Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pentecost 6-A

Preached @ St. Anne’s Damascus, MD, 7/24/11 - Matthew 13:31-33,44-52


he kingdom of heaven is like…..fill in the blank here, add your own metaphor, your own allegory here. Jesus says this phrase six times today!....The kingdom of heaven is like: a mustard seed, yeast in flour, hidden treasure, a fine quality pearl, a fishing net, things new and old. The kingdom of heaven is like….Matthew really wants us to focus on the kingdom of heaven today.

To put some order around these descriptors of the kingdom of heaven: these six examples of the kingdom of heaven are really in distinct groupings. We have the mustard seed and the yeast as the first of these groupings. This kingdom of heaven Jesus is pronouncing starts from the smallest of beginnings, like the mustard seed, or a small amount of yeast. This kingdom of heaven grows into something exponentially larger and influential and transformative. Mustard trees can provide shelter and shade while yeast aids in transforming bread from hard water biscuits into something soft and porous and spongy. Both the mustard seed and the yeast are little things. They are in fact allegories of the expansion of Christianity from a very small group of people to a world-wide phenomenon.

Then we come to the second grouping when Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field…and the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls and finding one pearl of great value……Jesus is saying that however we find the kingdom of heaven….however we discover the truth about God, that finding is worth everything we have. These two metaphors are not about the finding of these valuable things, but rather about the response to the finding: the response is what is emphasized, for the finding is meaningless if we do not respond.

And the last allegory has to do with the net bringing in every kind of fish. Notice the word every. It is the same word, in Greek, that has been used four times already in today’s Gospel, and translated as “all”. The mustard seed is the smallest of all (every) seeds we are told. The yeast leavened all of the bread (every grain of flour). All material things (everything) were sold to purchase the treasure and the pearl. All people (everyone) are caught in the net….We are to bring all into the net, everyone into the church. God can sort it out later. We are called to reach out to all, to everyone.

And the Gospel ends today with Jesus saying “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every (all) scribe(s) 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.” This does not seem to go with what has gone before. This instruction actually adds a depth to what has gone before by making clear that Jesus never intended for us to forget what we know when we discover him. Jesus expects that we can see and utilize our knowledge in a new light and in a new way. Jesus’ intention here is not to impoverish life but to enrich our life.

From all of these examples it is obvious that the kingdom of heaven is not just one thing, but is in fact multiple things, a veritable cornucopia of possibilities and realities allowing for a multiplicity of experience to illumine God in our lives, God in our community, God in the world….. Look at how personal each one of these are, how they are singular in nature. The singular mustard seed, the single measure of yeast, the one treasure, the one pearl, the one net. It is through personal interactions, solitary things, that we can find the kingdom of heaven, these allegories are saying.

When I first returned to church, after a hiatus from organized religion, and started regularly attending what was to become my home parish in New York City, I was very cautious and quiet and observant. I kept my distance for a fairly good long while before immersing myself in the life and ministry of the parish. Although I felt a tug, a pull to investigate a life in ministry, I was cautious and slow to respond. One of the catalysts that pushed me to immerse myself into parish life was a simple personal invitation.

At coffee hour one Sunday, an event that took me a while to get up the nerve to walk into, I was standing drinking a paper cup of pretty bitter coffee and munching on a cookie. I had made a few acquaintances but really hadn’t “broken through” so to speak: I was still very much an outsider. One of those people I had previously met came up to me and said hi and we started chatting, about what I don’t remember, but undoubtedly something superficial. Then Sean looked at me and said, “Would you like to join Altar Guild? I think you would fit in quite nicely.” I told him I would think about his offer and let him know.

I did think about his offer and the next week told him “Sure, I’d love to join.” And that was the first step to becoming integrated into the life and ministry of the parish: a simple invitation to which I responded positively. That invitation can be compared to the mustard seed or the measure of yeast put into the flour: something small and seemingly insignificant that blossoms into something beyond expectations and fills and transforms a life. That invitation can be compared to a found treasure or the discovery of a valuable pearl….I responded by jumping at the opportunity and that response changed my life. That invitation can be compared to that fishing net: cast to catch all….even me. That invitation may be seemingly insignificant…..I know that invitation was not insignificant. Perhaps that invitation was insignificant to Sean, who asked me to join Altar Guild, but for me it was no small thing. That invitation was important: it was the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure, the pearl, the net, all rolled into one.

And that story is an example of what this kingdom of heaven is like….The spiritual author The Rev. Barbara Crafton has said, “We are called by God one by one. But we do not live out that call alone. None of us can survive without the help of others. This is as true in the spiritual life as it is in the secular one. Our need for one another is absolute and breaks down barriers of language, culture and religion.” Being a part of this Body of Christ, part of an intentional Christian community, proves the juxtaposition of being individually called by God into a community of believers: individuals and community tied inextricably together.

Individually we are called by God to be part of a larger Body. Like this community has been called, this community that is small but can and does have a large impact.

· This community that can and does transform those to whom we come in contact.

· This community that is a treasure to behold, a community which is a pearl beyond loveliness whose luminescence can be and is sought out and seen far beyond our ten acres.

· This community that can accept all who get caught in our net by walking in our door, no matter who they are or from where they come.

· And this community that can and does understand where we have individually and corporately come from, and can see our past in a new light, utilizing our knowledge and skills in a new way to enrich our common life together……

An important reminder to be taken from today’s Gospel is that we can act as those allegories, being the singular event that changes someone’s life…Just as importantly we need to be open to those invitations extended to us and respond positively……Invite someone today to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, this piece, our piece of it…..and be open to someone inviting you to a deeper and richer experience in this piece of the kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is not just one thing; the kingdom of heaven is a multiple of things, of which we are all an integral part. Amen.


Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Provincetown Harbor, 2005

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