Pentecost 8 1 Kings 3:5-12 Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Let us pray: Lord, give us a vision of your kingdom and show us the part you would have us play in bringing it closer. When we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” teach us to mean it so we may bring your kingdom closer here on earth. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives his followers and us a series of short parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Each could be the subject of a sermon however they all have a very similar theme.
Many of the parables that Jesus tells begin, "the kingdom of Heaven is like…" So the question we might ask is “What is the kingdom?” Is it something you’ve wondered about? It is one of the deep questions about existence. We look around us at the world and see hunger and poverty. We see disease, violence and hatred. We wonder if God is in control, if God cares at all about creation. We may even question the existence of God. We all ask those burning questions about what lies beyond this life.
"The kingdom of heaven is like ..." With these words Jesus offers a variety of images. The kingdom of heaven is like a small mustard seed that becomes a very large shrub where birds come and find a home.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that spreads through and through until it involves all the flour in a process of chemical reaction making the bread rise.
The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure within the ground making that parcel of land valuable enough that one would sell all their possessions to buy the field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a perfect pearl whose value entices someone to sell all to acquire it.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net tossed into the depths to bring forth a great catch, the net filled with fish both edible and others not worth the time of scaling and filleting. The good are gathered; the others are tossed away with the garbage. And, in such a kingdom a time will be when the angels of God will in a like way separate the evil and the righteous. The evil will be thrown into a hot, burning furnace of weeping and pain so great that teeth will gnash, one against the other.
Then, without further figure of speech, Jesus asks "Do you understand these teachings?" And, they answered "Yes!"
All of us here today are most likely familiar with a variety of stories regarding people who are granted three wishes by a genie whom they have let out of a bottle — or by a leprechaun they have either caught or rescued in the woods and have discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These stories are not only familiar to us from legends and fairy tales from our childhood. Adults sometimes play a form of three wishes when they purchase lottery tickets.
Have you noticed how, as the size of a lottery jackpot grows, the number of tickets sold jumps higher and higher? When the prize becomes large, more and more people feel the tug. They want that money. But the fact is still this: only a fool would spend more than a few dollars on this. The people who use their entire paycheck - money that should go for food and rent - almost always find their life in shambles. Why? Because the lottery makes no promise. No guarantee. At best, it's probably entertainment.
But, if you want the genuine excitement of putting your life on the line, only with Jesus Christ is it worth the cost. You give your life over to him; he returns it to you new and fresh. Not bankrupt. Not with a rotten taste in your mouth and a hollow feeling in your heart. He returns your life to you with a center, purpose, and joy.
Finding buried treasure is a dream that many have had. There is a series on TV about Oak Island in Nova Scotia. It is thought to be the site of a great treasure. No one knows exactly who buried treasure there. Over the years it has been conjectured that it must be the hiding place of some famous pirate like Captain Kidd. Now the most plausible explanation seems to be that, centuries ago, the Knights Templar used it as a storage place. There is even the thought that the Holy Grail may be hidden there. At any rate, millions of dollars have been spent fruitlessly trying to find the treasure that everyone is certain is there. All efforts have met with failure, but it doesn't stop one from feeling a great excitement and anticipation that perhaps this time the treasure will be found – that the great puzzle of how to get at a treasure so carefully and deviously hidden will suddenly be clear.
In the end ... Well, the surprise of today's Gospel is that we really don't know what will be "in the end" except the end will be in God's hands. This will be true, as Jesus said, "at the end of the age" in the final judgment. Yet, there is another ending at stake here which is no less in the hands of God. It is "our end" in the sense of what we shall become – or more accurately, what God is making of us.
I have read of people who keep trying to win millions of dollars in contests, drawings, and lotteries. I have read also how they say, "If I win, I'm not going to change a bit." Who are they kidding!? If they don't want their lives to be different, why are they entering in the first place? I suppose they really mean that they will continue to be the "same wonderful, lovable human being" that they are right now.
Something in us is not so content and God knows it. We feel the treasure's tug and we know it holds out the promise of more, or better, or different. This is what we need to look forward to as we sense the drawing power of the love of Christ and we can anticipate coming away changed if we allow ourselves to be touched. There are no lottery tickets to this future, but something far more certain. It's called "faith." It's that "letting go and letting God" when we are touched by "the impulse of his love." It's a pearl that will cost us, but it's worth it.
If you have learned to ride a bicycle, you had to face that moment when the person holding you up let go. The moment. Maybe you crashed and had to begin again and again. Eventually, however, there came the time when you could shout, "Hey, Mom, look here!" and you zoomed around the block with the breeze in your face. In that moment, a joy filled you so full that your heart pounded and you were truly alive. The cost was worth it. The Christian discovers such moments are little parables for the way God upholds us and gives us an amazing and exhilarating joy when we assume the costs and travel by faith.
Most of us would like our faith to make a difference – but not too much. We may have had a wonderful mountain top experience in our lives, a retreat, a Cursillo weekend or a moment in our lives when everything came together for us. We perceived God in a different light. But over time the experience fades. We think about it once in a while. But there are problems in our lives. We have to earn a living and raise our family. There are the stresses and conflicts of life to deal with. We may go to church on Sunday. But to make a commitment to the faith, to work at it, to read our Bibles, to pray – those things we put aside. We want to be committed Christians, but on our own terms.
What is it that you desire the most? What do you want? What do you wish for?
There is treasure buried in the fields all around us. There is a pearl of great value to be had. Just as there is mustard seed to be planted so that it might grow and spread everywhere.
Just as there is yeast to be worked into the dough of our lives – so that we and those near to us may be leavened with righteousness and joy and be raised to a glorious and eternal destiny.
It is here for the seeking – and for the receiving for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
What is the treasure – what is the pearl? It is nothing less than our awareness of the presence of God. I say our awareness – because God is always present – just as that treasure is in the field waiting to be found – just as that pearl is on the market – waiting for us to give ourselves for it.
In reality that is the gospel in the parables we’ve heard today.
That God is here – waiting for us to give up lesser things so that we can embrace him. That God is here – casting his net to catch us – to have us come into his kingdom – his presence.God is here – looking to sow his seed and work his leaven into our lives.
Today, may we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the treasure God has prepared for us: the treasure of God's love and care – his forgiveness and mercy – his power and his wonder, the treasure that wells up to eternal life and eternal joy. And may we be resolved to live by him and in him and through him until the completeness of the Kingdom of God arrives.
Let us pray: Lord, we give you thanks for the word that you hide like a treasure in our heart, for the leaven which is able to penetrate to every area of our life – for the seed that is able to grow into a mighty plant... Help us, we pray, to value all you have given us – to make following Christ the most important thing in our daily lives – to concentrate above all upon doing your will and sharing your love and the good news you have proclaimed through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Isaiah 44:6-8 Romans 8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, guide us by Your Spirit to understand what you are saying to each one of us today. Grant us humility to change our ways and faith to trust you, we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Today we have another parable from Jesus about farming – but it’s not really about agriculture. Last week we heard about the parable of the Sower - the same sower, the same good seed, the same potential for a harvest. Jesus was emphasizing that each person – however unlikely – is given a chance to respond to the Word of God. The Word of God has the same potential within each of us to enable us to grow and mature and to be vital Christians in this world. It is only in our response to the Word that we are compared with the pathway, the rocky ground, the thorny patch, the good soil. Today’ parable is the Weeds and the Wheat. I don't know about you, but of all the parables Jesus tells, this one about the weeds growing among the wheat seems to irritate me the most. In many situations, I want to have happen what the farm hands in this story are ready to do: pull up the weeds, throw the bums out, see the world free from the latest set of scumbags, and do all this immediately. But that is not how the story goes. The landowner won't allow such direct action. In the face of this, maybe we need to look at the story more carefully. Two topics deserve more explanation than this parable itself is able to give them. The first is the weeds. The second is the landowner's words. Let's look at the weeds first. The gardeners among us may raise a suspicious eyebrow at not pulling out the weeds until harvest time. Certainly this is no way to run a farm. One of my memories of growing up on the farm at a young age is having to walk through the grain and corn fields, pulling out wild mustard and cocklebur plants before they went to seed and multiplied profusely the following seasons. No good farmer wanted to look at a sea of yellow among his young oat field. I wish I had been more familiar with Matthew 13 then. I could have told my dad, "Dad, remember what the scripture says: Don't pull those weeds, for in gathering the weeds we might uproot the plants along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest." Of course, that would be very bad farming. The good thing was that I would get a penny a plant for every one of these weeds that I pulled. Today, farmers have selective herbicides to make the destruction of weeds easier and more certain. I’m glad I’m not a kid on a farm today. I wouldn’t be able to make a cent. But in any event weeds are the enemy! So Jesus was saying something truly startling: "Don't pick the weeds!" Once again, Jesus uses a parable to instruct us in some important truths about the Kingdom of God. He deliberately chooses a metaphor which everyone understands, weeds, and turns it on its head in order to make a point. No doubt people listening to Jesus tell this parable went away grumbling about how dumb it was to let the weeds grow – but they remembered the parable long enough to tell it to others and eventually to write it down in at least one of the gospels. The lessons we learn the best always come with some irritation, some contradiction, some irony, some surprise. This is what makes parables powerful and easy to remember. Jesus advised not to be overly hasty in pulling out the weeds because, as he notes, it's not always easy to tell which are the weeds and which are the good plants. You would think that we Christians would have learned this lesson by now. But our history in this regard is a sorry one. It has been very hard for the Church to wait for God's harvest. Over the centuries since Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the Church has often focused more on weeding than planting or tending the garden. If we look at the past two thousand years, we can see that the most tragic areas in the Church's life have been caused by this passion for weeding. Crusades were organized to drive infidels from Jerusalem. Inquisitions rooted out heretics. Women accused of being witches were thrown into the fire like weeds to be burned. Those who were deemed bad seed were excommunicated and cast out of the Church into utter darkness. Organizations had to be set up to decide who the weeds were. The weeds were always people, and sometimes they were called weeds simply because they were different from the groups in power. These human weeds had to be rooted out to protect the harvest. What had happened to Jesus' parable? Hadn't anybody heard what He said about letting the weeds grow up alongside the good seed? It was just too hard. There was the very real fear that the weeds would overwhelm the good plants altogether. In every generation something always had to be done to clean up the field. From our own perspective, who are the weeds growing like crazy in the wheat field of the world? These are the plants we want to yank out by the roots. -- These are the people we want to lock up and then throw away the key. -- These are the people we want to strap in the electric chair. -- These are the people we want to bomb into oblivion. There are times when many of us, at least momentarily, see this as the obvious solution. We want the wheat field of the world to flourish with wheat, and not to be damaged by weeds. Or we may direct our rage, our helplessness, our despair into a question about God. Why doesn't God do something about those people (whoever they are)? Where is God when they commit their horrible crimes? The parable does not deny that there are weeds in the wheat. It does not suggest for a moment that the world is free from evil. Instead, the weeds are all too visible. The landowner knows what's happened -- "An enemy has done this!" Yes, the world is a terribly broken place. What is meant to be a wheat field is holding countless weeds. Jesus told this parable because he knew that we have an irresistible tendency to want to pull weeds. We have a tendency to want to clean up the church, to get rid of the sinners, to get rid of the rotten apples. But Jesus warns us to be careful. We need to realize that if we removed every person who ever sinned, no one would be left. And you and I -- sometimes we are wheat and sometimes we are weeds. St. Augustine, in commenting on this parable, makes the same point when he says: "There is this difference between people and real grain and real weeds, for what was grain in the field is grain and what were weeds are weeds. But in the Lord's field, which is the church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow." God is not an all-seeing farm manager driving by to see how many weeds have grown up. God may be far more concerned about the weeds we pull up than the weeds we pass by. For the weeds are always people; people who are pointed at, chastised, condemned, cast out. Jesus didn't understand how bad it could get in the earthly field. Jesus had never met the people we've seen. Aren't Christians called to condemn evil? Surely God doesn't want us to let anything go. Can't God see that too many weeds could indeed choke the harvest? Jesus is also telling us that there is a final harvest and a judgment day held at the end of the age and the harvest workers will be the angels; Then the weeds will be separated from the wheat and burned in the fire. "Then God's people will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom" – the church at last made perfect. We need not rush around trying to do God's job. We only are called to be patient, secure, and confident that God is right and will win in the end. We also should trust that God is at work in the world and in our hearts – where there are also many weeds. In the ultimate moment God will bring forth a great harvest according to God's own plan and with a bounty just as great even if we don't pull out the weeds. Just let them both grow. Who knows what will turn out to be wheat after all? There is great wisdom in the serenity prayer, which reads; "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." Perhaps it has its roots in the parable of the weeds. God wants us to live alongside the "weeds" of life. To be consumed by them could be hazardous to our health and well-being. They are a reality and the parable makes it clear that it is God’s job to destroy the weeds, not ours. For ultimately it is the good seeds that will prevail. When we are focused on the weeds of life we are in danger of living in isolation. We attempt to live as if they do not exist and in the process we withdraw from the world. That causes us to be alienated from people who may have great potential. We may even reach a state of paranoia, living in fear, instead of living in peace. It is easy to make judgments about people who are different from us. It is sometimes easier to live in our own little worlds, avoiding the "weeds" of life. Our mission is not to be "weed choppers" but persons who are tolerant, people who build bridges of acceptance and unity. And God wants us to be people who are patient, tending to our lives through continuous nurture, growing, learning and keeping an open mind. The way to make sure we are part of God’s harvest is not to remove the weeds from life, but to ensure we are growing. As we learned last week through the parable of the sower, we are to be listening. And now through the parable of the weeds we learn to be tolerant of people who are different and cope with the things in life that we cannot change.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for your love, a love so great that you have mercy towards all people and give them the time they need to come to you and to open their hearts to the good seed you want to plant in them. Help us to be focused on the good things that you do rather than the bad things the evil one does. Help us to be those who plant rather than pluck up what has been planted. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Isaiah 55:10-13 Romans 8:1-11 Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, guide us by Your Spirit to understand what you are saying to us today. Grant us humility to change our ways and the faith to trust you, we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
During Pentecost Season 2020, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two “tracks” of readings from the Old Testament. The second track of readings which we are using perfectly pairs with the reading from the Old Testament with the Gospel reading. In our first reading from Isaiah we hear: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Then in our Gospel from Matthew we have the well-known parable of the sower. Both readings are about God’s word, and both use agricultural imagery, including the language of “sower” and “seed.” Both readings agree that God’s word works in subtle, unobservable ways, and ultimately produces unimaginable abundance. Those who are familiar with agriculture know that a good famer never wastes anything, especially any of their seed, since that is their means of living. Our Gospel today tells us a strange and vivid story, but when we look a little bit deeper, it might not be so strange after all. Think about it – when we witness the birth of a child, accomplish a hard-earned goal, our favorite team wins, or we receive a birthday present that we are overjoyed about, aren’t we so happy that we are about to burst? We’re just bubbling over and feel we have to share our good news with others. We don’t care what kind of day they have been having or if they know us or if they even care; we just have to share our joy. We’re throwing it everywhere with abandon—we’ve got plenty! Isn’t that what the sower in our parable is doing? The seed is so abundant; the sower doesn’t care where it goes. What that sower trusts is that God will provide the response in the hearts of the people where the Word is being sowed. God’s generous abundance keeps overflowing in us so that we are compelled to share it with others. And, what about the others? Jesus further elaborates on his own parable by describing each of the different soils where the seeds land. This is about the cycle of sowing and reaping; telling and hearing; sharing and responding. Now, we all know people from each of these soil “types” and most of us shift between one soil and another - sometimes on the same day or even within an hour. We’d like to believe that we are the good soil, but if we are honest, we probably aren’t – at least not all the time. As human beings, we are complex creations of thoughts, feelings, and the ability to act on them. When we experience discomfort, we want it to go away and may act impulsively in order to find comfort or release from pain and anxiety. We all have experienced this—whether shopping, gambling, food, sex, our tempers, drinking, lying—you name it. Sometimes it isn’t a big deal, but sometimes the little things add up to extremely damaging consequences, both for ourselves and those close to us. Right now, in the news and on social media, we are seeing deaths from COVID-19, deaths from angry violence, relationship struggles, job loss, bankruptcies, and despair from anxiety, causing people to behave reactively with dire consequences. These things take root from a seed misleadingly small—the desire to be our own God – a desire to have what we want, when we want it, regardless of the costs or who else may be affected. St. Augustine astutely reminds us that no one should “say that he [or she] is more worthy of life than others,” and if we are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” then this is the standard toward which we must grow. The Bible is full of people putting themselves before God and their neighbors. When we are focused on our own desires, our envy, our fits of rage, our discord, our hatred—the good soil of our hearts turns into a wasteland. Those impulses can get us into loads of trouble; when we give in without tempering them with our call from God, we end up with no depth of spirit, choked with the thorns of the world. We yield nothing, and our actions break the cycle of abundance. Others do not experience the love of God through us and we have lost the chance to share the abundance we received. Have you ever met someone that you immediately feel is a holy person? There is something about the way they move and live and have their being that speaks to you on a soul level. We might say they are living in the Spirit and, oh, how we long for what they have! But we have those qualities as well. They are the seeds that were first planted in us when we heard the Word of God from a sower, nurtured in us by baptism, and enriched by coming together in community for strength and renewal. Seeds sown in the good soil of our hearts blossom into the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If the seeds of God’s love flower into these fruits, then what do those new seeds look like? There is pollination, cross-pollination, and new growth all over the place! The cycle of sowing begins again. God’s abundant love sees to that. We go about our daily business, living in faithfulness in God’s abundance and being sowers among those we encounter. We don’t often get to see where the seeds fall, but the point is that we continue to sow. The Church’s mission and our mission is to spread the Good News to every end of the Earth. Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This still holds true for us today. There are infinite ways for us to be the Church he describes: by giving a smile to someone who is feeling lonely, watching the kids so a couple can have some time to themselves, donating money to an organization that helps those who are marginalized, speaking up when you witness an injustice occurring, praying for those you dislike – the list can go on and on. As Isaiah said: ”So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We are both the sowers and the soil. Without the one, the other would not make sense. When we go forth today, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, may we sow abundantly, and may the seed that is sown in us bear the plentiful fruit of God’s love. Amen.
Zechariah 9:9-12 Romans 7:15-25a Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we come before you, asking for understanding. We want to see ourselves as you see us: the empty and barren places, the halfhearted struggles, the faint stirrings of new life. Do not let us be blind to your presence. Shine upon us, O God, and make our paths clear, for we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Come to me, take my yoke, learn from me; I am gentle, humble in heart; you will find rest for your souls.
Hearing these readings on a day when many are still engaged in celebrating American Independence Day certainly brings to mind the symbolic freedoms associated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Along with these celebrations there is a time for rest. It is a long weekend for many; three days of rest rather than the usual two-day weekend. This weekend brings to mind picnics, fireworks, and parades with patriotic overtones. Even though our country is made up of a diverse mix of people, nations, cultures, and languages, these readings, and this holiday challenge us to engage in a full understanding of power and a complete surrender to God. They challenge us to question where our loyalties lie, but more importantly, we are challenged to understand that sin sometimes comes from inaction as surely as it comes from action. On this day we might even say that we are being challenged to free ourselves from the sinfulness of the world and to declare our lives in dependence to our God.
How often have we felt like Paul did in his letter to the Romans? No matter how hard we try to live according to the great commandments, to love God and love our neighbor, it doesn’t always turn out that way.
This is not because we are horrid, retched creatures, but because there is sin in the world. And sin is powerful. It is so powerful that sometimes we just withdraw from action and words, and we allow whatever is happening to happen. Our inaction becomes the sin, especially when we know that an injustice is causing suffering and causing separation between people and God.
Paul sounds like he is exhausted and in his desperation is unable to do any more to free himself from sin. His words suggest that maybe sin is lurking like a monster under the bed, just waiting to take us over.
Even in the gospel reading, Jesus reminds the crowd that some thought John was possessed with a demon, yet he lived a life of denial and simplicity. Jesus lived overturning injustices and unveiling the many ways that society’s attitudes and laws actually reflected sinfulness rather than loving God and loving neighbors. He pointed out that sin could come from twisting the law to cause loss of humanity and life. Paul’s cry of desperation is quickly calmed with his own acknowledgement that sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion.
Jesus does not tell us that it is an easy task to be free of sin and follow him. In fact, there is a cost. The cost may even come from the place we have trusted and have pledged our loyalty. That is why it is so hard to understand what sin is, and often just as hard to know what love is as well.
So, even when our motives are on target, sin seems strong enough to destroy. And yet, sin cannot exist when we abide in Christ and Christ in us. When we transfer our loyalty from the material powers of the world to the infinite love of God we find ourselves experiencing the passionate expressions of love that we read about in today’s Old Testament reading and psalm. We are filled with a sense of blessing and abundance.
The answers to everything are found in the unexpected, and with that come both peace and joy. Paul’s cry of desperation is quickly calmed with his acknowledgement that sin is defeated by God through our life in and with Jesus as our companion. And no words, no matter how profound, can really describe love so that we or another can understand. These readings both challenge and assure us. They hint at the profound simplicity of a life in Christ, and they serve as a mirror for us to examine our understanding of who we are along with how we are living. Our desire is to love God and to love our neighbor. When we do not love God and our neighbor, we are in sin.
Jesus gave us these most reassuring words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Come to me, take my yoke, learn from me; I am gentle, humble in heart; you will find rest for your souls.
Let us come to God through Jesus. Let us take on the yoke of discipleship. Let us learn from Jesus. Be gentle, humble in heart and you will be at peace with all that God made.
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, only in freedom can we direct ourselves toward your goodness. Our ancestors made much of this freedom and pursued it eagerly. Help us we pray, to remember that your Son is yoked to us and gives us His freedom, so that in obedience to your will we may find our perfect freedom. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.