The following sermon was preached on July 26, 2020 at Glory of God Lutheran Church in Wheat Ridge, CO. The gospel text for this sixth Sunday after Pentecost is Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. Season And Story subscribers may also download this sermon manuscript as a PDF.
Matt. 13:31 [Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 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.”
33 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.”
44 “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.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
“Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis
As with last weeks sermon and reading I want to give some context to what Jesus is saying here, but I’m not going to spend much time on the explanation at the end in which there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is enough for me to note that while our Bible does from time to time address the end of time this is not in my opinion the main focus of our scriptures. To me, when we make the end our only focus it is as if we are putting a confusing emphasis on the wrong syllable. Still, if you want to talk about these pronouncements of judgement I’ll welcome those conversations outside of this sermon.
Last week I mentioned how weeds aren’t universally bad in the parables of Jesus and our first parable in this reading is a great example. Mustard is a weed. Ask any horticulturalist from Jesus time up to our present and you’ll get a consistent answer. In the year 78 Pliny the Elder published his work on natural history in which he states, “mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.” Now fast forward to last year: in California there was a super-bloom of mustard, potentially the same variety of mustard that Jesus spoke of which later hitched a ride on date palms when dates were brought to the west coast as a cash crop. Citing this super-bloom one ecologist stated, “It would probably be easier to get another man on the moon than to get rid of this invasive plant.”
Now notice what Jesus does in his parable. He does exactly what no gardener would do; he sows mustard into his field on purpose. He gives the so-called weed prime real estate! This is no small parable solely about the small seed of faith growing large and giving shelter. This is also about the disruptive power of that small seed on our carefully cultivated monocultural fields of faith. Make no mistake Jesus knows exactly what he’s saying to both his audience then and to us now. He is not interested in the civility we create with our neatly formed rows of doctrine. He is however interested in whether or not our faith gives shelter to those whose migrations leave them in daily need. This shelter forming faith is the kindom.
Jesus isn’t done yet. He’s got more to say about the ways in which we’ve valued purity over wholistic health. Speaking to hungry ears both then and now Jesus says that his kindom has room for so-called contaminates, not only mustard but yeast, a living thing that made the bread unsuitable for the temple rituals but in the hands a skilled baker brings a yield that shames the so-called holy with it’s wholesomeness. It is no small thing that our baker-woman, the Spirit of Christ, folds into the kitchen of this world. Three measures of flour was roughly 60 pounds by our modern measurements and would have yielded at least as many full loaves of leavened bread. It’s as if the Spirit of Christ would rather bake a banquet for the many than the few, and the so-called purity of the few must be called into question for this meal to reach all those who hunger.
Still, Jesus isn’t done yet. Though the next two parables stand on their own I want to focus on the similarity in which everything is sold to purchase the field and the pearl. The person in the field stumbles upon the treasure while the pearl merchant has been training their senses through years of study. They couldn’t be more different in how they come upon their discoveries yet their response is the same: they sell all they have to gain the kindom. The kindom of heaven is not in our past. It doesn’t matter to Christ if we come to faith with the trained discipline of a classical dancer (as in the example of the pearl merchant) or the stumbling treasure seeking, toe crunching foot falls of a kid at their first dance.
It’s also worth noting that the kindom of heaven in these parables isn’t exclusively in our future either. The discovery of the treasure and the pearl brings a present and active response. The word that is translated as “buys” and “bought” in these two parables could also be translated as “redeems”! When the treasure is found the whole field is redeemed! Similarly the pearl is given its correct worth as it is redeemed from the hands of a seller who only values it for what it may bring rather than what it truly is.
And still, Jesus isn’t finished. This kindom of heaven is a net which is designed to catch everyone. Let’s be clear about this: Jesus isn’t interested in line fishing like we are. He is casting the net of the Spirit far and wide. I want to share a personal story here in the close. It’s not a good story but it is a formative one which I carry with me.
About fifteen years ago Aimée
and I moved to a new city to help start a new ministry within the walls of an existing inner city church. A couple months into that experience a local attorney who had financially invested in the new ministry and who was also interested in preserving the identity of the congregation came to give a presentation to the church council. I was taking notes on my computer, and in the middle of his presentation he asked me to close my laptop. I complied. He then unfurled a map of the neighborhoods surrounding the church which were color coded according to race and income so that the council could invite the most desirable households into the congregations new ministry. It was the first time I had experienced this form of overt racism and classism and it was in the church I was working in… and I was silent.
I was stunned. In many moments since that day I have turned over those fifteen minutes in my mind. It stands out as a clear point in my past when I complied with an authority figure who suggested line fishing was preferable to the net of the Spirit. I left the pearl of great price in the hands of a pitchman. I did not seek to redeem the whole field, but chose the acceptable yield of unleavened bread sensing that this perception of holiness excluded others wholesomeness.
I share this deep fault line in my character not as a form of redemption-less penance, but in the hope that it might create in us a bridge. If you are at all like I was in that moment, then you might be doubting how to live out your faith in Jesus and live into the yeasty calling of Christ which may just be a Spirit sown weed in the neatly rowed traditions of our Lutheran experience.
The question I’m asking of myself and of you is this: how might we live into the call of the Spirit of Christ in Wheat Ridge Colorado in 2020? And just to be clear, that moment 15 years ago wasn’t the only moment in the last 15 years as a Lutheran church musician and seminarian, husband and friend in which I was asked to give a witness to the all inclusive Spirit of Christ and still stumbled. We are on a journey in this life and the end is not the only point of interest when we journey together in Beloved Community with Christ. The point of interest that we are at today is the field into which Jesus has thrown treasures unimaginable, pearls, yeast, mustard seeds, fish and neighbors of every kind. Are we still so fearful of what we might find in the catch of Gods net? If so, then remember these words from our epistle reading: 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.
Come to think of it, it’s almost as if John Lewis was paraphrasing the scriptures when he said “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – Amen.