Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 12, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
1 Kings 3:5–12 | Matthew 13:31–33, 34–52
I love this idea that was posed online for an experiential sermon today: Have a box of miscellaneous objects; hold it up high and have volunteers choose, without looking, something from the box; and then take those- go back into small groups- and make a Kingdom of Heaven simile with the object: That is, “The kingdom of heaven is like the object,” explaining how the object is like the kingdom. (Have a box or use imagination—birds, moths etc.) What connections might you make, no matter how far-fetched? How might it open your sense of God’s presence? For as you know, similes and other figurative uses of language (metaphors, parables) are meant to disengage our logical thinking brains—at least a little—so that we can catch a glimpse of something that maybe we haven’t seen before; having a sense of something that is difficult to understand or describe—but that is also very present and real.
We get a whole lot of this from Jesus today—which is probably good because the Kingdom of Heaven is an idea that’s both really important and also hard to understand. (Kingdom of God is the same idea but the phrase used in Mark’s gospel.) Starting with just the name: We don’t live in a kingdom per se. By choice. (Thank you, American Revolution.) For another, heaven seems pretty far away and irrelevant—even if it’s a nice thought of clouds and comfort and God.
Gettin back to “kingdom” in a minute: This word “heaven”—ouranos—comes from root to encompass, cover. It is used in scripture as the literal place above: the sky where clouds scuttle and stars shine; the vaulted expanse with sun and moon AND ALSO—because of its ethereal nature—the place of things divine. But it’s not somehow separate, as I think we often picture it- but one more element of creation; which—like all the others—communicates and conveys God’s completeness and grace. So I’m hoping we can think of heaven as not just an idea or place relegated to the “afterlife”—although it causes us to contemplate the divine perhaps- but is part of the “actual world” in which we live; the place where we are located RIGHT NOW.
Richard Rohr says that—back in his Franciscan school days—he asked his teacher about dinosaurs: - What did they eat? - Some ate grass. - What did they do all day? - Probably ate grass. - What did God do all day? - Well, probably watched the dinosaurs eat grass. (He jokes about the lack of “intellectualism” with the Franciscans.) In other words, sometimes we over-complicate and over-think life lived in relationship with God. And therefore find ourselves alienated from—unaware from moment to moment—of the holiness inherent in simple and ubiquitous things: A blade of grass, says Rohr, is enough to open our eyes to God. Teresa of Avila, 500 years ago, said a “sardine can convert you.” By the recognition of the gratuity, beauty, non-necessity, giftedness, wonder… in everything, we can see this bigger idea of heaven to be one not so far away. All it takes, says Rohr, is one moment of awe or wonder to break through your defenses and turn your “no” into a “yes.”
So Jesus draws all these lines to get us to see the Kingdom could be—and I—hidden and yet in plain sight: Watch the seed grow into a mangey bush that provides shelter for the birds—the birds whom we’ve heard, are cared for just as we are. Or insignificant-looking yeast that works its wonder on dough—through a woman; that becomes basic sustenance. Or this delight that brings about treasure-hiding and pearl-seeking; catching fish and even sorting them out. Jesus takes these images from all these different vocations to point to the places where we are and the mystery beneath and above it all. Maybe we’re not ready for the blade-of-grass or sardine-revelation: but we get this about what excites us, captures our imaginations or just fuels the basic necessities of life. (What is this for you?)
So what if we took this sense of wonder into the practical lives that we live together? That is, the kingdom where power and authority play a part? King Solomon choose- rather than power-over and wealth, wisdom: To understand and imagine by God’s insight and leading- how create a society where the people can ALL prosper and experience justice. We could picture these things used-well in terms of a modern-day democracy: Theologian Dr. Barbara Holmes: “We [could] reconsider the contours of our national social contract. We have the opportunity to restructure society, so it works as well for the have-nots and the almost-haves as well as it does for the wealthy…as a spiritual practice, can we imagine and create a political system responsive to the people and respectful of neighbors; a health system that is comprehensive and not profit driven; an educational system shaped by innovation and practicality. (Our social and economic systems work on a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. It doesn’t have to be that way.)” Let your mind go to a kind of kingdom that just might inspire selling everything for the pearl… or for the field with the treasure; one where there is nothing that doesn’t in some way reveal God “covering” it all.
We live in places and times that are, indeed, more than just pieces of land or minutes that tick by, but that are holy. God is present. And yet we see suffering, hardship. To witness the kingdom is to hold these things in tension with one another and be present and awake even and especially when it’s hard. To hear God say “It is good.” “It is enough.” YOU are enough. Let the Kingdom come. Thanks be to God. Amen.