When I was a kid, we used to get Highlights magazine every month. Does anyone else remember these magazines? They were magazines just for kids. They would have some simple stories, and they had puzzles and games for kids to do. Each month my favorite puzzle was the hidden pictures puzzle.
An adult version of the hidden pictures puzzle is like this picture. At first glance it looks like a picture of a lake coast somewhere, but what do you notice hidden in the picture? Woman and her child.
Today we are talking about how in the kingdom of God values things differently than the culture around us. What’s important, and how God is at work is hidden for those who are not immersed in the Kingdom of God. People may be looking at the exact same event, and see two completely different things.
All of the Scriptures read this morning had elements of that hidden nature of God’s kingdom. Of the different perspective kingdom living brings us. Did you notice that?
In the reading from Samuel, the prophet Samuel is in mourning because God has removed his Spirit from king Saul for his disobedience to God’s directive that Saul destroy all the animals of the Amalekites in battle.
“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7–8
God tells Samuel, get up and go to Bethlehem to Jesse’s family to anoint the next king. When Samuel gets there, Jesse introduces all his sons to Samuel. As he meets the oldest son, Eliab, Samuel thinks, “This guy must be the next king! Look how tall and handsome he is!” God says to Samuel: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Finally, Samuel is brought Jesse’s youngest son, David, who is a shepherd out in the fields with Jesse’s flocks. God tells Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
We all tend to judge people by their appearances don’t we? We all use specific criteria to assess whether or not we think people are successful. If we think amassing huge wealth is important then we might think that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon is the most successful person we know of. Or if we think physical strength or athletic prowess is the most important criteria for success you might think Usain Bolt, one of the fastest runners in the world is the most successful athlete. Or if we think public influence is important, we might judge Oprah Winfrey as being the most successful person we can name.
God reminds Samuel, his prophet and us, his people, that none of these qualities are what make a person successful in God’s kingdom. God is looking for people whose hearts are inclined toward him… these are the hidden heroes of God’s kingdom.
In the Psalm, we read: Some trust in chariots and horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
Military power has been something people through out the ages have depended on for their protection. But the psalmist reminds us that whether chariots or F-35 fighter jets are the latest military advancement, a nation’s security does not rest in those things, but rather, it rests in the hidden power of the Lord our God who allows nations to rise and fall at his pleasure for his purposes. Our trust, our hope is not to be in our military strength, rather it is to be in God Himself at work in the world.
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul almost quotes part of the passage in Samuel when he says: For we live by faith, not by sight. And later says: you can answer all those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.
Paul is reminding his readers that the kingdom of God living is not shaped by the same values the world holds important. It is shaped by a faith that believes that in spite of the difficulties and troubles of this life, God is at work and that the hidden end of the story is that his kingdom rule will extend forever, and we will be judged by whether our lives are caught up in that story now or not.
Finally, in the Gospel reading, the kingdom of God is compared to a seed that gets hidden in the ground, and through nothing the farmer does, produces a crop to be harvested. Or the kingdom of God is compared to a tiny mustard seed, that gets planted, and produces a huge plant which is a blessing for all the birds.
There is mystery here. There is power in these seeds to produce new life: plants to be harvested, a sanctuary for other animals. Power that we as humans do not control.
All of these Scriptures point to the truth that the Kingdom of God advances not in ways we would expect. Like Samuel, we do not judge on what is seen because the kingdom of God has come—hidden, yet powerfully at work to bring life to us, to those around us, and to his world.
Have you noticed this is true before? That the power of God is released in unexpected, surprising places? This was most clear to me on the afternoon we needed to drop our oldest son, Mike, off at a year long, in patient drug rehab program called Teen Challenge. We drove to the worst part of Syracuse, and there in a run down, crummy building we dropped off our beloved son, hoping for a miracle in his life. Hoping he would find freedom. Before we left, after we had checked Mike in, I turned to Ed and said, why does salvation/redemption always look so ugly?
And yet it does. You look at the ugly, brutal, torture Jesus endured, a criminal’s death on a cross, and no one in their right mind would ever guess that in this man’s horrible death, the future of humans is rescued and changed forever. And yet it’s true. The power of the Kingdom of God comes in ways that are hidden, unexpected, mysterious.
We cannot trust our senses to tell us what is really important. We cannot trust our culture’s priorities to guide us.
So how do we live? How do we begin to “see” better where the kingdom of God is active?
We live with faith, hope and love.
You look at the ugly, brutal, torture Jesus endured, a criminal’s death on a cross, and no one in their right mind would ever guess that in this man’s horrible death, the future of humans is rescued and changed forever.
We live with faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
As Paul is talking with the Corinthians about living by faith and not by sight, he says: “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are home in the body we are away from the Lord.” Paul suffered for his faith in Jesus Christ, he eventually died for that faith… yet he remained confident. He is so sure that Jesus is ruling in heaven, that this earth’s sufferings do not shake his faith.
What would it look like this week, if we lived by faith? What perspective would that bring to your life, that would help you endure suffering, or pain, or disappointment now? Living by faith, is living with the confidence that what we are experiencing now is not the end of the story, there is a hidden kingdom of God coming in power, and we are part of that story.
Kingdom living means that we live with faith and with hope. The Psalm we read this morning said: “Now, this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.”
Despite what our life circumstances look like now, we have hope because we know God has already provided for our needs.
Are you familiar with CS Lewis’ book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? In that story there is white witch who causes the land of Narnia to always experience winter but never Christmas. (About March this year, I was beginning to worry about this as we got more snow!) Four children from our world walk through a magic wardrobe to the land of Narnia, and one of them, Edmund meets the white witch, and starts participating with her as she seeks to destroy Aslan, a huge lion who is the Christ figure in the book, and who has come to defeat the white witch.
Just as the witch is about to kill Edmund, he is rescued by Aslan’s army; and he and Aslan go for a long walk and talk. The witch comes again to claim her victim, Edmund:
“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he'd been through and after the talk he'd had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn't seem to matter what the Witch said.
That is what living with hope looks like: it means we don’t listen to the voice that condemns us. We don’t listen to the accusations about us, even if they are all true. We don’t allow our behavior in the past to shape our future. We look at Jesus, trusting that what he says about us is true: we are forgiven, we are loved, we are victors. We live in the hope, that Jesus’s Spirit is at work within us transforming us to look more and more like him.
Part of kingdom living is living by faith, by hope and it is also living with love.
If this life is all there is, then perhaps being someone who tries to have the most toys, the most stuff makes sense. I’m not convinced that’s true, but that type of life makes more sense if there is nothing beyond this world.
But if we are confident that the kingdom of God is real, and at work, different priorities shape our lives.
Paul says as he continues to write to the people of Corinth: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he who died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”
The kingdom of God is already here. Already at work in people’s lives. And because Christ died for all, we are called to love all. There is level ground in front of the cross. No one is better than anyone else.
“What does love look like? It has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of all. That is what love looks like.”
Where does God’s love compel you to love others differently this week? In your family? At work? Locally, here in Batavia? In our nation? Internationally? How does God’s love compel you to reach out to those who are in need?
I Corinthians 13 ends with “And now these three remain; faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Kingdom living means we see differently from those around us who are not part of God’s work. Kingdom living means that we let faith, hope, and love shape our understanding of what is really going on, and to live lives that point a different way to those who do not yet see the hidden work of God around us.
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