Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, July 7, 2019

Text: Matthew 13:31-33

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243 years ago, men from 13 British colonies gathered in Philadelphia to discuss a serious matter.  By the time they parted ways, they had changed the course of human history.   And they knew it, even back then.  John Adams, who would later serve as the second President of these newly founded United States of America, wrote a letter to his wife Abigail, in which he included these words: "The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America."  Why July 2nd?  That’s when the actual vote to declare independence took place; July 4th was the day the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was ratified. 

Now, if we know any American history at all, we are well aware that the signing of the document alone didn’t bring us to where we are today.  No, the colonists had to fight a war to earn the right to become independent from the British kingdom.  80 years later, a Civil War threatened to break up our nation.  Alaska and Hawaii didn’t become states until 1959.  The nation grew and spread and made it through difficult times.  Now here we are, and it is good for us all to thank God as we recognize how blessed we are to enjoy the freedoms we have as citizens of the United States. 

But Jesus’ words today remind us that we are blessed infinitely more through our citizenship in another nation, if we want to call it that.  It’s one of his favorite topics to talk about, as Jesus mentions “the kingdom” over a hundred times throughout the four gospel accounts.  His first recorded teaching immediately followed his baptism.  Matthew chapter four tells us, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”  Here in Matthew 13, Jesus illustrates how God’s kingdom works. 

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Before we look more closely at those words, let’s talk about what exactly Jesus is referring to.  When we hear the “kingdom of heaven,” it’s natural for us to look up and look ahead.  We picture our eternal home, where we will go after we die or when Jesus returns.  But another statement of Jesus helps us realize that Jesus isn’t just pointing ahead to eternity.  From Luke 17: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”  You see, when Jesus talks about the “kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven,” he isn’t talking about a place; he is talking about God’s ruling activity in the hearts of believers as he works through the gospel.  Let’s keep that as our working definition…again—God’s ruling activity in the hearts of believers as he works through the gospel. 

So it’s no surprise that Jesus would want this kingdom to grow and spread.  If we know Jesus at all, we know that his greatest love was and is reaching lost souls and sharing the good news that he came to save people from the guilt and punishment of their sin.  That’s why he came in the first place.  That’s why he fought the devil’s temptations and did only the will of his Father.  That’s why he set aside his crown of glory and wore a crown of thorns, because he is a different kind of king who rules over a different kind of kingdom.  As he said, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” 

In other words, he came to save people like you and me—people whose natural inclination is to declare our independence from God, to rebel against him and try to set up our own little kingdoms here on earth.  How many times a day do we have that internal struggle with our sinful nature where we know what our God and king would want us to do, but we are tempted to do what our sinful hearts desire?  We are tempted to be proud instead of humble, to be stubborn instead of submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, to seek our own good instead of the good of others, to seek our own entertainment instead of evangelism opportunities, to take revenge instead of turning the other cheek, to buy something instead of give something, and if we are backed into a corner, to make excuses instead of asking for forgiveness. 

But Jesus loves us enough to show us a better way.  Instead of letting us build up our own fragile kingdoms, Jesus teaches us to pray, Father…your kingdom come.  And he gave his life in answer to that prayer.  And then he sent his spirit into our hearts and lives, the Spirit who came by water and the word to bring us into the kingdom of God and establish a new life, one characterized by forgiveness instead of the eternal dungeon we deserved.  That same Spirit brings growth and restoration every time we are blessed to hear the words, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  That same Spirit feeds our souls with the very body and blood of our Lord when we believe the words “given and poured out for you” with the faith that only he can give.  Our God and King promises never to leave us, to work all things for our good, and to guide us along paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 

Yes, God’s kingdom has come to you.  And Jesus wants us to pray that it continues to grow and spread just like…like what?  Well, like he promises.  31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Two illustrations here.  Both are easy enough to grasp with a basic knowledge of how the world works.  Just because seeds are small doesn’t mean they stay that way.  A tiny seed grows into a plant sturdy enough to support birds in its branches.  So the kingdom of God started relatively small, with Jesus and his disciples, and it grew large enough to cross borders and influence leaders and build churches like ours, where at least once a week a small part of the kingdom gathers to grow even more. 

The second illustration might benefit from a little extra explanation.  Many of us know what makes dough rise.  A small amount of yeast is all it takes, and with time, the yeast grows and multiplies and reacts and spreads through the whole lump of dough, for bread, or doughnuts, or cinnamon rolls.  But where our translation simply says “a large amount,” the original Greek says “three satas.”  Now, three satas doesn’t mean much to us, because we probably don’t know what one sata equals, but one commentator notes that this would make enough bread to feed about a hundred people.  This kingdom is designed to grow and feed many guests. 

That brings us back to our prayer—the Lord’s Prayer.  When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we are asking God to bring about the growth he promises, among us and for many others. 

How do you feel about open borders?  Some say our nation should let everyone in without any questions asked; others feel like we should immediately deport everyone who hasn’t come in legally;  and still others are wise enough to be cautious about immigration without being racist or overly judgmental of those born on foreign soil.  It’s complicated; we can all admit that. 

But what about the kingdom?  Have we ever been guilty of being so proud of and content with our church that we fail to see opportunities to grow?  Have we ever looked at an individual and for some reason thought that we’d rather not have that kind of person walk through our church doors?  Have we ever been afraid to invite someone or speak up for the gospel of Jesus Christ because we were worried we’d get laughed at or called a name or just plain rejected?  Let’s all realize that God answers this petition by blessing our personal efforts in gospel ministry, through the words we speak and the offerings we give so that others may speak for us.  God’s kingdom comes when we bring our children to be baptized, and then raise them in a home filled with God’s Word.  God’s kingdom comes when we maintain active worship lives at home and in church, regularly attending the Lord’s Supper.  God’s kingdom comes when we invite our friends and neighbors, when we encourage our family members, when we pray for our missionaries and then send them throughout our nation and our world. 

Like Martin Luther said in his explanation, God’s kingdom is going to come whether we ask it or not.  But wouldn’t we rather take an active role as his blessed citizens, as those who are redeemed, restored, and forgiven in the blood of Christ?  May God keep us in his kingdom now and forever, and may he move each one of us to be active participants in kingdom work, so that God’s kingdom continues to grow and spread among us, and through the blessed work we carry out together as his church.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.