Proper 12 – Ordinary / Lectionary 17 – Pentecost + 8
30 July 2017
Psalm 105:1-11, 45c (BCP pg 464) (BAS pg 847)
Matthew 13:13-33, 44-52
God of eternal wisdom, you alone impart the gift of discernment: grant us understanding hearts, so that we may choose wisely between the treasures of your promised reign and this world’s counterfeits; through Jesus Christ, the pearl of true value. Amen.
Today we find we’re into the heart of Jesus teachings, into the heart of Jesus parables. Parables on the nature of the kingdom of heaven. And as I wrote, I found it interesting that these parables always come to us in the summer, perhaps when we have more time to think of how they apply to each of our lives.
These teachings, these parables come to us when we have the luxury of seeing how Jesus teachings enter our hearts and open our eyes to the love of God, not just for each of our lives, but for the way we live and move in God’s creation, as well.
Today, we are able to see that Jesus tries to give us something to which we can relate in these deep, unknowable teachings. He presents them in a way that we might identify, today with known as ‘bumper sticker theology’.
He tells us: “The kingdom of God is like…” [insert simile here]. In a way that always reminds me of the cutesy posters of the “love is….” series from the 1970’s. they were everywhere, and everything related to being in love, or wanting to be in love, or looking for love.
But if we only leave it at the bumper sticker, the kitschy poster level of our consciousness, then it will be just that – bumper stickers, like “Honk if you love Jesus.” And corny posters like “Love is… that secret ingredient.”
But I’m sure in his delivery of these multilayered ‘nuggets of wisdom’, these descriptions of what heaven is like, in terms we can understand, contemplate, internalize that Jesus is being very deliberate in his choice of words, of descriptions, of the nature of God’s work.
He’s dispersing God’s wisdom, calmly, and smoothly. He’s allowing people to absorb what he’s saying, encouraging us to puzzle out, and find something we can grasp onto, like an anchor, as we feel life spinning out of their control, out of our control.
Yet, at the same time, how much of life do we feel is actually in our control?
Sure, we have choices, each and every day. An old movie points out that Starbucks coffee shops are designed so that people who hate to make choices can make 5-10 different choices in the selection of their coffee.
We can choose this or that direction in which to travel. We can choose where to place our focus, our disposition, and how we will treat others we encounter, those whom we are able to discover in the day to day details our lives.
Jesus tells us “the kingdom of heaven is like…” and we see a place that will shelter and protect all who come to it. We find the kingdom is hidden within each of us, but like yeast, it has to be activated before it will expand to benefit the world all around us.
And again, the kingdom of heaven has great value, so much so that it’s worth all that we have, it’s worth more than, greater than, anything we can ever imagine.
But, I think the most underrated part of today’s gospel, is the last verse. We’re so busy focusing on what the kingdom of heaven is like, trying to wrap our minds around how the kingdom of heaven is unlike anything we are taught to value, in society, in our lives that we gloss over this last verse, and tend to not hear it.
“52 He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’” (Matt 13:52)
So, Jesus is encouraging each of us, he’s encouraging the Teachers of the Law to step beyond their pontification on their explanations of the law. He’s encouraging us to reach beyond our ability to expound on only one thing – the law – and to find the grace and the love of God, to find the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is encouraging each one of us to look beyond the ‘letter of the law’ and to find the yeast of God’s kingdom in our lives, the fish in the net, and the treasure in the field. He’s encouraging us to find what is hidden and to treasure it and what it can do for each one of us, no matter where we find ourselves.
Yet at the same time, the last verses of today’s gospel easily mesh with the first. They are able to mesh when we learn that the kingdom of heaven is like the mustard seed, tiny, to the point of insignificant on its own.
Yet when it grows, when it expands, it’s able to provide a home, a shelter, protection for many birds of different species, harmoniously sheltered together in that bush, that started from a seed of insignificant size.
When the yeast is activated, it grows, it expands to work with 60 pounds of flour. Now, when I had time in my life to make bread, 12 cups of flour would make three loaves, so here, we’re able to feed so many more. We’re able to benefit the world around us that much more than we would in our normal interpretation of events.
And really, what a thought, when we actually stop to think about the quantity of flour, the size of the mustard seed compared to the bush, the size of a pearl, the value of a treasure hidden in a field.
At the same time, when we think of the way the word of God, the teachings of Christ affects and grows, in our lives and in our hearts.
It never starts with a grand gesture, but rather a small, almost insignificant event that has the ability to open our eyes, our hearts, change not only our lives but the lives of all those around us, when we let the kingdom of heaven into our hearts.
When you think about it, we don’t often encounter a burning bush, and hear the word of God audible to our ear, in our lives. Instead, we’re more likely to find an infinitesimal seed in our heart that grows into something we cannot even imagine as that seed takes root and grows to represent the kingdom of heaven in all of its glory, in all of its diversity.
After all, how many of us actually knew, really knew that we would end up right where we are in our lives, today? Or, here, on a Sunday?
How about being in the community in which we live, and doing the occupations God has given us the gifts and talents to do.
And I am able to find this interesting because as of today, I have officially lived in one spot for the longest amount of time in one place since the 1970’s. As of today, I have been blessed to be the Rector of Christ Church for a full 7 years, to date.
And this is wonderfully amazing to me, because to have been in one place long enough to begin to sort things out is incredible. The ability to look at everything around me, and to sort the trash from the treasures, without putting them into moving boxes, is a somewhat of a new revelation.
At the same time, it makes me glad for the work we’ve done together, so far.
It makes me wonder how we, each one of us, will be called to make room in the kingdom of heaven for our future together.
After all, we all know God’s law. We all know Jesus teachings; we all have the challenge to become disciples of the kingdom. We are all challenged to not only bring out the old treasures of the kingdom but to discover the new as well.
And this is thrilling to me, and to all of us!
This bright future is before us, it’s in our hearts, in our minds, and figuratively in our hands. It’s a future that brings the kingdom of heaven that much closer to reality, it is a future that is firmly in God’s hand, not ours.
We, as disciples in the kingdom of heaven, continue to promote the kingdom of heaven. We continue to encourage people to examine their lives, as we search our own, and find the mustard seed, the yeast, the pearl, the treasure.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul points out: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Rom 8:26b-27)
He points out that we don’t always know what to do or what to say, but that doesn’t mean that the journey isn’t worthwhile. After all, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. … The Spirit intercedes for us, … the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with God’s will”
We still like our ‘bumper sticker’ ideologies for remembering the important things in life, the non-tangible aspects that make us happier, more focused on the will of God, although they don’t even talk about God.
The best posters, today, say the joy of the journey of the learning, of the success is in getting there, it’s not in the destination, in the arrival. It points out that we are a people in motion, and that motion is to bring to realization the kingdom of heaven in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
Paul points out that when we aren’t exactly sure, to rely upon the Spirit, to rely upon the will of God in and for the world so that its in the seeking for the treasure, in the searching for the pearl that we find the most personal satisfaction.
At the same time, we acknowledge that the road before us isn’t easy, yet we are able to lean back on the treasures of our past, our history, our ability to be a positive voice for the love of God in and for the world around us.
After all the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Its like yeast; it’s like treasure hidden in a field. It’s like a pearl of great value. It’s like a net so full of fish that it needs to be sorted on shore.
And we, each one of us are the teachers of the law, today. We are the disciples of the kingdom of heaven. And the Spirit helps us to bring out our old treasures as well as our new.