31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
-Matthew 13:31-32, NRSV
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, Jesus said. It’s like a sower planting seeds. It’s like a pearl of incredible price. It’s like leaven in dough. It’s like…
Over and over, Jesus used the ordinary things around him to teach people about the nature of God’s kingdom, the nature of God’s love, the nature of God’s will for the world. Deep, profound lessons, based on the most ordinary of things. Fig trees. Banquets. Coins. Sheep. Seeds.
Ordinary things, turned into object lessons and sermon illustrations. Ordinary things with the potential to convey extraordinary truths.
For the past seven or eight years, I’ve spent the Sundays in the weeks following Easter preaching on ordinary things. “Sermons from a Brown Bag,” I’ve called it. I ask church members to choose ordinary items, pack them in a brown paper bag, and bring them to church. These items have served as the inspiration for each week’s worship services.
Over the years, I’ve preached on some strange items. A sock darner. A paintbrush. A remote control. An egg separator. A canister of freeze-dried turtle food. A candy necklace. One of those industrial-strength insulators you’d find on an electric pole. A mug with Farrah Fawcett’s face on it. A Christmas flamingo lawn decoration that wouldn’t light. And in each item — somehow, some way — we found a glimpse of the gospel.
It has become a worship tradition for me, every year during the season of Easter. And why that season? Simply put: I believe the resurrection changes everything. I believe it changes everything. Sin loses its power, and death loses its grip, and everything is different, everything is new. And because of that, everything — even the junk in the junk drawer — has the capacity to convey some of this good resurrection news. The resurrection changes everything, touches everything.
So in this season of Easter, I invite you to offer up a “brown bag” item to inspire one of this year’s sermons. You can’t bring it to church right now, of course… so send me a photo of it (email@example.com). See how the ordinary things in your house have a story to tell, a story of redemption and transformation and unfailing love. Try to stump the pastor — go on, I dare you. It can’t be harder than the flamingo, right?
And in the meantime… look around you, right now, wherever you’re sitting. You’re surrounded by stuff, I’m sure. I am. I wonder what that stuff can teach us about God. I wonder what the flashlight, and the spatula, and the coffee mug, and the throw pillow, and the Barbie Dream Camper can teach us about God. Those items have something, some truth, to share. Let’s discover it together… because after all, resurrection hope is all around, even hiding in the strangest places.
And remember, friends:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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