Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon- Sunday June 17, 2018- The Rev. Rob Hartley

Sermon- Pent 4B- June 17, 2018- Growing the Kingdom  

The God Bench

As many of you know, Kanuga is a church conference center near Hendersonville, NC.  Groups of us from this church have gone there on a number of occasions; in fact, a group of us are going next week for the renewal conference.  For me, Kanuga has always been one of those “Thin Places,” which is an expression that developed in Celtic Christianity to describe those special places where the fabric between heaven and earth seem to be drawn so thinly that one can almost reach through and touch the face of God.  Kanuga has been part of my growing up in The Faith, and it has been at Kanuga that I regularly, almost palpably, encounter God in special ways.  It is my Thin


In previous sermons, I have spoken about one special trail that goes around Kanuga Lake.  On the far side of the lake along the trail is a towering cross that is visible from the conference center. The trail has a wonderful beauty about it at that point with huge Mountain Laurels forming almost a tunnel through which the trail passes.  Right there is a bench.  I have on numerous occasions met the Lord while sitting on that bench, sometimes with great joy and thanksgiving, sometimes with a heavy heart or with some deep need, sometimes seeking guidance or wisdom from the Lord.  For years that bench has been for me a place of communing with the Lord and moving into Him.

Last summer we were at Kanuga for a week with our youngest son and his family.  It was a delight being there for the first time with three of our grandchildren and being able to share with them that place which has been so special to my life over the years. 

I am a person of patterns and habits, and it is my habit to rise at first light each morning at Kanuga and walk around the lake to that bench behind the cross on the far side of the lake.  My then 6-year-old grandson got up when he heard me up; so I invited him to join me.  My grandson was excited about the invitation, and we quietly snuck out of our cabin and headed around the lake. We sat on that bench and spent time talking to God and to each other.  My grandson and I call it the God Bench.  

For the rest of the week, he would listen for my getting up, and be right there.  On those walks around the Lake to the God Bench, I could see the seeds of the Kingdom of God taking root in the fresh soil of the soul this young man.  I shared some of my experiences of God and what it means to belong to God and not to the world.  This August we will again be at Kanuga with my son and his family.  My grandson has already asked about taking our early morning walks to the God Bench.

Growing the Kingdom

The world teaches our children a great deal about being in the world but nothing about appropriating the Kingdom of God, that is, the rule of God, in their lives.  Faith, at least to some extent, use to be woven into the fabric of American public life, but not anymore.  Today, if anything is taught in our culture about the Faith, it is that it is obsolete, irrelevant and even inappropriate to modern life. This is an impoverished message for our children to be receiving, given the fact that they have been created to be in communion with the God who created them. 

As Christians we have answers to first order questions of life, ones my grandson is asking or will be asking, some of which we discussed sitting on the God Bench.  These are questions our secular culture either ignores or is unable to answer, such as: Where did we come from? Why are we here?  What is our purpose?  What is our eternal destiny? How can we really know our Creator? How can we approach a perfect and holy God given our less-than-perfect and holy lives?  The list can go on. 

We all know that growing the Kingdom of God in our young people has always been the job of the Christian family and the Church.  Attending to that job seems to be even more crucial these days.  Knowledge, love and obedience of God needs to be planted in our children and grandchildren, where it can take root and grow into something magnificent and life-transforming.  The Kingdom of God needs to be nurtured in them and grown into maturity as they grow.  This is not only true for our young people, but it is true for all whom we invite into the Church to take this journey of Faith with us.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus talks about this: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, Jesus says, or what parable shall we use for it?  31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 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.”

“The Kingdom of God is like” is Jesus’ favorite way of introducing his parables.  In this parable, He says that the Kingdom of God is like the tiniest of beginnings which grows into something glorious and great.  The Kingdom of God, when it takes root, comes to dominate and define our lives.  It makes us different.  We leave behind this world that wants to define us, and we become a new creation in Christ.  As Paul writes in our Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians this morning, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth.  Corinth was a seaport with all sorts of people with all sorts of moral understandings of life, much like our world today.  In many ways the Corinthian Christians had not shed their old nature.  The church was compromised by the culture around them. But the Apostle Paul reminds them that they are different. They have a different purpose and destination in life.  In Christ, they are a new creation.

Like all of us, my grandson lives in a modern-day Corinth with all sorts of moral and ethical understandings of life.  Who is going to reveal the Kingdom of God to him?  Who is going to share the Kingdom of God with your children and grandchildren?  Who is going to reveal to them the great truths that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has for them?  How are they going to find their Thin Places and God Benches in life?  If not through you and the other Christians in their lives, then through whom?  

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

I have been attending a conference at Trinity Seminary, Ambridge PA this past week.  It is always good to spend time at Trinity, albeit short, immersed in learning something more about the Kingdom of God.  The fellowship and rhythm of seminary worship is spiritually refreshing.

The topic this year is Christian Anthropology.  Anthropology is the study of humankind, just as theology is the study of God.  Christian Anthropology is combining two by studying the relationship of humankind to our Creator.   One of my favorite psalms, Psalm 139, has been in my mind as we explored this topic this week:

13For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

Much of our study has been on “human dignity.”  Secular culture and Christians alike champion this idea of human dignity, but we often end up in different places on how to live it out.  The reason is that Christians think more in terms of the sanctity of life, not just its dignity.  Life is sacred and it is God who decides how that is to be lived out.  It also means that it is God who assigns worth to all human life, and He does it equally, from the yet to be born, to the disabled, to the mentally challenged, to those experiencing the end of their earthly life.  We humans, therefore, do not get to decide who is less human or of less value.

Christian Anthropology finds its roots in the fact that we are created in the image of God (Imago Dei). Gen 1:27-28 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.   And God blessed them…”   that image, however, is distorted and tarnished by the Fall (Gen. 3), but Jesus comes as the New Adam to restore the Imago Dei in us all by inviting us, by the power of His Holy Spirit in us, to take on His likeness, and Jesus is the perfect image of the Father.  Paul writes in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

To God be the Glory, Father Rob