Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lectionary 17A
1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The opening of thy words giveth light; It giveth understanding unto the simple.

I was spending a few minutes with my family this morning and I noticed that the box of tissues was empty. I told my daughter, “There are more on the roof.” I meant on top of the refrigerator, but when she made fun of the terminology, I said, “The refrigerator is a house for food.” Now she’s decided that my comment is one of her favorite quotes of all time. So, the original comment was just a slip of the tongue. I must have had the roof of the house on my mind because of something I saw on television, or the word roof was the one that came to me when I was thinking of the top of the refrigerator. But, when you think about it: a refrigerator is like a house for food.

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, using the connecting words ‘like,’ ‘as,’ and ‘than.’ Jesus often used these figures of speech to describe the kingdom of heaven for the people. It helped for Jesus to take something very mundane and knowable to describe the spiritual, divine world of God. The scripture writers, particularly the prophets, tried to put to words what it was like in heaven. They use images that are extraordinary, frightening, and magnificent. We can try to imagine what heaven will be like, even give it descriptions based on our human knowledge. Artists, poets, writers and filmmakers have all tried to find a way to make us see what is unseen.

But everything they create is just a shadow of the real. We won’t know what heaven really is until we experience it for ourselves. But we can hear what Jesus has to say and know what it is like. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us several similes about the kingdom of heaven, continuing the lessons of parables that He began earlier in Matthew. Each story gives a slightly different point of view, a slightly different look at the Kingdom, a slightly different way of thinking about what God intends and expects from His people.

Some of the parables even seem contradictory, like the parables we’ve heard over the past few weeks. In the parable a couple weeks ago, Jesus said that the weeds will choke the plant, and yet last week He said that the weeds must be allowed to grow with the plants that the sower planted. But He tells these stories, and we read these stories, because they all have important lessons for us to learn. There are both times when we should beware of the weeds because they will choke the faint of heart, but we can also rest in the reality that the weeds that grow around us will be taken care of by God in His time and in His way. It is our task to be strong in the faith and to help those who are weak, so that the weeds cannot destroy what God has created.

Helping us to be strong in our faith and to live the life Christ is calling us to live through these parables is the purpose for the other scriptures in today’s lectionary. The psalmist turns our mind to the Word of God. He cries out in longing for God's guidance through His Word. In following His statutes, commands, precepts, decrees, we see the path which will keep sin from ruling over our flesh. We also seek God to teach us His wisdom, wisdom like that of Solomon, so that we might live rightly in His kingdom. We recognize our own frailty and the reality of God’s Spirit and our reliance on Him for even the very faith that keeps our hearts strong in this world.

Each story gives us just a glimmer of what it is like in the kingdom of heaven. Though one starts small and grows while another starts large and shrinks, these tell the same story about the love and mercy of God. Some will understand the story about yeast, while others will know what it is like to go fishing.

Any one of the parables could give us fodder for a sermon or two, but we've been given all five in one day. We could easily dissect the stories; dig into the nitty-gritty details of who is the man, where the field is, what is the treasure and who are the wicked. Someone will understand what it means to give up everything they have for a treasure such as the man who left home and family to marry the woman he loves. The parable of the net might be the hardest for us to understand because we don't want to think of anyone being thrown into a fiery furnace, yet even through that story we learn valuable lessons.

It is a wonder that anyone hears or understands God’s Word. Yet, as we hear in today’s psalm, God opens His Word and shines its light on His people. It is God who reveals Himself to us as we turn to the source of our knowledge of God, to open our Bibles, to read the text for ourselves. For it is as we delve into God’s testimonies, words, commandments, precepts, statutes and law that God is revealed to us most simply and fully and through His Word that we know Him best.

It doesn’t always make sense. I know that every time I struggle with the parables that Jesus speaks, I come up with different ideas. We recognize the reality that we can’t do it without God. That’s what Paul is talking about in today’s epistle. We are weak, but God is able to search even our very hearts and speak the words we are unable to speak. He knows all the things we do not know and He ensures that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. God is truly greater than we might expect, able to make incredible things happen, is more valuable than the riches treasures of earth. Just like those examples in the parables, God is able and He will do exactly what He is promised.

Paul writes, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” The work of God through Jesus Christ made us free to live according to His Word. We need not worry about the seeds that won't grow or the weeds that do. We need not concern ourselves about the size of our mustard plant or which fish we should catch. These things cannot keep us from the love of Christ. As Paul writes, “…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Even though the parables say different things about the kingdom of heaven, each one only gives us a glimmer of the whole. We take each of these pieces, like the proverbial puzzle and put them all together to see the whole picture. In the end, what we see is the grace of God. It is God that grows the mustard plant so big, and the Spirit that works through the dough to make it rise. It is God who gives up everything for the sake of the treasure – and you are the treasure. And as in the parable of the weeds, it is not our place to make a judgment about which fish are good or bad, for God will be the ultimate judge.

And that is wisdom. Wisdom is knowing that God is in control, and that He knows best. Solomon could have asked for anything, and I don’t know many people who would make a choice like His. If someone came to you today and offered you the world, how would you want that gift to manifest? Would you like the winning lottery ticket? Or your dream job? Or a soul mate with whom to spend the rest of your life? Solomon didn’t ask for something tangible, he asked for wisdom. He asked to understand God and to use that understanding to serve God’s people. Perhaps that person offering you the world can’t give you something as intangible as wisdom, but God can. God can help you see what He means and how it applies to the life we are living in this world. He can help you understand those parables and how they can teach us the lessons of faith.

Solomon received wisdom and the whole world. When we walk wisely, listening to God and acting according to His Word, we also gain the world. The prize is not financial or material. We won’t necessarily get the things we want, but we’ll see the world through God’s eyes and recognize the reality of heaven which is not just a place or time in the future, but exists in the here and now where God’s people live according to His Word.

At the end of the lesson, Jesus asked the disciples, :Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes” yet as we see the story of Jesus and His disciples unfold, they did not always understand what Jesus was telling them. Did they really know how the kingdom would expand after Jesus died? Did they truly understand the work that would be done by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost? It is not likely. In this series of parables, Jesus is showing his disciples how to make the old new and fresh, how to preach the kingdom of heaven in a way that the people would see it in their everyday life and understand how it applies to their life. He calls us to do the same.

What gifts do you seek from God? And how will you use them? What is the kingdom of heaven like? How would you describe it? What similes would you use to make others understand how God is big and small, grows and shrinks, separates the good from the bad in His time and way? What weaknesses of yours can God use in this world and what prayers will the Spirit speak on your behalf? What does God see deep in your own heart and know from the depths of your soul?

Today’s lessons help us see more clearly the whole kingdom of God, for He reigns over all. This is why it is important that we seek His wisdom and discernment in all that we do, for in seeking His guidance we will find that He will bless us far beyond what we even ask. All too often, however, we ask God to bless us with the long life, wealth and victory over our enemies instead of seeking God's wisdom and discernment. When these are the desires of our heart, we lose sight of God and His mercy. We forget that all we have is given by God's grace. We get caught up in ourselves and we lose sight of God’s mercy and grace.

He’s so much bigger than we will ever be. His thoughts are so much purer and true than we can even know. Why would we try to hang on to our own strength and reasoning, knowledge and abilities, when God can give us so much more?

My comment today was silly, I wasn’t thinking straight for some reason. Some might even consider it foolish to say that the items are on the roof when they are on the top of the refrigerator. It is certainly unusual to call the refrigerator a house for food. Yet, it doesn’t matter if my grammar is right or if I’ve used all the right words when describing some earthly thing. It doesn’t matter if I sound foolish, as long as I’m sharing the message of God’s grace with others in my life and in my words. I may not think I’m able to do such a time, but I can. Not by my own power, because we’ve seen many times how foolish I can be. But God is able, and He is faithful. He’ll make His Word real through my life in ways I cannot even imagine.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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