Jul. 30, 2017 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jul 30, 2017 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12A)

July 30, 2017

The kingdom of heaven is like a group of teenagers who went to work at the Blackfoot Idaho Reservation, rising at 6:30 AM, working with children and doing hard chores in the sun until 2 PM, and then went and worked even harder until 6:30 PM at the local food bank. When they were finished they did not wilt or complain or whine, rather they wanted to do it all over again, and to do the same here at home.

The kingdom of heaven is like the chaperones and youth who, at the end of the workday, needed rest and peace, amidst all the noisy clamor, uncertainty, and close quarters among new companions. When they felt God’s grace descend on them in the Compline prayers each night, they came to hunger for it and call others into that sacred time too.

The kingdom of heaven is like people of all ages who entered a room filled with treasure books that no one could find, and they spent countless hours making them visible and accessible. Even knowing it was only the start of a multi-year job, they undertook this call from God because starting it was more faithful than letting chaos reign defeat among that treasure.

The kingdom of heaven is like the congregation who welcomed all who came as Christ himself, and when new people joined they found their faith was transformed and deepened by the love, health, learning, and joy of that place, and so they changed their lives to put Christ first, and be ever more faithful in prayer and community.

In each of these parables there is a spiritual truth which transcends time and culture and even the storyteller. Faith which was small and unlikely as a mustard seed grew to become something so great that the birds of the air could nest in its branches. The quiet joy that was discovered in each of these new parables leavened the whole community, just as the smallest spores of yeast leaven all of the loaves it goes into. In each of these parables the treasure found was so great that those who glimpsed it were willing to labor long and give up much, because what once appeared to have great value by the usual standards, now paled beside that fine pearl of great value God had shown them.

Jesus’ parables were about things the people knew, and today’s parables are about what many of you know and have yourselves experienced. His parables gave them the gift of really knowing something instead of learning about it in an abstract way; they understood his teachings from within their own experiences, their own bodies. Humble size or beginnings don’t matter, there is still great potential. Glorious transformation is not only possible, but exponential and contagious. True joy is not about things or money, rather it is worth so much more as to make us give up those riches to attain God’s offered joy. The net, like our lives, will catch it all, and we must coexist peacefully, leaving the judgement to the Holy One—not ourselves.

What about that scribe—“who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old”? The scribes were the ones trained in the law, in the scriptures, responsible for leading others by discerning, mining, from wisdom both the old and the new, in order to help guide the people. Today this is a responsibility we share in many ways, and in being people of the gospel of Jesus Christ we are to be curious and explore, that we might consider what it says to us today—every day. We hear these ancient words from Jesus, as told by Matthew, and I wonder what Jesus would say today if he lived among us. That is where my ‘new parables’ you just heard today came from, and that is what I invite you to do as God shines all around us with this exquisite season; listen to the parables of God in your family, your community, your work, your church.

Parables are the holy stories of the ordinary things of life during ordinary time; seeds and nets, birds and fields, yet when seen with the eyes of Christ they reveal extraordinary truths. There is nothing remarkable about the object or the hour, it is a sacred moment of vision possible because someone wants to know about the kingdom of heaven and someone else can see it well enough to make it visible. I saw our youth and our adult chaperones do just that all week, and as they formed themselves into a true community of the Body of Christ; they revealed the kingdom of heaven to me and others by their words and actions, their hard work and openness to serving God. They ranged from age 12 to 55, from a variety of different schools, experience and backgrounds, yet in becoming a community of faith their self-giving made them a conduit for divine grace. God spoke wisdom through every one of those adults, college students, high school and middle school students. It might have been 23 individuals who packed into those vans to go to Blackfoot Idaho at 5am, but it was the Body of Christ who lived and served there, and has come back to share the Spirit with us.

Canadian philosopher, theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier founded L’Arche, an international group of 147 multi-home communities in 37 countries for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. L’Arche is rooted in Christianity, but is open to people of any faith. He knows a thing or two about the power of life in community. He writes,

A community is only truly a body when the majority of its members is making the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community,’ when each person’s heart is opening to all the others without exceptions. This is the movement from egoism to love, from death to resurrection; it is the Easter…Love is listening to others, being concerned for them, and feeling empathy with them. It is to see their beauty and reveal it to them…it means suffering with them – weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice. It is living in with each other, taking refuge in each other…and if love means moving toward each other, it also and above all means moving together in the same direction, hoping and wishing for the same things. Love means sharing the same vision and the same ideal.  (Beyond Self: Community and Growth, Mahwah, NJ, Paulist Press, 1989.)

This is what I saw in the people on St. Michael’s mission trip, and this is what I so often get to see in this community. There is a genuine wholeness here and as such we do embody Christ. We do it by belonging to each other in such a way that makes us more giving of ourselves as we give to God and to others. I see it in the mutual recognition of the growing light in someone as they find their way. It is, as I’ve just seen on our trip, in the ready smile which shines through the sweat of service dripping down one’s grimy face, and in the quiet peace of that deep unspoken truth in prayer together. It is in the sacred parables which arise from our lives together.

Where do you hear Christ’s parables and teachings come to life? Where do you see that mustard seed, the yeast, the pearl, a treasure-filled field, or the fish net? Maybe it’s another story entirely? What sacred parable are you a part of right now, that will become how you tell your faith story; “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

© 2017 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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