Mark 4:30 – 41
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Some years ago, and perhaps they still have them, I was looking at one of those pictures that is comprised of small objects on a flat surface, that seem colorful but pointless until upon further examination a whole new dimension within the confines of the frame appears before your eyes.
There is a world we have not yet discovered.
A businessman in Washington DC was ‘killed’ on a bridge when his car skidded on wet pavement but later he wrote the story about it. “When it happened,” he said, “it was as if everything was occurring in slow motion.” He wrote about how he felt himself being thrown from his body and hovering for several minutes a few feet above the scene of the accident. He watched the police and medics arrive and saw them working on his body. He felt completely serene and joyous even; in fact he had never felt so good in his entire life. He heard a voice calling him back into his body, a voice that he resisted for he did not want to return. “You still have much work to do,” said the voice. Reluctantly, he came back. The medics were startled for they had found no pulse or heartbeat and were sure that he was dead. His whole life was reoriented by this experience. “Now,” he says, “he has become a loving and generous person who is never anxious about the things that once troubled him. His entire existence has become “beautifully religious.”
We hear of such wonders from time to time I mostly do not know what to make of them. We want to believe that they are true – that there is more going on than we have yet known or discomfort – that wonders, miracles and mysteries still abound.
Some years ago, the book, “Embraced by the Light,” was on all the bestseller lists. It was about a woman who had a near-death experience as well and wrote about it. Unfortunately it seems to be a book that teaches primarily Mormon doctrine. And as a Mormon, she purports to speak the truth now based on experience. Because we are not sure, or we are very sure, of the truth or falseness of what some advocate is truth, we find it hard to discern between what is and what may be, between darkness and light, error, fancy and fantasy and truth, wholesome doctrine and reality.
The witness of world religions.
Those who follow the religion of Zoroastrianism believe that history is a struggle between two forces – light and darkness. However, they have no assurance as to which of the two forces will win in the end. Buddhism teaches that this world is nothing but an endless cycle of suffering and the followers of Buddha can only hope for the nirvana that lies outside the sphere of space, time, and history in which all consciousness is lost and personal identity is abolished. Hinduism teaches that the world is basically unreal and that sooner or later this world and all within it will return to Brahma from which it has come, leaving no trace that we ever were, and assuring us that history has no significance.
Only the biblical message gives firm assurance that the history of humanity is not a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury – that is a purposeful unfolding of a great and loving plan of a loving God, a plan that will end in the full establishment of God’s Kingdom purposes and rule.
The wonders of science.
At a conference at the end of the 1800s, a wise man gave learned input. He said, “There will be no more major discoveries; all the significant, world changing discoveries have already been made.” The man’s name was Wright. He was a Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, and He was the father of the Wright brothers who made the first air flights. On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur made history. Their motorized vehicle defied the law of gravity and flew through the air. The idea of flight was not new. Years before they got off the ground at Kitty Hawk, mathematicians and scientists have proven that flight was possible. That many who read the facts could not believe that flying whatever actually become reality. The Wright brothers believe the facts and mathematical formulae; they believed and they acted – building their wonderful flying machine. One must act upon what one believes if one wants results.
Note: Charles H. Duell, who was commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1899. He was (apparently falsely) alleged to have said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
There was a time in the history of humankind, when scientists believed not only in God but that all things in the world had been treated by him and only awaited discovery. John Kepler, when he caught sight of the great laws of planetary motion, exclaimed, “Oh God, I think thy thoughts after thee.” But gradually science has come to be paramount in modern and postmodern worldview, leading to an upper story and lower story view of the universe and of all reality. Issues of faith were kicked upstairs and the world of personal, subjective experience was removed and separated from the real world of science and facts. Today, as Thomas T Torrance puts it, “Perhaps the first time in the history of thought Christianity is in the midst of a scientific culture that is no longer antithetical to spiritual reality but is operating within a non-dualistic worldview not inconsistent with Christian faith.” In other words, and in many ways, scientists are back into acknowledging that there is mystery and wonder in the universe and much that remains largely un-explained.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus calms the storm and we note his reversal of sin’s effect over nature. The good of creation is made for our blessing but often it turns on us and threatens us, even unto death. We have seen in many winters how “California dreaming” can change very quickly into California nightmares. We can be in a restored relationship with the earth. We can have again restored to us the authority in an over our world as was originally God’s intent for us as stewards of his creation. If we could hear Jesus in this passage, we would have much more to bring as Christians and as the church to the ecological issues and struggles of our day. And this is not just about talk and argument, but about the power of the creating and re-creating spirit of God.
The testimony of beauty – art, music, poetry.
Emily Dickinson the wonderful US poet wrote, “Art is a house that longs to be haunted.” The great artists and poets have known that. There are things that poets know that scientist do not. Artists and poets have sought, as van Gogh put it, “to grasp life at its depth.” He wrote –
All nature seems to speak.As for me, I cannot understand why everybody does not sense it or feel it;God does it for everyone who has eyes and ears and a heart to understand.
The father of the Irish Academy award-winning actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, was C Day-Lewis, the late British poet laureate. The father tells us that no true artists can be purely ‘a materialist’ because all truly creative artists know that the source of their art is too deep for materialism to explain. We all have within us music, poetry and a sense of beauty. Even living in a city that is cold, noisy and sometimes dirty – and always busy, one’s heart is sometimes melted by the beauty we happen upon, the discovering of some radiant truth, the remembrance of a hunting loveliness, the goodness of the saintly person. The trouble is that we never stopped to ask ourselves what kind of people we are that we can be haunted by dreams too beautiful to be untrue and truth too deep for tears. Why is it that as creatures of the earth we find that earthly things cannot satisfy? Why is it that we long for the eternal?
The Kingdom of God.
This material world is only part of the more spiritual world from which it derives its significance. The kingdom of God is very, very small – at first; it seems tiny, insignificant, pointless and obscure. They gradually it grows to become something larger and beautiful, powerful – even astounding. It grows as God continues his work in and through us, the body of Christ, the church. Our perspective of God’s work in redeeming and reconstructing and reconciling the world to himself – our apprehension of it and our facilitation in it, only occurs as we trust and obey.
Opening to a much bigger world.
The crisis of faith.
Robert Louis Stevenson observed, “There is a sort of dead–alive people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. They have dwarfed and narrowed their soul by a life of all work, until here they are at 40, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material for amusement, and not one thought to rub against another while waiting for the train.” For many, that precipitates what we have come to call the “midlife crisis.”
Sheldon Vanauken, in a letter to CS Lewis, during his own search for meaning, faith, for God, wrote, “There is a leap I cannot make. It occurs to me that you, having made it, having linked certainty with Christianity might not do it for me. Having felt the aesthetic and historical appeal of Christianity, having begun to study it, I have come to awareness of the strength and possible-ness of the Christian answer. I should like to believe it. I want to know God – if he is noble. But I cannot pray with any conviction that someone hears. I cannot believe.” in his reply, Lewis wrote, “my own position at the threshold of Christianity was exactly the opposite of yours. You wish it were true – I strongly hope it was not.”
Again, Vanauken wrote: “Christianity was something with which I wanted nothing to do. How could any intelligent person actually believe it, that an obscure crucified Jew was God!? What was so odd was that quite a lot of people, even highly intelligent people, did apparently believe it. T.S. Eliot for instance, or Eddington – in fact, quite a few physicists, the very last people one would expect to be taken in. And philosophers too. We then were not Christians – our friends were. We liked them anyway.”
A new way of seeing. Paradigm shift.
Alan Roxborough writes, “It is critical for us to remember that the worldview we have embraced the last 300 years is not rooted in the long tradition of Christianity.” Sometimes it is a matter of words – of semantics and perspective. Says one writer, “the scientists view on such subjects as God, morality, life after death, are apt to be about as enlightening as a theologians view on the structure of the atom or the cause and cure of the common cold.” The conflict between science and religion is like the conflict between a podiatrist and a poet. One says that Susie Smith has fallen arches; the other says that she walks in beauty like the night. In his own way, each is speaking the truth. What is at issue is the kind of truth you are after.”
God in Christ offers transformation, that we become new creatures. This is more than mere change but something that grows from our deep self, our deep center that expands our empowered freedom even in the midst of the power of other outer events. When our inner selves waken and stretch; when we stand up and move out and make choices, our terror of change becomes the hunger and thirst and ecstasy of growing. Our inner unfolding rises from a living relationship with God rather than from laws and commands.
Linking with the unseen by faith.
Our faith does not depend finally on logically sufficient evidence. If it did, only scholars could believe. “It is not easy to be a believer. Every war, every shipwreck, every cancer case, every calamity – seems to contribute to making a prima facie case against Christianity.” Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason. If it can be verified; we do not need faith! And yet, faith is not unreasonable.
The Internet and the new communication highways help us communicate around the world via an unseen “kingdom.” The lens of bits of information about every subject imaginable are not only conceivable but reachable. It is all there, one has only to plug-in to access it. One needs a modem and software and access links – and a subscription. If we knew how to listen to God, we would hear him speaking to us – for God speaks. He speaks in the Scripture and in the gospel; he speaks through our lives and through all the beauty and wonder of creation around us. Our lives are the new gospel to which we ourselves at a page in each new day.
The Master in the boat is the master of the universe nothing can happen to us that is beyond his cannon or care, or beyond his ability or will to intervene. But he also teaches us that we could and perhaps should care more for ourselves, if we had faith, if we believed more for ourselves – believe not in ourselves, but in the God who is always there.
“Why are you so afraid?” Jesus rebukes us, as he did his earlier disciples. “Do you still have no faith?!” Is faith simply in waking up Jesus or and indifferent God, or does it not rather mean that we are now able and free, as the new humanity, to live and walk by faith – that is to trust and obey? – So that God’s power is released into every situation, whether in the calm or in the storm. It is not how much faith we have, it is whether we have faith enough to link our own inability and inadequacy to the power and sufficiency, and loving care, of God. Our faith can be so very small and yet as we live it out, we can join in the most incredible adventure. Not only the most personally satisfying enriching experience of life our hours, but also – as Jesus parable implies, we can be most helpful for others in God’s world, who need the support, the shadow and the provision, that God brings through our trust in obedience, as a little bush that is the kingdom in you and me grows.
Tugs and Pulls
A famous German theologian was walking on the movers on a misty, gray day, when he happened upon a little boy flying a kite. The kite was so high that it was almost out of sight, In fact he became invisible in a missed of a low cloud. The professor said to the little boy, “how do you know it is there still?” And he replied at once – “because I can feel the pull of it.” Not long after, someone asked the professor, “Why do you believe in God and in spiritual reality when you cannot see or prove it? ” and he immediately responded in the words of the little boy: “I believe because I feel the pull of it. “
We are living in a huge world with many wonders and ministries and realities yet to be discovered and some that we will never know because they are secrets of the heart and mind of God, our Creator. But there are not things that I have been may be revealed to us as we seek to look to God and walk with God, as we seek in Holy Spirit and strength to trust and obey. And as we do – we will feel the tug of it, the tug of God’s heart of love for us.