This week’s sermon is based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-53. Jesus shares 5 short parables explaining the Kingdom of Heaven. I explore the wide range of human experience and how it shapes our hearing of these parables.
You can listen to the sermon here:
You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Over the course of the past few days I have noticed a trend, both on Facebook as well as in conversation including comments by others caught in passing as well as direct conversations that I’ve engaged in…the fair. I’m guessing that most of you are aware that we have one of those going on right now.
And now, admittedly, I find myself a little bit curious as to the general state of reactions to “the fair.” How many of you out there are big fair-goers…namely, the type of person that gets excited and goes at least 2 or 3 time, if not more, each and every year (let them acknowledge). Okay…well then, how about those who make it a priority to get to the fair at least once each year (let them acknowledge). Okay…and how about those that think get there once in a while, perhaps taking it in once every few years (let them acknowledge). Okay…what about those who have no interest in going to the fair…but at the same time have no issue with it…those that have no problem with it, but also feel no need to go check it out (let them acknowledge). Okay…and finally…who out there will claim to be “anti-fair” (let them acknowledge).
Obviously there is a wide range in opinions or thoughts or perhaps, personal experienced in and around the notion of a county fair. I myself will admit to falling into the final “anti-fair” category. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with those who enjoy it and who chose to participate in the various activities that go on there. But I also know that its just not for me.
I blame growing up in the Okoboji area and going, year after year, to the apparently…world famous Clay County Fair that occurs every September in Spencer…perhaps you’ve heard of it. The older I got, the less and less I wanted to go. Huge crowds wandering around looking at animals or equipment that I saw every day on the farm. Carnival barkers yelling out in order to try to finagle a dollar or two out of my pocket and into theirs. Various venders attempting to sell their goods…oh and the food…the vastly overpriced fair food. (pause). I know some love it…but its just not for me…and so when I hear the word “fair” it just doesn’t sit well with me…though admittedly I know others have a different experience.
And its this notion of a different experience that brings me into the scripture for today. Week #3 of Matthew chapter 13…Week #3 of parables…and if you were hear a couple weeks ago, then you heard me admit to the notion that parables excite me about as much as the county fair.
Yet here we are…teeing up round three of what seems to be the same sort of thing…but admittedly, as I read through the lesson for today, I was struck by some differences compared with what we’ve had over the course of the past couple weeks. (pause) For two weeks, we head single parables, quite lengthy…both including explanations from Jesus after the fact…and both having to do with farming…there was a definite trend present. But this week…things are a little bit different aren’t they?
Yes we hear parables again…but this time around, Jesus treats us to multiple parables…5 of them to be exact…they are each substantially shorter…and there are no detailed explanations from the teacher this time around. (pause)
At first glance, these five individual parables don’t seem to have much in common with one another…and admittedly that raises the question of just why Matthew chose to lump them all together in the first place, not to mention why the creators of the Lectionary decided that we needed to hear them all at once…yet here they are.
First we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…a tiny seed that grows into a great shrub…even a tree…and the birds set up shop. Then we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed in with a whole bunch of flower until the entire batch is leavened. After that we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field that some random guy finds…and he’s compelled to go off and sell everything in order to acquire it. In the one similarity, next we hear of a merchant searching through a bunch of pearls in the marketplace, only to find one of great value…and he too sells everything to get ahold of it…apparently the kingdom of heaven is like that too. And finally we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a great net thrown into the sea which hauls in a great variety of fish…some good and some bad…and the fish will be sorted out at the end.
And so it seems that the kingdom of heaven is like…well you know what? It seems like the kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things doesn’t it? Saying its like a mustard seed in a field or a garden might appeal to the farmer or the gardener. Personally I hear that one and I’m transported back to the days of walking beans and my dad telling me you darn well better get those mustard plants cut out because they will spread and overtake everything…others might hear that and focus in on the birds. Maybe for birdwatchers out there, that’s a positive thing…others might not like birds so much…and to them that’s negative.
And what about that whole yeast in the flour thing. It seems that Jesus is speaking to the cooks and bakers…or perhaps to the homemakers with this one…and that’s fine…but what if you aren’t a fan of leavened bread…or perhaps you’re allergic to glutton…maybe this doesn’t sound so great.
The treasure in a field? Well that sounds like it might just appeal to real estate brokers…or perhaps just treasure hunters like the guys on Pawn Stars or American Pickers. (pause) And the pearl? Well jewelers might like that one…or oyster farmers…and the great drag net? Sounds like that one’s aimed at fishermen. (pause)
Sure enough…it seems in today’s lesson, not to mention all of Matthew chapter 13 and its many different parables…that the kingdom of heaven is like…well…a lot of stuff isn’t it? (pause)
Now when we think about parables in general, something we’ve talked about for a couple weeks now…we remember that Jesus utilizes parables to give us little glimpses of the kingdom of heaven…that’s nothing new…but its interesting when we stop and think about it…and when we add in the notion that the kingdom of heaven covers a lot of ground…some of which might speak to us as an individual and some that might go right over our heads.
Thinking back, I can see this trend in my own responses to the last two parables. First we heard the parable of the sower and as a farming community, I think a lot of us…me included…could really relate to that one. It spoke our language. But then a week later we heard about weeds in a wheat field…and all farming aside, at least for me personally…that one missed the mark…it was a lot harder to wrap my head around because I had never done anything with wheat…but I also know that’s not the case with everyone…because there is a wheat field…recently harvested…about half a mile away from where we are all sitting right now…right up over the hill past the elementary school…so clearly someone in the local area knows a thing or two about wheat.
Now this week, I find these parables a mixed bag as well. I already mentioned the connection I find with the mustard seed…but on the other end of the spectrum I hear about a merchant selling everything he owns just to buy a nice pearl…and I find it laughable because that’s just not something that even registers on my personal radar. (pause)
And as we think about all that…perhaps we begin to come to the realization that maybe…just maybe…Jesus knew what he was doing when he told such a wide variety of parables…because each and every individual experiences those parables differently…and that’s because each and every individual who has ever and will ever live…has a unique experience in life.
God has made each and every one of us uniquely…sure we all share interests and view points with others…but we differ from them as well…and so as Jesus teaches, he boils down life altering realities of the kingdom of heaven into snippets that work for some that hear it…and either fail to register, or paint an entirely different picture for the next person.
But you know what…that’s life isn’t it? We live out our lives of faith in the midst of our own unique experience…and our life of faith is shaped by that experience. (pause) It never ceases to amaze me how the life of an individual or a group of individuals can and does vary so much from moment to moment. We live a life of emotionally and experiential roller coasters. I have witnessed…personally…within the confines of this week alone incredible joy…unbridled happiness…expressed…and within mere moments, the expression of utter despair and pain. (pause) I have seen this between different people…and I’ve even seen the back and forth within a single individual.
As your pastor I have the blessing of being invited into these moments alongside of you…and it is truly a blessing to be able to witness so many utterly “human” moments that encompass such a wide variety of experience…and yet as I think about these various experiences of individuals…I realize that life WILL not be contained in any sort of container. Life will not be defined by any single experience…and to hear someone utilize a comparison for the purpose of explaining something…that will not be limited to a single explanation.
And so today…as we hear these 5 different parables from Jesus…I stand before you today and recognize that if I attempt to explain to you what is significant or correct or apparent about even a single one of them…much less all five of them…then you and I are going to disagree…because I cannot possibly understand how your experience shapes how you hear any one of these.
And that’s the beauty of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells us today that the kingdom of heaven is like a lot of different things in life…and that is because the kingdom of heaven is here now…You might have noticed that none of these are set in the future…Jesus did not say that the kingdom of heaven will be like anything…he said that it IS like a lot of things.
You see…when God made the choice to enter into our reality…to put on flesh and walk around…to become human and move into the neighborhood…He brought the kingdom of heaven along with him. It’s here…right here…right now…We are in the midst of the kingdom of heaven right now…and though the kingdom continues to change as it, along with our present reality…moves towards the completion that God has intended…we are granted little glimpses of it. Sometimes in scripture…sometimes in our own day to day experiences…and sometimes both of those all wrapped up into one.
God works in ways that are beyond our understanding…but make no mistake…God is working…and so I pose this question to you today…when you listen to these parables…either as a whole, or individually…what do you hear? What seems significant to you…what seems troubling to you? (pause) Focus on those points…and continue to think about them as you leave today…as you walk out these doors into your regular day to day life. Because that’s is where God is using the Holy Spirit to give you just a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like.
I’m not going to attempt to give you the answer today…but perhaps as you ponder…and as you discuss your thoughts with someone else…then God will reveal something significant to you that He desires you to know.
And in the midst of your experience…whatever it is today…regardless of where you might happen to fall in that rollercoaster of the human experience, remember that you are not alone…remember that we have a God that loves us enough to come to us in the midst of our experience…and remember that nothing…neither death nor life…neither angels, nor rulers…nor things present, nor things to come…nor powers, nor height, nor depth…(pause) nor ANYTHING in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing at all…not our pride…not our pain…not anything can stop God from coming to you…and so I ask you today…as you sit and listen to the words of Jesus Christ…God himself in human form…What do you hear?