The Kingdom Grows

Reading: Mark 4.26-34
"Let's build a bridge across the Niagara," someone proposed about a century ago. Great idea, it would save miles of travel and solve many problems. But how were they to begin? The canyon walls were too steep, and the rapids were too wild to get that first strand across from cliff to cliff. Then someone got a bright idea. They'd offer a ten dollar prize to the kid who could fly a kite from one side to the other. That's how the first string got across. It was then connected to larger string, and it in turn was connected to a slender cable. And the slender cable was connected to the strong cable that made the entire construction possible.

When the project was first announced, the critics laughed at the project. When they heard that a "kite was going to solve the problem," the sophisticated engineers had a field day. Well, history had the last laugh. One young boy, Homan Walsh, flew the first string across the chasm with his kite in 1848. He succeeded and the process worked just as it was envisioned. The boy collected his ten dollars; the great suspension bridge was started with a single string.

God's "little things"

God seems to make a habit of using little people and little things - much to the surprise and dismay of the "big" people who imagine that God should always do things with great pomp and grandeur.

One day the disciples of Jesus were arguing about which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. We are told that Jesus called a child, made him stand in front of them, and said, "I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child. And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me" (Mt. 18.3-5).

Some time later, some people brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and to pray for them, but the disciples scolded the people. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Jesus placed his hands on them… (Mt. 19.13-15).

Jesus' idea of greatness was very different from theirs. Sometimes we get the idea that we are too young, too insignificant, too incompetent - just plain useless to God! But that's not God's opinion. As someone has put it, it is not a matter of our ability but our availability to God. He will use us if we are willing to be used. Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that ability and experience are of no value. But they can get in the way if we are not truly available to God.

The story of the bridge across the Niagara is an illustration of this. It reminded me of another story.

These days all bridges across roads have a sign which tells us how high they are. This may or may not be interesting to me, but it is vital to the drivers of heavy vehicles who need to know whether they will fit under it.

Back before such signs were on bridges, a large semi-trailer got stuck under a bridge. A crowd gathered. Police were there and tow-truck operators. But nothing they tried seemed to work. They even thought they might have to pull the bridge down to get the truck out. Just then a boy came up to the policeman and said, "Say, mister, why don't they let some air out of the tyres?" This boy had the solution - and it worked!

I like the story of Samuel going to Bethlehem to find the new king for Israel (1 Sam. 15.34-16.13). Jesse brought his sons before the prophet - starting with the eldest. Eliab was tall and handsome. Samuel was sure he must be the one God has chosen. But no, "Pay no attention to how tall and handsome he is. I have rejected him, because I do not judge as man judges. Man looks at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart." One after another they were presented, but none of them was the one God had chosen.

"Have you any more sons?" Well… "There is still the youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep." Nobody had thought it might be important for David to be there. We are told he was "a handsome, healthy young man, and his eyes sparkled" - "This is the one - anoint him!"

There are things that need to be done in this world that only you can do - with God! You can't do it alone! But God is depending on you to be available to him!

The Kingdom Grows

In our reading from Mark 4, Jesus told two parables about how God's Kingdom grows.

"The Kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed in his field. He sleeps at night, is up and about during the day, and all the while the seeds are sprouting and growing. Yet he does not know how it happens. The soil itself makes the plants grow and bear fruit; first the tender stalk appears, then the ear, and finally the ear full of corn. When the corn is ripe, the man starts cutting it with his sickle, because harvest time has come" (vv. 26-29).

With the help of powerful microscopes, a great deal more is known about what is inside a seed and what happens when it sprouts. But for all that knowledge, nobody has been able to make a seed. Our knowledge should lead us to a greater sense of wonder. And when we plant a seed, we leave it alone. We don't dig it up every day just to make sure it is still there. We water the ground and wait. Those first two little leaves will come up in, perhaps, a week's time. And that is just the beginning too until the plant grow to full size to give us its flowers or fruit.

Jesus is saying that God's Kingdom is like this. It starts as a little seed (of God's Word) planted in our minds and hearts, hidden where nobody else can see it. It grows as we welcome it, as we believe it, as we begin to live it… It begins with what is hidden, invisible… But it grows, bursting out of the ground - expressing itself in the kind of people we are and in the ways we love and care and help in this world.

"What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like?" asked Jesus. "What parable shall we use to explain it? It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed, the smallest seed in the world, and plants it in the ground. After a while it grows up and becomes the biggest of all plants. It puts out such large branches that the birds come and make their nests in its shade" (vv. 30-32).

Here Jesus seems to be thinking of not just of our individual response to God, but of all of us together. Jesus, the Son of God, was one person and he had just twelve close followers. From the Day of Pentecost onward, massive growth has been taking place. In fact, we are told that people are becoming Christians today at a faster rate than at any other time in history - but mainly in non-Western countries.

And certainly, "that the birds come and make their nests in its shade". Not all believe, by any means, but society itself seeks what benefits it may gain from the Kingdom.

And for us all… Receive the Word. Listen carefully to it. Think about it. Allow God's Spirit to apply it within you. Be available to God to do his will. That is how the Kingdom will grow within you - and through you - in this world.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 16 June 1997
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

Back to Sermons