It’s Kind of Like This …

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
July 27, 2014
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

It’s Kind of Like This …

Secondary Text – Epistle Reading: Romans 8:35, 37-39
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For 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.

Primary Text – Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. … The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Good morning. This will be the first sermon I’ve preached in quite a while that’s not part of a series. We finished our history series on the church’s artwork in early June, and we finished the series on the stained-glass windows last Sunday. We have a lot to celebrate about ourselves as a congregation, and we learned a lot about who we are during those weeks. We have another thing to celebrate today too: we have some very special visitors. With us today are Charlie Tewell (who crafted our stained-glass windows about 34 years ago) and his wife Betty and their daughters Marcia and Debbie. We’re so happy to have them here with us today. Please make sure to greet them during fellowship time and let them know how much these works of art mean to us.

Now, for several weeks, rather than embarking on another series, I plan to follow the lectionary—the scripture selections that are used by several mainline denominations. We pick up the lectionary cycle in the Gospel of Matthew—in particular, with some of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God.

Parables. I have to ask: How many here have seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? I couldn’t write this next part of this sermon without thinking of that movie. Because what is a parable? <<In the voice of Toula’s father Gus>> “Well, is come from the Greek. Now, gimme a word, any word, and I’ll show you how the root of that word is Greek. Show me about the word ‘parable,’ you say? Okay. Parable is come from the Greek word para, which mean beside, and from the Greek word, ballo, which mean to throw. So you take one thing and you throw it beside another, and you make a story out of it, to make a point. To make you smart so you grow up and find a good Greek person to marry. Because there’s two kinds of people in the world: Greeks and everybody else who wish they were Greeks.”

(That was Gus, Toula’s father.) Thank you, Gus. That’s helpful. Because if a parable is two things thrown together, then here’s what it’s not: it’s notcarefully crafted and perfectly polished until every detail has a specific interpretation. A parable makes one or two points about something—contains one or two nuggets of truth—but not every word has some deep, hidden meaning. Not every element represents something that we should make a new teaching, a new doctrine, out of. I believe Jesus “threw” a lot of his parables together on the spot, and when he got home, he may have even said, “Oh, no! Did I really say that? I hope nobody wrote that down!” (That’s one reason, in case you were wondering, why I always use a manuscript!) The point is—don’t overanalyze the parable!

We have four parables in today’s Gospel reading. Each of these parables begins with “The kingdom of heaven is like …” So these parables must be about heaven, right? They must be telling us what heaven is like, so we know what to expect when we get there, right?

No. Jesus actually taught very little about heaven and how to get there. (Let that sink in for a moment…) I’ll explain. Jesus spoke a whole lot more about the here-and-now, about how to bepart of God’s kingdom in this world. You see, when Mark and Luke recorded these same parables in their gospels, they used the phrase “kingdom of God,” and by that they meant right here, right now, because they knew that’s what Jesus meant by the phrase.

But Matthew used “kingdom of heaven” because he was writing to a Jewish audience. And devout Jews did not—and many still do not—pronounce the name of God because they considered it too holy to be spoken by human lips. (How many have seen God written “G-d” in some theological texts? That’s the reason.)

So, because Matthew’s audience wouldn’t pronounce the name of God, he had to come up with a substitute word in his gospel. He chose the word “heaven,” the place where God lives, and we do the same thing today: “Good heavens, this is a long sermon! Heaven only knows what she’s going to talk about next! Heaven forbid, I hope she doesn’t go on all day!”

These parables are about this world, this life. That’s where Jesus’ listeners needed help. That’s why they gathered around him in such crowds—because he gave them hope for this life, as well as for the next. That’s what happened the day Jesus told the parables that are in today’s Gospel reading. They gathered around because he gave them hope. The Bible says “that day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.”

Picture it. Jesus was so overrun with followers that he got into a boat and pushed it off just far enough so he could avoid being stifled by the crowd but they could still hear him. (I wonder how many followed him into the water. I think I may have…) I’m picturing Jesus standing up in the little fishing boat and noticing individuals in the crowd and wanting to make his message relevant to each one of them. How could he “throw it together” so they could hear and understand? He sees a farmer—a grower of mustard—and he says to the crowd, “It’s kind of like this … The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that you sow in a field. It grows into a tree, so big that the birds make nests in its branches.” Then he sees a baker of bread, and he says to the crowd, “And it’s kind of like this … The kingdom of God is like yeast that you mix with a lot of flour, and all of the dough is leavened.” Then he looks around and sees a landowner, and he says to the crowd, “And it’s kind of like this … The kingdom of God is like a treasure that you stumble upon in someone else’s field. You hide the treasure in the field, and then sell everything you own just so you can go back and buy that piece of land.” Then he looks around and sees a merchant, and he says to the crowd, “And it’s kind of like this … The kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When you find one, you sell everything you own and buy that one valuable pearl.”

Jesus told about the kingdom of God in many ways—at least seven of his parables are about it, describing it in slightly different way each time—because he wanted to make sure every single one of his listeners got at least part of the message. Then, together, they could preserve it and pass it on.

That message was: “It’s here! It’s now! It’s ready to burst forth, if you just nurture it! It only takes a tiny bit of ‘God seed’ to make a big difference in the world. A tiny seed will grow, spread, provide shelter for the vulnerable, the weak, the helpless. It doesn’t take much ‘God-yeast’ tocause the worldto become more like God wants it to be: nourishing, satisfying, delicious. Just a little bit of good, of love, of acceptance, of open-mindedness, goes a long way toward building the kingdom of God on earth.”

“It’s here! It’s now! It’s a treasure, a pearl of great price! Sometimes you find it when you go out looking for it, and sometimes you stumble on it when you least expect it. So, yes, certainly, seek to know God. But also be open to finding God’s wisdom, God’s delight, in everyday life in places you don’t expect to find it.” …

Paul probably wasn’t in that crowd that day. Paul didn’t become a follower of Jesus until about 15 years after Jesus walked the earth. But the people who were there—they were listening. And they remembered. And they took it to heart. The seed sprouted. The yeast rose. The treasure was revealed. The pearl was preserved. And 15 years later, when it was Paul’s turn to receive the treasure—the good news of God’s love for all—it was passed on to him, pure as the day Jesus spoke it. Paul received it, and he wrote about it, later, to the church in Rome (our Epistle reading today). Paul wrote, “For 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.”

That is the pearl of great price that has now been handed down to us. That is the good news of the kingdom of God. Nothing can to separate us from the love of God. Nothing! Neither sin, nor human weakness, nor unwise decisions early in life, nor religious pride, nor the judgment of others, nor prison bars, nor race, nor culture, nor sexual orientation, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

It’s kind of like this … No, it is like this. There’s no “kind of” about it.