Monday, July 28, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 12

The kingdom of heaven is like…..

Jesus is busy telling parables again.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field…
The kingdom of heave is like a merchant
in search of fine pearls…
The kingdom of heaven is like a net
thrown into the sea
that catches fish of every kind.

Seeds, yeast, a merchant, a net thrown into the sea.
All ordinary things.
Yet these ordinary things bring about the extraordinary.

That tiny little mustard seed
grows into a strong, tall tree--
a tree that becomes a sanctuary for others.

That simple yeast
transforms a few handfuls of tasteless flour
into a loaf of bread--
food to be shared with others.

That merchant looking for pearls
finds one,
but that one is more than enough.

The net cast into the sea
catches fish of every kind.
Some of what is caught it nourishing, good—
and some of what swims into the net is destructive.
Choices must be made.

The kingdom of heaven is like…

We as Americans
are not a people accustomed to kingdoms or kings
or any type of royalty
yet we pray these words in the Lord’s prayer:
Your kingdom come.

What are we asking for?
What are we hoping for?
What are we praying for?

Jesus gives us some clues in his parables.
The kingdom of heaven is hidden,
the kingdom of heaven buried,
the kingdom of heaven is in the depths of the sea.
Sometimes the kingdom of heaven is not right before our eyes—
Or it is and we just don’t look hard enough, seek deeply enough.
The kingdom of heaven has a distinctly unremarkable outward appearance,
yet it possesses amazing power to transform.

Take one ordinatry thing, combine it with another ordinary thing,
And suddenly, what you have is extraordinary.

You take some flour, some salt, some water, and a little teaspoon of yeast---
separately they are just some flour, some salt, some water,
some yeast—
But put them together,
stir them together,
give them a little time to rise to the occasion,
then add a little heat—
and you have—BREAD!
Now how does that happen!?!

You take a seed, some dirt, some water—
separately they are just a seed, some dirt, some water—
but put them together,
add a little sunshine
And you have---ZUCCHINI!!
Lots and lots of zucchini!!!
Separately ordinary.
Together extraordinatry.

That really is the story of the Church—
and why we need each one of us,
each ordinary one of us.

I have been keeping up with the events of the Lambeth Conference,
And I was reminded of the ordinary and the extraordinary this week.

Bishop Gene Robinson is the Bishop of New Hampshire.
He is a duly elected bishop by the canons of our Church
and he is dearly loved and respected by Episcopalians
in his Diocese of New Hampshire.

Gene Robinson is also an openly gay, non-celibate man
in a committed relationship.
A relationship which has lasted over 21 years.

As many of you know, Bishop Robinson’s sexuality has not set well
with some in our Anglican communion.
It has not set well with some in our own Episcopal Church.

Gene Robinson was not invited to attend the Lambeth Conference.
You can only attend if the Archbishop of Canterbury invites you.
Every other bishop in the United States was invited.
Imagine the pain of being left out.

Gene Robinson still traveled to Canterbury.
He wanted to be available for conversation for anyone
who wanted to meet and talk to him in person.

He has spent his mornings in prayer at a Franciscan retreat house.
He has been invited to preach at several churches
but he has not been included in any of the official Lambeth events.
Not only has he not been included,
he has very purposefully been excluded.

He has not been allowed to set foot in any place
where the other bishops are meeting or worshipping
or eating or socializing or praying.
On Thursday, all the bishops and their spouses were invited
to Buckingham Palace to have tea with the Queen.
Because officially the Queen is the head of the Church of England.
Quite an event as you can imagine!
Needless to say, Gene Robinson was not invited.

But he was not left alone in Canterbury.
Weeks ago Bishop Robinson had been contacted by the Cara Trust,
a philanthropic organization which for decades has provided
support and services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Bishop Robinson was invited
to come and have tea with some of the clients of Cara Trust.
These clients are not limited to gay men—
HIV/AIDS affects heterosexuals, too—
men, women, and children,
black and white,
young and old,
rich and poor.
Gene Robinson accepted their invitation to tea.

By total coincidence,
the travel route for Gene Robinson from Canterbury
and through the jam-packed traffic of London
took him around Buckingham Palace
at the precise moment
the bishops and spouses
were streaming off their coaches
into the Palace for tea.

Gene Robinson drove past the Palace
and arrived at the small Methodist church hosting the tea
to which he was invited.
He was greeted with open arms by those living with HIV.

Like Bishop Robinson,
these are people
who know prejudice.

But Bishop Robinson, writing on his blog this week about this tea,
said this tea was not a time to mourn.
There were pots of hot tea on tableclothed card tables
and a table of delectable pastries.
It was indeed a party.

The kingdom of God is like a tea party…

I wonder where Jesus would be?
Streaming off a bus in fine clothes
to have tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace?

Or walking into a simple neighborhood church
to have tea set up on a simple card table,
with a group of excluded people=
who know the depth and loneliness
of suffering?

In all honesty,
I think we find Jesus in all places.
It is not the heart of Jesus to exclude anyone.
When Jesus says ALL people
Jesus means ALL people.

We must not despair
when that tiny mustard seed seems so small to our eyes.
The kingdom of God grows in its own time, in its own way.

We must decide what has real value for us in our lives.
what are our priorities, our choices in living our daily lives.
The pearl and the treasure are there—
but are easily overlooked
when we are overbooked.

That parable of the net and the fish with its apocalyptic interpretation?
Just a reminder
that we don’t
and we won’t live for ever.
Life will come to an end.
This is not a trial run.
But the kingdom of heaven is not about our reward after death.
Jesus calls his followers to co-create God’s kingdom right now,
on earth as it is in heaven.
God has promised to establish a reign of peace and justice on earth.
God IS working to bring about that kingdom.

Do not despair.
Do not give up on God or God’s kingdom.
Be patient.
Be hopeful.

Be the soil for the tiny seed.
Be the flour that welcomes the yeast.
Never stop searching for the treasure.
Celebrate when you realize you hold in your hand
the pearl of great price—
even if it is only for a fleeting moment.

Walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
Come in to the tea party where all are welcome.
Come up to this table and hold out your hands.
There is bread enough for everyone.
God is at work in the world.

The kingdom of heaven is now.
And everyone is invited.

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