In a recent sermon for my Preaching Practicum class at Fuller Theological Seminary Southwest here in Phoenix, I spoke on the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven. (Luke 13:18-21) It is interesting to me that the Kingdom of God is described in these terms - which is a much different understanding than if the Kingdom of God was going to advance like an Empire or a military. That would be an easy analogy if the church was actively advancing a boundary across the world. But this is not at all what Jesus came speaking of, but rather of a mustard seed and leaven, which does transform the entire whole (a garden and the flour) into its nature. It starts small, it changes the very nature of the individual and cannot help but spread because it is in the very transformed nature. The mustard tree/bush is really considered a weed - and there is some Rabbinic law out there that shows Rabbi's prohibited the planting of it in their gardens because it would grow out of control! (I likened this to the crabgrass in my own backyard - how it grows and chokes out the bermuda grass - needing less resources and consumption). Likewise, the leaven (yeast), once started cannot be stopped without adding some third-party additive.
What I want to get to here, however, is stemmed off this "ok" sermon. (I'm definitely a work in progress for sure in needing experience in this practice.) Carrie, a classmate, summed it up well that the Kingdom of God's expansion is occurring, but is not something we are responsible to make happen. I think that is a correct statement, but one in which God wants us to participate! God planted the mustard seed in Jesus Christ, he inserted the yeast into the flour. Now it's growing, and it starts at the individual and continues outward throughout the world. Our actions matter, our responsibility is to allow this transformation to take place within us, which cannot help but change the way approach others. Is this really the way we view our lives, the connection of discipleship and evangelism, to use two "religious" words?
One of the distresses I see in many churches is that their sermons, their messages, even though cloaked in following Christ, are about us changing habits and bettering our lives to some kind of Christian ethical ideal. The who is enabling us to change isn't there. The action is always on us to make converts, or to learn not how to be angry at work or with family. Is that it, really? Is it all about a set of rules? Or is it transformational? Of being made into the likeness of Christ - submitting ourselves to the growth of the Fruit of the Spirit? To me, it is the second that provides hope - provides the truth of why Jesus Christ came and died. Grace covers me. My entire life is then not one of me trying to better myself, but to learn to love God and love others because He loves me. How can I love? Only by letting God's love transform me.
When I've talked with others about love, I often heard John 14:15 quoted - "If you love me, you will obey my commandments." I wholeheartely agree - but we have to understand the order of this verse!!! It is not saying, "if you obey my commandments, you love me." Not all who obey, love, while all who love will obey. This is the entire difference in living life abundantly, I think. The focus is not on the rule, but on being one with God in his love. When we are transformed by God's love we pursue this love back - it changes the very focus of our lives from ourselves to others. We do not interact based on what we get back - or in other words we do not merely "love those who love us." (Matthew 5 talks of how this has no reward!). Also, in 1 Cor 13, we see that we can do all sorts of good stuff, selling all we have and giving it to the poor, but it means nothing without love.
This love is transformational, it moves us beyond the exercises of mere fleshly existence into the abundant life in the Kingdom of God as it is coming on earth as it is in heaven. Love is at the center of that Kingdom, of which Jesus is Lord! If he is Lord of your life, then that is the focus, the pursuit, the aim of your journey. "Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you." (Matt 6:33)
*Does this line of thought flow with anyone else? I've been studying and trying to see the connection of what life in the Kingdom of God looks like according to Jesus as found in Scripture, and how this relates to life today. Is our current church climate really indicative of his life? Just questions - no accusations...but I wonder how much we misplaced our convictions on the Great Commission into a Kingdom of God is like an "advancing conqueror" rather thatn as a mustard see that grows to transform an entire garden!