June 17, 2018 sermon
Kingdom of Growth
Since today is Father’s Day, I will start with Jerry Seinfeld’s joke about fathers. He said, “Fathers are intimidating. They are intimidating because they are fathers. Once a man has children, for the rest of his life, his attitude is, “The heck with the world. I can make my own people. I’ll eat whatever I want, I’ll wear whatever I want, and I’ll create whoever I want.” Seinfeld wrote this joke long before he became a husband and father; I wonder how he would feel about this joke as a father. Perhaps, “Yeah! Fathers rule!” Or maybe a sigh? “Being a father is so challenging”? What if the fathers among us have to choose one of these two, which would it be? This past week, I have asked several of our members on what they think father’s role is in children’s life; among many things, the words growth, guidance and mentoring, and even hero came up. But I think these different words are connected to each other.
I personally think a parent’s role, mother or father, is to help the children experience growth. When I say ‘growth’, I’m not talking about physical growth, although it is crucial that children get enough food and nutrients to grow up healthy. Children also have to grow in wisdom and knowledge. Interestingly, today’s two parables are about growth. Both are called kingdom parables because they illustrate what God’s kingdom (or reign) is like. The first one about a man planting the seeds, which grow on their own teaches us that in God’s community, we disciples sow the seeds, but it is God who makes them grow. Repeating what I said last Sunday, if we achieve something great, glory be to God! Remember, it is no longer us who live, but Christ lives in us. God works through us. Another lesson that this parable teaches is that growth happens very slowly and gradually. It is imperceptible. This knowledge gives us patience (because we could get impatient about things not happening fast enough), and hope (because no matter how imperceptible it is, growth DOES happen). The last lesson of this parable is a call for preparedness. Seeds grow, maybe some faster than others. But at the end of this growth comes the harvest. Those that grew well will be harvested, and those that did not prosper will be cut off. It’s like at the end of a semester’s learning, there are final exams. If we were students, we should prepare for the exams, shouldn’t we? Knowing that judgment day is coming, although we don’t know when, we should keep growing in faith and strive to live as faithful citizens of God’s kingdom by loving and serving.
The second parable about how a tiny seed grows into a big tree teaches us that God’s kingdom has reverse values from our mortal world. For example, in our world, tall people are preferred and valued more than short people. More wealth you have, more power you have, people will value you more. But those of you who came to last year’s Christmas eve service will remember that I said, “Great things come in small packages”, which was about Baby Jesus. I also shared a Korean proverb that says, “Smaller chili pepper is spicier.” We shouldn’t underestimate small people because they could be feistier, smarter, stronger, etc. Anyway, this parable points out that although a mustard seed is tiny, it grows up to be a big tree. God’s kingdom doesn’t underestimate or undervalue small and marginalized people. Also, we should not be discouraged or daunted by a small beginning. We might start something and then be discouraged because it doesn’t seem to go anywhere or doesn’t seem to prosper. Connecting to the first parable, no matter how small something is at the beginning, and no matter how imperceptible the growth is, we should not be discouraged. Just like the tiny mustard seed, everything or everyone has the potential to grow into something great and big. One important thing to remember is that, in God’s kingdom, living in Christ and following Jesus, we should be patient and focus on transformation and growth. Remember the tortoise in the story the Hare and the Tortoise; he was slow but didn’t despair. He just kept moving forward, slowly and one step at a time. Although there is a whole controversy over the tortoise’s moral fiber because he didn’t wake up the hare when he arrogantly took a nap, today for the sake of our Bible lesson, let’s not think of his moral fiber and just focus on how diligently the tortoise ran his race (although he didn’t really run).
What we can learn from today’s two parables is that God’s kingdom is where growth happens. Belonging to God’s kingdom, we should grow and not stagnate. God’s community is where its members go towards perfection, knowing that they’ll never actually reach perfection; this is the Methodist doctrine of sanctification. It teaches that Christians should constantly move towards perfection, and might I add, slowly and one step at a time like the tortoise.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we are new creations in Christ; we are no longer our old selves before we made the commitment to God’s community through Christ. As kingdom citizens, we are called to grow in Christ and yield fruit for the harvest, the judgment day. Transformation is difficult; any one of you who has tried to better yourself would know it. I try to lead a healthier life style; eat right and exercise more. I discovered that it is challenging to change. Knowing that transformation and growth can be difficult and slow, as Paul said, we should live by faith and not by sight. We should trust God more and be patient, even if we can’t see or feel the growth.
Transformation and growth as God’s kingdom citizen require at least a couple of things that we should do, in the knowledge that we grow by the hands of God and not through our hard works. To be able to trust God, we should strengthen our relationship with God through prayers and meditating on the scriptures. We should open ourselves to God’s Spirit through prayers that seek relationships as opposed to prayers that ask for what we want. Of course, I’m not saying it is wrong to ask for what we want; but it should not take up all our prayers or even the majority. To strengthen our relationship with God, we should focus more on our relationship with God. When our relationship with God becomes stronger, it gets easier to seek God’s will instead of insisting on ours. For example, when I first started looking for a church position, my prayer was, “Please let me stay in Quebec or at least Ontario so I can be close to my good friends.” After six months, my prayer changed to “I will go wherever you send me”, although a little sadly and reluctantly. But because I was able to seek and follow God’s will, I came to Kimberley to all the unique opportunities for mutual growth and the people who have positive impact in my life. “Thy will be done” indeed! I recommend silent prayer to strengthen your relationship with God. Just close your eyes; don’t think, don’t speak in silence, and just open yourself to the Spirit of God. You will end up feeling the heavenly peace and joy from spending that quite time with God. I call this “chilling with God”, as we would chill with our loved ones.
Another thing we should do to grow in God’s kingdom is to actively seek opportunities for learning and growth. Read the Bible regularly and prayerfully waiting for God’s guidance. Read good books on faith and the scriptures. Take all the opportunities for learning where spiritual growth can happen. I am planning to conduct a survey to find out what kind of things you would like to learn from our study groups. Please prayerfully think about it and let me know through the survey to come, what you would like to learn.
I invite you to start the process of spiritual growth this week. Pray, read, learn. Let us be like the tortoise and diligently train ourselves so God can transform us and make us grow.
Rev. Sunny Kim