THINGS REMEMBERED — REPRODUCING THINGS MULTIPLY
by Pastor Mike Fortune
September 13, 2008
Introduction: YouTube: Mike Monsoor Medal of Honor
Of the three Navy SEALs on that rooftop in Iraq on September 29, 2006, Petty Officer 2 nd class Mike Monsoor had the only avenue of escape away from the blast, and if he had so chosen, he could have done so. Instead, Monsoor chose to save the lives of his comrades by sacrificing his own. During his funeral on October 12, 2006 in San Diego, as his coffin was being moved from the hearse to the grave site, “nearly every SEAL on the West Coast” according to President Bush, lined up on both sides of the pallbearers route forming a column of twos with the coffin moving up the center. As the coffin passed, each SEAL, having removed his gold Trident from his uniform, slapped it down on top of the coffin embedding the Tridents in the wood. The slaps were audible from across the cemetery. The procession went on like that for nearly half an hour, and when it was all over, the simple wooden coffin had been transformed into gold-plated memorial to a twenty five year old hero who will never be forgotten.
The Navy SEAL’s response to Monsoor’s death not only reminds us that living thing grow and that growing things reproduce, but also that reproducing things multiply. Even in death, especially in death, they multiply. And this is something we can see revealed in the lives of a couple of Jesus’ followers after Jesus died on the cross. But let’s begin with the last growth parable we’re studying today in our mini-sermon series entitled Things Remembered. This week is part three: Reproducing Things Multiply.
Parable of the mustard seed
Mark 4:30-34 [NIV] says, “Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’ With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”
Folks think the particular seed Jesus was talking about was the Sinapis [NIGHgra] nigra or black mustard seed. Which grows in abundance in Palestine and is cultivated for its use as a condiment. That’s right people. Mustard is a Christian condiment. A must on any hot dog. It’s clearly Biblical. Something cultivated and necessary to achieve maximum taste and satisfaction. Just reading the word today folks. Sharing the plain meaning. Jesus didn’t tell any parables about Ketchup. No layers of the onion. Just mustard. Which any hot dog isn’t quite as good without. This summer of service, I paced myself and at the end of it I didn’t hate hot dogs like I did last year. In fact, I could eat one right now. Anybody got a Big Frank? Those are good too.
Anyway, mustard seeds are much smaller than any other seed then sowed by farmers. Far smaller than either wheat or barley. But the weed or bush itself, when grown, really becomes a tree much larger than any other cultivated plant. Often reaching a height of 6 to 12 feet with branches an inch or more thick.
Which is great if you’re a bird looking for a good strong home to build your nest. Daniel 4:21 says the tree that King Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream “Grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air.” But it doesn’t say the tree Nebuchadnezzar saw was a mustard seed tree. But if it were, lots of birds would make their homes in it. Sort of like a high rise in the sky. Which made me think of that classic old sitcom the Jeffersons.
Anybody remember the theme song? Eniko’s got a couple bars of it all cued up for us. I played that for Cody and Daniel yesterday and asked them if they knew anything about the Jeffersons and of course they didn’t since I keep forgetting they were born in the 90's!!! So I filled them in on one of the most humorous but thought provoking sitcoms of all time. That show challenged the color barrier and conventional thinking about race relations in the 1970s and early 80s long before the Cosby Show. You gotta love George and Weezie.
But to birds, that’s what the mustard tree was. A safe, deluxe, apartment in the sky. But what is it to us? Why did Jesus choose it to describe God and His kingdom? Well, I’ll weigh in on that in a minute. But before I do, I thought you might be as surprised as I was to learn this week that some commentators suggest that Jesus didn’t actually pick the mustard tree as the illustration in this parable of Mark 4. They say that because verse 30 begins with Jesus asking his audience what they would compare the kingdom of God with. Did you notice that? Verse 30 reads, “What shall WE say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall WE use to describe it?”
He’s sermonizing to a crowd of people. But I never noticed in this parable before that Jesus went out of his way to include the crowd in it. He was asking for their input and apparently, using it to shape the point he wanted to make. So He asks them, “What shall WE say the kingdom of God is like?” And maybe some guy come to the microphone, reaches into the suitcase and pulls out a jar of “Mustard Seed.” And everyone agrees, “Oh yeah, that’s a good one. I bet I know why!” Then they all start singing the Jefferson’s theme song just joking.
So just for fun, I thought we’d try that here today. There’s a microphone in the middle of each side aisle with a suitcase on the floor. At least once a year in chapel talks on Fridays, I bring in a suitcase and ask the kids to put their Jesus glasses on or for all you grown ups, use your imagination, and compare the objects inside to God or the kingdom of God. Could be Soap. Because God cleans you up. Could be duct tape. Because God wraps you up. Whatever. So seriously, please, I’d like at least one teenager, one parent, and at least one grandparent to participate. Please stand up now and line up behind the microphone. You can bring your own idea or reach into the suitcase to show us what’s inside. Then compare to God and His kingdom. If you can’t think of an application, we’ll help you. No worries. Who will be brave and go first?
Fantastic! All great examples. When we put our Jesus glasses on and look at the world the way Jesus does, we can see many examples of what God and His kingdom is like all around us. Maybe this afternoon your family could compile a delight list of kingdom comparisons and whoever emails me the longest list will get a special prize in church next week. Anybody willing to take me up on that? My email address is on the back of the bulletin. What a delightful day you’ll have with your family thinking about all the modern day parables and kingdom comparisons you can think of this afternoon.
But if you’re not into making the day a delight and choosing by faith to see the world as the kingdom of God, you will remain blinded to the numerous signs of kingdom growth taking place all around you. Which we talked about last week. So if you missed that talk, go to the website, toledofirstadventist and click on audio video link and catch that teaching. It’s that important.
And while I’m sidetracking, could I take a minute to commend you? Last week in my sermon, I mentioned that Mary shared with me how her home had some water damage and problems that could be fixed for $900. Well, I’m so proud of my church family here today because Marilynn tells me we raised $924 last week after we already collected the regular offering. Praise the Lord for that!!! According to Acts 2, that is a sign that kingdom seeds are being planted and are already growing and being reproduced in this church. But to be honest, I knew this was true before we even collected the additional offering because when I told you I already spent all the money we had in the budget on outreach and evangelism and that’s why we had to collect this special offering outside the church budget, your response to that was clapping! Giving God praise and glory! Which couldn’t be more appropriate.
But I have to warn you, you rising to the challenge like that gave me another idea about staffing a new outreach to the parents and students of Toledo Junior Academy so stay tuned for that. But in the meantime, thank you for letting God use you to sow kingdom seeds all over the place. So, for going above and beyond your kingdom seed giving last week, I commend you. And the church says to each other in response, “Way to go!!!” Amen. So let it be!
But the Jewish leaders were blinded to the signs of kingdom growth. They looked with contempt upon the motley crew following Jesus full of unlearned peasants and fishermen. All they were sure of is that mustard seeds consumed in any quantity irritates the lining of the stomach. But by turning this parable into a biology lesson, they missed the whole point! Why? Because this parable is not about condiments. It’s about the kingdom. And how we have to trust the King of the Kingdom to multiply the seeds in it. Before and after we die.
God will make our lives fruitful
I read a devotional from Henri Nouwen recently that summarizes this so well. It’s called “Trusting in the Fruits.” He writes, “We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work. We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made. But that is not the way of God’s Kingdom. Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results. Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross. There was no success there to be proud of. Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure. As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit. The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us. What is important is how well we love because God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not.”
I think Jesus knew the truthfulness of the fruitfulness of those words. You like that? Truthfulness of the fruitfulness? That’s good stuff. That’s why Jesus said in verse 31-32, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” Yes, living things grow. Growing things reproduce. And reproducing things multiply. Even in death they multiply.
Come with me to Luke 24 to see what I mean. Gonna start reading in verse 13. Where we going? “13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him. 17He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
I love that about Jesus. He’s always interested in what interests us. He has this unique ability to take anything that interests us and turn it into something that interests others as well. And while these 2 guys walking 7 miles down the road to Emmaus were interested in Jesus, they didn’t recognize who He was. Has that ever happened to you? You think you’re all alone in the world? Mourning the loss of someone near and dear to you? Guess what? Jesus is right beside you! He’s walking with you. Even if you can’t see it or feel it, that’s the truth. So keep walking with Him!
But walking is what they immediately stopped doing. Why? Because verse 17 says, “They stood still, their faces downcast.” Which doesn’t really convey the shock of their reaction. What that phrase literally means is they came to a complete stop. A screeching halt. Why? Because they were in shock that Jesus didn’t know or hadn’t heard. They’re thinking, “Are you kidding me? You don’t know that God loves us like crazy? You haven’t heard that He died on the cross? And that on the third day He promised He would rise again? Where have you been? Hiding under a rock?”
Which, in actual fact, is exactly where Jesus had been! So on the 3 rd day, on Sunday, the day of the resurrection as they’re walking home, they start telling Jesus what all happened as if He doesn’t know! And because they’re so disappointed and hurt that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they wanted to kick out the occupying forces of the Romans, they didn’t understand or recognize Him.
And that’s okay. Some of us aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer either. But even when we miss the obvious, Jesus gives us grace and shows us love. In verse 25 where Jesus is quoted as saying, “You fools! How foolish you are”, I find it encouraging to note that the word Jesus uses there can also mean, “you not understanding ones.” He’s not criticizing slacker Christians. Who couldn’t care less. He’s gently encouraging kingdom crazies. People very interested in sincerely following Jesus. We know this is true because the word for “trusted” in verse 21 literally means “We were hoping.” But because they misunderstood the nature of Christ’s kingdom, they were beginning to doubt again. So it’s okay if you have doubts and questions about God and His kingdom. When we do, Jesus doesn’t toss you aside. Instead, he walks beside you. And during the journey begins gently explaining things we misunderstood. That’s the way it works. That’s what the church should be doing today. Why?
Have you invited Jesus?
Because when you walk with people, encouraging people, giving them grace and showing them love, they often invite you into their homes and their lives. Isn’t that the normal progression Paul explains in Romans 2:4 where he asks, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?”
Isn’t that what happens in this story? Jesus’ grace and kindness and love leads them to asking Him to come into their house and stay with them! Jesus was going to move on because He only goes where he is invited. But once invited, He always stays! Have you invited Jesus to come into your house today?
And then, the coolest part occurs. In Jewish homes, the patriarch was supposed to offer the blessing and break the bread. But not so in homes where Jesus lives. The Bread of Life, still unrecognized by these sincerely confused followers of His, stands up at the table, similar to the one in front of me, and picks up the bread with his nail scarred hands, blesses it, and then breaks it—just like his body was broken on the cross.
And when He does, they finally see the scars on his hands. I imagine a thousand mental pictures start swirling through their jumbled minds from the last 3 days and like cherries on a slot machine, one by one, they settle on three of a kind. This guest of theirs is Jesus Himself who promised us in Isaiah 49:16 that, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” He may not be the kind of Messiah they were hoping for. But He’s the King of a multiplying Kingdom so much better. And finally, for them, and for their families, that was enough.
Will we continue?
So let me ask you my kingdom crazy church family, is Jesus enough for you today? While His kingdom seeds are being planted and while they’re growing and while they’re multiplying, will we trust the truthfulness of His fruitfulness? Will we continue to give with extravagant cheerfulness? While we’re walking along life’s rocky path, mourning the loss of something or someone significant, which will inevitably occur in this evil world, will we hope in Him and keep walking and talking about Him? Believing that Jesus is walking by our side even when we don’t feel Him or recognize Him? Will we continue to serve each other and the world Jesus died to save till death do us part?
Because that’s what following Jesus is all about. And before He died, He instituted the Lord’s Supper and Foot Washing in that Upper Room to help us to never forget. I don’t know how I missed this before but John 13:2 and 12 indicate that the Last Supper was already being served when Jesus got up from the meal, wrapped a towel around his waist, and began to wash his disciples' feet drying them with a towel.
After he did so, He asked them in verse 12, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” But like the 2 guys later walking toward Emmaus and like many of us today, they did not. So Jesus gently explains it to them in John 13:14-15, “That I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
But why did Jesus say this? Why did He ask us to do this? The answer is because He loves us till death do us part! John 13:1 says, “1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” Another version says, “He loved them to the last.” Or, “He loved them to the end.” The word for “end” there is telos meaning, “Perfectly, wholly, completely.”
I will serve you till the day I die
After we take the bread and drink the cup, communion is not over. So I hope you all don’t go home right away after I say Amen. Because it was after the meal had already begun or was finished that Jesus washes the disciples feet. And when He did, who did He start with? Judas. By washing Judas’ feet first, He was saying to him, “I know you aren’t worthy. But I still love you like crazy till death do us part. You can count on me. I will serve you till the day I die. Even if you choose not to serve me.”
And that’s what foot washing is all about. Would a church family be any closer to each other if everyone in it said this periodically to someone else? “I know we’re not worthy, but you can count on me. I will serve you till the day we die.” When we wash another's feet after the communion meal, as Jesus actually did, as we're going to do today, that’s what we’re saying to each other without ever actually saying a word. It’s one of the most powerful living parables that can be told. And I encourage you to experience it.
To be honest, none of us are worthy of participating in this service. Since we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But the living God we gather to worship today gives life to the dead and call things that are not as though they were” [Romans 4:18]. Because of Christ, Romans 4:6 says, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Jesus could have stepped down from the cross if he had so chosen. Instead, he chose to save the lives of His children by sacrificing His own. Which turned the cross into the supreme symbol and memorial of victory to a 33 year old hero who will never be forgotten. “This do, in remembrance of Me.” At this time, I’m going to invite the elders and the deaconesses to join me up front. They’re going to bless the symbols of the bread and cup symbolizing Christ’s broken body and shed blood for us on the cross. We’ll pass them out. Sing a song. Then wash each other’s feet. Just like Jesus did. After the benediction, the men will participate this way. And the women go to the fellowship room. If you have children in Kid Connect, please pick them up so the ladies can make use of that space.