Pentecost 6 (Year A), Sunday, July 24, 2011
1 Kings 3:5-2
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When you think of Jesus teaching, what’s the first thing to come to mind? The parables. Usually, they’re a bit longer than the parables of today’s lesson, which are only a verse or two apiece. The word “parable” comes from a Greek word, “parabolh.,” which literally means “to throw alongside.” And a parable is a story that makes a point indirectly, by going alongside it and using metaphors and analogies to paint a picture. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus throws a lot of ideas about the Kingdom of Heaven out to his listeners. I think it shows at least one reason why Jesus used parables so often to teach people.
How do you talk about the kingdom of heaven—God’s kingdom, where righteousness, mercy, peace, and love flourish and sin is no more—to people who have only ever lived in this broken, sinful world? How do you describe the joy of salvation? I don’t know that any human can possibly understand—I mean really understand—what the kingdom of heaven is like until we experience it. God is so much greater than we are; God is greater than we can ever know. It stands to reason that God’s kingdom would be, as well. In the Bible, the kingdom of God is almost never described directly. Instead, we are told of the kingdom in parables, visions, dreams—things that inspire us to imagine greater, to expand our ideas what God’s reign means. In today’s lesson Jesus throws several parables to us, and in these parables we get a glimpse of what God’s kingdom is like. I’m going to focus on just one of today’s parables.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. A mustard seed starts really, really small, and inconsequential, and unless you know what it is you’d never believe that such a huge bush—almost a tree—could come from it. Likewise, the Kingdom of Heaven grows out of things that seem small and unimportant. Now, remember the Gospel lessons for the last two weeks, the Parable of the Sower and the parable of the wheat and the tares? Those come right before today’s Gospel reading, and the crowds that Jesus was preaching to here had just heard those two parables. I don’t mean to imply that there’s a literal one-to-one correspondence between the various parables; after all, they are metaphors. But these parables are related. They work together, like different chords in a song or different colors in a painting. So when you hear Jesus talk about seeds here, you should remember that in those two parables the seed that is sown is God’s Word, and in this lesson the seed grows in us to produce God’s Kingdom.
God sows the seed of God’s word in us, and it grows in us to produce God’s kingdom. Isn’t that amazing? The kingdom of heaven won’t be fully realized until Christ comes again, but at the same time, the seeds of that kingdom are in our midst, oftentimes so small we don’t even realize what they are. Maybe that seed is a smile or an encouraging word when we’re feeling down. Maybe that seed is what motivates you to get up and spend an afternoon helping someone that needs it. Maybe that seed is something that makes you question your prejudices. Maybe that seed is praying with your family. Maybe that seed is reconciling with someone you’ve had a fight with. Maybe that seed is a thought you’d never considered, before, that gives you a different perspective.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the cares of the world, in our own hopes and fears and desires, and let that blind us to the seeds of God’s kingdom in our midst. We all have a lot of ideas about what life should be like, and how we want our life to go. And conventional wisdom has a lot to say about what our goals should be and how we should live our lives. But God’s wisdom is very unconventional. God’s wisdom places justice and mercy above social climbing. It places generosity and hospitality above accumulating riches. It places love above all.
God works in our world, in our communities and in our hearts, planting seeds. Seeds of generosity, and mercy, and justice, and love. Sometimes they bear fruit in our actions. But even when they don’t, God keeps sowing seeds, knowing that some will grow until they become great trees. Remember the parable of the sower, where the seed is spread around on all types of soil, the good and bad alike? God gives the gift of the Word generously to all. Whether or not we respond, God is there for us, giving us the precious gift of the seeds of his kingdom.
That’s why God was so pleased with Solomon in our first lesson today. Solomon could have asked for anything. Take a few minutes, and consider what you would ask for if God came to you and offered you anything you want. Would you ask for a better job? A nicer home? Would you ask to be more popular? There are a lot of things that tempt us. I’m sure Solomon was just as tempted as you or I would be. But Solomon realized that all the things the world values most are ultimately unimportant next to God’s word. Solomon could have asked for anything, and what he asked for was the wisdom to do the task God had called him to do. Solomon asked for the seed of God’s kingdom to be planted in him, so that God’s will could be done and God’s kingdom could grow.
It’s not always easy to keep our focus on God’s kingdom rather than our own desires. Even Solomon, for all his God-given wisdom, faltered and went astray. He let his desire for women and his hunger to become an international power lead him away from God’s will and into idolatry. His desire for riches and huge building projects led to heavy taxes and forced labor, and to the splitting of his kingdom in half after his death. It’s easy to look at Solomon’s life from a safe distance and disapprove, but not so easy to realize when we’re going astray ourselves. I’m sure we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve let our desires and our fears rule; I know that’s true for me. And yet, no matter how far we go astray, God is still with us, ready to forgive and bring us back. Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation—not even our own sinfulness—can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. No matter how far we go astray, God never stops planting seeds.
God is planting seeds today. One of the seeds God is planting is the baptism of Josey Louise. In baptism God claims us as his own, and connects us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Josey Louise may be small, but like the mustard seed she will grow in God’s grace beyond anything we can imagine for her now. God is coming to her today in the midst of this congregation, through water and the Word, to plant the seed of God’s kingdom within her. God is planting today, and God will keep planting, and nurturing, and watering, and fertilizing, until the harvest comes. We don’t know when the harvest will be, but we know that we are safe in God’s hands.
God tends the seeds he plants in many ways. Sometimes, we are the tools God uses to nurture and guide the seeds that God has planted in our community. That’s one of the reasons the whole community participates in baptism: it’s not just between Josey and God, or even between Josey and her parents and God. We are all called, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to nurture and support Josey, her parents, and her godparents, in their life of faith. We are called as Christians to be brothers and sisters to one another, in love and grace. We are called to help one another grow in Christ, to help one another be good soil, to help one another seek the pearl of God’s wisdom and not the empty promises of the world’s riches.
Saint Luke is a very nurturing family in Christ. I know, because you have helped me grow this year that I have spent as your Vicar. I have been so blessed by your love, your support, and your example. I have learned and grown so much in my time here, and I could not have done it without you. Thank you so much for all that you have done for me. I hope and pray that you will continue to be a nurturing environment for the seeds God plants in this congregation, in this community, and in the whole world.
Thanks be to God, the sower of the seed, the maker of the pearl, the giver of true wisdom, the guide and companion along life’s journey.