Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 12 July 26 2020
Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, 45b, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
We need all the encouragement we can get, especially right now. Every time we go out of the house you wear your mask, every turn you take you need to wash your hands, and even though you don’t like it you keep your distance from each other, and you do it to love your neighbors so we can all get out of this pandemic. We need all the encouragement we can get to love our neighbors, all our neighbors, those who look like you and who don’t look like you, those who love like you and those who love differently than you, and those who hold values and beliefs differently than you. Even our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his recent remarks to the Executive Council reminded everyone to remember to encourage everybody: to be gentle with each other, to be kind and maybe a little extra kind even. Because everybody's a little bit on edge and everybody's tired and everybody's weary and for good or ill, we've only just begun. We're in this for a while.
So we’ve been reading through Matthew’s parables that have been confusing, harsh, and downright difficult. Today we hear a series of parables that set forth a message of encouragement and speak a word of promise. Each parable describes small beginnings, and great big endings. These parables help us to see that seemingly insignificant acts of work and witness by the followers of Jesus, those who first heard these, and you and I today, are of ultimate importance.
Sometimes we don’t believe that, do we. Sometimes we wonder what the little things we do, positive or negative, have to do with anything. Sometimes we count ourselves insignificant or even unworthy in the greater scheme of things. Sometimes we wonder if we have any impact on our community, our neighborhood, our world. But these parables show us otherwise. What does the kingdom of heaven look like? It looks like the smallest of seeds that has grown into the greatest of shrubs. It looks like the yeast that mixed in with the flour grows and grows and grows. It looks like the treasure buried in a field found by another. It looks like a pearl of great value. It looks like an empty fishing net that when thrown into the sea catches fish of every kind.
We follow Jesus, we walk the way of love, and what we do does matter. Jesus is present. And Jesus is present even if only two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name sharing in those things that are provided, prayer, supper, serving others. And such small, seemingly insignificant beginnings can hardly appear to be signs of the glorious kingdom to come, but they are, and that is the promise. We have been given these gifts, these seemingly small and insignificant gifts, that grow into gifts of great value.
But we pause here for a moment to remind ourselves that their value is not in what they can be traded for, like money. Their value is not in their size, or their shininess. To the world, they seem like nothing, like Jesus. To the world, Jesus seemed like nothing, an itinerant rabble rouser, from a lowly village, who hung around with smelly fisher folk.
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.
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 encouragement and 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. In these days when we must cover our mouths and nose to protect our neighbors, it’s hard to remember the days of getting dirty. But just for a moment remember 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 never come in contact with smelly, wiggly, compost? Because you see, we have learned over these last few weeks, 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 encouragement, and mercy, compassion, justice, to others, because Jesus encourages us and 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. I am encouraged to live this day, and every day in that promise. How about you?