Saturday, June 13, 2015
The Kingdom of God is like ... ?
Reflections for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (14.6.15)
Readings 1 Sam 15:34–16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13),14-17; Mark 4:26-34.
With our main sermon space tomorrow given over to other aspects of the 'Word' as Wallace Crossman shares his thoughts on art and what helps us to 'see', I am simply going to share a few brief reflections - particularly in the anxious context of our time as the relevance of church and faith is so often under question and the great emptiness of our many church buildings demands some redefinition.
What I notice in the Samuel passage is the 'surprise' element to David's anointing and the point that our typical human perception and judgement is not the way God works; the same point recurs in the Corinthians passage with the statement "From now on we regard no one from a human point of view ... if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation... etc." At this point I think of the theological libraries with shelves on church leadership and the diverse Human Resource processes used to help select and train church leaders and it seems to me that such church practise gives the lie to Paul's assertion and that we are consumed by our "human point of view". There is little surprise at that conclusion.
Similarly when we talk about Church growth or 'growing the kingdom' there is a vast literature about how to do this and the measure of success is merely the numbers of people who join up or come along. (My reflection at Choral Evensong last Sunday touched on this with reference to David Hare's 1990s play about the Church of England, Racing Demon.) In our Diocese at this time there is talk of churches closing and we look about us with real anxiety. Just this week I watched a cut of a video on church growth - it was entitled 'When God Left the Building'.
Into this context where congregations work ever harder to keep their church and prove that they are 'growing the kingdom' Jesus' two parables of the kingdom present an entirely an different point of view .
The simile 'the kingdom of God is like' reminds us that precision is not possible here, that there is an obliqueness about the kingdom that our human perception cannot grasp . Whether it is the seed just sown or the tiny mustard seed itself we are presented with a mystery that is beyond us. That becomes more obvious when we hear of the man scattering seed and we sense the randomness, the sheer unpredictability of the Kingdom. In the time of the parable we sense time passing, aeons for all we know, and we hear of a process of growth that occurs without and beyond our understanding until, at a moment, time is brought to an end, the sickle goes in and the harvest is gathered. Against this cosmic scale we measure as nothing - and are made to feel it.
I think we are uncomfortably reminded that the Kingdom of God is more than any manifestation of the church; more than any understanding of the church; in the midst of the anxiety and the love we feel for our churches - the growth of the Kingdom remains God's business. That admission demands some rethinking on our part.