14 June St Anne’s Porirua
2 Cor 5:6-17, Psalm 20, Mark 4:26-34
When I set out to write this sermon on Thursday, I was feeling tired, a bit despondent, worrying about my children. But then I started to read Paul’s inspiring words that we have just heard. Always be cheerful! That’s how it starts in the CEV translation.
Always be cheerful! It sounds easy to say, but do you know, it gave me a real jolt. It said, stop having a pity party. The real story is bigger than my problems and your problems. Paul helpfully goes on to tell us why we should always be cheerful – because of Hope.
Hope is a difficult virtue to practise by ourselves, because it takes courage. Courage to look beyond the present, beyond our circumstances, to a brighter future. We know, because we have been told many times in scripture, that we have not yet reached our ultimate destination.
Are we there yet? call out the kids from the back of the car on a long journey. No, we’re not. We have not yet reached heaven, where we can be at home with the Lord. My friends, let your imaginations go on a journey – think about a time when you will no longer be hindered by circumstances, or physical or emotional pain. That’s what it will be like when we reach our final destination. We don’t know whether heaven will be like a great big praise and worship service, or Club Med on a beach somewhere, or praying for everyone still on earth. But we do know who it will be like. Heaven, our final destination, will be like God. Living, all-seeing, all-powerful. And we have hope, through our salvation, what we will be part of it.
That doesn’t solve the problem about life now though does it?
When life has hit you in the face with yet another worry, yet another phone call you dreaded, or another bill you can’t pay, how can we carry on?
Paul tells us that too.
9 But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.10 After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies.
Trying our best to please God with everything we do, think, say. Does that sound a bit like hard work? A bit like too exhausting to even contemplate? It might be, if we were only doing it in our own strength, to please people. But remember a few weeks ago, when we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? We have the Holy Spirit to help us please God. If we are open to those little nudges of conscience, those quiet voices, those hints, we can be guided in the right path. Our own habits develop as we follow God’s will, and it becomes instinctual.
Remember too, that we strive to please God, not people. People are capricious and changeable. I know I am harder to please when I have a headache, – it takes a lot of wonderful child behaviour to get through the Grumpy mum syndrome. Or so I speculate – I’m not sure it has ever happened…
Think of God as someone who is completely head over heels about you. Like a grandparent with their first grandchild. We are completely loved, adored, cherished. And, even better than a besotted human, God doesn’t seek to change us. God accepts us as we are, warts, exhaustion, grumpiness and all.
Our society seems to be fixated on what others think of us. It causes a lot of difficulty for our children as they grow up, trying to negotiate the popular versus unpopular dynamic, trying to be accepted. It gets too hard, and people are hurt. Don’t worry about trying to please people. You can never please everyone, so just focus on pleasing God. It’s a lot easier! If someone is grumpy with you, let it be between them and God. As we trust God to guide us, we can leave other people to God too, and just focus on loving them.
Verse 7 of today’s psalm reinforces our trust in God, rather than in things of this world:
7 Some people trust the power
of chariots or horses,
but we trust you, Lord God.
Let’s think about hope some more. It can start out very tiny, just like a seed. I love the parables about seeds, because I am a keen gardener.
I bought some seeds recently for my favourite annuals, lobelias. I really like the dark blue ones with the white splash, and I thought that seeds would get me more plants for my money. The lobelia seed packet said ‘contains approximately 1000 seeds’. Wow! 1000 of my favourite plants! As you can imagine, the seeds are so incredibly tiny that they’re hard to see. Way smaller than mustard seeds. So I sowed them too thickly. After a week or so, tiny hints of green, almost invisible, started to mist the seed tray. Now I have many many tiny plants. Too many.
But just like hope, they need nurturing, and a certain amount of luck. They also need protecting from the cats. I really cannot expect to have 1000 lobelia plants! If I do, I will be donating them to anyone that wants some, so watch this space!
Did you notice in Jesus’ story about the farmer, that the farmer does not know how the seeds keep sprouting and growing? Did you also notice that God does? Hope is like that. Often we don’t know what it will take to make our hope grow, but God does. So we can trust God, and leave it in the hands of the Creator.
Hope can grow beyond our wildest dreams too. If you walk along the road near my house, there is a wild bit that the council mows every so often, and mustard is one of the plants that grows there. The plants get about 1 metre tall at the most, before they have their pods of tasty seeds. In Jesus’ parable, he may have been indulging in a bit of Jewish story-telling exaggeration I suspect. His mustard seed grows into the greatest of all garden plants! And it doesn’t stop there! It provides branches big enough for birds to nest in its shade! Our hope can grow like that too, larger than anything possible by natural means. larger than the normal, everyday surroundings would expect. And our hope can provide for others too, shade, shelter, support. As we let our hope grow in God, we can be part of providing that shade, shelter and support to those around us, as we trust God, cheerful in our hope of eternal life with God.
Our friend Ray had that hope in eternal life with God, and we know that he is with God now. Hope can be what keeps us looking forward, rather than back, knowing that after all this struggle, we will be with God.
But hope is also for now, for our earthly lives. It’s what keeps us going, what keeps us optimistic, what keeps us thankful. We have a life to live here – we don\t want to be so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good!
I’ve had to be careful telling children about heaven. When my father died three years ago, I was telling the kids that Grandad was with God now, and he would be playing the organ, and eating pavlova in heaven. The children found this such an appealing picture that they wanted to join him in heaven, so I had to dissuade them from that idea!
We need to develop our hope muscles here, by noticing the resurrection moments, the joys, the answered prayers, the beauty around us.
By abandoning our self-indulgent pity-parties and looking up, beyond the everyday miseries and difficulties, to find the Creator at work around us.