Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Sunday Message based on Mark 4:26-34; “B”–P3;

Scriptures are: 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13; psalm 20; psalm 72; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 // NRSV

It is also Father’s Day Sunday

Liturgical Color: GREEN

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I think that dandelions are beautiful. I know that some of you think that they are weeds and you don’t want them anywhere near your lawns, but I think that they are beautiful. I understand that although I think that they are beautiful, dandelions are pesky plants because left unchecked they take over everything; just like mustard plants did in first century Palestine.

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The spread of wild mustard is hard to control. Once it takes root it can take over a whole planting area in a matter of weeks. That’s why mustard would only occasionally be found in a garden in the ancient world; more likely you would see it overtaking the side of an open hill or abandoned field. The mustard plant starts as a tiny seed and grows into a shrub of three to four feet high. Once mustard plants take over a hill, there are all kinds of life taking refuge there. There are small animals (mice, hedgehogs, feral cats, ptarmigans) hiding underneath. There are small birds perching and nesting on branches. There are butterflies fluttering around and bees buzzing around. Hawks fly above looking for prey. Areas where mustard shrubs grow are teeming with life.

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The point that Jesus made in today’s parable is that once a mustard plant takes root it takes over everything, even where it is not wanted. It gets out of control, and it attracts birds and animals, it is teeming with life and it wreaks havoc with our crops, and our plants, and our plans.

That is what the Kingdom of God is like: not like majestic and orderly cedars of Lebanon but like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. As followers of Jesus we are challenged to look for places where God’s Kingdom is taking root, or spreading out, or taking over little by little. As followers of Jesus it is our challenge to be the messengers of hope that changes lives. As followers of Jesus we are challenged to be like tiny seeds that take over hills and fields and take the Good News of the Kingdom of God everywhere we go. That is why it is so important for us to plant seeds among those who do not believe or are not involved in church.

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In the last few weeks you have heard me quote the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20 and accepted by the Discipline of the United Methodist Church as our mission statement, “Go forth and make disciples for Jesus Christ” for the transformation of the world.

The process of “discipling” is the process that takes the basics that we learned in Sunday school when we were in the second grade, and develops it into an understanding and relationship with God that helps us deal with things that happen in our post-second-grade lives. Rev. Adam Hamilton talked about the process of discipling during Bible Study at the Annual Conference.

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Around 2005, the Barna institute came up with a research that defined the levels of Christian commitment within the church.

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10% of church members are fully committed.

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They attend in any kind of weather. This group knows the Bible very well and can competently articulate and explain Bible stories. They tithe and support missions of the church and they actively participate in the life of the church community and in the outreach. They gladly tithe more than 10% of their income and when asked to do something, they gladly and quietly find a way to do it. These are the men and women doing things in the background that most attendees may not even be aware of what they do to keep the church running. They also volunteer outside of the church walls.

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20% of church members are committed.

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They attend most of the time; when there is a family function, or if there is a really good excuse to skip a Sunday, they do so. They tithe, or come close to tithing 10% of their income. They can articulate many of the most common Biblical stories and traditions. They participate in the life of the church community to the best of their abilities. When asked to do something, they usually put up a huge fight citing how busy they are and then they reluctantly find a way to do what needs to be done. They usually feel blessed when they step up to the plate to help. When they can, they may volunteer outside of the church.

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Another 30% of church are somewhat committed.

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They attend when the weather is good and there is nothing else that they’d rather do. Their support of the church is sporadic. They know very few Bible stories but are not comfortable talking about the Bible to others. They are the ones who complain about little league games on Sunday as if they have no say when these games are scheduled. It is very difficult to convince them to do anything; if they are asked to volunteer for something it is not unusual for them to run away.

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That leaves approx. 40 percent of church members who are associated with the church.

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These persons believe themselves to be “committed” to the church; they attend “regularly” whether they feel they need it or not; usually at Christmas and Easter. They are “generous” in their support of the church with a dollar or two when they set foot in the door. Although they claim connection to a church, ultimately there is no relationship. They are the ones that complain that the pastor always preaches the same sermon every time they come; that is what happens when you attend the same service every year.

It is the last two groups (“somewhat committed” and “associated”) that most often say things like “I am spiritual but not religious.” What they are really saying is, “I don’t want to be bothered and when things go wrong I will just get angry with those pragmatic church people and worship my own Jesus – the one that ALWAYS reminds me how great I am.”

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And then of course there are people outside of our community. Many of them don’t want to have anything to do with us because when they ask tough questions we don’t know how to answer them and we respond in platitudes.

{Illustration from the personal practice of ministry}

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The process of discipling is the process that helps people in each of these categories move up the ladder. With each move we learn to love God deeper, to see God better and we learn more what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

{Illustration pertaining to our community}

The Kingdom of Heaven is God working through people, calling them to help their neighbors in need, to comfort his people, to walk with them even “through the valley of the shadow of death.”

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The Kingdom of Heaven is people helping their neighbors to love God more, to see and understand God better and to strive to come closer to God: kind of like the process of discipling. For most church communities, the present challenge is to become serious about the process of discipling, so that like a mustard plant that takes over the side of a hill, we can provide a refuge and a spiritual home for all kinds of persons in our community.

{Q & A)

{Open Chancel Rail}

Research articles used in preparation of this message:

Article 1

Article 2

Article # 3 from Barna

From Anselm Ministries

Lots of good materials is also found in other articles on Barna.org…

I especially thank Rev. Adam Hamilton from the Church of Resurrection in Kansas City for his presentations at the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta, GA (May 2012) and at the 228 session of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference (June 2012). Ideas that he presented infulenced preparation of this sermon.

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