings to mind the story about the first farmer, who is God himself, who creates a land that brings forth vegetation that brings forth more vegetation. The soil brings to mind a story about a man named “soil”. That is, Adam, whose name is taken from adama, the Hebrew word for soil. Human from humus. The multiplication of the crop brings to mind the first command given to the first humans: “Be fruitful. Multiply.”
And then there is this talk of the resistance to the farmer’s work, and we remember what has gotten us to this place in the first place. The first creation has come under the influence of the kingdom of darkness because we - the image bearers in the creation - welcomed the word of one who was not God, and consequently the creation itself has come under curse, corruption of beauty, disruption of Shalom.
And as these connections weave together, it dawns on us.
When Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God coming, he’s talking about creation happening again. Creation itself being restored, renewed, redeemed, starting with the image-bearers.
And just as the old creation was a process - night, day, night, day, God making the earth a temple in which he can dwell - the new creation is the same kind of process. God doesn’t replace the old. He invades the old and incorporates it into the new. Because, of course, the old was blessed, good, and the curse has not undone that blessing - it has only choked the life out of it. So he doesn’t do away with the old creation - he restores, renews, transforms it. Like a farmer sowing seeds.
Spiritual growth is a process involving the undoing of the choke hold of the kingdom of darkness as it gives way to embrace and sweet-breath kiss of the kingdom of God. Which is why it starts with disruption. Like a farmer sowing seeds.
It starts with God himself invading humanity in the incarnation. Words that land with disruption: “Greetings, you who are highly favored...!” Mary, of course, was troubled. God’s word is disruptive. But she receives the word, welcomes it in. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word.”
There is a cooperation between the soil and the seed that leads to the growth of the kingdom. There is mystery in it, sure, but the one thing we know is that the seed must be received by the soil.
A seed planted inside a woman, and the new creation is born. The word made flesh, Jesus, the firstborn of a new creation. Like a farmer sowing seeds.
Of course, we aren't actually just dirt. We're carbon based life-forms. And as a result, disruption doesn't always feel good on the front end. (It didn't for Mary, no doubt...)
Ever said to yourself:
yes, I want to get healthy.
yes, I want to get in shape.
yes, I want to learn.
yes, I want to become great at this or that.
You've just signed up for pain, haven’t you...?
This is how growth happens for carbon based life forms.
Disruption when the muscle breaks down allows for new strength to be formed.
Disruption when a baby forms in the body, exits the womb, enters the family...
It’s the same with spiritual growth. Disruption when the seed enters the soil. Disruption when the seed takes root. Disruption when the shoot pokes out. You can't have growth without disruption. So the question for us is: Will we welcome disruption for the sake of new creation?
Sometimes the seed comes in the form of a revelation about who we are or who God is or what the world is like. How do I let myself be disrupted by making room for that truth in my understanding of myself, of the world, of God for that truth?
Everything was just fine until...and now what I am going to do about that?
Sometimes the seed comes in the form of a person or situation that inconveniences you. How do I let myself be disrupted by making room for this person or situation in my life?
Is God revealing himself and his kingdom to me through so & so - then how do I open myself up to them? [esp. spouse, children]
Always the seeds come in the form of an invitation. Will I let my status quo be disrupted in order to make room for the seed?
By the way, we recognize invitations by the newly felt need to decide one way or the other. Which is always disruptive, isn’t it? God’s invitations are seeds, looking for a home. Not just in you, but in the old creation through you. The fate of the universe is riding on humanity's response. Which is how it's been from the beginning, after all. The good news is that Jesus already responded on our behalf, now all of our responses are a participation in an already certain outcome.
In this parable, the word for the crop coming up out of the ground is the same as the word for rising from the dead, for resurrection. Remember when Jesus said that he was like a kernel of wheat that had to fall into the ground and die before multiplication could come? Well, he has. And now his new creation life is ready to burst forth in resurrection in the soil of all our lives as we hear his words and trust them.
[Personal experience with disruption, God's grace meeting me in midst of struggle with headache...]
1. RSVP with a Yes.
Say yes to an inconvenient invitation from God. Especially one that might disrupt your life.
Maybe it’s to serve in a ministry. Or take a risk. Or change a habit. Or practice a spiritual discipline. Or give. Or bless someone. Or forgive someone.
The seed God wants to plant won’t take root and grow until you welcome it, make room for it, let it disrupt your life.
2. Invite God to a Tilling Party.
Invite God to till your soil if you’ve gotten suspiciously comfortable. There’s no growth without disruption, after all. And without growth, there is no new creation, for you or for the rest of the world.
3. Let Your Bed Stay Lumpy.
With a friend, examine a disrupted part of your life for a seed, and receive it.
Where do you have pain, frustration, confusion, hurt, overwhelmed feelings, struggles, fears? Especially where it’s most pronounced right now. There may well be a seed of God’s word trying to work its way into your soil through that pain or struggle. And God’s word is very likely the opposite of the word that is the loudest in that part of your life. Just like in the darkness the word was light. Just like for Mary trembling in fear and unworthiness before the angel, the word was “you are highly favored.” Just like for me in the “I can do this, I can beat this thing or die trying,” the word was “When you reach your end, give it to me - I’ve already let it kill me so you can live.”
Anyway, once you’ve identified the disrupted part of your life where you think a seed might be present, share the disruption with a brother or sister in Christ so that they can speak to you the word God wants to speak to you. Then, in prayer, say yes to the thing God is saying to you.