“Purity of Harvest”

 

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2018

Ezekiel 17:22-24/Psalm 92:1-2; 6-7; 12-15/2 Corinthians 5:1-10/Mark 4:26-34

 

Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos

 

 

Today is the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – a Season that is also called Kingdom-tide.  Do we even understand what the kingdom of God is all about and how it works? 

 

I would like to share what Mark, the Evangelist, view is.  Mark looks at the world as having a present age and awaiting what is called the age to come.  Present age is where the enemy of God has set up himself as the prince of this world.  We groan, we moan, we are burdened and we are longing to be clothed from on high because at this time, we are still now seeing the fullness of what is to come.  In our Creed, it is the life of the world to come when Jesus returns, when the dead are raised, when sickness and death are no more, and tears are wiped away and we will have that heavenly banquet with our God.

 

Mark also understands that the coming of Jesus means the retaking of what was stolen from God.  The enemy grabbed what was not his, he destroyed it, he marred it, and he vandalized it.   Jesus comes so that He could take back what belonged to God.  In doing so, He declared war against the enemy of God.

 

In the first part of Mark’s gospel, we see Jesus in a synagogue, and there is the demon-possessed man from whom Jesus cast out the demons.  The irony of it was that the people of God did not recognize who Jesus was.  It was the demons who recognized Him.  They said to Jesus, “Why are You here?  Have You come to destroy us?”  Which question encapsulates the whole mission of Jesus?  John says, “For this purpose Christ was revealed to destroy all the works of the evil one.”  This is what it takes to gain what was stolen and what needs to be restored.  Warfare has begun and the Kingdom comes, and when the heaven touches earth, when Jesus is present, when God’s reign is manifested, the result is that the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor hear the good news, the dead live, deliverances happen, healings happen, hope is restored, and encouragement is given to people.  

 

The disciples saw all the miracles, and so they were excited.  Jesus first words to them were, “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. It is here!  It is breaking through the present age.  In fact, it started when Jesus came.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  The kingdom of God is not something that you see shaded on the map.  The kingdom of God is not a defined jurisdiction.  The kingdom of God is simply where God’s will is being followed and fulfilled.  It is God’s rule; it is God’s reign.   The kingdom of God begins at the hearts of the people.   

 

 

The age to come has already started.  We shouldn’t be looking to the return of Christ, and think that this is the beginning of the Kingdom come.  The Kingdom has already broken into our present age, and it has already started.  The disciples were excited until they found opposition in the persons of the Pharisees and the scribes.   They opposed Jesus thinking, “Well, we thought that this Messiah was from God.  How come the other representative of God opposed Him?  Jesus’ own family thought that He lost His mind.  Like us, they were anxious and they probably thought, “Is there a future to this?   If the institution is against us, is there something to look forward to.  If Jesus’ own family did not believe in Him, why would we?” 

 

This is what we seem to be discouraged of.  Why do we not see the fullness of it?   We think that the Kingdom has broken into our present world, but how come we still see sickness, injustice, or evil?  We think nothing is happening, and the disciples were also anxious, which is why Jesus told them about the parables of the Kingdom. He tried to illustrate to them what the Kingdom is like.  In the first parable Jesus used the seed.  He said, “Even if you are unaware of the presence of the seed, you don’t know what happening behind the seed.”  The seed grows, and while you are sleeping, it grows.  God causes it to grow because there is power in the seed.  It has been programmed to grow.  Jesus also used the parable of the mustard seed saying that though it is the smallest, the unnoticeable, and imperceptible, in its humble beginning, it becomes the largest plant in the garden. Looking at the kingdom of God as such, we need to be reassured, strengthened and encouraged in our faith.

 

Ezekiel chapter 17 says that God is the One who exalts the low tree, who makes green the dry tree.  In Ezekiel 37, it says about a valley of dry bones becoming an exceeding, mighty army.  Deadness transformed into life because God causes the growth. He said, “I will make it flourish.  I will fulfill it.  The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.”  In Romans 14, St. Paul instructs us to not judge anyone because they are not our servants; they are servants of God. They will stand because their master makes them stand and God promised that He will make them flourish.  The mustard seed becomes the biggest tree planted in the garden and it blessed the birds of the air, and they shall rest under its shade. 

 

We are not underestimating the power of the seed. The power is in the seed, not in us.  What we do have is the ability to sow.  We do not cause the seed to grow.  We did not create the seed; God created the seed and programmed it to grow.  God created us so that we can sow the seed, which is our responsibility.  After we sow the seed, we go to bed, and while we are sleeping, the growth occurs. Not understanding these things, sometimes we are overwhelmed by hopelessness, thinking, “Why is there slow progress?  Why is it that I put in much, and nothing seems to happen?  Why is it that I minister to my spouse, and they are still the same?  Why don’t I see any change in my children?”  God is at work! There is power in the seed!   What we simply must do is to sow faithfully and wait patiently.

 

James, Jesus’s brother, was thought of losing his mind. In the Book of Acts, we find him presiding over a council in Jerusalem.   He was the first bishop because the seed planted in him grew and transformed him from a doubter to a presider, then a bishop.   This is what the seed of God and of the Word does to a person if one is faithful to plant it.  It is not about our ability to plant.  It is not about our farming know-how.  It is not about our eloquent words.  It is not about our persuasive arguments.  It is simply us planting the seed, the Word.  When we do, we trust it to produce, and grow.

 

On the front of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), they have this image of the sower casting seed.  It makes sense because they are a broad-casting entity.   We cast abroad. We cast foreign wide.  We don’t narrow cast.  We cast seed narrowly.  We don’t reach out anymore.  What is our impact on our community?   What is our impact on our nation? On our world?  Sometimes, our world view is very narrow, and we need to come out of our shell.    The message we send to those outside is, “God is inside the Church, come and get Him.  The seed is here, you come and get it.”   This is very contrary to what Pope Francis saying, “Priests, get out of your churches.  Open social media accounts and broad-cast.  Do not leave your seed in the Church.  Say to the people, “This is what you need. Come!”   There is some truth to this, but we need to go out into the world, and scatter abroad, scatter seed.

 

I want to read to you a letter of Patriarch Craig Bates concerning the CEC Foundation Day which is related to the parable of the seed.

 

Brothers and Sisters:

 

It is once again time for every Church in the ICCEC to take up an offering called the “Foundation Day Offering.” The original name of the fund was Founder’s Day Fund and was to be an offering given to Archbishop Adler in honor of his consecration as the 1st bishop in the ICCEC. Archbishop was, however, a man of great generosity. He was a giver and not a taker. He decided that rather than receive the money for his personal use, he wanted the offering to establish a fund that would purchase property and buildings for the future generations of people who would call the ICCEC home.  

 

What happens to the offering? It is collected in each country and is given to the Patriarch, who delegates the spending of the funds to the Primates. This money is then divided into three. 1/3 is given as a one-time gift to a congregation to purchase or build a church. 1/3 is loaned to a congregation at a very low-interest rate for the purchase of building of a church. 1/3 is put into an investment account where the interest can be used for the purchase or construction of a church.

 

The author, Ken Follett, wrote a novel, which later became a mini-series, called “Pillars of the Earth.” It is the fictional story about the building of a Cathedral in 12th century England. It becomes clear that the beginning of a Cathedral is small and will take decades, if not centuries to complete. The largest Cathedral in America, St. John the Divine, is still under construction. The idea of a Cathedral for New York was first conceived in 1828, and it wasn’t until 59 years later, 1887, that the cornerstone was laid. The first service was held in the crypt in 1892. 

 

The same can be said of St Patrick’s Cathedral (the people’s Cathedral) on Fifth Ave in NYC, now a landmark in NY and a center for the spiritual life of the City of NY. Abp John Hughes had a vision of a Cathedral for the glory of God. With offerings taken from the poor immigrants and 103 larger donors ($1,000 each), he began the work. He obtained property in what was then the wilderness of NY. People called it “Hughes Folly” But the lack of manpower, the civil war, and lack funds did not stop the dream.  

 

These stories can be told about every Cathedral and most local congregations. The Church I served for 32 years, began in the dream of the Bishop of Long Island to have a local congregation for every town and village. In 1936, work began. The congregation has gone through many changes, including becoming part of the ICCEC. And, like the great Cathedrals, it is still a living organism ministering not only to present members but a next generation. Some in the congregation are the fourth generation.

 

The Charismatic Episcopal Church was placed into the heart of Archbishop Adler. He always reminded the early bishops and clergy that the vision was a 500-year plan.  He once said, “All I can do is be faithful on my watch.” That is true for each of us. Are we faithful in what God has given us? Are we planting seeds for a 500-year plan? Are we opening our eyes to see beyond what our eyes can see?

 

This is what Foundation Day is all about. It is our participation in God’s incredible plan of a 3-streams community proclaiming the Gospel. Please take part. Under His mercy …

 

We are here for the long haul and not short term relationship or affiliation.  We are here for a life-long commitment.   This is the character of God.  He will be with us to the end.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris took 900 years to build.  They started with peasant members.  They bought a small property and they built a chapel.  Through the centuries, they were able to buy the adjacent properties beside the chapel.  They may have gone through many wars and they might have suffered damaged. It took them 900 years and this is not to say that the kingdom of God is slow, but the kingdom of God is sure.   We look beyond our own needs. Honestly, I thought that we should have just come up with a smaller design for our Church to build that would only cost us the money that we have.   However, this is playing safe, and without faith and thinking of ourselves. 

 

The status quo will not be forever.  The seed will grow.  We will be more, and in fact, I will not be offended if the next generation sells this property and build something bigger.   The kingdom of God is not just us.  There is a future for this.  We are here for the long haul.  When you give next Sunday, think not of this building or of this congregation.  Think of our children and our children’s children – a five hundred year plan. 

 

God’s character is that once He makes a commitment, He fulfills it.   We should have this character, and we are not here for the short-term, but for the long term.  God is Alpha and Omega. Once you start, stay and be faithful.  We were created in this likeness.  I can tell you this because God said it:   we will see you at the finish line because at the finish line, we will see the glory of God.  Run the race.  Be faithful.   Cast the seeds; sow faithfully; wait patiently; and rest confidently.  God causes the growth and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.

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