Sermon Title – “Growth” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!   August is now upon us, and we are continuing in the ordinary, or “counted” time of the Christian year.  This is the third in a four-week series on “Like a mustard seed . . .” as we consider what the kingdom of heaven is like, and how as Christians, we are called to bring forth that kingdom.  The parable of the mustard seed, which is the inspiration for this series, is found in Matthew chapter 13 — it also appears in Mark and Luke.  It’s probably familiar to you, but it’s been two weeks since we read it from the pulpit, and it’s short, so let me share it again.  This is Jesus speaking in Matthew 13:31-32; this parable — at least in English — is one sentence long.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

I have been breaking down this small parable into even smaller pieces; last week I talked about Seeds, today we’ll talk about Growth, and next week we’ll consider the birds and their nests.  As you heard Mike read, for this text this morning we have left the gospels entirely, and have gone to the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3.  This is one of my favorite New Testament texts, both for its imagery and its encouragement.  It is no coincidence that it is one of the passages which inspired Creekside’s vision statement.  This has been our vision for nearly 20 years.  If you know the short version of this statement, say it with me — if you are sitting in the Gathering Area, you can read it from the banner over the doors to the Worship Center: Rooted in God, Growing in Jesus Bearing Fruit in the Spirit.  Thank you.

Ephesians 3:17 says, “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love” so that we may comprehend “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.”  That is inspiring stuff.  It’s an important message to hear, because these are not easy times for the Church. I visited with someone this week who is feeling anxious because she doesn’t know where the Church is going — not Creekside specifically, or even the Church of the Brethren more generally, but Christianity in the United States.  She remembers, as many of you do, when churches were full on Sunday mornings, when there were young adults and young children in the pews, when there were choirs and pre-schools and youth groups.  Those were significant formational experiences for many of us.

I am delighted that Creekside’s Church Board has set a goal for this year of being intentional about providing activities for children. Scott Harney has facilitated the team that is working on this.  My husband Tim is on that team and when he came home for their meeting Monday night and I asked “How was it?”  He said, “It was great!”  So either Scott is doing a good job, or Tim just really needs to get away from the house more.  I am all for brainstorming and the creativity and hard work which go into a goal which is consistent with our vision for ministry.  I hope that’s something we’ll all be invited to participate in at the appropriate time.

But if I could offer counsel, it would be this: we cannot measure growth in Jesus by human standards.  It is good to make plans and gather data and anticipate challenges, but ultimately, growth is a gift from God, and it may not happen the way we expect, or on our time table.  I appreciate the plant imagery which is explicit in Jesus’ parable, and implied in Ephesians chapter 3.  Remember the beginning of that parable?  The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which someone took and sowed in his field . . . Do you think that farmer was expecting that tiny seed to grow into a huge shrub and then a tree?  Is that what you’d want in the middle of your field?  Jerry, did you plant shrubs in the middle of your soybeans? I believe that one of the messages of this parable is that the kingdom of heaven is something we can work toward, but it is not necessarily something we can predict or control.  Our efforts may be rewarded, but not in the time or in the ways which we expect.

I like the Ephesians passage partly because it is explicit that our growth medium is the love of Christ — that is where we are supposed to put our roots, that is where tiny seeds turn into all kinds of things which we may not have imagined.  One of the defining characteristics of Christ’s love is that it is broader and wider and deeper and higher than we can encompasses with our minds.  The kingdom of heaven is not something we bring about because we are trying so hard are thinking about it so much: the kingdom of heaven is allowing ourselves to be filled with the fullness of God.  Growing the kingdom is not just something we strive to do, it is who God has created us to be.

As part of a devotion for a Creekside meeting, someone shared the image of bearing fruit, and how for years they felt inadequate because the fruit they were bearing didn’t seem to be enough, or didn’t seem like it was good enough.  What changed this narrative for this person was not a new program or a different prayer practice, it was the realization that every good thing is a gift from God. That means what he was called to do was the work of God, he himself is a gift from God; a tree created by God and loved by Christ.  And friends, if we are created by God and loved by Jesus Christ, we don’t need anybody else’s justification or approval — and we certainly don’t need their judgement.  If we can accept it as a free gift, growing in Jesus can actually free us to do what we feel called to do — not what we think everyone else wants us to do.  Measuring growth by our faithfulness to our calling, rather than the weight of human expectations, roots us more deeply in Christ’s love and God’s purpose.

Faith is believing that if we are committed to the kingdom of heaven — to following Jesus’ teaching in our lives and being the body of Christ in the world — that God will take care of that growth.  We should bring our intellect, our expertise, our problem-solving and decision-making and planning and vision — all of that — to whatever we do.  But if we are not filled with the love of Christ, what we are doing is not serving the mission of God, or the kingdom of heaven.  If we are clever, or fortunate, or well-funded, we might see results, but growth which is not deeply rooted in Christ will not last — unlike that mustard shrub tree thing which has taken over the field, and has birds nesting in it.  There will be no stopping it now.

For the past two weeks I’ve encouraged you to write and post some small thing which nurtures your faith or reminds you that God is alive and active in the world.  Here are some of things you have written:

*Sunrise over Lake Wawasee


*Kind words which build each other up

*Willing helpers

*Connections with other people

*Nature (that is not a small thing, but we’ll take it!)I’m sure you have others you could add to this list, and I hope you take the opportunity to do so before the end of August. Don’t do it for me, find something — anything — which gives you an awareness of God’s good work. If we are not aware of God’s work, how can we give thanks for God’s work?  If we are not grounded in Christ’s love, how can we be filled with Christ’s love? If we don’t have Christ’s love within us, how could we share it with anyone else?  We don’t have to calculate or manipulate Christ’s love, we just have to share it with other people.  Where it goes from there is up to God.