July 22, 2017: May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
Wow – that’s a whole mess of parables. Now remember – two weeks ago, Jesus was telling this big crowd about a farmer tossing seed everywhere. Last week, on the Jesus Channel, he told them about weeds and wheat (another farming metaphor). And now for today’s episode, Jesus was hitting that same crowd rapid fire with a whole boatload of metaphors – mustard seeds, bread, fish, pearls… I guess he figured something’s gotta stick.
After all that, he’s says “So, got that?” “Oh yeah, sure” they said. “Yup – totally with ya JC! Seed, yeast, fish, pearl, kingdom…check!” Really? I mean, don’t get me wrong, but considering how whacked out these analogies must have sounded, my guess is that Jesus was asking a more rhetorical question there, and those folks were likely saying to each other “They said he was smart…they said he was a great teacher…but what the hell is he talking about? Invasive mustard bushes being great – he’s nuts! He must be from South Jersey.”
The thing is, if you look at all these parables over the past few weeks, Jesus is making something very clear – the kin-dom of heaven isn’t all neat, tidy, and expected…it will rock your world – you need only look at him to see that. Just when you think you got this thing – you totally got this gospel stuff – Christ flips your world around. Even today, in our scriptures, a King can ask for anything – money, long life…but he asks for wisdom. A Pharisee who had once been a persecutor of the disciples tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. And Jesus is telling us that God’s kin-dom is like a big weedy bush that nobody likes (imagine if he said it was like dandelions that cover your yard), or like a woman going on a baking frenzy (3 measures of flour was like she was baking for an army), or like a person who sells everything for a single pearl. Okay – got that? Sure you do.
Now the one thing we know we can expect from Jesus is exactly what we don’t expect. Jesus was and is a rabble rousing, table over-turning, rule breaking, savior. I think today, rather than a tunic and sandals, he’d be in a leather jacket, jeans, and a t-shirt riding a Harley – sort of James Dean like. Which means, we likely wouldn’t recognize him, and we might even reject him.
These parables were, and still are subversive stuff (if we don’t domestic them into some tame little story about small little things growing big). They are meant to mess with us – to shake us up. You know how when you watch a movie on DVD or Netflix there is this FBI warning about illegally copying or distributing it – well, there ought to be a warning every time Jesus tells a parable. Something like “Warning: Your world is about to get knocked off its axis. Buckle up – Buttercup!”
Yup – this is Jesus & parables – it isn’t for those who want to play it safe, or want a neat and tidy faith. Now the first thing to understand about it all is that for Jesus, the kin-dom of God, or heaven, was not something in the afterlife! It is here – now. That was the radical message he was telling everyone. Now think about that – how do those parables change for you, for that matter, how does your life change, if you think about the kin-dom of God as being here, now – that you are living in it? Think about that…sit with that.
Because if that is true…then this life isn’t about doing stuff so you get to go on some sort of post-death balloon ride into the heavens where we get to meet God. No, what Jesus is saying is that God is here at work in the world, and if we are to ever live a life of meaning, of value, then we need to join Her – be a part of the kin-dom of God in our midst.
And then, if that were not enough, this kin-dom is where the rules of humanity have no place – rich is poor, weak is strong, and annoying mustard seeds grow into some sort of fabulous tree. None of it makes any sense – not on the surface anyway. But here’s the thing…we don’t have to understand it. Not really. In fact, when you think you have this God stuff down…you are furthest from it. That’s just the way it works.
On top of that, once your eyes have been open to the kin-dom around you, you can’t just sit there. You have to get in the game. This faith stuff isn’t for spectators. You have to throw the seed, make the bread, take the risks, do the work. That is, to use the title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor, who resisted Hitler. In his book, he speaks about the dangers of what he calls “cheap grace,” the idea that we can just follow some rules, and that is enough. For Bonhoeffer, being a Christian isn’t about resting in the assurance that, as St. Paul’s said in his letter to the Romans that we heard today, that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. As one commentator noted, “[Bonhoeffer] was saying that just because God loves us unconditionally, no matter what we do or don’t do, does not mean that we do not have responsibilities as Christians. Love God, do nothing, and then go to heaven, he called “cheap grace.” We are called to be disciples; and that cost something, cost a lot at times.” For Bonhoeffer, it cost him his life. He was executed for participating in the plot to kill Hitler.
Christ calls us to an active and engaged faith – a faith of risk taking, of engagement with the world – a world where the kin-dom of God is all around us, we just have to be open to the unexpected – and we have to risk everything for everything.
We have to risk standing for justice against those with more power.
We have to risk speaking out, when we are being told to be silent.
We have to embrace humility, when the spotlight seems to bid us to bask in it.
And if there was ever a time for us to be a part of the kin-dom of God, to embrace the cost of discipleship, to topple expectations (ours for ourselves, and others) it is now. Today, one might easily wonder how possibly the kin-dom of God is here. There are hate groups terrorizing the world with violence, our own President advocating violence at home and has no sense of humility, and many here and all over the world live in poverty, suffer from addiction, are imprisoned in depression, or are abused and marginalized by our society – often because of the church. We have governmental leaders who act like the health, education, and welfare of the people for whom they serve are some sort of luxury items. They have turned the word ‘entitlement’ into a some sort of pejorative.
What has happened to us today? Let’s be clear as we can. We cannot claim a Christian identity if we don’t follow the gospel of Jesus – the one who lifted up the poor, healed the sick, and walked with the marginalized. And for those who think this a problem with just one side of our governmental system, or that I am talking about a particular group of leaders (outside of taking our President to task), I want to be clear about that too.
I was asked by someone on Facebook why it is that we can’t have more people who buck the system and vote with “the other side.” Well, the answer is just what Pogo said, which I quoted last week “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.” The problem doesn’t start with the leaders in government – it starts with us. We must begin to see the other – the ones with whom we disagree – as unique individuals, not as wholesale categories on whom we dump generalizations that tear them down, while we feel good. That is not living the gospel, and it is what has created much of this insanity in the first place. We have to begin to live like we actually really do follow Jesus – like we actually believe that the kin-dom of God is here.
See, the truth is – all that is going on today was there in the time that Jesus was speaking these parables too. Jesus isn’t telling us that the kin-dom of God is some isolated sphere of perfection where we can just go and live peaceably apart from this world. He is saying that the absurdity of this kin-dom is that we – are – it. We are the bits that together turn the world upside down – where weak is strong, humility is powerful – where a neglected and hated weed becomes a mighty tree that feeds others – where the beauty of God’s creation is more valued than money – where we work to feed more than just ourselves. And it can begin with just a small step – an awakening to a new reality.
In the beginning of his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey tells about a memorable personal experience: “I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. A man and his children entered the car. The children were soon yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the father sitting next to me did nothing. It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild and do nothing about it. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too.
So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’ The man lifted his gaze as if coming to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’
“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw things differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.”
“The kin-dom of God is like suddenly being able to see everyone and everything in a completely different way.” Like Stephen Covey, we will forget who we are from time to time, we will lose sight of the kin-dom of God that is right in front of us. We won’t get it right all the time.
And here’s the thing about that…we don’t have to worry about missing the mark from time to time. That’s what St. Paul was telling us. In perhaps one of the most beloved of his writings, he says “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ.”
St. Paul wasn’t saying “Hey – chill, it’s all good. I mean, God loves you know matter what you do, so you’re good. See you in heaven.” No. What he was saying is that this life in Christ requires risk, and we will fail, and we will not get it right. Lord knows – he totally messed it up. What he was saying, and this is important, is that this kin-dom stuff – being Christ in the world – it is hard, and we will stumble now and then…but, God will love us – no matter what. She just asks that we open our eyes to what is in front of us and respond – to see the value of creation in something as small as a pearl, to see the need for feeding others and respond with overwhelming generosity, to see the beauty of what has been cast aside as being unworthy – that is what the kin-dom of God is all about, and Jesus is opening the door of our hearts to see that…
The kin-dom of God isn’t for the dead, but for the living.
The kin-dom of God is here, out there, and everywhere we go.
The kin-dom of God is not a place, but a way of seeing, hearing, being in the world.
The kin-dom of God requires us to risk being a part of it – it is active, not passive – but it is worth everything.
Want to be a part of it – this kin-dom life? Well, buckle up, Buttercup. This is gonna be the ride of a lifetime.
For the audio from the 10:30am service, click here:
 The Rev. Bob Eldan, preachingtips.com.
 Steven R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (New York: Fireside, 1990), 30-31.
Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
July 30, 2017
Pentecost 8 – Track 2
1st Reading – 1 Kings 3:5-12
2nd Reading – Romans 8:26-39
Gospel – Matthew 13:31-33,44-52