Third Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Ezekiel 17. 22-24; Psalm 92. 1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5. 6-10, 14-17; Mark 4. 26-34 (view all)
Some of you may well know that earlier in the year I turned thirty. Lots of people, including my younger brother and sister, were jokingly asking me whether I feel old now. But to be honest, it didn’t feel like that big a step at all.
However, a few years ago when I was just on the cusp of turning twenty-five, I did have a period where I felt quite anxious about growing old. I had a sort-of ‘quarter-life crisis’ if you like. And when I reflected on where this anxiety had come from, I realised that a lot of it came from my motivation for ministry.
I’d been involved in church ministry ever since I left home, and been really active in the church all through my teenage years, and had gotten really used to people saying about me: ‘He’s so young to be doing everything he’s doing.’ So when I hit my mid-twenties I suddenly realised that a time would come when people wouldn’t be able to say that any more. I had enjoyed being considered ‘special’ because of my youth, and now if I’m honest was worried about just being seen as ‘ordinary’.
But of course, my motivation was all wrong. I’d begun to be motivated by my own desire for affirmation from others, rather than by a desire to service God and others.
In this morning’s epistle, Paul talks about motivation. He tells us, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’. What does this mean? How can we live motivated by Jesus’ love, and how might that impact the way we view others?
Paul is clear to the Corinthian Christians that only Jesus’ gospel of love can drive us on in faith no matter what:
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
The only motivation that can keep us going against all the odds, and through any and all obstacles, is God’s love placed in us by the Spirit of Christ. Any other motivation simply isn’t enough, whether it’s personal ambition, or even the seemingly well-placed motivation of wanting our church to thrive and do well. Even our own love for others isn’t enough – it will run out eventually when we reach the end of our patience.
It is only in dying to ourselves, our own ambitions, our own desires — however well placed they may be — that we can live no longer for ourselves alone, but in the power of Christ’s resurrection, enabled by the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Resurrection. And it is this power alone, as Jesus makes clear in our gospel reading, which has the ability to bring real growth in his kingdom, and to bear fruit that will last.
Both of the two parables in our gospel passage make this clear. In the first, the scattered seed sprouts and grows on its own, even though the sower can’t understand how. And in the second, the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, grows through the power of faith into the greatest of trees just like Ezekiel’s sprig which grows into a mighty cedar in our Old Testament reading.
Both parables are very clear: we can sow the seed, we can till the soil, we can apply all the best knowledge and learning we can — but God alone brings the growth.
And when we understand that God is in control, and we’re motivated by his love for his world, we start to see those around us differently. We see the people around us, not from a human point of view, but from God’s point of view as potential first fruits of his new creation, which is both to come, and is breaking into the present.
When we do this, rather than seeing others only as valuable for the function they can play in our story, for the contribution they can make to help us, instead we see both them and us as playing a smaller part in a much bigger story. The story of God.
So I wonder: Will we re-commit ourselves once again to make Christ’s love our central motivation in life? Will we choose to see those around us through God’s love, building a deep desire to love and serve them, enabling them to grow?
How can we as a Church avoid trying to engineer growth ourselves, instead prayerfully and sacrificially asking the Spirit of God to bring growth for his glory alone?
An American author, Dave Burchett, has written a book with an intriguing title: When Bad Christians happen to Good People, in which he is very honest about how difficult the Christian life is. In it, he writes this about the way we view others:
I am praying that God will help me see every person as having value in God’s eyes. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I need to remember that Christ died for that person. When people irritate me or are rude, I try to think that they were created in the image of God and they just need a little image makeover at this moment. When I engage in people-watching, I try to breathe prayer for them instead of critiquing their clothing. I do not always pull this off, but meditating on grace has begun to change how I view people.
Dave Burchett, When Bad Christians happen to Good People, p. 182
God is establishing his kingdom in our world, through the resurrection of Christ, bringing the first fruits of the new creation. May we, driven by his great love for the world, devote ourselves to love and serve our neighbours for the good of his kingdom.
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.