Things Are Not Always What They Appear

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Things are not always what they appear to be, are they?  I am thankful for the advisory in the side mirror on my vehicle that states: “Warning, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear to be.”  I tend to forget that, I need that reminder.

I also need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God in eternity is not what it appears to be in our time; that is, it is not what the world supposes it to be.  They see the Kingdom of God as a bunch of superstitious people gathered around and antiquated Bible, a little water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  And as they scoff, we gather together and find forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal happiness and joy within those very things.  Why are these two views so very different?

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful.  

Lack of faith is what causes a mighty cedar, full of life and vigor to decay from within, dry up, and die.  That was the cause of the nation of Israel’s demise, it was the cause of the death of all of the empires that have ever existed, and it will be the demise of our country if its citizens continuously reject faith.  

It was the demise of the way of worship for the Jews, which we can call the old church.

Where is their temple worship?  It is gone!  Where is their temple? Destroyed!  Jesus said as much when He said, “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” [Luke 21:6]  WHY?  Again they had lost their faith in the promise of God and the mercy and forgiveness He promised to bring to all, through the Savior who was to come.  And when He did come, they rejected the very means of Salvation that God had promised since the fall of creation.

But you have not lost that faith, have you?  You are still here, so out of love, out of charity I will gladly assume that you still trust God to make all things new; to make all things right.  I trust that you have faith in the Savior who has now come and will come again.  You have faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Who is with you right now! You see…

You have Faith in a Who, and a Promise!  

Unlike what the world thinks, things are not as they seem.  Your faith is not simply in some printed words found in a book, but in the living Word of God that both spoke and was empowered by His Spirit to preserve you and give you hope.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God.  Faith to believe that a scrap of bread and a sip of wine are also, mysteriously the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed, eaten and drank for the strengthening of faith and forgiveness for all of your sins.  

You are that sprig that God says in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) was removed from the loft top of the great cedar Israel; a cedar, which is now withered and abandoned.  You are a part of the church, the very mystical body of Christ that has been planted by God Himself upon the high and lofty mountain, which is the long awaited Paradise restored.  You are part of something inconceivably vast and powerful; you are even now part of the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom, which throughout the eons has not only promised but has given rest to the weary and joy to the broken hearted.  You are part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled.

The Kingdom of God is the Promise of God Fulfilled!  

Yes the promise fulfilled, but also the promise not yet seen.  To be sure, our loved ones who died in Christ and who are now absent from the body are present with the Lord; that is they see with their own eyes both the glory of the Lord and the beauty of their eternal home in paradise.  But we’re still here; we must still walk by faith and not by sight.  Faith assures us that the promise is fulfilled and there is a place reserved for us; tailor made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We are holy by faith, because He is holy.  We are holy simply because we are forgiven and loved, so we forgive and love as well.  We are holy because we are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit and the means of grace, which He gives that both creates and sustains our seeing by faith.

And we need that faith to live within a promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem.

Let’s talk about the tension of living by faith and not by sight.  

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds known at the time in the middle east, 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.” And here is precisely where the tension is experienced; there are birds nesting in our branches that bring all kinds of strange and peculiar things with them; things like poverty and despair, sickness and disease, rude behavior and even domineering spirits.  Some times they don’t come simply to rest in our gospel tree, but they come to change and even take it over.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean is to change Jesus illustration of birds resting in the Mustard tree to insects called Phasmida, or as they are more commonly know as, the “Walking Stick.”  The walking stick insect looks just like a branch and blends in perfectly with the tree.  The camouflage is needed because other animals outside of the tree are flying around looking to eat the walking stick.  But when these Walking Sticks are within the canopy of the tree, they may rest safe and free from harm, because they look like they are part of the tree.  But they’re not, are they?  And while they rest within the safety of the tree, they begin to eat the leaves and find sustenance from the tree itself.

Are you a part of the tree, or are you like the walking stick simply finding sustenance and safety.  Only you and God know the answer to that, not me.  But I will tell you what I do know; God does not want you to be a walking stick; He wants to graft you within the tree itself.  God wants you to simply quit hiding and surrender to His wonderful grace; his forgiving love and mercy.  And here is the wonderful news, you do not need to do a thing to become a true part of the tree, you only need surrender to the same means of grace and mercy that brought the rest of us into the body of Christ.

You may become a branch of this tree, by simply seeing that the safety and security that you have enjoyed for a time, can be yours for eternity by simply confessing that you indeed are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. You must only surrender to God and believe that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine. And what He gives to you is complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ.

What are you waiting for, or better yet, what are you hiding from?  He has already found you; you are here in the gospel tree, the church.  Why not truly belong and become that which the world thinks is both foolish and pathetic?  Why not belong and become what the cross of Jesus Christ has already provided and announced for all sinners throughout the world… you are forgiven and loved by God. [John 3:16]

Look around you; things are not what they appear to be.  It is natural for you to see first with eyes of flesh, and through these eyes, it is also natural for you to see a bunch of sinners in this place.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promises, and you see instead saints by faith.  We are all sinners and saints at the same time. We are saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in this tent; this temporary body of sin.  We all struggle with putting to death our sin that is within us, and during this struggle we groan in anticipation for the day that we will be free of that struggle and rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] Yes dear friends, are not what you appear to be, but you are also a saint resting in God’s grace and soon enough you will be forever returned to His Paradise, your eternal home… AMEN!

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