Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven is like...

          Greeting to you all on behalf of the South Plainfield/Edison Lutheran Parish,
greetings on behalf of St. Stephen Lutheran,
and much more importantly, greetings in the name of Jesus. Amen.

          Today we will be looking briefly at a string of parables that Jesus speaks, first to a crowd, and then away from the crowd to his disciples alone.
          Now a parable is a simple story told to make a complex point.
          For example, in order to express that God’s command to love our neighbor transcends race, ethnicity, and religion, Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan man going out of his way to help a Jewish man
—That story is often entitled the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
          As I said, a parable is a simple story told to make a complex point.

          And when it comes to Parables I have certain convictions about them. I believe parables are to be read in a particular way.
          Parables express something that is abstract and out there in a concrete way right here. Parables, also, speak truths into being.
          And when a deep truth blossoms forth from our Savior’s lips the raw images he uses cling to our ears, our minds, and our hearts for a very long time.
          We chew on parables until they start to chew on us.
Jesus’ Parables are not to be read—instead they eventually begin to read us.
          Let us pray

          The first two parables today are told outside, to the crowd, to everyone.
It is answering the unasked question “How can one rabbi from the sticks and his rag tag followers flip the world on its head.”

          A shallow answer to this question found in these parables, is that we find something small becoming something very large.
          But when we look more carefully we see we’re dealing with mustard seed in a field—mustard seed is a weed, like Pachysandra or Kudzu or crab grass—an invasive species, a vegetative pest.
          It’s a tree smack dab in the middle of a field, obsticles aren’t helpful when farming
—a tree filled with birds
—hospitable to birds
—birds which eat and peck at the wheat and other plants of the field…
It’s disruptive!
          Or think about yeast
—yeast isn’t a positive image in scripture
—remember in another place Jesus describes the teaching of the Pharisees as Yeast to be avoided.
          And then there are the three measures of flour—that’s like 50 pounds of flour, all changed by a small sprinkling of yeast.
          The thrust of these two parables isn’t simply that small things become large, but instead that the Kingdom of Heaven is a tiny offensive thing, which disrupts and changes everything, and it leads to hospitality.

          Last week’s reading, in which Jesus leaves the crowd and privately explains his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares to his disciples, is what’s missing in today’s reading, between the first set of parables and the final three.
So, these next parables of the Kingdom, unlike the first, are directed at his disciples.
          And he begins by telling them two tales of the Kingdom, that the Kingdom of Heaven is hidden, it is of great worth
—such great worth that duplicity, hiding a treasure in order to acquire the treasure, is logical
—such great worth that selling everything for its sake, is not a burden, but a joy—our duty and our delight.

          Then finally, Jesus tells the disciples a parable like the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. He tells of a net filled with both good and bad fish, and that those good and bad fish are not separated until they’ve all been brought to the shore.
          From this, and last week’s, parable, St. Augustine finds a great truth about the Church
—that we’re a mixed body, filled with both saints and sinners, and any attempt to purify the church, remove the sinners from it, ends up destroying it whole clothe
—such judgments are for God alone.

          Then Jesus concludes these Parables of the Kingdom by asking “You understand this all right?” To which the disciples respond, “Amen.”
          So Jesus says his disciples ought to bring forward treasures both old and new.

          And taking Jesus’ command seriously, here are a few treasures for you, the old and the new together.
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like the lawn in front of a church, well manicured and respectable, but a wind blew dandelion fuzz everywhere, and it quickly grew up and vexed the Property Committee. The neighborhood kids, those ne’er-do-wells, thought it looked so lovely that they lay down amongst them and lazed in the summer sun.
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grody old unused parsonage of a tiny church with a part-time pastor. It was fixed up, and in its time housed many a family down on their luck.
Thanks be to God.

          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a stock trader who received insider information, told no one, sold his whole portfolio, and bought the sure thing.
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a coach who saw a great player, and gave up all his draft picks for that player, and rejoiced much.
Thanks be to God.

          The Kingdom of Heaven is like 4 churches with many and varied members. They joined together as a Parish and soldiered on for the sake of the Gospel in central Jersey.
          Some of their collective efforts failed, others succeeded, it was never clear which would be which beforehand.
Thanks be to God.

          Have you understood all this?
          Good, after service, get on out of here, you followers of Jesus you, and tell folk in every way about the ways of Kingdom of Heaven and the Joy of the Gospel.