Monday, July 25, 2011

Sermon for 6th Sunday after Pentecost


Sermon 7/24/11
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
           
               This month, we’ve been looking at some of Jesus’ parables and today, as we wrap up our focus on these parables, we’re hit with a string of mini-parables, a set of four that are just a couple of verses each. Again, we start out with seeds – this time mustard seeds – and then move on to yeast, treasure in a field, fine pearls, a net catching fish. In all of these parables, Jesus begins in the same way: “The kingdom of heaven is like:” Jesus wants us to get a clear message about God’s kingdom – it is so important that we understand about the kingdom of God that Jesus will tell literally story after story after story, same structure, different examples. The kingdom of heaven is like this. The kingdom of heaven is like this. The kingdom of heaven is like this.
            So what is the kingdom of God? What is it like? Why is Jesus so concerned that we get this? After reading all these parables, do we know? Indeed, Jesus wondered if his disciples were getting the message too. At the close of our text today, Jesus asks them, “Have you understood all this?” They reply, simply, “Yes.” So short a response that you have to wonder if they got it or just thought they should have gotten it, or said yes, but still had blank looks on their faces! So we have to ask ourselves too: Do we get what Jesus is saying here about the kingdom, or do we just think we should get it? Remember that I told you that Jesus’ first hearers had a bit of an advantage over us in listening to Jesus’ teaching. They were people who were connected to the land for their livelihoods in a way that we aren’t any longer, at least not most of us. Jesus’ parables would resonate deeply with them, surprise them in just the right places, cause them to ask questions as he expected his words would. Jesus used what was very ordinary to talk to them about the kingdom of God. Think about what Jesus uses in his parables: seeds, wheat which makes common foods, weeds, tiny mustard seeds, yeast, fish. Maybe the parables about the treasure in a field or the merchant seeking pearls are a little less typical, but mostly, Jesus is talking about everyday stuff, ordinary stuff in these parables, ordinary to 1st century listeners.
            Why does Jesus use such ordinary illustrations? Why not a more dramatic illustration to make his points? Well, I think the ordinary nature of the examples is the point. It is that the kingdom of God is present in the everyday of our lives that Jesus is trying to make us understand at the core. Right now, in these summer months, we’re in the liturgical season that, as I may have mentioned in the past, used to be called “Ordinary Time,” because it was named after the ordinals – 1st Sunday, 2nd Sunday, 3rd Sunday, and so on after Pentecost Day. Now, we just call this “the season after Pentecost.” But I like “Ordinary Time.” What’s wrong with having some ordinary time? Maybe it is easy for us to see God at work in our midst in the special times of the church year – at Christmas and Advent, during Lent and Easter, or even on days when we celebrate special things – Anniversary Sunday, or Graduations, or baptisms. But what I think Jesus gets at in his parables is that the kingdom of God happens, arrives, lives and exists for us in ordinary time – right in the everyday stuff of life. It is in our work, in our eating, in our business, in our growing – in the everyday things, we find the kingdom of God. If we can only see God at work at the holidays, we’re missing a lot of activity in the kingdom of God. We are missing the point. Real life, the abundant life Jesus offers, isn’t about the special events that occasionally mark our time. Real life is in the time in between. It’s in the relationships that sustain us daily. It’s in the love we share and show to one another for no other reason than because we are all God’s children. These parables first and foremost remind us that the kingdom of God is in us, and around us, so pervasive that it is in everything we do – if we look for it. If we let it in. For some people, looking for God means looking for a miracle, or a supernatural event, or an event beyond our explanation. But I think perhaps God is best revealed when we understand that God is in the things that make up our everyday lives. That’s where we need to start looking for the kingdom. The kingdom of God is extraordinary because it is in the ordinary. It’s here among us, not so special that it is beyond our reach.
This last week I had the pleasure of working as the chaplain for Music Camp at Sky Lake, one of our conference camp and retreat centers. We talked a lot about watching for God during the week, looking out for God at work in the world. We celebrated communion every day together, and each day I would try to teach something about what communion means. But the first day, I explained this: what God does with everything, not just in communion, but with everything, is take the ordinary – the seemingly mundane or usual or common everyday things of our lives, and make them into holy things. God makes the ordinary holy. And God can do this with anything, with the stuff that is all around us, with the stuff that seems like nothing important at all – even with us – even with ordinary people. What God does in communion is take extremely ordinary things – bread and drink, staples of the average meal – and make them into something holy – Jesus broken and poured out for us, symbols of the body of Christ. And because God uses these ordinary things, everyday foods for communion, rather than special delicacies , we can be reminded every time we eat food, something essential to live, of God's presence, Jesus' gift to us, God's grace.
            God makes the ordinary holy. And so Jesus, again and again in these parables, is saying something like this: You want to know where God is? You want to experience heaven? You want to know about the kingdom of God? Well, I will tell you how to get there. Find some bread, and you have found the kingdom. In fact, find just the ingredients, and God is there too. Find some seeds – even the smallest seeds – and there is something holy. You know the fish you eat every day? That too is a sign of the kingdom, something ordinary God makes holy.
            I think Jesus wants us to stop waiting around – stop waiting for some special sign, stop waiting for some just right holy moment, some perfect holy setting – and start realizing God and God's kingdom are already right here, in our midst, making everything holy in order to reach us, move us, shape us.
            These parables also tell us that being part of the kingdom of God is worth everything single thing we have. Nothing we have is more important than being part of God’s kingdom. The two parables about the field with treasure and the merchant seeking pearls aren’t about wealthy collectors buying another item to add to what they already have. Take note – in both parables, the person sells everything they have just to get the one single item – the treasure, the pearl. Everything for the one thing. What would you give everything you had in order to have? If you really ask yourself that question, I think and hope you’ll find that your answer isn’t a tangible item. You wouldn’t give up all you had for something you could buy in a store. But would you give up everything for a loved one? For a relationship? A family member? God? To give up everything, to “have to have” something, this something has to have extreme value – to be worth everything we have. That’s what Jesus wants to know, wants us to know for ourselves: is your relationship with God – is the kingdom of God and being part of it – worth everything that you have?
            The kingdom of heaven is like a seed, sown in good soil, yielding 100 fold harvest. It’s like wheat, waiting for the harvest. It’s like a mustard seed – so tiny, and yet so huge. It’s like yeast, spreading in a way no one quite understands. It’s like a treasure you stumbled upon without being prepared for how it would change you. It’s like a net that draws you in. It’s like a pearl, so precious, that it’s worth everything for you to have it. It is as close as the food that we eat, the cup that we drink. It is right here, in the most ordinary of things, just waiting to be noticed; part of us already, and waiting to be made more fully part of us. That’s what the kingdom of God is like. “Have you understood all this?” With God’s help, may we catch glimpses of the kingdom, alive within us, swirling around us, growing through us.  May we answer yes, and mean it. Amen. 
             

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