Sermon for Pentecost 11

Proper  12  a

Holy Trinity/St. Anskar

 

Truly, I love your commandments *
more than gold and precious stones.

 

+ In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Today we have five parables of the Kingdom – all pretty much one-liners. And no allegories, thank God! We are left on our own to respond, which is the way – I think – Jesus would have wanted it. Oh, interpretations are fine –necessary even, but I prefer it when commentary is not written right into the scripture, so that the meaning of these enigmatic little gems may be discovered anew by each generation and each person, according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

       Speaking of gems, one – possibly two – of the one-liners has to do with precious jewels. One is the single Pearl of Great Price, the other is an undefined treasure in a field, which could be jewels or precious metal or both.

Truly, I love your commandments *
more than gold and precious stones.

 

The other three are the tiny mustard-seed, the yeast in the flour, and the big, indiscriminate catch of fish in the sea. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is “like” all of these five. What is it about these five similes that is “like” the Kingdom of God? Let’s forget about allegories, and just look at the characteristics of the images themselves. What do they have in common?

       Well, they all have to do with something hidden and surprising. And they all include some kind of process. They are all about a transformation from one thing or state into another – a wonderful, beautiful, and completely unexpected change. The microscopic mustard-seed becomes a large bush, almost a tree, even though it is hidden – because ­– it is hidden in the earth. The woman “hides” the yeast in the flour, and changes them both completely (ok, nothing unexpected about these commonplace processes, but they are still rather amazing if not surprising to us anymore). The hidden treasure in the field, on the other hand, is a total surprise, and the lucky finder does what is necessary to secure it – trading all he has for it. Likewise, the merchant – not exactly surprised, perhaps, because he was on the lookout for fine pearls – but when he found the one that far surpassed anything he had ever seen (and if he found it, then previously it was hidden) he too sold everything in order to get it. And finally, the enormous catch of fish – bad ones together with good ones, all hidden from view in the sea but now brought forth and drawn in together, to be sorted out later, at the end of the day. (Shades of allegorical last judgment again, like last week.) So, the Kingdom of God seems to have to do with

Ø     something hidden being brought to light

Ø     something unexpected or surprising – or at least perennially amazing

Ø     something transformative

Ø     something very valuable, though unrecognized as such

Ø     something humble that turns out to be       great

Ø     and something that is surrounded, mixed in with, or even obscured by other things far less valuable.

 

There is one more characteristic that these parables share: there is human effort involved in each simile: human effort based on human wisdom. Although the mustard seed may fall naturally and grow up into a small tree by itself, the context of these agricultural metaphors permits at least the inference that it is planted and cultivated. The rest all explicitly involve humans actively working on something given, working with discernment:

Ø     the woman mixes and kneads yeast and flour, which she didn’t make, and she knows just how to do it

Ø     the finder sells all and buys the field where he stumbled on the treasure: he knows what no one else knows

Ø     so does the merchant who does likewise with the pearl

Ø     and somebody has to haul in the net full of fish and be smart enough to sort them, at the end of the day

 

So, if the Kingdom of God is like these things,

Ø     it must be a hidden process

Ø     it must involve transformation into something amazingly wonderful and valuable

Ø     it must happen through human agency and wit

Ø     it must be a process that is underway, but not yet complete

Ø     it will require the sacrifice of everything else

Ø     and a lot of extraneous and irrelevant stuff will come along with it, but that is not a cause for alarm – it’s unavoidable and we can fix it later.

 

       Whatever it may be, this Kingdom, this Reign of God is not just something in my heart. It may be going on in my heart – I hope it is – but it is also going on in the world: in the fields where mustard trees grow and treasure is buried, in the forgotten drawer containing the pearl, in the sea, in the rising bread dough. All these secret hiding places may well refer to the hearts of persons, but they also for sure refer to the world as a whole. We have to work and sacrifice in order to realize the promise of the Kingdom of God – both in our own spiritual lives, and in our social and political world.

       What we have to sacrifice is not to be compared in value to what we are in the process of getting – the lucky finder’s and the merchant’s all is no more important than the stinking heap of bad fish, at the end of the day. These are the temporal things that we have to pass through – trade in, sort out, leave behind – in order to attain to the things eternal. This may seem like a terrible, impossible task. Like Solomon, we recognize that we are but little children, who do not know how to come out or go in.  First, by the intercession of the Holy Spirit praying within us, we must receive wisdom – an understanding heart to be able to discern what is right, so that we can distinguish good fish from bad, the temporal from the eternal.

       Wisdom is not only knowing the difference but acting on the knowledge. We have to be smart enough to put the yeast in the flour in just the right proportion; we have to be wise enough to recognize that the buried treasure, or the pearl, is worth way more than all we possess. All of Solomon’s wisdom is worth nothing unless it is put into practice.

       When it is put into practice, it becomes a joyous process. We can go in [our] joy to sell all that [we] have. Everybody in the parables is overjoyed. Why? Because they are wise to the fact that what they are getting is more than worth the sacrifice and work, because the commandments of God – as the Psalmist calls the Kingdom – are more desirable than gold and precious stones, and because, however daunting the prospect of the work and sacrifice, we need not worry, because as the Apostle says, íf God is with us, who can be against us?

AMEN   

MARANATHA 

COME, LORD JESUS!