8 Pentecost A—7/30/17
1 Kings 3:5-12; Rom. 8:26-39; Matt. 13:31-52
Pr. Scott Kramer
I have with me this morning one of my favorite plants.
Grevillea is an Australian native. I love this plant! It’s evergreen, it’s hardy in winter and blooms–even in snow! Hummingbirds love it, especially in winter. It is drought-tolerant, grows rapidly and can be pruned easily. And get this–it loves poor soil, which makes it a great fit for the unfertile soil of our Lakeridge yards!
Jesus uses a variety of parables in today’s reading to describe the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven that he speaks of is not merely the afterlife; the kingdom of heaven is anywhere and everywhere that love prevails, including this life.
God’s Word pushes back against our deeply-held beliefs about the way things are. For example, we think we know what “good soil” is. It’s rich, fertile soil such as we might find in the Skagit Valley. Well, many plants thrive in such fertile soil but not grevillea. Grevillea needs everything that other plants need—light, water, soil, nutrients—but in soil that we call poor or worthless this plant thrives!
Appearances can be deceiving. Poor soil seems worthless. A tiny seed is only one of countless others just like it. A pinch of yeast seems hardly worth noting. A field is just a field. An oyster is just a shell. And a net is just a piece of material with a whole lot of holes in it!
And yet, Jesus observes, the kingdom of heaven where love prevails is like just such ordinary things. God’s presence, power and love is just waiting to be discovered, especially in what seems small or worthless.
Our readings today affirm God’s preference for what is weak and ordinary in the world to reveal the kingdom of heaven. In our first reading God appears to young Solomon in a dream with a “mission impossible.” Solomon says, “I’m only a child.” And God replies, “Yeah, I know. That’s what I like about you. I can work with that!” And to the church in Rome the Apostle Paul proclaims, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought…”
Taken at face value, Christians and Christian faith may appear to be of little value. One among you recently mentioned to me a friend’s skepticism about Christian faith: “How is the story of Christianity different from fairy tales?” You won’t hear many church-going folk dare ask such a thing but it is a good question! The Bible is “just a book,” like countless others. Have followers of Jesus over the past two thousand years been suckered into superstitious beliefs, ancient rituals, and social networks that are based on a book full of fairy tales? Are we just fans of Jesus like some folks are fans of Harry Potter?
Maybe a mustard seed really is just a mustard seed. Maybe a pinch of yeast is just that. Maybe a field is just a field, an oyster is just a shell, and a net is just a piece of material with a whole lot of holes in it! Taken at face value, our Christian beliefs and practices may appear ordinary, weak and of little value.
And yet, as Jesus observes, the natural world assures us that it is a mistake to take things at face value. The kingdom of heaven where love prevails is like just such ordinary things—full of life, full of surprises, full of miracles, full of wonder, full of great value! God’s love is the foundation of everything that exists and is waiting to be discovered in what may seem not only ordinary but small, powerless and useless.
I was with my brother and his family at Coulon Beach Park this past week. We were eating lunch by the lake under a blue sky. Boaters and swimmers and fishermen were enjoying a perfectly gorgeous day, as they probably are at this very minute. And I thought to myself, as I often do, that in our part of the world, especially during summer, it shouldn’t be surprising that people don’t flock to church. The miracle is that anyone at all shows up for Sunday morning worship!
If a seed is just a seed and an oyster is just a shell, then yes, there are few good reasons to follow Jesus and to participate in ancient rituals on Sunday morning. Life is too short; fairy tales are for children.
But again, rather than dismiss the critics, I wonder what we might learn from those who view Christian faith as fairy tales. How might their questions stretch us and help us to grow? How is a church community different from a social club or social network? Is God just a genie in a bottle who will grant us what we want if we’re just good enough, or pray hard enough, or believe most sincerely? Is our interest in God based primarily on a desire for a happy result after we die, and if so, how is that different from a life insurance policy? “I’ll scratch your back, God, if you’ll scratch mine.”
In class this morning we discussed yet another “lie” we believe about God. This lie is that “God is a Magician.” The lie is that we can manipulate God through our prayers or good deeds to change our circumstances to our own personal advantage.
If it’s self-interest that drives our faith, then we Christians are just like a whole lot of non-Christians and maybe we should not be surprised by a world that views our stories as fairy tales. But the faith that we have received is not about self-interest but service to the world God loves. It is this love, as Paul assures us in our second reading, that Christians are called to live and to proclaim, and this love is unshakeable. I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Fairy tales? Well, things are not always what they appear. Unfertile soil is not always useless; it is rich with life for this grevillea. And a seed is not just a seed. There’s a whole tree inside! A pinch of yeast contains a loaf of bread. An ordinary field might contain a treasure. An oyster is not just a shell; it holds the miracle of life, and might even contain a pearl! A net, despite all the holes, can be full of fish. Inside this book of what to some people look like fairy tales are stories that point to the very foundation of all that is. And inside each of you, beloved, ordinary brothers and sisters, is the kingdom of heaven, where love prevails. God’s presence and power is just waiting to be discovered through you each day by a world hungry for love.