By Rev. Kris Eggert | August 6, 2023
Click here to listen to the service.
Read Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 (NIV)
It is always good to be back with you here at Ledgewood Christian Church, and I’m always glad when I can help my friend and colleague, Pastor Heidi, on weeks when she’s away. You were blessed by another of Pastor Heidi’s friends and colleagues last week when Rev. Carmen Cox Harwell preached while your pastor was attending the General Assembly, held this year in Louisville, KY. Last Sunday, I too, was preaching for a colleague who was attending the GA. I told that congregation that though I was glad to be with them, I was also a little sad that I was missing out on the experience of this year’s Assembly. I almost always attended when I was pastoring, and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with friends from seminary, colleagues and members from churches I have served. I think I can say with confidence that with all the connections your pastor has made through the years, she was having a great time.
And so, in both missing out on being at this year’s gathering and preaching for friends who were there, I have been recalling times when I did attend. Th. details have a way of getting a little mixed together, so I’m not always sure what happened in what city in what particular year. But there was one year that I remembered very clearly. Why was it so memorable? It was in Nashville, TN – and I remember it was hot, hot! But that’s not what caused me to remember. It wasn’t for the business items that were passed that year – I looked back, and church business was nothing remarkable. It was that we had our largest group ever from Disciples Christian (where I was pastor) attending – mostly our teen-agers with our Young Disciples Director. And they were actually having a really good time!
Also attending was a young man who had been raised Methodist and had remained so through college and young adulthood but who had just recently been ordained in the Disciples of Christ at Disciples Christian. And it was his first experience at a GA and boy, was he full to the brim with stories to tell when he got back. The stories were bubbling over as he stood in the pulpit telling the church all about what he’d experienced. The following Sunday we heard from the several youth, and they told story after story after story!
How appropriate that was given that the Assembly Theme that year was – Tell It! Final night Assembly preacher, Dr. Fred Craddock encouraged us as we were about to leave for our homes and churches that we each had a story to tell about how God is active in our lives, and that we must do just that – Tell It!
Two simple words forming a simple command, and yet it’s much easier said than done. Figuring out what to say about how God is active in your life, what God’s presence has meant to you through the years – most people haven’t a clue where to start.
We are reluctant to tell our stories. It’s a great equalizer, that reluctance. Reluctance to tell our stories falls across generations, income and education levels, gender, etc. Even for people for whom believing in God is the most natural thing in the world. People who came to their faith simply and easily – talking about it? Not so easy. Those for whom coming to believe has been troublesome and is still a work in progress – tough to talk about something we’re not sure of. It is a fact that one of the most difficult things about coming to believe in God is trying to talk about it. If someone were to ask you why you believe or how your life is different because you believe, would you know how to answer?
We could talk about how even the worst things that happen to us seem to have a blessing hiding in them somewhere. We could talk about how our hearts are just bursting sometimes. We could talk about how particular people have come into our lives at just the right moments – so right that we just knew it had to be some sort of divine intervention. We could speak to the darkest times of our loves and how God seemed to intervene when we least expected God to. We could, but we don’t. It seems there aren’t words big enough, or sophisticated enough or deep enough.
Well, help is on the way. We heard words this morning from someone who gave it a try. Someone who put it into words what it’s like when God is our companion on life’s journey. Words from someone who knows what to say and how to say it.
In our gospel reading, we heard Jesus say that: An experience of God is like:
A mustard seed.
Yeast in flour.
A priceless pearl.
A fishing net.
It makes for a preaching dilemma because this is at least 4 images too many for one sermon! So, to keep this message a manageable length, what I find interesting is how Jesus fires off these 5 comparisons. [snap fingers] The images come so quickly, one right after another. There’s no preparation, no explanation, no time for questions and answers. I wonder what’s up with Jesus here because he’s usually not in such a rush. This differs from Jesus’ usual storytelling style which is to gather his listeners around him.
Then he’ll begin a story with words like … there once was a landowner or a farmer. There once was a king. There was this woman. Giving his listeners a chance to draw close and settle in. Often Jesus would entertain questions. And there were times when he told the story again for even greater understanding.
But this time, these flashes of the kin-dom come at us so quickly that there’s no time to settle in at all. It’s like high-speed rail when stuff flashes by you. What an experience of God is like: It’s like this and this and this and …
But if we were to slow it down, a bit ... it could be like a tiny mustard seed like moment that grew wildly into something large and wonderful. It could be like a handful of not-much-to-look at yeast that when mixed with flour becomes this tasty beautiful bread – more than enough to feed your family and you were glad you had enough to share with your neighbors. These comparisons show that an experience of God can be surprising, potent, more than we’d expect.
The images get trickier after that. An experience of God is like a poor man who finds buried treasure and his first act is one of deception. Or its like a rich man who sells everything he has for something even greater. Or an experience of God is like this net that doesn’t let any fish get away, but then there’s this sorting out of which fish is worth saving and which ones get tossed aside. You wouldn’t be the first to point out that these harsher references don’t sound as much like Jesus. There are plenty of bible scholars who would tell you that this part may have been added later. That most likely Jesus didn’t really say that.
This passage, handed down through generations and translations and viewpoints, dominated by Jesus’ voice but including some others perhaps. This passage is making the case that maybe one or more of these may describe your experience with God or maybe your experience has been nothing like this at all.
The kingdom of heaven – the kin-dom – the presence of God – your experience of God – is about what it’s like for you. It’s important for you to come up with your own images. For your own understanding. For you to ever be able to speak of God aloud. I’ll ask some leading questions for you to ponder ,,,
What have you uncovered that was hidden?
What was right there in front of you, but you didn’t see it?
What makes an experience of God better than anything you can buy on Amazon or read on social media? What moments have taken your breath away?
What has grown in you that you didn’t even realize was there and now you can’t imagine your life without it?
When were you lost and how were you found?
When were you wandering aimlessly and how did you come to stride with purpose?
What gives you life?
What story could you tell?
No one can tell your experience of God as you can. Even Jesus can’t describe what is personal to us – I think that’s why he puts so many options out there for us to consider. Maybe it’s like that. And maybe it’s like something else entirely.
So, at that particular General Assembly, the programming was filled with stories and testimonies. Personal stories. Pastor’s stories. Congregation’s stories. People excitedly talking about their churches, while also sharing personal experiences of the Holy Spirit moving through and together with them, sharing stories with people they’d just met.
And, as I said when I began, all of us who came back here to Cleveland couldn’t stop telling our stories.
Well, for a couple of Sundays. I don’t know how long it took for all of us to stop talking about God once we got home. But I suspect it ended pretty quickly after we returned to our routines, thinking about all that we needed to do, playing catch-up for the time we were away.
It’s what we do, isn’t it? We’re busy. We’re distracted. And those unique and breath-taking God-stories get put away on a dusty shelf somewhere. Preacher Fred Craddock reminded us that night how difficult it is to speak about anything that comes from our hearts. Even to those closest to us. And to speak about God? We are even more reluctant.
We are people who would rather act out our faith, than talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, we might say. And I’m not at all suggesting that you stop doing the good stuff you’re doing. But as Dr. Craddock said: It’s not just about walking the walk. It is also about talking the talk.
In this morning’s passage from Matthew, Jesus left behind a wonderful template of how we can Tell It. Might we be willing to take it from here?