Sermon by the Rev. Cheryl McFadden on June 13, 2021.
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 17:22-24 | Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14 | 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 | Mark 4:26-34
Listen again the words from our first lesson:
“I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree,
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it” (Ezekiel 17:24).
What is going on? The Lord is going to make high something low and dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish? Again, I ask what is going on?
Now listen to the parable Jesus uses for the kingdom of God in our Gospel. “It is like a mustard seed which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4: 30).
How can these things be? How can something high be made low and vice versa, something alive be made to decay and vice versa, and how can a tiny seed grow into a great shrub. Friends, our lesson and Gospel are teaching us about the “Upside-Down Kingdom.” Yes, you heard me right. We are learning not about the right side up kingdom of God but about the upside down kingdom. Now I want the adults to take a deep breath because in this kingdom, things don’t go the way you think they should, and this might be very hard for you. Children, I know you will be completely fine with an upside down kingdom of God. You are fine with things not going a certain way because you don’t have expectations about life or biases about people. You are pure, untainted. You accept things as they are. You live in real time. Oh, how adults need to learn from you.
Let’s talk about this upside down kingdom of God. When we read the Bible, we see evidence of this upside down kingdom of God. Over and over we see things getting turned around, turned backwards, turned upside-down. Listen to these examples:
In the upside down kingdom, the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16)
In this kingdom, whoever wants to be great will have to be a servant (Matthew 20:26)
In this upside down kingdom, God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).
In this kingdom, Jesus was equal to God, but emptied himself and made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:6-11).
In the upside down kingdom, Jesus was rich yet for our sake he became poor, so that through his poverty we would become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
I think you get the pattern. Things that make a person important in the world become unimportant in the upside down kingdom of God. The things that seem weak and humble and poor, they make us better people and take us closer to the heart of God in the upside down kingdom of God. The smallest seed, becomes the biggest shrub, providing shelter for the creatures of this earth. Everything is upside down in the kingdom of God. What we think should happen, doesn’t. In fact, the very opposite occurs. What are we to make of this upside down kingdom? What are we to do in this upside down kingdom?
I have three suggestions and it involves looking closely at our children or the children among us. When Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3), he wasn’t kidding. What did he mean by this statement? We must become first, receivers. Children receive before anything else. They receive love and comfort of their parents, grandparents, and others. The receive the life giving and nourishing milk from their mothers and fathers. They receive knowledge from their parents and others. We must first be receivers before we are givers. In our culture, in our society, in this community, being a receiver is difficult. Being a giver is easier. A giver has power. A giver has options. A giver can make choices on who to give to and what to give. Our culture, our society has told us that we need only to be a giver. Why is receiving so difficult for us? I would venture to say it is because a receiver perceived as weak, vulnerable, and dependent on others. A receiver doesn’t have everything they need within themselves. But in the upside kingdom of God, we are told that things are topsy turvy. Things are not the way we think they should be. In the upside down kingdom of God, we need to be willing to open our hearts and minds to receiving. We need to be willing to be vulnerable and dependent, like children. We need to be willing to acknowledge that don’t have it all within us. In this upside down kingdom, we begin by holding out our hands to receive. We do this every time we come to the altar and receive the life giving and nourishing bread of Jesus. It is only when we are filled with Jesus that we can begin to give to others. Giving is important but it is not the first step in understanding and being in the upside down kingdom of God.
My second suggestion is that we must hungry, hungry for grace, hungry for love, hungry for forgiveness, hungry for a new heart, hungry for guidance, hungry for justice and mercy. When we are hungry for something, we work extra hard to satisfy our need. How many of us have heard the cries of a hungry baby? There is no question that the baby is communicating a need. Those wails are saying, I am hungry. I need to receive from you. Friends, we need to be hungry for the things that matter in life, that are important and make up the upside down kingdom of God. Are you hungry for God?
My final suggestion is that we need to let go of our predisposed way of being because my guess, it reflects a “right-side” kingdom of God. If we are proud, we need to cultivate humility in our lives. If we have perceptions of others that put people in categories or reflect biases and judgment, we need to see them differently. We need to see them as God sees them, as a child sees others. Children are not born with biases toward others but are learned as they emulate others around them. If we are always getting to the finish line first, we need to move aside and let others cross that line first. If we are used to be served, we need to serve others. If we think we have all the answers, after all we are highly educated and successful in our careers, we need to be open to others for wisdom and guidance. Sometimes, wisdom, insight comes the very people we least expect to deliver it.
Today, we are being asked to consider what it means to live and play in the upside down kingdom of God. We are being asked to become like a child and be first a receiver, to open our hands, hearts and minds to God. We are being asked to be hungry for grace, love, forgiveness, a new heart, guidance, justice and mercy for what Jesus gives will never leave us hungry. Finally, we are to let go of the things and way of being that prevent us from being fully immersed in the upside down kingdom of God. When we do these things, we can live and play in the upside down kingdom of God. Amen.