We Transform (Message for September 21st)

Scripture:   Matthew 13:31-35; 44-45

For the past two or three months, Connor’s biggest obsession has been a cartoon called Rescue Bots.   This is a Transformers cartoon that is specifically made for the pre-school age group. Transformers and Rescue Bots is all about these robots that can transform from their robot form into vehicles.  The creators of this show are mad geniuses, because they made a show that seems to connect right with the pre-school mind, because my little guy cannot get enough of it.  Plus the show is essentially non-violent and focuses on themes like friendship, duty, putting others first, and sacrifice-so as a parent I cannot have any qualms about letting him watch it.    The mad genius part comes in the fact that there is a complete toy line that exist for the show, so you can guess what we are constantly being asked to buy.  For the past several months we have been watching a lot of rescue bots, and now all of his toys from his trains to his cars to his construction equipment are all now rescue bots.   It is fun to watch his imagination go wild as he takes a garbage truck toy, makes the transformers transformation sound, which he has perfected, and now pretends that this truck toy is a walking robot.   For the past several weeks we have been going through the “We Are” series.   We have been focused on our church mission statement, what it means, and how we can live it out.   Our mission statement is “making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our world”    Over the past couple of weeks we have focused on the ways that we do that.  We love.  We grow, and today our focus is on we transform.    We may not change into sports cars or helicopters, but like my son’s rescue bots we are transformers.   We transform should be part of who we are.  

            Our mission statement, and the mission statement of the whole United Methodist Church is the transformation of our world.   The transformation of our world, think about that.  Think of the task, of what that even means.   When confronted with the concept I think there are three possible reactions we can have.  The first is to scoff.   The transformation of the world, who are we to do something so big.  To even think we can attempt such a feat is the height of pride.    The second is to despair.   Do you know how messed up the world is?  Do you know how much evil, brokenness, and sorrow is in the world?   To transform it is an impossible task, all of our efforts are a small drop in too large of a bucket.   The third possible action one can have is excitement.    The problems may be big, the task may be impossible, but we know that with God all things are possible and if God is for us who can be against us?    We cannot change the world on our own, but our God most certainly can.   The amazing thing, the reason for excitement is that not only are we invited to join in God’s mission, but God uses us as the primary agents for transformation.    As we consider what it means to transform, we first need to ask ourselves the question how do we respond to the idea:   Do we put up our nose, throw up our hands, or roll up our sleeves?  

            The second thing we need to ask ourselves is what exactly are we supposed to transform the world into?    We transform sounds great, the phrase “for the transformation of the world” looks great on motivational posters, but it does not answer the question.  If we want the world to change, what do we want it to change into?    This morning’s scripture helps us with that answer.   In this morning’s scripture we have four small parables that all start “the kingdom of heaven is like . ..”   The kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God is what we want to see the world transform into.   By better understanding this morning’s scripture we can better understand what it means to transform the world and how we must transform first.  

            The kingdom of heaven or Kingdom of God was of crucial importance to Jesus.   In fact it may have been his primary message, Mark 1:15 reports that this was the good news that Jesus proclaimed: “ The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.”    It is easy to think that the kingdom of heaven is a reference to what lies beyond this earthly realm, but it is more than that.  The kingdom of heaven is here and now.  It is a present reality, we experience the kingdom of heaven whenever sins our forgiven, when true forgiveness happens, and when love wins.   When there is true transformation that bring about a deeper understanding of God, then we experience the kingdom of Heaven.   Yet, the kingdom of heaven is not yet.  The kingdom of heaven is also a deeper reality, it is a future where the glimpses of God’s perfection we get in this world our fully realized.  As Revelation 21:3-4 points out God’s kingdom is a place where, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”    The Kingdom of Heaven is both here and now but not yet.  The kingdom of heaven is God’s grace and love present in our world, but it is also not yet fully realized.   Now we know in part God’s love, but there will be a day when we know it fully.  In his letter to the Corinthians Paul puts it like this, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”  

            Jesus’ parables explain how the kingdom of heaven is both here and not yet.   The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.   It starts small, but it will blossom into the largest of trees.  In the same way the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that works its way through dough and spreads.  The kingdom of heaven spreads and grows.  The reality of God’s love is present but it is not yet all that it will be.   It started with an invasion, when Jesus entered enemy territory to reclaim a lost creation, and there will be a day when the kingdom of heaven will be fully realized, when sin and darkness will be defeated for all eternity.   There will be a day when Christ‘s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.   But that day is not today (or maybe it is, the day is still young).   The point is, until that day comes, the kingdom of heaven will continue to spread, continue to grow.   This means that the love of God, the forgiveness of God made known through Christ will continue to spread to impact hearts and make a difference in the world.   For the kingdom of heaven to grow like the mustard seed, the world must be transformed.   This is what our mission is, this is the transformation of the world we seek.   We seek to join God in God’s great plan to ultimately redeem all of creation and reunite it all with His perfect love.    

            Hopefully that answers the questions of what and why, but that still leads the how.   If we transform is part of who we are, how do we do that?    Again, I think this morning’s scripture can help point us in the right direction.   The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field or like a merchant looking for fine pearls.   In both of these short parables a person sales everything they have to acquire what they have found.   The analogy being made here is that we should be willing to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  Another way to say it is God’s love should be the most important and valued thing in our lives.   I especially like the first parable in verse 44, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”    The man was joyful when he got rid of everything he had.   The treasure that he found was great, that he was giddy to acquire it no matter how high the cost was.    This two sentence parable calls into question for us, how much is the treasure of God’s love for us?   If it came down to it how much would we be able to joyfully give up for the great treasure of God’s love.    Would you be willing to give up your stuff?   What about your financial security?  Your hobbies?  Your job?   Your reputation?   Are you willing to give it all up, and give up joyfully for the sake of God’s love?   If our mission is to transform the world to a place where God’s love is what reigns, then we must first transform our life into a place where God’s love reigns.   

            This transformation is not instantaneous, it is a process.   Just like the kingdom of heaven is here and now but not yet, our faith is the same way.  We have been called by God’s love, we have been saved by God’s love, but we are still being transformed by God’s love.   We are still becoming more Christ like in our daily interactions-in our thoughts, our words, and our actions.   We must be committed to this.    Being more Christ-like is not something we accidently stumble into, no one spent a whole day living selflessly by accident!   We have to be conscious of actions, we have to pray regularly that we daily be transformed by God’s love, and we have to stay in love with God and remember the great joy that love brings us.    If we commit to that as individual believers we will transform.  Slowly but surely we will become more Christ like.    If we all do that as individuals, we will be transformed as a church.   The church will be transformed to be more than a building.  It will even be more than a faith family.   We can be transformed to be the very body of Christ, carrying out his mission and his love into the world.   This is how we ultimately fulfill our mission.   There is a progression we follow.  We love.   We love God, we share that love with each other, and that love then spills out and we love others.   We Grow.    Inspired by God’s love we seek it with great joy, we grow in our understanding of love and as that love of God grows, we invite so that we grow both deep and wide.   Finally, once we love and once we grow we are in a place where we transform.   Where the love of God is manifest in the world through us.   Where we join God in God’s mission to redeem the world.    We are in a place where we can be used by God to help transform our broken, fallen world into the kingdom of heaven.  

            There are churches doing this, and one example is Fort McKinley United Methodist Church in Dayton Ohio.    This church found itself in a neighborhood that had gone through a period of urban transition.  It was out of touch with the local community and had dwindled down to a church of about 40.   Watch and see what they decided to do:   

            Fort McKinley UMC claimed 15 blocks to transform.  That was doable.  The town of Edinburgh is only 3 square miles.  That is doable.   What Fort McKinley church did worked for them not because of the specific programs they did, but because they did something.   As a church they made a decision to love their neighbors.  This video does not show it, but I imagine this decision caused some friction, some personal growth and stretching as they stepped out into the unknown.   They grew deeper and then they began to grow wider.   They began to transform their fifteen blocks, it all started because they did something.   It only takes a spark to get a fire going.   Real transformation can begin with one action, but it requires action.    Transformation is not a passive process.  It is not something that others can do for us.   Transformation requires action, it requires energy.  

            What worked for Fort McKinley UMC may not necessarily work for Edinburgh UMC, but something we will-and we need to find it.   We as a church family need to pray, and pray fervently, about how we as a church can fulfill our mission to make and nurture disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.    May we not be complacent in fulfilling our mission, but like the man who found the treasure in the parable, may we be willing to give everything up joyfully for it.   May we take the actions give the effort that such an important task as sharing God’s love requires.    By the grace of God, may our mission define who we are.   We love.  We grow.  We transform.   We are Edinburgh UMC.   Let’s go get to work and prove it.