July 27

07/27/2014

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Pentecost 6 (Lectionary 17)
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

There was a time not long ago, when I used to regularly watch a TV show entitled, Storage Wars.    In this particular TV show, antique dealers and pawn shop owners in the Los Angeles area, meet at storage facilities and bid on the content of storage lockers that have been repossessed for unpaid storage fees.  The bidders get a few minutes to look at the contents of the locker from the door opening and then they bid and if they are successful, they then try to sell the items in the storage locker in order to make a profit.  

When the locker is initially opened, there is usually a lot of moaning and groaning because at first blush it appears that there is nothing of value inside. 

Sometimes there are valuables hidden in and among the junk and occasionally one of the bidders hits it big; the seemingly useless stuff in the storage locker turns out to be a great prize.  Of course there is great joy, great excitement AND great SURPRISE.

But it isn’t always just all about the dollars.  Occasionally the top bidder finds something in a storage locker they don’t want to sell; for some reason they value that item and want to keep it for themselves.  You or I might look at that item and see more junk, while they see something that is to them, almost priceless. 

So part of the process for the bidders, is to see or imagine value, in and amongst the small items, the seemingly unimportant, or valueless items. 

Sometimes I think it is easy to look at small and insignificant things, and be disappointed.  We don’t see value necessarily, we see little items instead of big ones, yet maybe all those little items add up.   Maybe it all adds up and we begin to see the value and the treasure.  I think, to some degree, this describes the ministry of a congregation.   I also think that today’s gospel reading helps us see that.

Today’s gospel may help us see the value in our congregation’s ministry, even though today’s gospel might appear to be a hodge-podge of different topics and concepts.  As we look through the open door of the storage locker, today’s gospel reading from Matthew contains quite a variety of items:

Kingdom of heaven

Mustard seed, trees, birds, nests

Yeast, flour, a mixer, dough

Empty field, hidden treasure, discovery, joy, purchase

The scribe who is entrusted with the message of the kingdom of heaven

Those are the hodge-podge of topics that seem to sit, tangled and twisted on the floor and as we first look at them we may not imagine any value at all.   Then, as we take a second look, we begin to see all the surprising things that happen in today’s gospel.

 The tiny Mustard seed grows to become a large plant

Yeast is small and when it does its work, the dough grows by huge amounts

An empty field turns out to be a treasure trove

Just another pearl turns out to be the one of great value – although it takes time to find it and

There is a sacrifice in obtaining that pearl of great value

In this eclectic gospel reading, Jesus is pointing out the surprising nature of the kingdom of heaven.   It may start out small, it may be disappointing to you or it may not seem like much, but the kingdom of heaven is bigger and more surprising than you might imagine. The kingdom of heaven may not appear to have much value, but there is always more than meets the eye.

The kingdom of heaven is surprising and it may not always be what we imagine or expect or demand.  The kingdom of heaven also takes time to find; there is a discovery and it doesn’t always come easy; there may be a sacrifice involved in discovering the kingdom of heaven. 

Looking at the small, the insignificant, the disappointing and imagining that this is supposed to be the kingdom of heaven, isn’t initially inspiring.   In our cynical moments, or our moments of disappointment, we might ask if that all there is. 

Often the small and the insignificant has great value; the kingdom of heaven is greater than we would have imagined.   The reason I think, is due to the grace of God which is always far bigger than we could have imagined.  

Some Biblical commentators would suggest that these parables are a great description of God, who God is and how God works.  There are many graphic examples of the grace and work of God and the history of the world is replete with stories of how God has worked in the lives of human beings through the ordinary, the mundane and that which does not appear to have much value.

The most dramatic example of a gracious God moving in the world comes through the cross of Christ.   Peering up at the cross on that fateful day, or watching from a great distance, I am sure that the disciples of Christ did not see much value, rather they probably saw disaster.   They imagined that the power of God would be unleashed through the standard feats of glory and power, or armies and politics, or fame and fortune. 

What they learned was that God would bring in the kingdom of heaven through suffering, weakness, and vulnerability and that would be the sign to show the world that God is present and saves us and the rest of the world.    Reigning through "weakness," becoming empty for the benefit of others, bringing life out of vulnerability and death, speaking in love and forgiveness, is the nature of God. 

The storage locker may look empty or value-less, but in the discovery, great pearls of wisdom and life abound. 

Yes, the kingdom of heaven has great value, even if you can’t see it at first.   Yet, beyond that, Jesus has more for us today. 

In the last verse of the gospel, Jesus says,

“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

The kingdom of heaven was “lived out” in the ministry of Jesus.   One of the amazing things he did was to take the old treasure, the concept of God’s kingdom of heaven, and make it seem new. 

 Jesus reinforces this thought with the final quote.  He believed that it was the duty of the scribe, the rabbi, the religious person in the temple, to bring out the idea of the treasure, look it over and find something old and something new, each and every time it was examined. 

I think pastors often do such a thing; we go to congregations, we look at the old and often we see something new.  Pastors often scratch their heads as they see something new while the congregation continues to see old.   Maybe the trick IS to see something new in the old.

But it is not just that pesky pastor who is prodding us to see something new in the old.  The gospel of Christ calls us to look at the gospel and see something old and something new in that treasure; Jesus pushes us to look harder and longer.

This affects who we are and what we do.  What do we DO as a congregation?  What is our current ministry?  What is our ministry SUPPOSED to look like?   Should we do radical surgery and completely reshape our ministry?  Or should it remain the same?   Is it just an old treasure that we dust off and put back out for continued reuse?  Are there NEW aspects to this old treasure?

Which leads me to think that we should never underestimate the value of our ministry!  Sometimes we might imagine that we don’t do this well or we don’t do that well.  Sometimes we might think that the church next door does it better than us.  

A lot of congregations think that way but that is not the message of the kingdom of heaven. It is those little things, those things of seemingly little value that are important.  They all add up.  The storage space of little value is priceless in a way.

Something old becomes something new when it is lived within the context of the grace of God and the power of Christ on the cross.   God give us the grace, the sight and the wisdom to see the old and the new.  May we be equally surprised and filled with joy as we continue to discover our ministry.  



Amen.


 

July 20

07/20/2014

 
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Pentecost 5 (Lectionary 16)
Genesis 28:10-19a
Romans 8: 12-25                                                                                 Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24                                                                         Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43


My wife Darlene and I have just returned from some vacation time and part of our time was spent in Calgary at the home of our oldest daughter.   While there in Calgary, the news broke with the story of a 5 year old boy who went missing, along with his grandparents.                                       


Five year old Nathan O’Brien was dropped off at his grandparents’ home by his mother and tragically all three went missing.   Earlier this week, the heartbreaking news came that the Calgary Police had changed their investigation from a missing persons file, to homicide.                           


Beyond the pictures of weeping family and friends and people throughout the community erecting memorials to the potentially slain victims, one is left with a pit in the stomach.  It seems almost beyond comprehension that someone could murder the grandparents, but then to take the life of a little 5 year old boy, an innocent young life, takes it beyond belief.

On a global level we have been witness to an incredible tragedy in which nearly 300 people lost their lives as the Maylaysian Airlines plane was shot down over Ukranian territory by a surface to air missile.   Once again, innocent lives are taken in a senseless act.                                             



What is equally amazing is the fact that I dwell on only 2 events in the world this week; there are countless other areas in the world which are experiencing such violence, such tragedy.

All of this is quite discouraging.   It is discouraging because we look and see that we are in a world still fraught with EVIL.   There might be all kinds of ways to analyze and try to figure things out in a rational sense, or maybe even make excuses as a way of attempting to answer the eternal question:   “Why?”                                                                                                                 



Unfortunately, we may not be able to answer that question to our satisfaction and we may be left with the understanding that this world is beset by evil.   

Discouraging and frustrating.   Okay, the world has evil elements.  Now what do we do?   Our frustration may compound because we might feel a sense of hopelessness.   No matter how much we might hope, or wish, or pray, we seem powerless in the face of evil.

For people of faith, the sense of powerlessness might be very keen because we pray.   We pray so hard for a cessation to war and violence.   We pray for healing and many, many other things.   Like the apostle Paul who notes in our scripture readings today, we groan with the rest of creation.   Creation groans in pain and we long for peace, safety and security.  

We groan and pray and long for the end to such decay.  

We groan.   Yet while we groan, we have an opportunity this morning, to hear from God.    God has a word to say to us despite our groaning.  

In the Scripture readings for today, we hear from God.   Through the words of Jesus, God announces that God will overcome evil.   Jesus says in our gospel reading,

Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus says that God is going to burn evil and eradicate it, just like you or I would burn weeds, burn garbage.  God will one day destroy evil.                                                                           



God makes a promise to one day destroy evil.  Such promise is reflected in the story of Jacob, which forms part of our first lesson today.

In the reading from Genesis, we find Jacob on the run.   Jacob, the second born child of Issac is on the run because he brother Esau wishes to do him harm.                                                               

Yes, Jacob did steal his brother’s inheritance through deceit, but I am sure he never believed that such trickery would bring expulsion from his family, loneliness in the wilderness and potential death at the hands of his brother.                                                                                                   

Jacob is alone, but in a dream, he encounters God.  In that dream God says to him,

 “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

In the end Jacob is not alone; God is with him and God will never leave him.   Someway and somehow he will be looked after, he will be cared for and the troubles and tragedies he potentially faces will be removed from him.   He is known by God.

Being known by God and what that means, is reflected in today’s Psalm.  In the reading from the Psalms, we hear the heart and mind and love of God.   God promises to burn evil because God knows us. 

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.   Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.   You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

The psalm writer who knows that humanity is loved by God is sure of one thing:

Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Darkness may surround us as human beings from time to time, but darkness does not surround God.   The night is as bright as the day for God.   God will overcome the darkness, God will erase evil from the face of this earth.                                                                         

God will erase evil from the earth.   We don’t know how, we don’t know when, but we live in hope.  Hope in God is our strength and that strength comes in many ways.                                                  

Baptism is one of those ways.  

Today was supposed to be a baptism day.   Today we were supposed to baptize Emmerson but unfortunately circumstances have postponed his baptism until late August.                           


This should have been a day of great joy and celebration not a day to remind us again of our groaning and of the evil in the world.  While that may be the case, I look forward to the baptism of Emmerson because it gives me comfort and solace and gives me hope.  

In baptism we are reminded that we are known by God.   We remind ourselves that we are children of God and INHERITORS of eternal life.                                                                                       

Yes, we are children of a fallen humanity and yes that fallen humanity creates and perpetuates evil.   But our fallenness, our darkness is not the last word of God.   God promises us that God will liberate us from sin and death.   Even in our baptisms, we acknowledge that one day the love of God will conquor all and rule all.  

Such are the promises of baptism. 

While we can’t baptize today, we can affirm our baptisms today to remind us of the love and grace of God.   Today we affirm our baptisms to help us live in hope.                                                              

We acknowledge the darkness in the world, but we also acknowledge how God works and moves in the world and how God invites us to participate in rolling back the darkness.  We work with God against evil.   In the end, God will remove all evil, but in the meantime, we participate with God in rolling back evil, one little event, or act of kindness at a time.                          

Today we affirm our baptisms to help us live in hope.             


Hope springs eternal.   Thanks be to God.  

Amen.