Think of It This Way

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John Mann | July 26, 2020

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

In Scotland, there is a room in every Church of Scotland called the “Vestry.” Things of importance were stored in the vestry. Things of value were stored in the vestry. There was a locked vault and a safe. It’s the room where the minister’s robe and stoles are kept and where I would change into them before worship. 

We used to hold a weekly event that was called “Vestry Hour.” Every Thursday night at around 6:30 I would go to the church vestry and be there in case anyone in the parish wanted to talk to me about anything. People in the parish knew that was when they could drop in on the minister. We made arrangements for baptisms and weddings that way. I never knew who might come through that door or what concern might be on their hearts and minds. 

One night a fellow came in, an older gentleman, and he seemed troubled. 

“What’s on your mind?” I asked him. 

He replied, “Minister, we need to do something about these atheists!” 

That was a new one. I asked him to whom he was referring. He said it was the BBC. They were planning to air a program that was an insult to God. We need to do something. He didn’t know what, in particular, but something. 

I suggested that he send the BBC a letter registering his complaint. They read all of those and keep track of them. Or, he could simply not watch the program in question. Viewing the telly is voluntary. I also suggested to him that perhaps God was big enough to take in stride whatever the BBC put on the air. Otherwise, I didn’t think there was anything in particular we might “do” about atheists, whoever they might be. 

I’ve never been one to come to God’s defense. God is bigger than the need for my defense. If we make God so small as to need our defending, then God is too small to meet our needs. But I also think that’s how some folks prefer God – neatly wrapped and conveniently placed. Small enough so as to be able to say, “I’ll tell you what God thinks!” Which often turns out to be something harsh or punitive. 

Jesus talked a lot about what he called the “Kingdom of God.” He was not referring to what God thinks, so much as what God invites us to consider; to consider about life and the possibilities of life. He never said, “This is it!” He said, “This is what it can be compared to,” as in “think of it this way.”

This year we’ve all been wrestling with some heavy realities. Issues that have caused us to grapple with the meaning of life. Many of our assumptions about life have been turned upside down. What are we supposed to thing? Jesus, even from the perspective of 2000 years ago, invites us to think about life today; here and now. 

Think of it this way – a mustard seed that is planted. A small thing that grows into something big. Last week I talked about things we regret. We can remember our mistakes all too well. But we tend not to think of the small acts of kindness that we sow like seeds to the wind. Most of us don’t keep track of our good deeds. 

But those affected by one small act of kindness can carry that with them. And maybe they pass it along to someone down the line. What is a mustard seed? It could be said that the ills of humanity begins with the thought, “Me first,” while the healing of humanity begins with the thought, “After you.” 

When I started out as a minister, I thought it was my job to “change the world.” There was a lot of work to do for the sake of the kingdom. It was my job to convince people; my job to get people to do things. 

It was not long before I realized what a difficult task that was. And if it was so difficult, maybe I needed to rethink my priorities. I began to see that it was my job to plant the seeds. It is God who makes them grow. 

Think of it this way – yeast that is mixed into flour. Something that you add to the recipe. 

I started going to church when I was nine years old. Temple Baptist was a mile or so from where I grew up and they had a boy’s club every Wednesday night. It was a lot of fun going there. And who was I, but just some kid from the neighborhood. But not to them. 

One of the first adults I met there was guy named Bud. Bud was the assistant pastor and he was in charge of the youth. The first thing Bud said to me was, “Hi, I’m Bud. What’s your name?” He learned my name, as did so many others in that church. And after a while, it was as if I was part of a family. People who knew me and cared about me. 

The other night at the Baccalaureate service in Isle one of the other pastors there asked me how I as a Presbyterian ended up going to Bethel Seminary. I said I went to Bethel because my pastor, Bud Malmsten went to Bethel. If it was good for him, I knew it would be good for me. Like any good family will encourage its’ members to spread their wings and fly, recognized that I was naturally more Presbyterian than Baptist and so they encouraged me to follow that path. 

I see the yeast of God’s realm as the relationships we build in life. Being a follower of Jesus does not require me to try to save anyone’s soul. Being a follower of Jesus calls me to relate to people with kindness, dignity, respect and love. Think of the people who have been the yeast that infuses your life with God’s possibilities. 

Think of it this way – a treasure hidden in a field. How do you find buried treasure? How can you be sure it’s even there? For some people it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Stumbling upon it by chance. For some people it’s a matter of careful searching; perhaps using a metal detector. 

One of my brothers, Jim, is a treasure hunter. He’s a few years older than me and even when we were kids growing up, he had a knack for finding things. He sees treasure where others see junk. He buys and sells items, not so much for the profit, as for the joy of discovery. 

His joy comes not in hoarding his treasure, but in sharing it. He gave me the radio that my grandparents bought in 1942. He had all the tubes replaced so it’s in perfect working order. He gave me a Navaho rug and a pair of ship’s lanterns. 

The treasure of God’s realm is in the joy of sharing. 

Think of it this way – a merchant in search of fine pearls – someone in search of value. Like a merchant looking for the one pearl. Not necessarily something he knew the exact proportions of, but something he would know when he found it. Something for which he would not settle less. 

What would you give anything for – what would you be willing to sacrifice for? The question brings to mind not what, but who. The people you love. Your family, your friends. Finding the pearl of great value begins with seeing the value of the people in your life.  

Lastly, think of it this way – God’s realm is like a net that caught fish of every kind. 

When I would be at the church for Vestry Hour, sometimes, often enough in fact, people would come and want me to baptize their children, but they lived in a different parish. I would ask them if they tried their own parish church. I heard the same story over and again –  “We did, but the minister said no.”

Said no for any number of reasons; reasons thought justified by the minister. I always thought, if someone is coming to the church and asking for a simple blessing such as a baptism for their child, how can you say no? Word got around that at our church, we never said no. The fishing net thrown into the sea does not discriminate. The realm of God is open to all. 

So for now, I will leave you with these thoughts. Think of it this way…


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