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Worship for July 26, 2020
Sermon for July 26, 2020
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
I spent all week trying to find this Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus describes over and over and over again. I even tried to make bread, to show in the Children’s Sermon how a small bit of yeast can change the ingredients around it into bread. That didn’t go so well. I started to understand why it’s so easy to think the kingdom of heaven Jesus is describing is about life after death. Because it’s really hard to imagine right here, right now, this kingdom of heaven he’s describing first to a crowd, then to the disciples.
And then it occurred to me, why was Jesus going on and on about the Kingdom of Heaven? Why does he keep insisting it is right here, right in front of them, right in the every day ho hum ordinary life they were living?
You can’t get much more ordinary than a woman using yeast to make bread, or a seed turning into a tree, providing a home for birds – And a tasty condiment for our hotdogs. That’s not what I think of when I think of the kingdom of heaven. None of that really sounds like heaven to me – Where are the streets paved with gold? The angels in white robes, playing harps? I thought heaven was like all rainbows and unicorns, peace, love, and harmony. Not a treasure hidden in someone else’s field. Not a pearl, something that began life as an irritant to an oyster.
Doesn’t this life, I mean, this life right now – fall rather short of your image of the kingdom of heaven? This life, the one you see on your tv, your “friends” posts on facebook, the one where, need I remind you, we’re in a pandemic that’s been so mishandled our kids are now staying home in the Fall, and you’re still at home watching a worship video. This life where federal troops spent the week in Portland, and are heading to Albuquerque and Chicago and their governors and mayors can’t stop them. This life, where we’re discovering more and more what we weren’t taught in history class and what didn’t make the news – That native American children were forcibly taken from their families and sent to boarding schools and adopted to be made more “white;” where laws were written and enforced sending Black men to jail for petty crimes where they could be “leased out” as laborers. The history of Tulsa, where an entire Black community was wiped out; or Wilmington, where white supremacists forced a peaceful city government of Blacks and Whites out so they could take over.
And in the middle of this, we’re hearing about yeast, and pearls, and treasures buried in someone else’s field? Why? How is this relevant to us?
There’s a reason Jesus went on and on about the kingdom of heaven – It’s not easy to understand, for starters, even though the disciples insist they get it. But they also needed to hear about it over and over and over again, because their daily lives weren’t so great, either.
A government that wasn’t for them, a government that made them so angry, but there wasn’t much they could do about it. Violence, injustice, hate, a sense of powerlessness, a failing economy unless you were a Roman elite. No wonder the disciples assumed Jesus was coming to fix everything for them, that he was ushering in the kingdom of heaven, because life was a mess.
We know all these generations later that Jesus didn’t usher in the kingdom of heaven the way the disciples assumed he would, the way we might be wishing he would about now. So we’re left with something I don’t think the disciples really did understand. Because he’s using parables and similes to describe something that is, at its core, mysterious. We can’t hold the kingdom of heaven in the palm of our hand the way we can a measure of yeast, or a pearl, or a mustard seed. Hidden, but visible. Ordinary, but holy. Insignificant and -powerless, but so powerful it makes all the difference – People are willing to sell everything they have to possess it.
What are you most longing for right now? I doubt it’s something you can buy on amazon. It’s probably something that’s hard to hold in your hand, but something so real, your heart is aching for it.
At our first outdoor morning prayer service, Julie Bertak mentioned how helpful it’s been to think about learning to live with this new reality – Which doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and give up, even though we may be tempted. It means we know the peace we long for, the hope and love and fellowship we so desperately miss and need, is right here. It just might be hidden, and it might take some work and persistence and patience.
So, the bread for the Children’s Sermon didn’t turn out – And I was not so much frustrated, as tired and defeated. I was trying to find, and trying to show, and trying to hold onto a bit of the kingdom of heaven right here and right now, and instead I ended up with bread loaves as heavy as rocks.
And then I realized, there’s a parable there, too – Because that’s what life is like right now, especially when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. We try to uncover it, and it stays hidden. We try to hold it in our hands, and it slips through our fingers. We try to live as though the kingdom of heaven, the love of God, the power of God’s mercy and justice, is right here, right here – And we fail. It doesn’t turn out the way we wanted. We spend all day – all week – all year – on something, and it falls flat, literally and figuratively. And this is the work and the hope of faith. This is what it is to trust in God, to trust in Jesus. And it will wear us out, sometimes. And we’ll want to give up, sometimes. And we won’t be able to see it, and our every effort seems a waste.
But God is the woman kneading the yeast into the flour, enough to feed a neighborhood. God is the mustard seed, growing, growing, invisibly each day. God is the treasure hidden in the field, waiting to be found.
And so, we get up, and ask God to show us this day a glimpse of the kingdom – A rainbow, an act of love. We get up, and ask God to use us this day as the yeast, as the mustard seed growing into a bush where creatures can find sanctuary. We get up and act as though there is nothing more real and nothing more powerful than God’s love, at work in us and through us. Because it’s true. It’s the only truth worth getting up for these days, in Christ.