Election Reflection #1

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The night of the election, as it became clear that Donald Trump would be our new President-elect, my mind and heart were racing. People were flashing into my mind and I was immediately wondering: “What are they thinking right now? How do they feel?” This, of course, was on top of my own feelings about the results, as well.I didn’t have to wonder long, thanks to Facebook and Twitter. Posts filled my news feeds of elation and exasperation, joy and deep despair and fear.

 


“I’m with Him, and He was put in office 2,000 years ago…”

There was one common thread I noticed first in some of the language of the posts. It was usually some version of “God is sovereign,” or “Jesus is still on the throne,” or “God works all things together for the good.” I had two thoughts as I read this. The first was: “Yes, that’s true.” The next came out as a burst of reflective tweets that I sent out that night. The first said this:

“reflections on this shocking night. 1)Many who are quick to say we need to not worry/trust God w/ results haven’t had to worry about much b4”

What I was seeing is that many who were saying this were people of considerable privilege. In an election where so much of the news making headlines have had to do with racial issues, immigration, and, to be frank, a lot of hate-filled language, I was wondering how people who were underprivileged or on the receiving end of much of the hate language were feeling about Jesus still ruling the world.

But here is one thing I have realized, I may be right about this statement I tweeted, but I also know I am definitely wrong about this, too. Ironically, my own privilege caused me to miss something way more profound: some of the most marginalized and oppressed people in our country are saying the very same thing—that they trust God with the results and are undeterred by them.

My sister and I were processing this together, and our conversation showed this fact to me. I am astonished at the profound depth of faith of many of my brothers and sisters who have endured disappointment and being maligned by many.

I don’t have a neat bow to tie this all up, but one thing I do know: I have learned way more from talking to people face-to-face about this and seeking to understand them. While I feel a bit sick to my stomach when people share truisms like the ones above about “God being in control” or “On the throne”, when it comes from someone who has way more reason to resent others in power, and they respond in quiet confidence and love, I know a great Power is at work in them. And it makes me long to have some of it.

**Feel free to comment or add some thoughts, just please know that I reserve the right to delete comments that get nasty or ridiculous. I am totally fine with disagreement (I am sure I’m wrong about lots of things and that we won’t agree about which things!), but let’s please be human and seek understanding. Cool? Cool.

(Post)Sermon Notes: What Will You Do With What God Has Given You?

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So, we had some volume issues with our podcast posted this week, so I thought it was a good excuse to try to get some more (post)sermon notes up for those of you who like to follow such things. I will be doing the same next week, in lieu of a podcast (or a sermon for that matter!).


Text: Matthew 25:14-30

So, I didn’t manuscript my sermon sermon this week. I just made four observations with questions at the end. I’ll try to link the points the best way I can to the scriptures they reference.

We are all given gifts of great value, though we are not given the same things.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

 

We are expected to invest what we’ve been given.

16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

This investment means risk and a lack of clear instruction from the master. The servants had to figure out how to put what they had been given to work (or not).

We can tend to justify our inaction/laziness with our own beliefs/theology.

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

Many issues we create can be tied to what we believe about God or ourselves, that is simply untrue.

We will be judged/rewarded in connection with how we put to use what God has given us into the world.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 

Questions for Reflection:

-What has God given you? (talents, gifts, resources, etc.)


-What are God’s desires in the world/for the world?


-What can you do with what God has given you? What imagination do you have for investment of what you have?


-What is keeping you from acting on it? (what are your fears, hang-ups, questions, doubts?)


-What do you think God be declaring to you, in light of what is keeping you from moving forward? If you are afraid, what do you think God is saying to you in your fear?

I’d love any thoughts you may have, feel free to comment or contact me directly through the site here.

(Post)Sermon Notes: Would Anyone Want Your Life?

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So, we weren’t able to get our normal podcast posted this week, so I thought it was a good excuse to try to get some (post)sermon notes up for those of you who like to follow such things. I hope it helps you consider or re-consider what this life of follow Jesus might look like.

Text: Matthew 23:13-15
How many of you are familiar with the movie “The Little Rascals”?
The movie centers around little kids, particularly the boys who have formed the “He-Man Woman-Haters”. This is an exclusive club, with the big rule that you have to hate girls to belong. The two best friends, Spanky and Alfalfa, end up having a falling out because Alfalfa has fallen for Darla, and has been spending time with her in secret.
It all comes out in an epic scene, where, while trying to have a secret date in the clubhouse, Alfalfa accidentally burns it to the ground because of his romantic lunchtime candles. He is punished by the group, and it isn’t until the very end, through a surprise guest, that they realize they were wrong, finally rebuilding their clubhouse and hanging a new sign on the door: “He-Man Woman Haters Club: Women Welcome”. In the final scene, you see them all getting along so well, and even Spanky seems to enjoy the company of his female friends.
In this movie, there was a strict rule that was preventing Alfalfa from pursuing the love of his life. And it was a nonsense rule (and even a dangerous one…we might admit that some organizations would be more honest if they hung a sign like the one at the end of the movie on their doors…). Alfalfa had been sold a bill of goods and he couldn’t do it anymore. It was not a life he wanted. And the damage it caused was extensive.
I know the movie is a silly example, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law that Jesus is talking to have been doing something similar. They have been laying up heavy burdens on others, they have been seeking to exclude other people and convert people to their cause, and have been blind to the hurt and pain they are causing, not to mention the fact that they were causing themselves to miss out. There is a certain misery in seeking to always police the world and be right all the time. That is what is behind the word “woe”. Jesus is saying: this life you have chosen for yourself…it is not just misguided and destructive, it is sad and lacking.
Woe is me.
We don’t tend to hear the word “woe” often today, but they were used by prophets to name what currently exists in someone’s life. It is a statement of regretful fact with even a twinge of compassion. This is not simply judgment, it is a sorrowful statement of what is happening.
It begs the question: do you really want this life, and would anyone else want your life? This is a key question for us as disciples of Jesus. Of course our lives have challenges and we are not perfect, but would someone on the outside looking in want our life? And if not, why not? This is a time for us to get honest about our own lives as we look at the lives of the Pharisees.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Jesus begins by passing judgment on the scribes and Pharisees for the effect that their hypocrisy has on others. The kingdom of heaven is meant to be attractive and inviting, but the scribes and Pharisees prevent those so attracted to it from entering the kingdom. They do not live as if they have entered the kingdom. because they actually haven’t. But they feel like they have to prevent others as well.
These leaders are so obsessed with holding on to their power and position, that they are trying to trip up and discredit Jesus so that the people who used to follow them (and now follow Jesus) will turn back to them. And how do they do this? Power and coercion. You aren’t following the rules. You aren’t keeping sabbath. You don’t really understand the Bible.
[the best manuscripts don’t include v. 14, so we didn’t look at it. For more detail as to why, or if you are concerned that we are removing things from the Bible, read this and
this to start]

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

Jesus, in talking about the Pharisees suggests that they are missionaries (and even successful ones), but those they convert are made even more corrupt than the Pharisees themselves. This is the danger of seeking to convert someone to an “-ism” an ideology , rather than to a way of living in deep relationship with the God of all. There is an appeal to fundamentalism and philosophy—it is the thought that we now know fully how to do the right thing and everyone else is wrong. Again, this is the heavy burdens of the Pharisees and the ultra-religious. Even our zeal can be something that becomes anti-kingdom. (Just ask the Apostle Paul about that one)
Some of us have really felt this one. We have been indoctrinated into thinking and acting in certain ways where fear was a big motivator. If you do this, then it will lead to [insert worst-case scenario/consequence here]. The bar becomes set so high that we live in constant fear, shame, and guilt because we cannot measure up. And perhaps, there is even this twisted hope that if I share this enough, I will come to believe it and embody it, and maybe even the person I convert will prove that this is right!
Quite simply put: this is a conversion to a Jesus-less religion. Keep these rules. Do things the right way. Believe the right things. Set yourself apart from those who believe the wrong things. There is nothing inherently wrong with describing our faith in relationship to our faith tradition. Someone will say I am Baptist or Catholic or Episcopal or Lutheran or Jewish or whatever it may be. There is such to be gained by identifying with a certain religious stream. However, when that becomes the thing that is more important than Jesus, we need to be careful and aware.
A side note: this is one of the several times where Jesus mentions religious people being the ones especially in danger of being related to or of hell. This should make our ears perk up a little bit. The question is, what are we attempting to convince people of? A system of belief? A particular set of holy living codes? A specific morality? Or…is our message one that says: the kingdom of heaven is near and you can be a part of it…now.
Pascal once said: “People never sin more grievously than when they act from religious motives.” I don’t feel like I need to convince you of this. So many wars have been waged over religious motives (even within the same Christian faith). Religious motives are fleeting and destructive, not just to others but also to ourselves. There is NOTHING about this way of living that is attractive to our world…and it is often where many people, apart from Jesus are living (and many who do confuse belief in Jesus). There is a better way.
What does your life speak about what you believe about the kingdom of God? Is it an invitational life? Is it an attractive life? Could it be that you are closing a door in people’s faces by the way you are stuck right now in your life? Is God saying “woe” to your life right now, not in a way of judgment but in a way of saying “It doesn’t have to be this way.”? The truth is, the door to the kingdom is open wide for us. Jesus has opened it and he is inviting us in. He is the Door. He is the Way. And to follow him is to lay down our striving, our burdens, our guilt, our shame, our rules, the lies we’ve been telling ourselves and others, the expectations we have or others have. It is laying all of it down and it is surrendering to a life with Christ.
What is preventing you today? What is the bad news in your life, the lies and stories you are telling yourself? What does God want you to know about him and about yourself this morning? What is the truth that makes life in the kingdom a joyful possibility?

I’d love any thoughts you may have, feel free to comment or contact me directly through the site here.

A New Season of Ministry/Life/Vocation

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I am starting to learn how slow some of the good things in life can be. The best meals take a long time to prepare and some of us best enjoy them slowly with the good wine or beer that has taken a lot of time to ferment and mature. It is these slow, holy moments where we seem to take the scenic route in life, finding that he scenic route better actually takes us where we should be going!

I think that I am seeing that some of the seeds planted in me long ago are just now starting to poke through the ground, and I’m getting a look at what just may be coming. Almost a year ago, I took a three month sabbatical. Since that time, the struggles of learning to hear God, to attend to God’s presence, and to just “be” more have had ripple effects that are just now beginning to take shape.

One of those effects is me taking a new part-time job with a non-profit. Starting this week, I will be serving as the Co-Director of Faith Community Outreach for HopeSprings.

My initial feeling of a call to helping start a church was rooted in hearing another pastor talk of his heart for the “unchurched” and “de-churched” over 10 years ago. I don’t remember his specific words, but he mentioned something about the nature of the church: it should be a hospital for the hurting, not a place for the perfect. A couple years ago, Pope Francis said it this way:

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up.” (From “A Big Heart Open to God,” America magazine Sept. 19, 2013.)

I continue to wonder and dream, what would it look like for the church to recover her vocation to tend to the wounded and hurting in our city in way that is meaningful and responsible? What is needed to warm the hearts of the church again to the hurting who are all around (and within…and the hurting who are our very selves?)

What gets me so excited about this new opportunity is that I will be able to work with other churches in our area toward identifying how they can continue to better love their neighbors, particularly in areas of health inequality/disparity and those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. I think that the future looks bright as the church learns how to love her literal neighbors as much as she tends to love herself. Also, what an incredible testimony it could be to our region if the Church decided that we can all partner together on the main call we have in common: to love our neighbors.

I will continue to serve in my current position as the Neighborhood Pastor of Gallery Church Patterson Park, though now as a part-time pastor. I love our church and I am excited about what opportunities are created by me shifting to part-time. I created a little FAQ for our church family here.

For those of you who are the praying type, I would love your prayers for strength, wisdom, and discernment as I make this transition. Pray that our church can rally together to focus in on our mission in our neighborhood and that God will continue to guide us and inspire us.

Who knows what will grow and bloom?

I’d love to hear from you about this? What do you see? Have you ever experienced a stirring toward a new expression of your vocation?

Restored: What I’m Learning about Church Planting from HGTV

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My wife has successfully converted me to watching HGTV.

It started simply and subversively; where she would tell me about the shows she liked or the ideas she got for our house while watching. I would draw back at first, thinking, “Oh great…we can’t afford to do that to our home!” or “Is this kind of like home decorating porn?” Then I would watch an episode of Fixer Upper and would fall in love with Chip and Joanna Gaines (“It’s like they are our friends and we would hang out!”) or an episode of Flea Market Flip, where someone made $300 off of an old, dirty window frame, a can of spray paint, and an old milk bottle.

Particularly, one of the shows Kara loves is Rehab Addict. For those of you unconverted or uninitiated to the HGTV faith, the host of Rehab Addict, Nicole Curtis, is obsessed with finding historic houses and returning them to their original glory and beauty. She always tries to use original features and materials where she can find them. The idea is not simply to flip a house and make a profit. It is a labor of love, spanning months and months, whose end result is to place back on display the original beauty and splendor of houses as they were originally built.

I compare this to how I’ve noticed houses are often “rehabbed” today. In our neighborhood, houses are being bought, redone, and sold for a huge profit margin. The house that we recently bought in Highlandtown was done similarly—modern feel, new kitchen, recessed lighting, etc. But I wonder: what could we be losing in this obsession with what is new and modern?

This has been an idea that I’ve been sitting on for awhile now, and it’s related to my own story. Part of my own motivation in getting involved in church planting (starting a new church) was because I felt like the Church was in need of renovation. How many of you have lived in a house while noticing all of the little issues with it? And you long to fix what’s wrong, but as you dig deeper, you start to notice the wiring is bad, and the wood is rotted, or that ugly, fake wood-paneling has to go—and before you know it, you’ve ripped the house apart?

In my idealism and younger days (though I like to thing I’m still kinda both!), I was convinced I was right and that finally, we were going to get the church right. And I had pretty much one tool: a sledgehammer. As a church planter, you can decide what you want to do and how you want to do it without the nuisance of other people in the church telling you what they think or questioning it. So I felt like we were starting with a gutted house; a clean slate. We didn’t sing at first because I was so burned out on the worship music machine, that if I heard one more song by Chris Tomlin or Hillsong, I was going to scream. We met in an Irish pub to worship, mostly because it was free and the food was amazing, but also to make our Baptist friends nervous. I would find myself talking a lot about what we weren’t, rather than what we were. I was proud that we were stripped down; I was proud that we didn’t sing.

It wasn’t until I started actually studying the history of the church with more depth and a little more humility, and I started to read about the world-wide movement of the Church, that I started to realize, in horror, what I’d done: I had smashed it all to pieces-I’d deconstructed the whole thing. The baby was out with the bathwater, but so was the old claw-foot tub and the tile in the bathroom. And as a result, I had severed the line between me and brothers and sisters all over the world and across time.

In the past few years, I have come to see the value of re-examining the things that the church has done and still does; the things that we share with those who share our faith. Not just the beliefs, but the practices which both arise from and inform those beliefs. So that is what this series is about: I want us to re-examine some of the core elements of our ancient faith. I want us to fight against the desire that we often have to think that we are somehow more enlightened or advanced that those who have come before us.

So, I decided to try to teach on this and explore this in our church family, because I often teach to learn. We will be talking about Word, Prayer, Sin/Confession, and Table in the coming weeks and how we can restore them to practice and use in our community and life together. Check out the latest podcast stream on my page here and let me know what you think.

Book Notes: Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians

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Over the holidays this past year, Kara and I got to stop and visit with my grandparents for a couple days. With sharing time between the families, we only get to see them about once every couple years, so it was a really special time for us. I have come to love and value them so much and I love sitting and listening to their stories of faith and trust in God. It makes me feel so small and realize that I have so much to learn in my journey with God.

Also, there is a bit of a tradition that my Grandfather (the “retired” Southern Baptist preacher and evangelist) has developed in calling me into his study toward the end of our time there to speak “man to man”. He always wants to make sure I am being taken care of financially and that Kara is well. And then he has this way of asking me really good questions. “Son,” he would begin, “what do you know about the Holy Spirit?” I stammered through my answer, not sure where the question was coming from. I spoke theologically and experientially and after I realized I was out of things to say, I just stopped talking. (for those of you who know me, this is a bit of a miracle in and of itself!)

My Grandpa sat back and said, “Son, I can tell that you are searching and seeking right now,” Boy, was he right. He started telling me stories of his own experiences with the Spirit, with men he respected who came to meet with him and were able to answer all of his questions without him having to ask a single one. He then pulled this book off the shelf and opened it up.

As you can tell, both the previous owner (who gifted his library to my Grandpa when he was fresh out of seminary) and my Grandpa deeply treasure this book. He was very quick to tell me, “I’m not giving this to you—it’s a loan, so return it!” He said that this book continues to shape his experience and understanding of the work of the Spirit upon the lives of people in the church.

And it was incredible to read. A few thoughts (and I’m still churning this around in my mind):
There is ONE Spirit– I was so taken with the commonality of experiences with the Divine which spanned time and denomination/tradition. Beginning with the Scriptures and the moving through the Apostolic age, people from so many branches of the Church were featured (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Anabaptist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Quaker, Salvation Army, etc.) ***although, the author’s bias would often show itself toward the “high church” traditions and he often was not too fond of the Roman Catholic church
The Spiritual life is a similar journey, yet unique to all– In almost every account, there was significant struggle in early life and a deep-seated desire to have “more” of God. However, the path of discovery and experience was different. For some, they had ecstatic experience or the “strongly warmed” feelings of Wesley. For others, there was a gradual and prayerful trajectory toward God, spurred on by little moments.
Sin is an obstacle to Spirit-filled living-Most every life outlined in these pages displayed some struggle against sin. Whether it was continued practice in sin or living with sin unconfessed or significant pride or apathy, everyone had to surrender significantly to better participate in the life God was calling them to live.
God works through Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided people, not simply the “best”-Most of the biographies outlined in the book were of ordinary men and women of ordinary means. Many were unschooled and were living fairly insignificant lives. Yet when God’s Spirit got ahold of them, thy were used to do incredible things. Their fame was the result of the Spirit’s work in them, not the other way round.

So, what do I know about the Holy Spirit? Simply, that I want and need more.

[Post]-Sermon Notes: The Reasons for Parables

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Note: I am posting a more manuscript version of my sermon because of technical issues with the podcast this week. This was delivered this past Sunday morning during our 11am gathering. Enjoy!

“The Reasons for Parables”
Text: Matthew 13:10-17

On a Sunday similar to this one, in the early fall of 1946, the English novelist George Orwell stood at the front of a church, honoring the enduring legacy of one of the leaders in the Church of England who had recently passed away. Many don’t know this, but Orwell (his real name being Eric Blair) was a very committed Anglican, his faith influencing his writing.

Before he came into the church, he noticed a large tree out front; one that had just started to show its maturity. Some children were climbing in the branches and playing under the shade.

It caused him to share these words:
“A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them nowadays—when you see a walnut tree it is almost invariably an old tree. If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren?” 

Setting aside Orwell’s loose lips and candor during a memorial service, the truth is a powerful one. We do not think to plant seeds for a future we will not get to experience. We are doing work, planting things which we will not see grow or mature.

I first shared this quote almost two years ago in this very room as we jointly celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Patterson Park Baptist Church (and their final Sunday as a church) and the first official Sunday morning of Gallery Church Patterson Park. It was a beautiful time and we gave everyone a walnut seed as a way to remember that we are both beneficiaries and builders of the kingdom; a kingdom that did not begin and will not end with us.

The disciples in the first century find themselves in a very similar place. The idea of the “kingdom of God” is not new to them. It has been in the collective conscious of the Jewish people for centuries. It is reawakened every generation with people who attempt to bring in the kingdom politically or militarily by force. It is anticipated as religious leaders come to gain power and influence with the occupying government, in hopes that they will one day plan a sort of coup to overthrow their oppressors. Yet, success would always evade them, and the consequences were not just loss, but death and often a tightening of the shackles on the people: more taxes, more oppression, more laws, more military.

The prophetic words of Isaiah have become painfully true for the people of Israel. Isaiah’s call was to go to speak to a people. We love to read Isaiah 6 up until verse 9, because it paints a picture of the greatness of God and the incredible response of Isaiah to God’s call. “Here am I, send me!”. We love to use this to talk about missions and obedience. But you know what comes after Isa 6:8? Isaiah 6:9!

The LORD tells Isaiah that he will be going to a people who would not understand or repent. As a result, they would experience the judgment of God.
(Read Isa. 6:9-12)
Verse 13: “And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Judgment and destruction for a people who would not turn to the God that loved them. But also hope…
(Isa. 10:33-11:2)

So, not only had Isaiah’s words come true (in a not so good way), they were also coming true (in a beautiful way!) in the person and work of Jesus. And the disciples are seeing this, but they want to understand why Jesus is speaking in this very strange way to others.
So their question is this: Why did Jesus speak in parables?
For us to seek to answer that question, we will talk about what parables are and what they do.

Parables are an exposition.

(v. 11)
Jesus is telling the parable about the sower, seed, and soil in order to communicate something that is happening in the kingdom right now. Again, we will deal with this more fully next week as to what this parable reveals, but Jesus says that these parables have to do with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Parables are not simply just nice, cute stories that use something concrete to explain an abstract reality. On the surface they do that, but Jesus is not simply teaching to convey information. He tells parables to do something: to reveal the kingdom and who is in on it.
As we will come to see more next week as we talk about the meaning of this particular parable, Jesus is describing something that is happening right now.

So, I know some of you have struggled a bit this week with the questions I asked last Sunday, because I didn’t answer them for you. Someone asked me, “Are you going to answer all of those questions this week?” I’ll tell you what I told them: not yet, and I doubt I can answer all of the questions for you. Remember, we need to sit with our questions! We need to engage with Jesus teachings and allow them to do their work, not simply be problems for us to figure out!

But our main question is this: what does the parable expose or reveal about life and God and me? If we seek to answer that, we are working within the given framework that Jesus has given us. But parables don’t just expose reality, they also reveal something else.

Parables are a revelation.
(v. 12-16)
I mean this more than just that they reveal something about God and his kingdom (that is covered in the exposition). They reveal something about the hearer (or better yet, they reveal who is a hearer).
Jesus says that this way of teaching helps to fulfill the prophecy (and in some ways, the ministry) of Isaiah. Jesus chooses to teach this way in order to reveal who is really paying attention and who isn’t.
The hidden aspect of the parables’ message is thus both a cause of and a response to people’s unwillingness to follow Jesus.
Simply put, not everyone who hears the words of Jesus will understand them, abide by them, or follow them. And, of course, the disciples have a great advantage, having had the Sermon on the Mount given to them specifically.
But parables in some ways are a very practical tool that allows Jesus to see who is really desiring this kingdom. Those who show interest, who understand the parables are showing that they are a part of this movement. But those who do not, reveal that they are not followers of Jesus or his kingdom.

Parables are an invitation.
(v. 17)
This, for me, comes back to the walnut seed. Jesus is exposing the place of privilege and responsibility that the disciples have in being able to see and hear and understand what Jesus is doing.
To me, it is amazing that most commentators focus on this parable and ask questions about the previous verses in relation to the age-old questions of predestination and human responsibility or free will. I will not wade into those waters this morning for a variety of reasons, except to say this. Divine providence/election and human responsibility are both held in tension in the Scriptures. And, at the risk of over-simplifying things, when it comes to divine providence and human responsibility, by definition we are responsible for only one of those things! What I want us to see is that the idea of election: being chosen for a specific task by a specific person (in this case Jesus and his disciples) does not signify simply a privileged status. It is a “blessed status”, meaning, there is a great responsibility place upon you now, because of what you see and hear.
What is most incredible to me about this passage is that Jesus looks at this rag-tag group of followers and says: “You need to understand: your spiritual heroes would have given anything to be able to be in your sandals right now! Isaiah wrote about this ‘shoot of Jesse’ which would spring up out of the burned out stump of a tree of this nation, and you are looking at him, in the flesh!”
Implicit in that statement is a “so what are you going to do about it” sort of question. Will you jump into the story that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Isaiah, and David is fulfilling now? Will you find yourself in this story and be changed by it? Will you be a part of this kingdom? Will you listen to me so I can tell you what it means?
This invitation is ours today as well. We are inheritors of a legacy not our own; a kingdom we did not build, but we can join in and belong. This is historically significant! Jesus is looking to us and saying, so many people would have loved to be where you are now, but it wasn’t time. But now it is time.
This is how Jesus began his ministry, calling people to him because the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world. That is happening right now, through the work of the Spirit in the church that Jesus started.
So, do we hear this? Do we hear what Jesus is up to in the world? Are we seeking to listen to him? We will be moving from hearing to understanding next week as we (finally) talk about what this parable means.
But let’s just take time to listen to the Spirit of God, right now in this moment.
What is he exposing to you right now about himself and the Kingdom?
What is he revealing about you?
How is he inviting you into his work in the world this week?
Benediction:
May we have ears to hear and eyes to see all that God is accomplishing around us in his kingdom. May we respond to his invitation to join him in his work, and may we realize that we are the inheritors of a past not our own, and co-stewards of a future that God is pulling most wonderfully into the present. May his kingdom come and his will be done, in Baltimore as it is in heaven.
Grace and Peace be with you.