Pentecost 8 / Proper 12
Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Kingdom of Heaven is like: a Mustard Seed; Yeast; Hidden Treasure and
The Pearl of Great Value; The Dragnet; The Role of Matthew
In this morning’s gospel we hear several parables in the Gospel according to Matthew.
“Parables are stories describing situations in everyday life which, as Jesus used them, convey a spiritual meaning. In general the teaching of each parable relates to a single point, and apart from this the details may, or may not, have a particular meaning. Jesus used this method of teaching because: (a) it gave vivid, memorable expression to his teachings; (b) it led those who heard to reflect on his words and bear responsibility for their decision to accept or oppose his claim; (c) it probably reduced specific grounds for contention by hostile listeners.”
So let’s spend some time thinking about the meaning of these short parables. You may want to follow along in the gospel reading.
Do you have a maple tree in your yard? If so then you probably have many maple keys on the ground, in your eave troughs, and everywhere else that they fall. Next spring you may have dozens or even hundreds of little seedlings sprouting from these seeds. From this little seed a huge maple tree will grow. Such is the kingdom of heaven. Plant a small seed of love and kindness and it is amazing how it will grow from there, in fact we may never know what grows, much like a teacher may never know how their words of encouragement have affected the lives of their students.
Who has made yeast bread from scratch? Have you watched how the yeast grows in a cup of warm water and sugar, foaming and swelling? It is amazing how two teaspoons of yeast
(2 ¼) is sufficient to cause three cups of flour to rise to form a full-sized loaf of bread. The Kingdom of Heaven is like this. Once you let the Holy Spirit into your heart it will pervade your whole life, your work life, your home life, your school life, your gym life, your vacation time, your alone time, your spiritual life. It is kind of like the concept of “pay it forward”. Do you remember that movie or understand what it means? It is when you care for someone by mowing their lawn or holding a door open and the only thing you expect from them is that someday they will also do something nice for someone else with no expectation of repayment. Who knows how far a single action will ripple forward. Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The one who finds a treasure and does all they can to have it is like one who hears the good news of Jesus Christ and responds with single-minded determination to seek all that it has to offer.
Do you collect anything? Perhaps stamps searching for that special commemorative stamp or a Johnny Appleseed stamp or a 3cent liberty stamp. Or an elusive Indian head penny. The merchant in today’s gospel was searching for the perfect pearl and on finding it, sold everything else in order to buy it. “Some people dedicate themselves to God’s kingdom because, being able to judge the value of other claims being made on them, they value it [the Kingdom of God] more.”
Another way of looking at these parables is that each are something bad or out of the ordinary. A farmer is not going to intentionally plant a mustard seed. It is a weed. In biblical times yeast was not like it is today. It was left over from the last batch of bread and could poison the bread. Add too little and it will be ineffective. Add too much and it may poison you or make you sick. The treasure hunter is really a thief. The original owner of the field should have first claim to the treasure. Why would a pearl merchant sell all his pearls to own one albeit magnificent pearl? Perhaps Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven does not follow the accepted way of doing things, the status quo. The Kingdom of Heaven does things a different way. The Kingdom of Heaven is not about following social or cultural rules or doing what’s best for me and my family or materialism or consumerism or the bottom-line or power or glory. The Kingdom of Heaven is about service to the other, about caring for the marginalized, the poor, the sick and the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant. It is about feeding the hungry, about showing a family how to grow and prepare their own fruit and vegetables. It is about building the self-esteem of a child and showing them that reading can be fun.
When a fisherman throws a net into the sea he catches many fish and other sea creatures. Some will be tasty and good to eat, some will be unpleasant to eat or even poisonous. The fisherman recognizes what is good and throws the rest away. In the same way God allows good and evil to co-exist in this world. It is not our responsibility to determine what is evil or who needs to be excluded or who is not welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven. God is accountable for the judgment of what is good and who is bad. God’s angels will be responsible for excluding those who are not the children of God.
Saturday I attended the ordination to the priesthood of Lily Marx. During her “Examination” by the Bishop I was reminded that as a priest in God’s church I am to love and serve the people among whom I work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. I am to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to fashion my life in accordance with its precepts. I am to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing and to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist. (BCP, 531) No where am I asked to judge who is good enough, to judge who can be included and who should be excluded, who is good and who is bad. I am to serve whoever comes before me regardless of social or economic status, gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, abilities, health, age or any of the various ways we use to define us and them. I am called to serve all people and so are you as can be seen in the Baptismal Covenant on page 305. All baptized people are to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
Turning to the last few verses of today’s gospel Matthew says that those who are trained in the teachings of the church and are disciples of Jesus Christ should use insights from the past, for Matthew the Old Testament and for us in the 21st century the Old and the New Testament and build on those past insights with new insights and understandings of God. God is love. God loves you and me and all people. God loves the birds of the air and the animals in the fields and the fish in the sea, God loves all of his creation. Because God loves us, we are to love God, all people, ourselves and all of God’s creation. This is not the way of the world, but it is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. We the people of St. James’ may be a small congregation and a small part of the church, but from small things the Kingdom of Heaven can grow into what it is meant to be where the hungry are fed and the hurting are comforted and every child can know that they are valued and loved. From the seeds of love sown in Albion and kneaded into the life of the community may we find the Kingdom of Heaven ever rising and expanding and spreading beyond our borders. In the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven may we find that the cares and temptations of this world and their claims on our lives fade away in comparison to the claims of the Kingdom of Heaven. May the love of God satisfy the thirst of our souls and feed the hunger of our hearts so that we can unconditionally love God, our neighbor, ourselves and all of God’s creation in return. Amen.
 Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy, Editors, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, NRSV, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991, 1994, 19NT.
 Ibid, 21NT.
Pentecost 7 / Proper 11
Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Jeremiah 45:1-5; Psalm 7:1-10; Acts 11:27-12:3; Matthew 20:20-28
St. James’ Day
Today we celebrate Saint James’ Day. I hope you will be able to join us for our potluck lunch after this service.
So what do you know about James the Apostle?
· Son of Zebedee, a prosperous Galilean fisherman
· Brother of John
· With his brother John left his home and his trade in obedience to the call of Christ.
· With Peter and John, he seems to have belonged to an especially privileged group, whom Jesus chose to be witnesses of the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
· Disciple of Jesus and an apostle
· Saint James the Greater: James, the brother of John, is often known as James the Greater, to distinguish him from the other Apostle of the same name, commemorated in the calendar with Philip, and also from James “the brother of our Lord.”
· Nicknamed “Boanerges” – Sons of Thunder – zeal, hot-headed disposition
· His mother sought positions of privilege for her sons James and John at the right and left hands of Jesus in his kingdom. These were reserved for the two criminals crucified with Jesus. No indication that they were embarrassed by their mother’s request.
· James expressed willingness to live as Jesus and suffer his fate. James’ expressed willingness to share the cup of Christ was realized in his being the first of the Apostles to die for him. As the Acts of the Apostles records, “About that time Herod the King laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword. (Acts 12:1-2)
· James zeal for evangelizing / proclaiming the gospel took him to parts of Spain before his return to Judea and martyrdom
· According to an old tradition, the body of James was taken to Compostela, Spain, which has been a shrine for pilgrims for centuries. Among the Spaniards, James is one of the most popular saints. In the Middle Ages, under the title of Santiago de Compostela, his aid was especially invoked in battle against the Moors.
· Pilgrim hat, staff, scalloped shells
Can you find symbols of St. James in our sanctuary?
· stained glass window over altar
What do you think St. James would think of Albion and our church today?
What do you think St. James would be like today?
What can we learn from St. James?
James was boisterous and zealous, eager to accomplish his goal. He must have been a formidable evangelist and preacher, although we hear nothing of this. He probably attracted a lot of attention and this is probably why he was the first apostle killed, although his brother John lived to be an old man. What would it look like to be a zealous evangelist? What would it sound like? In the first century? In the 21st century?
God is love. God loves you. God loves me. God loves your family. God loves your friends. God loves your enemies. God loves your neighbors. God loves Mayor Garrett Brown. God loves President Donald Trump. God loves Kim Jong-un. God loves all of his creation, even those pesky mosquitoes. In fact God loves God’s creation so much that he gave his only son Jesus Christ so that whoever believed in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Kevin, God loves YOU, so live like you believe it.
Phyllis, God loves YOU, so know that you are lovable.
Dick, God loves Mary, so love Mary like she is a beloved child of God.
Virginia, God loves you, so do not be afraid.
Glen you are created in the image of God so love like God.
Diana, God loves your neighbor, so love your neighbor as if she is Jesus Christ himself.
Dick, God loves the people of Albion, so may God bless you for loving the people of Albion and Sheridan Township and your work in the Albion Community Garden and your work as superintendent of Sheridan Township. May you believe that you are doing God’s work.
David, God loves you, Lia, Charles and your Albion College Music Students. May you find peace and contentment in the love you show them.
Like the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and the weeds, sow love near and far, sow love everywhere. Yes there is evil in the world. Yes there are good people and bad people, but that is for God to decide. God loves you and all creation. We are not called to judge and weed out the bad. We are called to believe that God loves us and our neighbors and that Jesus Christ came to save us and those we love and those we do not like and those we do not know.
Saint James sets the bar high, but he is our patron saint who provides an example of how to live as a Christian. So love boldly so that they may know that we are Christians by our love. Scatter the seeds of God’s love recklessly not caring where they fall for you do not know where they will find a pocket of fertile soil. Love deeply, love like your life depends upon it for it does. Live as if you believe you are a beloved child of God. Live like your neighbor is a beloved child of God. Live like the stranger is a beloved child of God for God does love them. God loves your family. God loves your friends. God loves your neighbors. God loves the stranger. God loves you! Amen.
Have you been out to see the Albion Community Gardens? A lot of work has gone into preparing to actually plant this garden: legal paperwork, removal of trees and stumps, plowing and picking up of garbage accumulated over the past decades, so much glass, the planning of the garden layout with paths and garden plots, obtaining water, and writing grants. The work continues with Randy and Lisa weeding and putting wood chips out on the paths; Dick purchasing a new John Deere tractor and attachments with our United Thank Offering grant and trying to keep the grass and weeds under control; Dick and Willie Tabb are busy this week putting up 1100 feet of fencing and Trisha has planted a cover crop of buckwheat in the unplanted areas. This is in addition to the actual planting of perennials such as strawberries, asparagus and blackberries and planting and maintaining this year’s crop of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, beans, carrots and so much more.
In planting our seeds we carefully delimited our plots, hoed a straight row and individually planted each seed or seedling. This is in sharp contrast to the sower as depicted in this morning’s gospel reading of the Parable of the Sower and an interpretation. A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson and a parable is a story to make us think. The sower freely and abundantly casts the seed far and wide without discrimination. Some of the soil is hard packed, shallow and rocky or weed infested with thistles, mustard and burdocks, but other soil is fertile and hospitable to the growth of the seed. Why did the sower not first work and amend the soil pulling the weeds and thistles and gathering the stones? Why would she waste perfectly good seed on clearly inhospitable land? Did he feel moved to feed the birds, mice and wildlife that lived in his field? Did she consider that the plants that grew and quickly died would help to amend the soil for future plantings? What does this parable have to say to us in the 21st century?
This parable tells us about the generosity of God. God freely casts the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven far and wide to all people not just the Jewish people, but to the Gentiles as well. In some places the message will be immediately rejected. In others the message will be joyfully received, but will soon be replaced by the message of the next travelling evangelist or by the worries and hardships of work and family. And yet for others the message will be received, encouraged and survive to produce abundant fruits of the spirit. The crop will not just be a respectable seven-fold but will be a generous 30, 60 or even 100-fold return. God is generous in spreading the Good News as well as in providing a hospitable environment for the growth and spread of the Good News to the ends of the earth. God promised Abraham land, descendants and blessings, and not just blessings for his own family but for the nations.
So what does this parable say to us in the 21st century? As the soil, I pray we are fertile, loamy soil in which the word of God can thrive and grow producing flowers and seeds to be cast far and wide, producing the fruit of the spirit: joy, love, compassion, kindness, peace, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control, longsuffering and temperance. As the seed I hope we can provide nourishment to the hungry, compost and nutrients for an arid, barren soil, an alternate worldview to our secular, consumer-driven society and that we breed true to the image of God.
As the sower may we spread the word of God freely without reservation or judgment. It is not for us to save people, that is God’s work. Our work is to proclaim the gospel and sit back and watch for the results knowing that we may never know the outcome of our work. You may have heard stories of teachers hearing from long ago students thanking them for a kind word of encouragement. In the same way we do not know the impact or long term effects of a kind word to the cashier or a generous gift to a stranger or the ripple effect of our actions.
God is generous and so as creatures created in God’s image we too should be generous. God is love and so as God’s sons and daughters we should genuinely show compassion and kindness to others. God loves you and me and so as the sower in this morning’s parable we too should sow the seeds of love towards our neighbor, our God and ourselves. Amen.