Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sermon for Year A Proper 12

The kingdom of heaven is like…

As many of you know I have been on vacation this past week.
The most exotic place we traveled
was to Greensboro for a wedding.

The rest of the time we were at home in Valle Crucis
enjoying time with our daughter and her husband
and our absolutely charming little granddaughter, Penelope, who is now 14 months old.

I feel like I just spent a week
in the kingdom of heaven.
Being with those you love can do that.

Jesus is speaking in parables again.
trying to teach us about the kingdom of heaven—

The kingdom of heaven is like…
like a mustard seed…
like yeast…
like a treasure hidden in a field..
like a merchant in search of fine pearls..

The kingdom of heaven is like…
like a net thrown into the sea catching fish of every kind..

We don’t know if the writer of Matthew’s gospel
collected these diverse kingdom of heaven images
over a period of time --

Or if Jesus said them all at one time, in one teaching session,
hoping that at least one of these images
would make sense
to those who listened.

But regardless,
three things about the kingdom of heaven
grab my attention in the gospel today:

(1) The kingdom of heaven often starts very small.
(2) Treasure the moments
when the holy breaks through, and
(3) God welcomes everyone. Absolutely everyone.

The kingdom of heaven often starts very small.

The kingdom of heaven can often be seen in a small child.
Our 14 month granddaughter says thank you constantly.
Give her a cheerio and she says thank you.
Throw her a kiss and she says thank you.
Put a little pinecone in her hand and she says thank you.

I was absolutely humbled
by this tiny little person’s ability
to live in constant gratitude.

One small thank you can change everything.
Even coming from us big people—
Small thank yous build on one another.

The kingdom of heaven starts small—
one man Jesus
preaching in one small corner of the world
has grown far and wide and deep.
We have come a long way from Jerusalem.

Jesus started small but he started.
Twelve disciples.
Look how that small group has grown.

The kingdom of heaven can be seen in small churches.
Small churches like St. John’s make a difference.
We need to remember this and celebrate this
and be empowered by this.

I know that Harry Potter is all the movie rage right now,
but think back
and some of you may remember the character Yoda
from the Star Wars movies.
In one scene, Yoda says to Luke Skywalker,
Do or do not. There is no try.

Do or do not. There is no try.
Those are kingdom of heaven words.

Jesus is essentially saying this same thing to us in this parable.
A tiny seed or a tablespoon of yeast
may look so small that it appears to be worth nothing—
but we have flowers on the altar because a seed
did not “try”—it did!
We have bread for communion
because the yeast did not try—it did!

The same is asked of us.
The same is believed of us.
Jesus tells us
that even if we start small
the kingdom of heaven will grow large.
Jesus tells us that even if we start small
our efforts will be like leaven--
we will have bread enough to feed the multitudes.

The second thing I hear in these parables today is this:
Treasure the moments in your life
when the holy breaks through.

So often, too often,
we take for granted all we are given.
We are surrounded by treasure and pearls of great value
but sometimes we miss that.
Sometimes we are so busy wanting what we do not have,
that we miss all that we do have.

Sometimes we are so busy planning for the future
or lamenting the past
that we fail to realize the kingdom moments
that surround us right now.

We struggle to believe what Jesus repeatedly tries to teach:
WE are God’s treasure.
WE are God’s pearls of great price.
WE are God’s beloved children.

God’s love is always here, always with us—
but we do not always notice.

But when we do,
when these holy moments happen,
we need to pay attention
and truly see these moments as a treasure.

Sometimes the birth of a baby,
or an illness or even a death
makes us aware of the holy.

Sometimes it is a line in a poem or the lyric of a song
which becomes unexpectedly illuminated for us.

Maybe someone shares a story that surprisingly moves us to tears
or we walk in the doors of a church
firmly convinced that organized religion
is not our cup of tea and then…and then..

Suddenly we see the holy
and we see that it is everywhere
and in everything and everyone.

The light breaks through the everyday fog of our lives
and we know we have found the treasure
we were seeking all along.

And we know we want to hold on to this treasure for dear life—for our life.

And finally, the third thing I heard in Matthew’s gospel:
God’s net is very, very large.

The final parable in Matthew’s gospel today
tells us that the kingdom of heaven
is like a net thrown into the sea
and that net catches all sorts of fish.

We cannot be afraid to cast our nets widely and deeply.
We cannot be afraid to open the doors of our churches
and welcome everyone who wants to come in
and everyone who just randomly wanders in.

Everyone is welcome. EVERYONE.
The job of sorting is not our work to do.
According to Matthew’s gospel,
that work will be done later-- by the angels—not by us.

So these are the three things I hear today in the gospel:

(1) The kingdom of heaven often starts very small.
(2) Treasure the moments
when the holy breaks through.
(3) God welcomes everyone. Absolutely everyone

Parables are stories that let those of us who have ears hear.
(That means all of us!)
We undoubtedly hear different things at different times
because we are different people
at different points in our lives.

What did YOU hear today in these parables?
What is the kingdom of heaven like for you
at this moment
in your life?

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