"Seeking the Kingdom"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 11/18/2018
Matthew 6:25-33
“Seeking the Kingdom of God”
November 18, 2018
            In a 1924 speech at Haverford College, Rufus Jones described the spiritual struggles of George Fox, one of the early Quakers.  He said,
“A man is what he is.  Asking him to say something, to think something, to perform some act will furnish him with no balm for his soul.    He must find a new source of life, a new dynamic, a new spring of power, a new inward resource.  He must undergo a new creation and become a new person.  He must come into new relation with God and into new fellowship with men.  This process, this power, this creation, this relationship, this life, is Christianity.”[1]
Those are stirring words, and true.  Jesus said,
“You must be born again,” [John 3:7]
or, as it’s also possible to translate that,
“You must be born from above,”
and in the book of Revelation [21:5], the prophet John hears him say,
“See, I am making all things new.”
The thing about birth, though, is that it involves letting go of something as well.  There is loss attached to renewal of any sort, and the fear or regret that may be part of that moment can overwhelm the promise.
            Jesus saw that time and time again in his interactions with all sorts of people.
“A scribe then approached and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” [Matthew 8:19-22]
The call to become a disciple holds both the promise and the cost there for anyone.  It differs from person to person and place to place, but Jesus never hid that there was one life to be left and another to be gained, and that it all goes together.
            Since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving this week, I’ll use the pilgrims as an example.  We often think of them as people who bravely left England for the New World seeking freedom of worship somewhere that they would not have the coercion of conscience that was a constant part of their lives.  Before they sailed west, though, they tried living in the Netherlands and there were some of their number who saw the adjustments that involved as already being too much.  In his History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford recalled those days.
“Being thus constrained to leave their native soyle and countrie, their lands & livings, and all their freinds & famillier acquaintance, it was much, and thought marvelous by many. But to goe into a countrie they knew not (but by hearsay), wher they must [16]learne a new language, and get their livings they knew not how, it being a dear place, & subjecte to ye misseries of warr, it was by many thought an adventure almost desperate, a case intolerable, & a misserie worse then death. Espetially seeing they were not aquainted with trads nor traffique, (by which yt countrie doth subsiste,) but had only been used to a plaine countrie life, & ye inocente trade of husbandrey. But these things did not dismay them (though they did some times trouble them) for their desires were sett on ye ways of God, & to injoye his ordinances; but they rested on his providence, & knew whom they had beleeved.”[2]
It only became harder and harder, but they kept on going.  By that I mean physically going, from Holland back to England and from there to North America, and persevering through the times of freezing and disease and famine. 
           Bradford makes a point, writing in the 1640’s, that some of those people were still very much around.
“I cannot but here take occasion, not only to mention, but greatly to admire ye marvelous providence of God, that notwithstanding ye many changes and hardships that these people wente throwgh, and ye many enemies they had and difficulties they mette with all, that so many of them should live to very olde age! It was not only this reved mans condition, (for one swallow maks no summer, as they say,) but many more of them did ye like, some dying aboute and before this time, and many still living, who attained to 60. years of age, and to 65. diverse to 70. and above, and some nere 80.”[3]
Imagine that!  We forget so easily what others faced not long ago.  Living to sixty was an achievement, and many did not make it. 
           What helped them, and made them different from many of the early colonies, was a series of supply ships from England and the help of the people living on Cape Cod when they landed.  That did not take away from their sense that God was behind the timing of the help.  When they needed it, it arrived.  That didn’t happen in, say, Roanoke Island.  For these people, what Jesus said about simply trusting God for food and clothing was not a way of speaking, but a way of life. 
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” [Matthew 6:31-33]
           When I look at other examples of discipleship that God has blessed, that pattern keeps coming up.  People set out on the path of faith and service, and when they meet obstacles along the way (which always happens) they also discover that what they need to overcome is provided at the same time, or shortly thereafter, and that begins with the very basics of food and shelter beyond which all the rest is gravy.  And turkey. And cranberry sauce.  And pie.
           But if you want peace, you have to let go of aggression.
           If you want forgiveness, you have to let go of resentment.
           If you want friendship, you cannot be all about yourself.
           If you want joy, you have to look up from your grief.
           If you want hope, you cannot act from your fear.
           If you want to live by faith, you have to trust the Lord.

[1] Rufus Jones, The Life and Message of George Fox, 1624-1924 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1924), 19.
[2] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation I.2. (year 1608) at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24950/24950-h/24950-h.htm#Of_Plimoth_Plantation
[3] Ibid., 494.
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