Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus said: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Jesus teaching in parables is a way of teaching that goes beyond our usual processes. These little tales or sayings or images grab us by their unusualness and ordinariness.

The images Jesus uses are from daily life, they are things that everyone who first heard them would understand, yet they always have a strangeness to them.

They are wonderful because they somehow stay with you, yet seemingly somewhat out of our grasp.

The Kingdom parables that we hear today are an even more so.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls

On the surface these two parables seems to be saying the same thing.

They speak to us about the great value of the Kingdom of Heaven.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Our initial thoughts are that the Kingdom of Heaven is so wonderful that we would sell everything we own to have it.
Jesus uses an example of selling all we own. The idea is that that would hurt in some way. Essentially we would suffer to own this better thing.

But a closer look reveals they say somewhat different things:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field
the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls

In the first example, the kingdom is like treasure which we find.
In the second, the Kingdom is like someone in search of something.

In the first example, it is the object that is found, in the second, it is the one who is searching.
The first is passive, the second is active.

Jesus puts these two parables together for a reason.
In the first, we are the one searching.
In the second we are the ones found.

So what is the treasure that is found in the field?
It is something that is hidden within us all.
It is an inner reality within our soul, waiting to be discovered.
When we find this inner reality, we will happily give up all other desires, ambitions, and goals to make that inner reality our whole reality.

We search within ourselves for the kingdom of God, as Jesus tells us in Luke’s gospel, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’

But what about the second parable?

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it

Here the Kingdom is someone searching.
Here, we are the pearls being searched out.

We search for, and we are searched out.

The kingdom is what we find in ourselves as an inner treasure.
It is also that which is searching to find us.

We are the treasure that the kingdom of God searches for.
And the Kingdom of God is that treasure.

I don’t think it was by accident that Jesus placed those two parable next to each other. One needs the other.
The Kingdom is neither one or the other, it is both.
It is treasure, and it searches for treasure.

This is the paradox that Jesus taught.
The kingdom is within us, and it searches us out.

The sad thing is that the treasure in the field or the pearl of great value has been replaced in many peoples lives by other things: drugs, drinking, gambling. These things cause people to sell everything they own so people can have them. And because they are addictions, they seem to seek people out.
They can be seen to be the antithesis of the Kingdom:
The cause destruction,
People lose themselves,
They lose who they are, and lose meaning in their lives and in themselves.

When we find the kingdom within ourselves,
we experience a growing wholeness,
an increasing sense of who we are,
the meaning of our personality, an expanded consciousness.

All this takes us beyond ourselves, and into the transcendent.
We know who we truly are and we begin to get a sense of who we are in God.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Let both of them grow together until the harvest

Today we are confronted with images of the afterlife.
We have images of the furnace of fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We have images of the righteous shining like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Jesus leaves us with these images at the end of his explanation of the parable.

He is explaining the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, or the Wheat and the Tares as it used to be called.

Jesus is telling us one of the mysteries of the Kingdom.

But the images of the afterlife, of judgement are only a very small part of the parable.
In fact, the parable is more about what happens now, than what will happen.

A man sows good seed in his field, someone else comes along and sows some bad seed among the good.
The plants begin to sprout, both good and bad.

Our translation of wheat and weed does not help us. The older 'wheat and tares' does a bit.

The word for weed in the Greek is not simply weed, it is a kind of weed.
It is darnel, a kind of grass.

Now the thing with darnel is that when it first sprouts up, it looks exactly like wheat.
You can’t tell it apart.

The mans slaves believe they can see the weeds amongst the wheat and suggest they go and pull all the weeds out.

The man replies:
“No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.
Let both of them grow together until the harvest;
and at harvest time I will tell the reapers,
Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned,
but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
So here is the point of the parable.

Jesus explains it:
The man who sows is Jesus.
The field is the world.
The good seed are those who hear and respond to the gospel, followers of Jesus.
The weeds are things that are off. Darkness, evil, sin.

The wheat and the weeds grow together.
The world will exist of things of Christ and things that aren’t.

And often, it will be difficult to see what is what.

Many things may appear to of Christ, but when fully grown may be revealed to be of the ego, the self, of money, of idolatory.
Many things may at first seem to be opposed to the faith,
but on flourishing show themselves to be faithful.

The point is at we are not always going to be able to tell.
And it is not our job to destroy things we think are not of Christ.

No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.
Let both of them grow together until the harvest.

Think about it:
If we were to go about destroying everything that we thought was not correct, or Jesuslike or of the Kingdom, soon enough there would be nothing left.
Good and evil often exist in the same place. To try and destroy the evil will only end in the destruction of the good.
How can we oppose evil without creating new evils and being made evil ourselves?
Good and evil often exist within the same person.
There would be no one left.
There would be nothing left.

The parable is about forbearance, tolerance and forgiveness.

It is about judgement.
It tells us in no uncertain terms that we are not to judge others.

Who is wheat? Who is weed?

Ours is not to say.

Jesus is telling us that we are to go the extra mile.
That we are to offer the other cheek.

Let both of them grow together until the harvest

It is not up to us to uproot things we think aren’t of God.
If we were to, we may just be uprooting the very things that are the foundation of the kingdom.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Hear then the parable of the sower

This is one of the few occasions in the gospel where Jesus explains his teaching in parables.
He has just told the Parable of the Sower.

They ask him:
‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’
He answered,
‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,
but to them it has not been given.
The reason I speak to them in parables is that
“seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” 

The parables give and demand at the same time.
They are a way of teaching that demands thought and prayer.
They aren’t rational or didactic.
They aren’t little moral lessons like Aesops’s fables, although they can seem like them on first hearing.

To me, the parables are always slightly out of reach.
When I think I have them sorted out, in my grasp, another thought comes and changes the dynamic.

So with today’s parable.
There would not seem to be any real reason to explain it. Jesus has done that for us.

‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 
Some seeds fall on the path and are eaten by birds.
Jesus tells us that this is what happens when someone hears but does not understand.

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, the soil is shallow, they spring up quickly, but don’t take root. They wither in the sun.
These are new converts who are initially filled with excitement, but fall away when theings get tough.

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
The thorns represent the things of the world: money, power, buracracy.
These things stop the word from growing and kill it.

Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain,
some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

“This is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields,
in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

So, on the surface we have 4 situations shown. The odds are 3-1 of success. Not the greatest odds.

We all know these situations.
We have all seen seeds thrown on the path, the word of God going out and no one hearing or getting it.
We have all seen new converts, filled with joy, only to lose their way when the joy subsides and life gets real again.
We have all seen the world strangle the word. The church is very good at doing this to itself.
Every time we talk about something that is not the gospel, it is a little thorn growing up.

Those are the 3 in the 3-1 odds.

The 1 is where it comes together.
We all hope that we are that good soil that the seed can grow in. Presumably we are.

Many of you are gardeners.
You know what you need to do to get plants growing.
You till the soil, you fertilise it, you water it, you put the plants in the right place for shade, all that stuff.

Think of yourself in the same way.
What do you need to do to be able to receive God’s word so that it can grow and yield plants.
Prayer, receiving Holy Communion, reading the scriptures, confessing your sins.
Good fertile soil.
Gods word can grow and yield grain that can then grow and create more seed and on it goes.

The danger of looking at the parable as 'different kinds of soil equals different kinds of people responding to God' is that is makes it a story of division.

Maybe we need to look at it differently.
Instead of being about different people, it is actually about ourselves.

There are times when we are rocky ground, or a path, or thorny.
There are times when we don’t get it, when we give up, or distracted by the world.
Yet, God keeps sowing.
He doesn’t give up on us.

Note Jesus’ introduction:
Hear then the parable of the sower.
The parable is not really about the soil, it is about the one who sows:
Who is the sower?
The sower is God.

From Isaiah:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
   and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

But look at the actions of the sower:

He drops seed, he throws it on rocks, he throws it on stony areas, he throws it on good soil.
That is not a good use of resources, it is a bad business plan. It seems like a waste.

But that is looking at things in the way of flesh, not of the spirit.

As Paul tells us:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,
but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 
The way of looking at this in the way of the spirit is that of God’s generosity.
God’s word goes everywhere.

God doesn’t stop because people don’t understand or give up or get distracted.
God doesn’t stop because we don’t understand or give up or get distracted.

God keeps sowing his word regardless of the condition of the soil.
He isn’t stingy, he isn’t judgemental, or practical.
He keeps sowing for eternity, sowing the whole of his creation with his word.