I love weddings! There is something very special, meaningful, and amazing that surrounds the joy, exuberance, and excitement involved in all of the festivities of the day. Throughout my life I have been invited to many weddings, been a part of several, and have even officiated a few as well. It is so fun to get to see the love and commitment that this young couple displays as they promise to love each other with a love that is way beyond their own personal capacity…even if it might not feel or look like it in that moment. But even beyond, the happiness of the ceremony and seeing friends and family, one of the best parts of the wedding is the afterparty…the reception! While I completely understand and respect all that happens to get up to this point, the reception takes the cake…literally. The food, the punch, the candy bar...bring it on!
Do you know who is another fan of wedding parties? God! All throughout Scripture, He uses imagery of banquets, feasts, parties, and weddings to communicate the immense generosity and communal joy that will surround the family of God when we are home in heaven. We read images like in Isaiah 25: On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. Or in Isaiah 55: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost...” Even Jesus’ first miracle that kicked off His Earthly ministry was at a wedding reception! What can we say? God sure loves to throw a good party!
It is with this reality in mind that we come to another Kingdom Parable describing the Kingdom of God like a wedding banquet. We will see, hear, and experience again how each of us is personally invited by God to receive His good gifts to us. He is so excited to have us come and join this celebration! Who would want to miss out on this? And yet, the sad and unfortunate reality is that some do. There are many reasons and excuses that people might give for not coming to the party or even returning their RSVP. For some, they are too busy, others are simply not interested. But the invitation still stands, the offer is still on the table. Come to the party and be received gladly and with open arms. We are asked to bring nothing but ourselves and allow our hearts, minds, and souls to overflow and be transformed as a result of this life-changing banquet.
So, what have you done with your invite to this wedding feast? Is it on the table hidden in the pile of mail? Is it in the garbage? Or is it signed, sealed, and returned? Either way, the invitation to come and enjoy remains the same.
Looking forward to the party of all parties,
The Kingdom of God is Like...A Net
One of the many blessings that I received from growing up in the family that I did was having a love and appreciation for the outdoors passed along to me. One of the ways that this enjoyment played itself out was in several fishing trips that my family would take each summer. These trips were usually tied in with a camping trip so we would pack and load up our van and pull our boat behind us to various campsites in northern Minnesota. It is funny to think about all 7 of us crowded into this tiny fishing boat with a 35-horse motor. I have so many fond memories of adventures in that rusty trusty vessel. Whether it was running out of gas and having to use the trolling motor to get back, racing back to shore to beat a rainstorm, reeling in my first walleye, getting to drive it for the first time, or feeling the wind in my hair as we “sped” across the lake, these images and feelings are the kind that will stay with me forever.
When it comes to the sport of fishing, the principles of how it is done and accomplished have not changed very much since it was first invented as a means to get food or for recreation. The idea of a hook, line, and sinker have been with us for generations and while the materials may be different, the essential design and intent remains the same. It would be safe to say that the process for catching a fish has stayed relatively consistent throughout history.
The same cannot necessarily be said for how fast things like culture and society changes. As I write this, I am sitting up in Fergus Falls at the J-Term that Lutheran Brethren Seminary offers each year. It is a great time to get to see friends and colleagues and get some great teaching from the various speakers that are here to share and impart their knowledge and wisdom on a variety of topics related to ministry. One of the keynote speakers today shared with us about the realities of the ever-changing culture that we are living in and how fast things are moving as the years go by. This is not to say that people are so much different, but the ways that we think about the world around us have been reshaped in many ways. Our worldview in 2020 looks quite different than it did even 50 years ago. Now, this is also not to say that change is a bad thing or that these cultural shifts have all been negative. Rather, this speaker spent his time focusing on the reality of these trends and cultural shifts and offered insight on practical ministry applications that naturally spring up as a result of these changes. The opportunity for sharing and spreading the Gospel is still there and still needed even in a fluid culture. The implications for sharing and living out our faith as followers of Christ still remain as important and valuable as ever.
As we look at this week at the Parable of the Net in Matthew 13, I am struck by an encouraging truth from these two examples of fishing and culture. It should be a blessing to know that even though the elements of fishing have changed and even though our worldviews as humanity have shifted throughout the generations, the Gospel has not. It has stayed true and consistent and our inviting God has never wavered or halted in His pursuit of us to be His children. How amazing is that?! Throughout all of history, one essential constant has been at the forefront of all that is right and true for eternity. The God of the Universe continues to cast out His wide net into all of the world, to reach people with His love, to reveal to them their need for His grace, and to invite them into His family. Let us be encouraged again at this extraordinary and extravagant grace that pursues, invites, claims, restores, and redeems us as sinful human beings. Let us rejoice that God’s love for us and His Word to us are constant, consistent, and sure. We can trust Him and His promises to us as we move from one day, one year, one decade, one generation to the next. Now, that’s quite the catch!
Have you ever experienced going to a double feature? I’m not sure they even exist anymore, and they almost seem too good to be true, but moviegoers everywhere would have to appreciate their fortune when they went to a double feature. The phenomenon known as the “double feature” occurred when the movie theater director showed two films for the price of one. Imagine the cost of paying for your family to go see a movie today. Include the popcorn, candy, and drinks and you are talking about quite the evening out. Now imagine that your movie ticket was really for two! Pretty sweet! Now, some of you don’t make a habit of going to the theater. I maybe go to one per year. Others of you wouldn’t want to spend nearly 5 hours sitting and watching movies either. But I know some of you absolutely love this idea! Maybe you will start a petition to bring back the double feature. Let me know how that goes.
This week, as we continue our series looking at some of the parables that Jesus tells about the Kingdom of God, we come to a double feature. Jesus gives us two parables for the price of one and both are related to each other. Both uniquely describe the presence and growth of the Kingdom of God in our world today. Remember, for many people then and now, God’s Kingdom was something that was coming in the future. But once Jesus came to live among us, that changed everything. Now, God’s Kingdom was here. It was unleashed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Like the rest of His parables, Jesus tells us these Kingdom Parables for two main reasons. The first is to check the status of our eyes, ears, and hearts. Are we truly seeing things as He is revealing them to us? Are we truly hearing the message that He is giving? Are our hearts in tune with His will and His ways? Because the other reality is that for most people, we have an idea of what God’s Kingdom is and what it should look like. We can drum up a lot of ideas of how it should operate and our visions of it are usually impressive and big-time. But Jesus’ parables give us almost the opposite picture…at least initially. He uses the examples of a mustard seed and a little yeast to showcase this point. Now, by themselves, both of these things are not very impressive. They are not big-time. They are hardly noticeable or powerful by their sheer size, but they bring about some pretty remarkable realities as they grow and spread. Though God’s Kingdom is quite impressive, its impressionable nature is mostly hidden from the eyes of the world. God’s Kingdom is big, but its size is concealed in that which might seem to be small and insignificant. But the mustard seed and yeast, though small, hold great power and influence. Size doesn’t tell the whole story.
In his recent biography simply titled Grant, Ron Chernow tells the story of Ulysses S Grant's rise from store clerk to Civil War hero and beyond. By the fall of 1863, Grant had overseen successful campaigns in Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Suddenly, national leaders and politicians who just months before would have hardly recognized his name now sought to rub shoulders with the Union's hope of victory. In October of that year, on his way to a meeting in Louisville, Grant was approached by Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and Ohio Governor, John Brough. While Grant and Stanton had communicated via telegraph, they had never set eyes on each other. Short of breath, asthmatic, snuffling with a heavy cold, the short, stout Stanton barged into Grant's car, eyed the officers present, and then began to pump the hand of a bearded man with an army hat whom he assumed was Grant. “How do you do General Grant?” he cried. “I recognize you from your pictures.” Stanton was embarrassed to learn he was shaking hands with Grant's medical director, Dr. Edward Kittoe. Chernow explained: “Stanton later admitted that in guessing which officer was Grant, he had eliminated the real Grant because he looked much too ordinary and wasn't the prepossessing figure he had imagined.”
It is much the same way that the Kingdom of God operates. Its presence might be hard to notice, it’s growth might not seem progressive, it’s size and influence might seem unimpressive, but what does Jesus promise? His promise is that God’s Kingdom grows…that it is growing…and it will grow into something that will be impossible not to notice. He promises that it will permeate throughout the whole world in a way that cannot be denied or brushed aside. How reassuring it is to know that this is true even when life gets discouraging or when challenging times befall God’s people! How humbling it is to be a part of one of the agents that God uses to build and grow His Kingdom: His Church.
Again, let our prayer be that we are given eyes to see and ears to hear the ways that God is growing and building His Kingdom here and now. And may we rejoice that His Word holds the power to make the seed grow and to make the bread multiply so that many are fed.
This week, we get the very special opportunity to hear from a good friend of mine named Jason Rogness. Jason serves as the pastor at New Hope Church, which is a Lutheran Brethren church plant in Parker, CO and will be our keynote speaker for our Overflowing Hope Missions Sunday. Jason, his wife Savannah, and their new daughter Eva have been living out in Colorado the past several years and just recently felt the Lord calling them to begin a church in Parker. They are a couple years into this process and will be sharing with us about some of the exciting ways that the Lord is on the move and how we can partner in prayer with them and encouragement for them as they continue to reach lives with the hope of Jesus.
Along with hearing from Jason we will also get to take a moment to celebrate, see, hear, and be encouraged by how God is moving in the hearts and lives of our own congregation as we partner in mission with Him to reach others with the love of Christ both here in Minnesota and around the world. At the beginning of 2019, we committed to partner in ministry with two specific local organizations as well as provide four quarterly financial gifts to projects, groups, and organizations that carried forward the spread of the Gospel. Let me fill you in on some examples of what those partnerships looked like this year:
Feed My Starving Children
This year, we committed as a congregation to pack enough meals to feed approximately 208 kids around the world who had trouble finding enough to eat. Thanks to your generous support with your time and financial gifts, we exceeded our yearly goal at 113%. These meals went to feed children from over 13 different countries.
Hospitality Center for Chinese
This year, we helped provide food and personnel for two Friendship Meals at the HCC site where individuals from Oak Hill spent an evening serving Chinese students and their families while engaging in dialogue and conversation with them about life and the Gospel. We also hosted a movie night here at Oak Hill this past summer where we invited around 40 Chinese students and their families for a showing of Mary Poppins.
Overflowing Hope Allocations
All of these partnerships and projects could not occur without the hope of the Good News and your generosity. So many of you donated time, resources, and finances to help make these things happen. Whether it was donating food for a Friendship Meal, packing meals at FMSC, or writing a check for Overflowing Hope, all of it was used to bring glory to God and make His name known so we humbly say, “Thank You!”
As we enter this brand-new year of 2020, we are excited to see how God will continue to grow and strengthen these partnerships and also provide new ways for us to give of what we have to build His Kingdom. There will be a special opportunity this Sunday to give toward the support of Overflowing Hope here at Oak Hill. As you have seen, all of these funds will go directly to support these quarterly gifts and projects that are above and beyond our budgeted dollars to partner in the spreading of the Gospel both locally and globally. Thank you in advance for the many ways that your pray for and support God’s Kingdom work here at Oak Hill and around the world.
Perhaps you have asked yourself this question before or perhaps it has been asked to you: “I wonder what heaven is like?” This can be a common inquiry and there are only a few references in Scripture that give us a small glimpse of the majesty, magnitude, and magnificence that will be the future home for all believers in Jesus Christ. But even more intriguing than what it will physically look like is the reality of how it operates. How does one gain access to this kingdom? What does living in God’s Kingdom look like? Can we experience this right now? What is it like?
It is out of some of these questions that we enter into a new 8-week series entitled: The Kingdom of God is Like… What will follow will be a short study of 8 of the Kingdom Parables that Jesus told during His ministry here on Earth. Each one offers a key, a glimpse, and secret sneak peek into what life in this Kingdom will be like. Jesus’ intent with these Kingdom Parables is to give His followers a look and an understanding of His Kingdom that is right here and right now as well as what it will be.
Jesus uses a unique method for delivering this information; He speaks in parables. Parables are more than stories and they are more than illustrations, images, analogies, or metaphors. They are like catching a glimpse of another world where you get to see things as they are in a unique, practical, and relatable way. Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables to reveal the secrets of God’s Kingdom, but only some could understand what He was truly talking about and meaning. For many people, their unresponsiveness to Jesus and their rejection of His teaching made it impossible for them to hear the true message, but to the ones who sought to see and hear Jesus for who He is, the treasure trove of these parables changed their lives.
The reality of these parables is not that God will establish His Kingdom, which He definitely will, but that it has already arrived in a form that is different than what was anticipated or expected. Jesus came to usher in a new reality about Himself that looked backwards or upside-down to popular culture, society, and understanding. But it was these differences that make all the difference for you and me.
Our first parable we are going to look at this week will help set the stage for this: The Parable of the Sower. In this familiar story of a farmer planting seeds, we see the different levels of responsiveness and receptivity to the seeds, which are the Word of God. In each case, the seed is allowed to be spread, shared, and begin to grow, but each heart and ear that receives this seed does not accept it or welcome it to grow. But the encouraging news for us is that this does not stop the sower from scattering seed and this does not diminish the growth of the seed that does land in good soil. As we enter into this series, may each of us be eager to have eyes to see what God is doing and how He is at work and may we be given the ears to hear, listen, and receive this message from Him as the gift that it is to us.
Pastor Ben Bigaouette