Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)
30 July 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America
All Saints Church, Winter Park
St. Richard’s Church, Winter Park
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
When I was 4 years old on a day I remember well, I was shopping with my mother following her around a big downtown department store. Suddenly out of the corner of one eye I glimpsed a tall circular display just over in the next aisle with vertical strips of brightly colored lollipops in plastic and before I knew it I ran across the aisle and started twirling the beautiful candy strips hoping to pull one down and convince my mother to buy it.
After a few unsuccessful twirls I stopped only to realize my mother was no-where in sight and I was all alone in a huge, noisy, strange place. My heart pounding I looked high and low for my mother, scared, alone, hoping I wasn’t in trouble. Out of nowhere my mother appeared and gave me a big hug. She told me she had not or would not ever leave me alone but I had to hold her hand and at that point I couldn’t care less about those lollipops.
Being separated and alone from those we love, especially God often leaves us feeling very vulnerable. But take heart as the Apostle Paul reminds the Romans back then and us today nothing, 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. While we may feel separated from God the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s love is breaking into our hearts and all around us.
In this morning’s Gospel lesson Jesus sits in a boat on the sea, teaching the crowd and the disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven offering a series of parables. A parable is a simple story often with metaphors to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson…Jesus delivers a rapid fire series of snapshots...The Kingdom of Heaven is like....a mustard seed....yeast rising…a treasure in the field...a pearl of great price…a giant net in the sea.
And while the disciples affirmed. Oh Yes Jesus - we understand. I think God opens our eyes to new layers of understanding each time we reflect upon them.
This morning what do YOU wonder about the Kingdom of Heaven?
----What will the Kingdom look like?
----Who will be welcome and who will not?
------How will our bodies work?
The crowds on the shore surrounding Jesus who is in a boat asked these as well as other questions...
---Will the Kingdom of Heaven overturn Roman rule?
---Will the Kingdom be filled with God’s mercy and justice?
---Are you, Jesus, the King of the Kingdom of Heaven?
The images Jesus shares suggest the Kingdom of Heaven is not just faraway in the future but surrounding us now, alive in our world and in our hearts this very minute even if we don’t realize it.
The first two parables of the mustard seed and the yeast teach us the Kingdom of Heaven, the Love of God breaking into our lives IS invasive, unstoppable, awe-inspiring and occurs in our everyday experiences like sowing seeds and baking bread.
If we use our imagination, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a beautiful tree, an oak or an elm, fresh earthly smelling yeast which rises into a delicious loaf of bread.
On one level of interpretation, these parables remind us that in the Kingdom of Heaven.....
big projects have little and simple beginnings small things can with God’s help lead to sizeable greatness, size is not something we need to judge.
Yet on another level if we dig deeper in Jesus’ days mustard seeds and yeast were not always embraced. Some mustard seed varieties produced shrubs, invasive shrubs like skunk vine, air potato, and kudzu which raid your Florida gardens. Invasive shrubs which start out small but multiply uncontrollably suck out elements in the soil and crowd out other plants.
But to God the mustard seed represents God’s invasive love, growing, removing the judgmental blinders in our souls, making space for God’s love to blossom in our hearts. Even when WE neglect to spread God’s word, tend to God’s Garden and fail to invite others to God’s harvest.
The Kingdom of God expands under God’s, and not our, control. And the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, once mixed into the dough which swells uncontrollably and cannot be extracted. In the 1st century Yeast was a metaphor for sin and it’s destructive hold on human nature. God’s love, god’s Kingdom is grown in our hearts for constructive, purifying outcomes.
Jesus is not comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a beautiful oak or elm tree or a delicious loaf of bread but to an invasive and uncontrollable shrub and a pollutant in which we wrestle with each day.
These images challenge me perhaps you too but Jesus fully intended to invite his listeners to listen for different levels of meaning. The Kingdom of God like an invasive weed or an unrestrained yeast is something not only out of our control but beyond our wildest imagination.
Like the yeast and mustard seeds God breaks into and infiltrates our world with power. The good news is God’s love is so pervasive nothing can separate us from God’s love even when we get distracted by the strings of lollipops in our lives and God like the Prodigal Father and my mother all those years ago runs toward us to welcome our repentant hearts back and reassure us we are forgiven, we are loved.
But perhaps the more challenging news is that God’s love, God’s Kingdom IS out of OUR control, sometimes seeping in quietly through our very pores and other times knocking us upside the head and everywhere in between whether we are looking for God or not.
In spite of our greatest fears, anxieties and doubts God’s Kingdom will grow spreading and bringing hope, peace and love to the hearts of those who seek God’s face and recognize the presence of God and open their hearts to God’s mercy and grace.
No matter how much you and I resist God’s love by closing off places in our hearts, presenting only our spit-shined self to the world, rooting much of ourselves in our self-focused world, God never stops trying to open our eyes to see the depth, breadth and height of God’s love. God’s Kingdom of Heaven breaks in to transform us to be fully alive in God.
The first two parables of the mustard seed and the yeast remind us God’s Kingdom is not what we expect. We often expect God’s kingdom to reveal a beautiful tree, a perfectly risen delicious loaf of bread but what we get is a rampant weed, a batch of yeast to pollute the bread.
We can choose how to respond to this parable that reminds us God’s love is breaking in. God’s Kingdom of Heaven grows out of control with love. We can choose to worry we aren’t in control, panic and turn away from God and listening for God’s presence and direction or we can allow God’s love to inch and seep and even push and elbow its’ way into our lives even when we think we know better.
God’s love can catch us off guard even when we are not looking for it. I heard a story this week about a seminary tradition (a tradition I might add was not observed at either Sewanee or Virginia!!) in which the Seniors traditionally pull a “chapel prank” to enliven the daily worship.
At one seminary there was a beautiful reredos of statues behind the chapel altar and the seniors strung a wire from the back of the chapel downward to the statues and attached a white papier Mache dove with the intention of having the dove gently hover over the communion elements when the Celebrant invoked the Holy Spirit at the Epiclesis. Well whomever planned the Dove’s descent must have failed High School or College physics because instead of hovering gently at the Epiclesis the Dove sailed over the head of a startled priest crashed into the statues and broke into pieces. And I think the Senior class was still allowed to graduate.
There are times God, just like the Dove suddenly breaks into our lives and we recognize God in our very midst. God jolts us especially if we haven’t left much space for God in our hearts or expected to find God in our very midst. And we suddenly realize God was and God is leading, guiding, and present with us all along the whole way, fulfilling the ancient promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God’s love challenges our faulty belief that we are in total control of our lives. God has given us freedom to make choices, be responsible for our actions and challenges us to invite God into all the moments of our lives.
No matter how messy, chaotic or out of our control our world feels, God’s Kingdom is at work and will prevail often is ways we never expect, God’s love will endure. Recognizing and being empowered by God’s love we might love with the love of God’s kingdom divvying up what we have with others standing up and looking out for the marginalized sharing our faith with those we meet knowing God is with us and God’s love will endure.
For we know from the Apostle Paul nothing..... nothing can separate us from God’s invasive, polluting, and uncontrollable love.
Cover Image: https://www.biblestudytools.com/inspirations/06182015-treasure-heart-social.html