Sunday, July 20, 2014

6 Pentecost

July 20, 2014

Matthew 13.24-30;36-43

+ As you probably know, I can’t share what people confess to me. I’m bound by this wonderful thing called a seal of confession.  It’s a very good thing.

But, someone—a parishioner—recently confessed something to me recently that truly shocked me. And I am going to share it with you. Don’t worry. I’m not a horrible priest standing before you. I asked this parishioner if I could share this shocking confession with all of you.

This parishioner, for some bizarre reason I will never understand, confessed me to me that she---sigh—did not “get” my poetry. Did not “get” my poetry! She actually said, “It’s so Zen!” Is Zen a bad thing? If wonder what she’ll think of my short stories when they are published later this year.

Ok, yes, it might be a bit esoteric, shall we say?  But, if this parishioner thinks I’m being esoteric, I wonder what she thinks of Jesus’s parables.  Let’s talk about esoteric.  Because, in our Gospel readings at this time of the year, we’re getting a good many parables.  Oh no, you’re probably thinking to yourself.  The parables of Jesus!

Some of us really enjoy the parables.  I enjoy the parables!  But, let’s face it, most people feel a certain level of frustration when they come across them. After all, we, as a society, aren’t comfortable with such things.  Yes, we love our typical stories.  We love to hear a good story that really captures our imagination—a story we can retell to others.  

But, for the most part, we like them for purely entertainment reasons.  We like stories that are straightforward.  A story with a beginning, a middle and an end.  We don’t want to think too deeply about these stories.  We want something simple and clear.

“Why couldn’t Jesus just tell us what he was thinking?” we might think. “Why did he have to tell us these difficult riddles that don’t have anything to do with us?” Of course, even by saying that we  miss the point completely.  The fact is, when we start talking about God and God’s work among us, we are dealing with issues that are never simple or clear.  To put it bluntly, there is no simple and clear way to convey the truth of the Gospel.

That is why Jesus spoke in Parables. The word parable comes from the word “parabola,” which can be defined as “comparison” or “reflection.”  “Relationship” is probably the better definition of the word. When we look at Jesus’ parables with that definition—reflection, comparison, relationship—they start to make even more sense to us.

These stories Jesus told then—and which we hear now—are all about comparison.  For example, the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is difficult for us to wrap our minds around—are we talking about heaven, some otherworldly place? or are we talking about the kingdom of God in our midst? The parables help explain it all in a way those first hearers could understand. Jesus spoke in parables simply because the people he was speaking to would not have understood any type deep theological explanations.

Jesus used the images they would have known.  He met the people where they were, and accepted for who they were. He didn’t try to change them. He didn’t force them to adopt something they couldn’t comprehend.  He just met them where they were and spoke to them in ways they would understand.

When he talked that day of a mustard seed, for example, and what it grows into, when he talks of yeast being mixed into dough, when he speaks of a treasure hidden in a field or of a merchant looking for fine pearls, those people understood these images.  They could actually wrap their minds around the fact that something as massive as a bush of mustard can come from such a small seed.  They understood that something as simple as a small amount of yeast worked into dough will make something large and substantial. Yes, they could say, even with the smallest amount of faith in our lives, glorious thing can happen.  That is the message they were able to take away from Jesus that day.

So, these parables worked for those people who were listening to Jesus, but—we need to ask ourselves—does it work for us, here and now? Does this comparison of the kingdom of heaven being like to someone sowing good seed in a field  seed make sense to us?  Do we fully appreciate these images?

First of all, we need to establish what is the kingdom of God?  Is it that place that is awaiting us in the next world?  Is it heaven?  Is it the place we will go to when we die?  Or is it something right here, right now.

Certainly, Jesus believed it was something we could actually experience here and now.  Or, at least, we experience a glimpse of it here and now.  Over and over again, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God can be found within each of us.  We carry inside us the capability to bring God’s kingdom into being.  We do it through what we do and what we say.  We do it planting good seed, as we hear n today’s Gospel.  We can bring the kingdom about when we strive to do good, to act justly, to bring God into the world in some small way.  The kingdom of God is here—alive and present among us—when we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Yes, the good seed represents our faith, but it also represents in some way, those small actions we make to further the Kingdom.  Those little things we do in our lives will make all the difference.   Even the smallest action on our part can bring forth the kingdom of God in our lives and in the lives of those we know.

But those small actions—those little seeds that we sow in our lives—can also bring about not only God’s kingdom but the exact opposite of God’s Kingdom.  Our smallest bad actions, can destroy the kingdom in our midst and drive us further away from God and each other. See, bad seeds.

I think we all have experienced what bad seeds do to people and to the Church.  When we act arrogantly or presumptuously, when we act in a conceited manner, or even when we intend to be helpful and end up riding roughshod over others also trying to do good, we show bad seeds.  What grows from a small seed like this is a flowering tree of hurt and despair and anger and bitterness.  So, it is true.

Those seeds we sow do make a huge difference in the world.  We get to make the choice.  We can sow seeds of goodness and graciousness—seeds of the Gospel.  We can sow the seeds of God’s kingdom.  Or we can sow the seeds of discontent.  We can, through our actions, sow the weeds and thistles that will kill off the harvest.

We forget about how important the small things in life are—and more importantly we forget how important the small things in life are to God.  God does take notice of the small things. We have often heard the term “the devil is in the details.”  But I can’t help but believe that it is truly God who is in the details.  God works just as mightily through the small things of life as through the large.

And in that way WE become the good seeds, that Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.  We may not seem like much. But when we do good, we do much good, and when we do bad, we do much bad.  This is what Jesus is telling us in the parable of the good and bad seeds.

So let us take notice of the small things.  It is there we will find our faith—it is there we will find God. And when we do, we will truly shine like the sun in the kingdom of our God.   It is in those small places that God’s kingdom flourishes in our lives.

So, let us be mindful of those smallest seeds we sow in our lives.  Let us remind ourselves that sometimes what we produce can either be a wonderful and glorious tree or a painful, hurtful weed.  Let us sow God’s love from the smallest ounce of faith.  Let us further the kingdom of God’s love in whatever seemingly small way we can. And then let it flower and flourish and become a great treasure in our life before God.

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