the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

kingdom

This sermon was preached at the 8am and 10:30am Sunday Services, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 13;31-33, 44-52

Today is about kingdom. Today is about how we interact with kingdom, how kingdom interacts with us. And, these (many) descriptions, parables about the kingdom are not the same. There are similarities. It makes sense why they are grouped together by Matthew (and the editors of the Revised Common Lectionary) because they share a similar subject and some even sound much like the one that precedes it, but these parables, these descriptions of kingdom are not the same. So, when Christ asks the disciples, “Have you understood?” and they answer, “Yes.” I don’t believe it. I mean, really?! You really understood all of this, you understood these stream of parables thrown at you? I mean, I know Peter certainly didn’t get it, so really Matthew, you want us to believe the disciples simply said, “yup, we got you Jesus, no problem.”? Nice try.

What I wish the disciples had said was, “we’re certainly trying to.” Because, that’s what I think we all strive to accomplish in our faith, certainly trying to understand what is before us, understand what is asked of us, understand what we are to do with our faith. And, we can try to understand what Jesus is saying here, in fact I think we have to try and understand because that is how we build our faith. We wrestle with passages each week, we especially wrestle with the direction the gospels take us in this season after Pentecost. There is no culminating event in this season (expect for the apocalyptic literature we get at the end), there is no Christmas, Lent is not right around the corner, and Easter has just passed. And yet, we are presented with gospel lessons each week, sometimes somewhat interestingly edited (you’ll notice we’re missing 11 verses from the middle of today’s gospel passage), presented so that we may know the whole picture of Jesus’ life and ministry. Presented so that over the course of three years, we hear from each of the gospel accounts, we are reminded of the important stories and events, and are exposed to those unique events that only pop up in one gospel. So, let’s try together today to understand these various expressions of kingdom.

A mustard seed, I know this one!

Oh wait, wrong mustard seed parable.

In this mustard seed parable (not the one about the “size” of our faith), we hear that the smallest of all the seeds grows into a great tree. And, did you know, that’s not really that much hyperbole. Like many of you, I’ve seen mustard seeds. Like many of you, I had not actually seen a mustard tree or bush until I googled it this week. Depending on the variety, they can get huge! Go on and google it for yourself right now if you want, I’ll allow the multitasking. What then, does this parable mean for us? How does the smallest seed, growing into a great tree, providing a place for the birds to nest, make our understanding of kingdom, of faith any clearer?

[Ok, you should be done googling now]

For me, today, this parable of the kingdom speaks to me about how we grow our very faith, through formation. Formation experienced as learning, formation experienced as worship, formation experienced as camp romances, formation experienced as a kid coloring in the pews. Formation, our education and learning of our faith, starts at the very beginning, as a seed. It is only through the growth of that seed into a great tree, a tree that can offer support to others, that kingdom is realized. And, we have the responsibility to insure that seeds can grow in this place. Formation is not just for children, although they are perhaps at the best place in life to learn and grow. We have to provide formation for all who come to this place. We have to invest in growing the seeds in our youngest members. We have to commit to growing those seeds, and nurturing the bushes, of those who wonder and wander in their young adult lives. We have to grow the seeds and care for the trees as they question and probe their faith through the maturity and experience of life.

And the kingdom continues to come alive through our commitment to forming all who come in through these doors.

Kingdom as yeast comes to us to remind us that it doesn’t happen without work. You can’t have yeast and have flour, and not combine the two if you want it leavened, if you want to create something more than the two parts by themselves. And that is how our faith must be understood. It is not simple enough to take in one part of this experience and call it good, you must put in the work of combining the different aspects of our experience here together, our worship, the music, education, opportunities for children and youth, opportunities to serve, to create something new, something active, something that creates kingdom in this place.

And in doing this work, we experience the joy that is finding the kingdom, finding the buried treasure in your very own field, finding the one pearl and making it yours, no cost too high, no barrier too large. When we find kingdom, we have to put our all into holding onto that, into owning that, into making it ours. If you find kingdom in this place, then you need to put everything you have into making sure that kingdom stays in this place. That means serving through volunteering, through serving in worship as a reader, a prayer, in the choir, at the altar rail, as an acolyte or a verger. You hold onto kingdom in this place by making sure that kingdom can be found in this place. By sharing the fact that kingdom is here with any and all you encounter. By instilling in those who seek, that kingdom can be found here, that as their seed grows, they too will know and recognize the kingdom that is present.

And, kingdom is about doing the work of fishing. In a clever turn of phrase, Jesus marks the very first disciples he calls as fishers of men. And so we too must cast our nets. We have to spread out the Good News of Christ. We have to attract fish into our nets through the example of our words and actions, through the presence of kingdom shining bright from this place. And, part of kingdom is organization. Not everyone that comes to this place will find kingdom here. Not everyone that is currently in this place is finding kingdom here. And that’s ok. It is our job to help those who are not finding kingdom to understand why. Perhaps, they simply are looking for a different expression of the kingdom then the one we offer, and that is totally a legit and noble thing to admit. Perhaps, you are too focused in on the work you see before you in this place, that you forget to look up and see that there is kingdom making happening all over this place that you didn’t realize, by many in this place who you don’t know, and perhaps it is time that you too start to create kingdom, by growing in faith and knowledge and trust in the experience of faith that is found in this place, so much so that your joy of being in this place is so great that you cannot help but throw out nets to bring more people in.

And sometimes, angels will come and separate out the evil. Evil, real evil, is thankfully not often seen. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t all experience little pieces of evil that need to be separated out, to be thrown into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Little pieces like pride, like a refusal to change, like a lack of faith in trusting in the Holy Spirit to be with us, always, even in times such as these. Little pieces like anger, like fear, like the hunger for power and control. It is these little pieces that need to be sorted out. It is these little pieces that the angels come to throw into the furnace of fire, if we are willing to acknowledge them, if we are willing to take part in the throwing out.

How do we know we are the righteous, that our pieces are righteous? We know through the celebration and act of educating ourselves and others, through experiencing the power of formation through worship, through relationships, through Children’s Church and Adult Forum hour. We know we are the righteous through the work that we put in to create more, to create kingdom through our active role in doing the work. We know we are the righteous through the joy we express in our faith, through the joy we have in discovering and rediscovering this kingdom that is being created here.

Kingdom is our goal. Kingdom experienced here, now, means that we are doing the work of God, living into the model of ministry left for us by Christ, living and sharing the Good News that we find through building our faith through formation, through doing the work of our faith in this place and out in the world, through expressing our joy in that faith to all, and bringing others into that experience of faith by casting our nets out far and wide. Kingdom is the goal, and kingdom is achievable, if we simply understand, or at least try to.

Amen.

what do we expect of god

This sermon was preached at the 8am and 10:30am Sunday Services, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 8:12-25

There is a great groaning in creation, deep within our souls, labor pains as we await the full potential, the full expectation for creation to be realized. It is this groaning, this painful expectation for something, for kingdom, to be seen, to be felt, to be actualized in the here and now, that we have been struggling with for our entire history as a church, perhaps our entire history as creation.

Paul, in writing to the Romans, really was convinced that Jesus’ return was to happen literally at any moment. Paul felt that the end of times had come, that Jesus’ second coming was nigh, that the work of the church was to prepare the way for that to happen the very next day, if it weren’t to happen that very day. Paul (at least while writing to the Romans) was convinced that he, himself, would see the second coming of Christ in his lifetime. Thus, for Paul, these groans of labor pains reverberating throughout creation signaled the moment where we were to be pushed into a new existence, leaving the place of our creation in the womb to be fully realized in the embrace of God in God’s kingdom experienced here in God’s creation. But, Jesus did not come again while Paul was still alive. Jesus has not yet come again for these past two thousand years. These groans have continued as the labor has proven itself to be laborious and long. We are still waiting. We are still pushing to see the promise of creation fully realized. We are groaning as this creation pushes back against our best efforts.

And yet, we are co-creators in this world with God. As much as creation may push against us, fight us, tear down what we try to build up, we must continue to persevere and build up, create life, create opportunities for life to be experienced in its true fullness, full of love for self, love for neighbor, love for the stranger, love for our enemy, love for God, without fear of how others may react to our loving and faithful expression of that life. Because of this, because we are co-creators with God, because we must persevere and persist in building up even as others try to tear down, we must operate with the following expectations.

We must first approach this work with the expectation that the work we do betters this creation for all in it. When we have this expectation, it serves to drive us forward in doing the work of creation and it verifies our work, even if those whom we do it for do not know, or can not acknowledge, for whatever reason.

We have to approach this work with the expectation that God approves of the good work that we do. When we do work in the model of ministry that has been left for us by Jesus Christ, when we do work that spreads the Good News of Christ, the Good News of God’s love in this world, then we must know that God approves of this work and that we are creating because it is what we are called to do as followers of Christ and co-creators with God in this creation.

We have to expect that we will make mistakes. We are human, we make mistakes. I make mistakes. I make mistakes here in this role as a priest. And in making mistakes, we must work with the expectation that we will be forgiven for those mistakes, both by those who are impacted by them, and by God.

We have to expect that, at times, some may turn from God in sin, in lack of faith, in hurt and anger. Sin is an easy avenue to slip into, and slip deeper and deeper into. And it’s not just the public facing acts either, it’s the sin of our hearts, the sin that permeates through our being and prevents us from creating in this world. Faith is hard. And I will come back to that. Hurt and anger, at each other, at God, happens in this world. Hurt and anger, especially at God, leads many to turn away. They are left wondering why God would allow violence and catastrophe to impact creation. They are left wondering why God would see a 19 year old girl die of complications from routine surgery. They are left wondering why God would allow that person to do that thing to them. And yet, even in turning away from God, we must have the expectation, the knowledge that God will always be there to welcome us back, to hold us tight, to say “I know” as we scream in our pain and anger.

We have to expect that as co-creators in this world we have the gift and responsibility to see the labor pains ended and the birth of a fully realized creation seen on this earth in our lifetimes.

These expectations mean we have hard work ahead of us. It will be, already has been, discouraging. It will be, already has been, life-giving. This dichotomy is what makes this work so hard, for with the highest of highs, we also get the lowest of lows. But it is also this dichotomy that makes this work so worth it.

Facebook often reminds me of how good and how hard this work can be. I use facebook primarily as a tool to stay connected to (in addition to close friends and family) colleagues and to those who I am active in ministry, which means many of you. And while I scroll through the Facebook news feed, I feel many emotions. Often I’m happy, for people, for work being done, for the gift of comedy and humor. Somewhat less often, but still pretty regularly, I have feelings of anger, which do follow a scale from eye roll up to shaking of fist, an emotion I’d like to have less of, and an emotion that I’m largely responsible for. I have a smattering of other emotions but if you scroll through my facebook feed you’d understand why it is predominantly those two emotions.

Which is why something I saw this past week has really stuck with me. It was a post that initially got a reaction of anger, roughly a combined eye roll and general huff of dismissal and disgust, but after seeing it pop up over and over as more and more people left comments, and after reading this passage from Romans today, I felt an emotion I don’t normally associate with facebook, true sadness for another person, not because they or a loved one was sick or had died, but because of the hurt and pain and anger that person must have been feeling to post what they did.

The poster felt that over the past few months their identity in this world has been belittled and categorized into neat, offensive check boxes, a reality that I would personally counsel that person to challenge in their thinking, but it must have hit home enough to post it in a public sphere, so there is definitely something there. There is definitely hurt and pain and anger that this person is feeling about how they are viewed by others. There is definitely hurt and pain and anger about how this person feels they are threatened for holding views that others find offensive. And, there is hurt and pain and anger that perhaps some of these classifiers ring a little more true than they would like to admit to themselves, something I think we all experience when we are labeled negatively.

This post reminded me that, as much as we are co-creators in this world with God, if we aren’t also co-creators in this world with each other, none of the good work will get done. We cannot create, create life, create joy, create the kingdom, if we are constantly tearing each other down, destroying the trust we must have between each other, destroying the chance to listen faithfully and honestly to one another, knowing that we will disagree but still needing to understand how that actually impacts others. We cannot be co-creators when we are so busy being the destructors of this creation.

And this is where hope comes in. This is where faith, comes in (I told you I’d come back to it). Hope, as Paul tells us, cannot be seen. And yet, hope is often all we can have. Hope drives our faith. Hope is that expectation of God, that knowledge of God, and, that faith that through these expectations, through our knowledge of God, that we can still be the co-creators with God, that we can change the hearts of those who turn away from God, in hurt and pain and anger. We can still be the co-creators with each other. For without hope, what is the point of our work as co-creators? Without hope, what is the point of our existence?

When we embrace hope, we embrace faith. When we embrace hope we can answer to the pain of others and serve them as givers of light and love. When we embrace hope, we embrace our role as co-creators in this world. When we embrace hope, we embrace the groaning of the labor pains as we work to help shepherd this place, this time, these people, into the creation that has always been planned for us, that has always been intended for us, if we simply accept it and have faith that when we do this work, God is with us, our expectations are known and realized, and our faith carries us through it all.

Amen.