Proper 17—30th July, 2017

Proper 17—30th July, 2017

Genesis 29:15-28;  Psalm 105:1-11;  Romans 8:26-39;  Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

It was meant to be a special meal—our treat, possibly the last time when the four of us would be able to go out together, relax, talk and enjoy some fantastic food in a beautifully converted 16th Century mill.  Sharing such a perfect setting and glorious sunset with people you love, what more could you ask?  Yet just a few mouthfuls into the main course, the youngest, fittest member of our foursome suddenly darted off and didn’t return.  We found him crying in the car.

Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what we are thinking or feeling—perhaps because so many emotions and thoughts are crowding in on us that we feel confused or so overwhelmed that we want to retreat from them and find a safe place where we can take a rest, a bit of a breather from whatever concerns, demands or excitement get to be ‘too much’.  Whether we consciously pray or not, that seems to me precisely when ...the Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words,... making sense of our incoherent hopes and fears, so that ...God, who searches the heart,... knows our needs even before we ask.  Paul believed that ultimately ...all things work for good for those who love God,... but given all the bad things that happen to good people do we believe it?  Does it help?  In the short-term, situations can still overwhelm us, but how about long term?  If we have faith, I think it helps us hold on to hope and be patient for the ...kingdom [to] come on earth as it is in heaven... but in the meantime while we wait for God’s power of goodness to bring final peace of mind and peace in the world to do whatever we can to help make that a reality for all.

Amongst the images Jesus used in his parables which landed on us in rapid succession this morning, we hear that the Kingdom of Heaven grows like a seed that becomes a tree, or yeast that causes bread dough to rise—it starts small, but becomes bigger over time.  In the short-term its beauty and purpose may seem hidden, but whether we stumble over it as if by luck, like a ploughman going about his daily work, or we go looking for it like the merchant searching for fine pearls—we know it when we see it, and truly treasure it.  However, while we may be happy to invest or sacrifice a lot for peace, justice and all the other wonderful things we associate with God’s rule and heaven on earth, would it be exaggerating to say we are prepared to sell everything to achieve that?  And if not, is that OK too?

Exaggeration is a great teaching tool that Jesus sometimes used to make a point.  For example, mustard seeds grow into bushes, but even the biggest are not really trees, and three  measures of flour would make enough bread for about 150 people therefore require an Olympic weight-lifter to wrestle with that much dough—so can we take the idea of selling everything to buy a single pearl with a grain of salt?  Did Jesus have a twinkle in his eye as if to say Gotcha, now I’ve got you hooked, let me reel you in!  Or rather now I’ve caught your attention with my net, what will you find as you sort out your own thoughts and what needs to be thrown out?  The dragnet story is the sting in the tail, all about judgement with the angels sorting out the good from the bad, throwing the evil into the furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  I am not ignoring that by saying we have to sort out our thoughts in response to the parables, rather than leave judgement until later when angels will sort us out.  But Jesus also said the Kingdom is near—it’s within us, which is why I believe we are involved in the process of Kingdom come constantly as it grows within us and through us—evolving, gaining importance and becoming precious to us as we let God go to work on us through Christ’s words.  Judgement is part of that—not the judgement of a nasty, vindictive God, nor of others, but an honest self assessment and joyful self-acceptance that comes when we experience mercy and judgement simultaneously.

It’s true, amazing grace can set us free to continue growing and really did save a wretch like me.  Years ago when I met Christ face-to-face, I encountered such deep, limitless love that I knew even at my best I couldn’t come close to it, and at my worst I fell so far short it wasn’t funny.  Yet in the same moment I judged and saw myself as God knows me, Christ’s love and mercy simultaneously swept away the bad, casting it in the fire where it was gone for good, allowing me to forgive in myself my failings and accept myself as Christ does.  

I am certainly not perfect, but that experience stays with me and is still able to redeem me after making mistakes by facing up to them and repenting, correcting what I can, learning, growing and stumbling again—but with Christ beside me and a bit of help from my friends being able to get up and move forward, move on.  It was like looking into a mirror that not only showed me as I am, but as God sees me and how I could be.  Perhaps Jacob finally looked into that same mirror when his father-in-law tricked him into having to work longer to win the hand of Rachel, then appreciated the damage he’d done deceiving his own father and brother, tricking Esau out of his birthright.  That was the hard truth he had to wrestle with before they could be reconciled.  

The Holy Spirit can communicate with us and for us through dreams and everyday experiences, through the wisdom and needs of others or the ways they treat us, because all that helps teach us what to do or not to do, what we call good and what is bad that needs to be cast away.  The teachings of Jesus are another tool we have been given to guide us, or in the case of parables to make us think.  Today we had five—two that talked about the Kingdom of heaven as what happens when a mysterious life-force or hidden power of goodness acts like a catalyst, causing amazing growth even from small beginnings.  In the next two parables, God happening (which is how I think of the Kingdom), is pictured as something precious we might stumble over by accident in our daily lives or deliberately go looking for, but either way we know it when we see it.  Recognizing it is a gift, responding to it wholeheartedly, giving Goodness our all can really surprise us with joy.  As for the dragnet—I believe that there is judgment, but at the same time, thro’ Gods amazing grace we are offered forgiveness and the chance of new life anytime we need, anytime at all.  That’s why I am certain that nothing at all can separate us from the love of God because God’s nature is Love—it is the constant, enduring quality of God’s presence that we can rely on forever.  We may not always manage to be loving nor always get it right, but if we make start, talking of long-term—we have the whole of eternity to get it right.