SERMON 07-24-11 Pentecost 6A
Matthew 13:31-33,44-52 “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.” The past few weeks, we have heard a lot about seeds and planting and parables. Jesus taught about everyday things in his parables so that folks might connect in deeper way with the truths he revealed. I wonder if today, instead of seeds, pearls, treasure and nets, what common phenomena Jesus might use to describe the Kingdom. Would it be something like the Kingdom of Heaven is like finding that perfect Droid or Iphone App and selling all one has to buy it? Have you seen how expensive those things are? Maybe it would be, the Kingdom of heaven is like having your wife post “I love you my best friend,” on your Facebook wall. The parable could take on other forms as well.
An EMT stopped at a local coffee house after an emergency call to someone’s home. The stress of the last few hours, the emotion of the unexpected death, the numbness of the moment must have shown all over his face, when he ordered the latte and biscotti. “$1.75 is your total, “said the barista. “You left off the drink on the bill,” said the EMT. “My treat,” said the barista. It was a kind gesture, a simple gesture, but that simple act of love and peace had a profound impact in the lives of two troubled men.
Sometimes, the Kingdom of Heaven breaks through in the simplest of actions. Kingdom of God is not a temporal Kingdom, as we might understand kingdoms of old. The Kingdom of Heaven is a present reality and a future hope of fulfillment, in which love, peace, and justice reigns. The history making moment when the Kingdom of God became present, was over two thousand years ago through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The unexpected promised One, who would bring about the reign of God, who was anticipated to be the ruler of power and might, was rejected and suffered the cross. Through the scandal of the cross, the message of God’s love and justice burst forth. The message of love, peace, and justice became a present reality in the paradox of suffering. God’s Kingdom is shocking, it is unexpected, surprising, and it very well may be scandalous.
The parables teach us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like the overwhelming abundance of a mere mustard seed, or the woman who hides a little yeast in a grand batch of dough. It is also like the radical notion of selling all one has in order to have a solitary treasure, or selling all one has for a solitary pearl. The key to the parables begins with unpacking the nuances of symbolism and metaphor, but when we get to the underlying notions Jesus is trying to portray in the stories, we begin to understand.
Consider the mustard seed and the yeast, Jesus reveals the surprise in the parables when he speaks of the abundance, which emerges from the smallest of seeds. The seed represents what is necessary to understand. To enter the Kingdom of God, to accept the reality God’s reign, it does not take a great faith, but just a miniscule trust. We can accept the reality of the reign of God, when with child-like trust, we accept it as present now. A little yeast, a tiny seed reveals that the Kingdom emerges surprisingly, overwhelmingly, unexpectedly into an abundance of peace, love, and justice.
Imagine what the present reality of the Kingdom might look like here and now, in this day and time. It may be like a Spirit-inspired notion about a “Back Pack” ministry program that serves local children, and then suddenly it blossoms into a reality through small gestures of love, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, local children no longer go home hungry over the weekends. Sometimes the actual presence of the Kingdom of God may be scandalous to our ideas of where and how it supposed to be made present.
Ii is not enough to merely understand or recognize the Kingdom of God in our very midst, we are called to respond to it. A person finds a treasure in a field, a pearl seeker finds a pearl of great value. There is more to the parable because both recognized the item of great value, and then they responded to the treasure and the fine pearl. The response was not miniscule though, it was not a mere tiny gesture. No, both people sold all they had to obtain that which they discovered to be of great value. Understanding the reign of God in our midst, should lead us to a response, an act of responsive love by which we live into that Kingdom.. It calls for a decision either for or against God’s reign of love, peace, and justice. There is no middle ground, no riding the fence, no neutral response to the Kingdom. We respond in love, peace, and justice.
Justice in the kingdom is not about getting one’s rightful legal ruling. Justice in the kingdom is about respecting the rights of all persons, living in harmony and equity with all. We as Christians live in the paradox of the Kingdom as already, but not yet. We all know that in the world today, equity for all is not a present reality, but as Christians, we l hope that God’s promise of peace, love, and justice inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ, ultimately will be a fulfilled. Today, our response and our decision are to accept that the Kingdom is a present reality and we have a part in the Kingdom today.
Oppression, poverty, broken relationships, self-destruction, are existential realities of human suffering that stands in direct opposition to the reign of God. How we respond to the plight of the outcast and the oppressed, is tantamount to as the parable suggests, selling all we have for that treasure. In other words, giving up our preconceived notions of how and where the Kingdom of God bursts in, so that we can recognize the precious pearl and treasure of love and hope.
The Kingdom of God is the hope, the “against-all-expections” hope of the outcast and the oppressed. It is difficult sometimes to imagine the reality of those suffering from the human devaluation of oppression, hatred, and injustice. 20th century Swiss theologian Ulrich Luz states, “In the pleasant lounge, the hope of the Kingdom cannot be understood. On the sofa, the parables of the Kingdom cannot be understood. Through exegesis alone, the parables of the Kingdom cannot be understood.” (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, 1995,Abingdon Press, Nashville, p. 316)
We come to understand and respond to the parables, when we recognize the injustice of the human plight and we acknowledge our responsibility to participate in its undoing. Christians are commanded to love our neighbors without exception, without qualification, and without indecision. Whether we as individuals choose to participate in God’s reign, whether we accept our part or not, the Kingdom of God is a present reality here in our midst. Lives are being changed, injustice is being turned upside down, the hungry are being fed, the broken spirits are healed, the downtrodden are uplifted and the outcast is welcomed. In our very midst, we understand and we are responding to the Kingdom.
Through our gatherings as a community, through our worship, through our many ministries and missions, we are participating in God’s reign. We participate in information-sharing, visioning, ecumenical dialogue, and networking with other churches through “Just Neighbors.” We feed the homeless and low-income families in our village through our “Foursquare Partnership.” We gather with others who share a love of knitting and quilting in order to provide warm clothing to the needy in Appalachia. We provide opportunities for low-income families to buy affordable food packages through “Angel Food Ministries.” We provide a warm bed, a hot meal, and shelter for the homeless during inclement weather through our “Cold Night/Temporary Shelters ministry.” We now provide nutritious food over the weekends for poverty-stricken schoolchildren ,right here at Englewood Elementary through our new “Back Pack Program Ministry.” There are so many more.
The Kingdom of God is bursting through in some unexpected, surprising ways right here at St. David’s. We are open to the manifestation of that present reality, and we act in purpose to further the Kingdom. In the midst of pain and suffering, in the midst of injustice, we act in love, with peace, and justice. Our challenge is before us, the Kingdom is at hand, and it is time to take our place living under the reign of God.