Sunday, July 26, 2020
Lectionary 17, Year A
Prayer of the Day
Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm (with Semicontinuous First Reading and Psalm)
Genesis 29:15-28 Leah and Rachel become Jacob’s wives
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39 Nothing can separate us from God’s love
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Parables of the reign of heaven
Title: New Life: The Harvest of God’s Garden
Shall we spend one more Sunday in God’s Garden? This will make our third. Regardless of your degree of green thumb or your propensity towards yard work, I think you will be glad for one more stroll. Even in spite of the fact that the last two weeks have shown that God’s garden planted on earth is not without its challenges and hardships: seed-stealing birds, scorching sun, choking thorns, and overpowering weeds.
The scoundrel Jacob is still with us; however, he’s dealing with a very pesky weed in the person of Laban, his kinsman. So, we’ll leave him to it and just take the message that sometimes it pays to stick to it and keep laboring in spite of the weeds.
But today, the focus is on the treasures to be found in God’s garden. And it is Jesus who is directing our attention to these treasures and encouraging us to embrace their full value and grow in understanding the wealth that God is showering down on us.
The mustard seed is back. However, this time it is not a symbol of the smalless of our faith, (Remember that passage: if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move mountains). This reference to the tiny mustard seed is pointing to the expansiveness of God’s kingdom. Perhaps it is representing the smallest efforts that are made through us to advance the reign of God. Perhaps it is seeing God in the smallest of things, actions, events, individuals, whatever might go past us unnoticed in our weedy world. Wherever God’s reign is at work, the smallest whatever, grows and blooms through the work of the Holy Spirit. Not just for its own sake, but for the sake of others. In this story, it is the birds of the air that benefit from what comes of the tiny seed. They all find homes in the resulting tree. Not just the robins, not just the sparrows, not just the jays or the wrens, the owls or the hawks. All the birds of the air fill this tree that grew from smallest of expressions.
That seed can be Jesus. Think of what has grown from that one short life lived so long ago. Think of how many have found a home in him and his good news. Think how diverse the many that make up the body of Christ. That seed can also be us. Individually and communally.
Beyond your involvement in this community that welcomes so many, have you had the blessing to see at other times the small (or what you thought of as small) growing to positively affect many? Perhaps in yourself, or in others, or in a community. Think on that. Call to mind how it felt as you witnessed the power of God working through you and those around you for the sake of the world.
Our God is awesome in the humility of how God works. Now, after the seed sowing of two weeks ago, and the wheat and weeds growing of last week, of this week we could say that, appropriately following the sowing and the growing, this week is the harvesting. And in Jesus’ collection of mini parables in this morning’s gospel, the wheat has been harvested, the baker has what was milled into flour, and is ready to bake so that all might eat. But there is a lot of flour. Three measures. Any smart baker would set aside two measures of flour and mix the yeast into the one measure to assure proper ratios and proper leavening of the loaf. But just as the seed-sower was careless, yet also trusting, so is the baker. Whether in the garden or in the kitchen, where God reigns, a little bit goes a long way. Perhaps this story is to show us the power of God’s reign. Just as the yeast in the story is more active than any bakers have known, so is the Spirit that fills us at baptism, empowers us with gifts and talents, binds us together in community to be the body of Christ to the world.
Perhaps you have witnessed the Spirit moving and filling an event, a gathering, a worship service, a hospital room, a retreat, a sacred space, a sunset, a moment between two or more.
Jesus’ series of parables also reminds us that the treasures of God’s garden are beyond what we see growing in ourselves, in one another, in our communities of faith, and in our world. There is the story of the one who finds treasure buried in the field. No one else knows it is there. They say nothing. And proceed to do whatever they have to secure the field and the treasure.
Now of course, one way to look at this parable is that the treasure finder is us, the treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ that declares us children of God and alive in the Spirit. And being that there is nothing of greater value that we could possess, we give up all we have to secure and own it, to dedicate ourselves to it. And that is a good message. Hopefully, we daily order our priorities in such a way.
However, one could also see the person discovering the treasure is God. The treasure is us. You could even say God finds us buried because God in Christ Jesus comes to us when we are dead to sin. And when the story tells us that the person cashes in all that he has in order to secure the treasure and field, it is pointing us to the complete sacrifice that Jesus makes so that we are reconciled to God and once again God’s own forever.
Please take a moment and sit with that reality. Of just how valuable you are to God. Not because of what you do or don’t do. But simply because of who you are – created in the image of God, redeemed by Christ, filled with the Spirit.
Finally it is Paul, that legalist…I really should cut him a break and say former legalist, but it is Paul who finishes our time in this most wonderful garden as he again points us to the precious tomb in the garden. The empty tomb of Jesus. That which proclaims and assures us that what Paul writes at the end of Romans chapter 8 is true indeed. Like Paul, through faith, we can be and are convinced that…
(38For I am convinced that) neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.
It is a passage I typically read at funerals and memorials, (if the choice is up to me.) It is an assurance to comfort us in the face of loss and death. It is encouragement for living each and every day whether just hanging out in the peace of God’s garden or wandering through the world’s wilderness of pain and suffering, hatred and fear, division and war.
Be convinced that God has planted a garden in us and around us. It is tended to by Jesus and nourished by the Holy Spirit. Witness its blooming and its harvest. Join in its bounty. Live the fullness of Christ’s new life in it this day and forever.
The Rev. Mark Erson,