Sunday, July 30, 2017

8 Pentecost

July 30, 2017

1 Kings 3.5-12; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

+ Well, to say the least, it was a…shall we say...a very interesting week in the news.

Yes, of course, we heard about the President’s  banning Transgender people from the military, which, it seems, none of the military heads agreed with. Then, there was the resignation of Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff, following quickly on the heels of the resignation of the Press Secretary last week.  Six resignations in six months.
It’s feeling, weirdly, like 1973-74 all of a sudden.  (Not that I would remember) (I think I can hear the Carpenters singing…)

Of course, then news came that the North Koreans might possibly have a missile that could reach has far as Chicago.  

Then, locally, we heard the story of the confrontation in the Wal-Mart parking lot between a Christian woman and three Muslim women. Many of us watched the video. Many of us watched it in horror.  We heard the spiteful, hateful, mean things that woman spewed, all while a gold cross hung from her neck.  It was disturbing and frightening.

But, in the midst of it all, we also saw the reconciliation as the women all met later and made peace.

I don’t know about you, but for me, as I hear these stories, as I obsessively watch and follow many of these stories (especially the daily, increasingly bizarre stories coming out of the White House), I realize that the fear that is at work in this country is almost palpable. No matter where you are politically or religiously or personally, there’s a lot ear at work. Real fear.  You can cut it with a knife, it’s that REAL.

But what is most shocking to me is how so much fear, so much anxiety, so much darkness, can come forth from some seemingly small, other-wise  insignificant actions. It doesn’t take much to fan the flames of fear anymore. It doesn’t take much stoke the fire of our personal and collective anxiety.

A car parked too closely to another in a parking lot.

A simple phone call.

A tweet. 

Which is a reminder to all of us: it is not the big things we sometimes need to fear. It not always the North Koreans and political tampering with our democratic process by foreign governments that really get our fear factors going—though that’s pretty frightening.  Sometimes—more often than not—it is the small things that affect us most.

In our Gospel for this morning, we heard the Kingdom being compared to several small things: mustard, yeast, treasure, pearls and fish.  The gist of these parables is that something small can make a difference. Something small can actually be worth much.

As I pondered this these last few days, I realized that Jesus really is, as always, VERY right on with this. When we do a bit of good—like planting a bitty mustard seed—a lot of good can come forth. But, as I said, we also realize that a little bit of bad can also do much bad. A little bit of fear can grow into something out of control.  And I’m not just talking about the news and the government.

We all live with various forms of fear.

Fear of the future.

Fear of change.

Fear of things that are different, or strange, or that don’t fit into our confining understanding of things.

Our fear of these kind of things can be crippling.  We sow the small seeds of fear that grow into larger ugly plants of fear when we when wallow in that fear, when we let fear grow and flourish into a huge, overwhelming weed.  When we let fear reign, when we let it run roughshod through our lives, we see
bitterness and anger following.

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures is a great example of how we should respond to issues of fear. In our reading from the 1 Kings, we find God telling King Solomon that anything he asks will be granted.  This would be something most of us really would want God to say to us as well. If God spoke to you and told you that anything you prayed for would be granted, what would you ask for? I know a few things I would ask for. And most of those things we ask would be normal.

But Solomon doesn’t ask for the normal things. Solomon asks God for the gift of understanding. And that is the gift God grants Solomon. And us too!

When we ask for the gift of understanding, God usually seems to grant it. As long as we are open to the gift. The fact is, most of us aren’t open to understanding. We are too set in our ways, into believing we know what is right or what is wrong.

But when we ask, when we open ourselves to this gift, God gives us the Holy Spirit.   And how do we know when the Holy Spirit is given to us? We know the work of the Holy Spirit, by the Spirit’s fruits. Those fruits blossom into real, tangible signs.

But when we resist the Spirit, when we resist the movement of God, we find ourselves trapped—in fear, in bitterness, in anger. But it is not an option for us as Christians to be stuck and trapped in fear.   How can we fear when we hear Paul say to us in his letter to the Romans:

“if God is for us, who is against us.”

We cannot let fear rule our lives.  After all,

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”

Will any of the hardships of life be able to defeat us or separate us from Christ?

“No, in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us.”

Nothing—not “death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, not powers, not height, not depth, not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(By the way, I am convinced that this might be the most powerful scripture we have as Christians!)

After all, when we get stuck in fear, when we let ourselves be separated from the love Christ in our lives, that is when we hinder the Kingdom.  It prevents the harvest from happening.  It prevents growth from happening.  It makes the church—and us—not a vital, living place proclaiming God’s loving and living and accepting Presence.

Our job is to banish fear so the Kingdom can flourish.  The flourishing of the kingdom can be frightening.  Like the mustard seed, it can be overwhelming.  Because when the Kingdom flourishes, it flourishes beyond our control.  We can’t control that flourishing.  All we can do is plant the seeds and tend the growth as best we can.

Rooting our endeavors in Christ is a sure guarantee that what is planted will flourish.  Because rooting our endeavors in Christ means we are rooting our endeavors in a living, vital Presence.  We are rooting them in a wild Christ who knows no bounds, who knows no limits and who cannot be controlled by us.  Rooting our endeavors in Christ means that our job is simply to go with Christ and the growth that Christ brings about wherever and however that growth may happen.  When we do, Christ banishes our fears.

So, let us help the Kingdom flourish!  To be righteous does not mean being good and sweet and nice and right all the time.  To be righteous one simply needs to further the harvest of the Kingdom by doing what those of us who follow Jesus do.  It means seeking understanding from God.  It means to plant the good small seeds.  And in those instances when we fail, we must allow the mustard seed of the Kingdom to flourish.  

And when we do strive to do good and to further the kingdom of God, then will we being doing what Jesus commands us to do.  The Kingdom will flourish and we can take some joy in knowing that we helped, working with God, to make it flourish.  And, in that wonderful, holy moment, we will know the fruits of our efforts.  And we—like the kingdom of which we are citizens—we     will also truly flourish!

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