8 Pentecost Proper 12 Yr A July 30 2017 Audio (1)
There was a medical emergency. The sermon is continued,
8 Pentecost Proper 12 Yr A July 30 2017 Audio (2)
What does the kingdom of heaven look like? This last set of parables from the writer Matthew shows us that the kingdom of heaven looks like a mustard seed, which is truly tiny and turns into a mighty tree. It looks like last week’s leaven that makes this week’s bread. These are things that show us, Jesus’ followers, that the kingdom of heaven is about growth, growth from the very small, the seed, the leaven, into something very amazing, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven also looks like letting go of everything, to make what is valuable available, it even looks like a change in direction. And in God’s kingdom, what is old has value, the new age that Jesus brings renews what has come before.
In the kingdom of heaven, the arc of God’s love bends toward growth, and transformation, and resurrection. In our world, on our screens and in our media, precious time is given over to images of opulence, visions of glamour, reflections of power, dreams of stardom. All this causes us to believe we want Hollywood, special effects, big productions, to be the way of our own lives. But this gospel, this good news, makes a claim on our whole lives, it calls us to be all in. These parables show us that money, fame, power, are not what garner joy, but instead, joy and love find us in the dirt, and in the messiness of seeds and dough, where growth can happen, treasure may be found, new life is possible.
When Rick and I moved here to southeastern Wisconsin, we were told that here is the best dirt in all the world. That is a mighty reputation. As we drive around southeastern Wisconsin, getting to know the lay of the land, getting to know the growing things, getting to know you delightful people, it becomes apparent to me, that indeed, it is in the dirt that small things grow into fullness, treasures may be found, and new life is possible.
Here is something I read this week from the gospel according to CS Lewis. “No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.” (Letters of CS Lewis in Readings for Meditation and Reflection, ed. Walter Hooper, 1992)
Muck and messiness, mud and manure, this is the very sign of God’s presence, and these are the things that give rise to new life. God’s promise in these stories is that growth will happen and treasure will be found and new life is possible. Rich dirt is comprised of all sorts of grimy gritty things, compost comprised of decayed organic matter. This is where God is present.
Not only do we desire after the special effects, the big production, but we also yearn for the perfect, the orderly, the antiseptic. Just as the over use of anti-bacterial sprays, wipes, and injections is creating populations resistant to bacteria, our wish for anti-septic lives prevents us from getting dirty. What about the floating bugs in the red juice at camp? Or the ash on the spatula that fell into the campfire while trying to turn the pancakes? Or the crunchies in the creamy peanut butter sandwiches eaten as a floating picnic in the canoe in the Boundary Waters? All affectionately lumped together as trail dust. How can God find us if we don’t play and dig in the dirt? How can God find us if we wrap ourselves in a hasmat suit and never come in contact with smelly, wiggly, compost? Because you see, it is the dirt that is the very sign of God’s presence.
And it is in the dirt that tiny seeds grow into great trees. It is in the dirt that treasures are found. In the dirt things happen. We get dirty, and we are broken.
Perfect is a very tenuous state, perfect is on the edge of broken. So much time, money, and attention is spent on perfect, spent on preventing broken, spent on sealing ourselves off from the muck and mess of living. In the striving for perfection, our veneer is so slick, Jesus has trouble finding us. Broken is not bad, broken is being human. And broken is where Jesus’ blood seeps into our very being, healing and bringing us to new life. The tiny seed must be broken apart in the ground, by all the wiggly things that are there with it, so that it may rise up as a mighty tree. If it remains a perfect seed, it always remains in that deep, dark ground, never to see daylight, never to feel the warmth, never to have new life, never to provide rest for the birds, never to offer mercy and compassion for all who come.
Brokenness is a place Jesus finds us. In the dirt, Jesus finds us. In our society, being broken seems to be a bad thing. But in the kingdom of heaven, there is no value judgment on brokenness. I have friends and family, you have friends and family who are broken, who have been broken. Mental illness, physical illness, addiction, these are things that just are. Not bad, not good. Fragmented relationships, priorities out of alignment, lives that need healing. Into these deep, dark places, Jesus seeps, bringing the nourishment, the compost, that heals our hearts. And all of that leaves scars. Because even healing isn’t perfect.
Healing shows the signs of the brokenness that opens us up to the treasure God has for us. The treasure that is found in the dirt, the treasure that is new life, and hope. The pearl that proves our lives are worth dying for.
Even Jesus, even Jesus is broken, broken for us. And we wear the scars of that brokenness. The scars of mercy, of compassion, of justice. We can offer mercy, compassion, justice, to others, because Jesus offers us mercy, compassion, and justice. All of us, no exceptions.
In the kingdom of heaven, the arc of God’s love bends toward growth, and transformation, and resurrection. Resurrection and transformation, now, and not yet. The promise of the kingdom of heaven is the mustard seed that grows into a great tree. The leaven that grows the flour into bread. The treasure that is uncovered in a field. The new kingdom that Jesus begins. We are to live today as if the kingdom has already begun.
This is the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.