FROM THE DESK OF WILL SPOKES, SENIOR PASTOR
Words For Reflection:
While people go about their daily routines, the kingdom is present and at work, and God’s harvest with his judgment will certainly follow. Humans do not bring in the kingdom; they are servants of the kingdom, not its cause. The [kingdom parables of Jesus] illustrate the proper attitudes toward the kingdom and its [future] harvest: patience – it will come when God’s time is ripe, confidencedespite appearances because God is the one at work, and comfort knowing that all is in God’s hands. – Klyne Snodgrass
For next Sunday:
Sermon Text: Ezekiel 37
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing - Adoration
Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior - Confession
O Love that Will not Let Me Go - Grace
All Things New - Response
Fountain of Grace - Communion
The Bible Project:
As a way to help you grasp the over-arching story of the Bible, I am going to include each week a link to one of The Bible Project videos that summarizes in a few minutes one book of the Bible.
This week check out the summary of Mark.
If you are looking for help to read the Bible in a more regular way, you may findthis approach and this app helpful.
As we've mentioned the last couple weeks during worship we are using theNew City Catechism for our confession of faith this year. It is 52 questions long, one question per week. The authors have also written a helpful companion to the catechism to aid your learning and even a children's edition coming out later this year. Is there an app? Yes there is. The app is user friendly and already includes a childrens' version.
This is a great resource for individuals and families to learn the basics of the Christian faith and commit them to memory.
The New City Catechism & Devotional
The New City Catechism Mobile App
Singing To God (Psalm 95:1-5)
Take My Life And Let It Be
Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.
Bowing Before God (Psalm 95:6-7b)
Prayer of Confession
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each day of our lives has proved us guilty in your sight. Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart; our best efforts to love you and others are but filthy rags. All things in us call for our rejection but all things in Christ plead for our acceptance. We appeal from your throne of perfect justice to your throne of boundless grace. Grant us to hear your word assuring us of the gospel of your Son: that by his stripes we are healed, that he was bruised for our iniquities, that he was made sin for us that we might be declared righteous before you, that our grievous sins, our many sins, are all forgiven. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Words of Grace
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:22-25
Hearing From God (Psalm 95:7c-11)
Sermon Text - Mark 4:26-32
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
1. We are a kingdom people
2. We are an already-not yet people
This past Sunday we started a vision renewal series. After a year of discussion and reflection, the Session has finalized our renewed vision. There are three components to our renewed vision: a succinct summary statement, four core values, and four objectives. For the next several weeks we are going to unpack our vision statement: RMC exists to pursue renewal and healing for all the people and places of Birmingham through Gospel ministry in word and deed.
This week we looked at the word "pursue" and what it means. The session picked this word to describe our common life and work together because it's a process word that captures a number of important implications. It implies a note of hopefulness that effort is meaningful and worth it even when timing and outcomes are unknown. It leans toward realism not triumphalism. It affirms human responsibility within the larger reality of divine sovereignty. In other words, it is a word that captures a number of tensions. What biblical theme can best explain what the word "pursue" is getting at? The Kingdom of God!
The Kingdom of God is a theme that runs throughout the Bible but features most prominently in Jesus' ministry and preaching. The Kingdom of God is God's revelation of all that is good and true and beautiful; of justice and mercy and forgiveness; of how things are supposed to be. Where do we see the kingdom most clearly revealed? In Jesus Christ! Therefore, when Jesus says, seek first the kingdom, he is saying, "give your life to following me, to loving what God most loves, trusting that your Father delights to give you the kingdom.
If we are to grasp what it means to pursue renewal and healing we need to remember two things: We are a kingdom people and we are an already-not yet people.
Jesus tells two parables in Mark 4 that teach us about the growth of the kingdom and the power of the kingdom. The first parable in verses 26-29 on the growth of the kingdom describes a process that is already underway in the ministry of Jesus. The parable is not about what we are to do. This is confirmed by the fact that the earth produces by itself and the farmer has no idea how (v. 27, 28). The point of this parable is that God's kingdom will reach its fullness in Christ as surely as the seed sown will ripen into a full harvest. In other words, this parable teaches us that we do not bring the kingdom, we are not its cause. Rather it teaches us that we are servants of the kingdom and what God is doing. Therefore, "to pursue" means serving the kingdom, trusting that God is at work.
The second parable in verses 30-32 on the power of the kingdom describes the totally unexpected outcome of planting a mustard seed. In a proverbial way Jesus picks a seemingly insignificant and weak thing to show that things are not always what they appear. Many questioned and doubted and rejected Jesus' ministry as irrelevant and weak. Yet what seemed to be a total failure - the cross of Christ - was in fact the beginning of God's new creation. Jesus tells this parable to nurture in us mustard seed thinking, that is, to recognize God's power to bring life out of death. Therefore, "to pursue" means to look for God to work in totally unexpected and surprising ways and not to despise the small, the weak, and the insignificant.
Finally what does it mean to be an already-not yet people? It means that you wake up each day looking back to what God has already done in Christ and looking forward to what God will do in Christ. It means that the beginning and end to your days take place within a larger unfolding work of God to make all things new. To be an already-not yet people is how we avoid two pitfalls. First, despair, because things seem too far gone. Second, naive optimism, thinking with our effort and ideas we can fix the world. The first leads to hopelessness, depression and cynicism. The second leads to bitterness and burnout. But when the good news of the Kingdom is our daily diet we see in the cross of Jesus the reality and consequences of sin, brokenness, guilt, shame and judgement. And at the very same time we see forgiveness, freedom, and new life. In other words, the cross of Christ - like the mustard seed - despite its tragedy becomes the source of true and lasting blessing for all who find shelter in its shade.
RMC exists to pursue...that is to be a kingdom people caught up by grace into God's great work to make all things new!
Sermon Reflection Questions
- What stood out to you from these verses?
- What questions do they raise for you?
- Was there anything that bothered you?
- How does the parable of the farmer give you hope and confidence?
- How does the parable of the mustard serve as a warning?
- Why do we need to be an already-not yet people? What might that look like in your day to day life?
Confession of Faith: The New City Catechism, 2017
Q. 2. What is God?
A. God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.
Psalm 86:8–10, 15
8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
9 All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.