Sunday, July 26, 2020

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 7:6-9
Psalm 125
Romans 8:28-39
Matthew 13:44-52

Do good, Yahweh, to those who are good, to those who are upright in their hearts.

I am a pretty good teacher when it comes to intellectual or spiritual lessons, but I am terrible at teaching tangible tasks. My daughter recently credited me with teaching her to be an adventurous cook, but I donít even remember letting her spend that much time in the kitchen. I get frustrated; it is easier to just do the work than to patiently wait as a child tries to follow instructions. The same is true with helping someone with computer problems. I know it would be better to help someone learn how to troubleshoot, but Iíd rather just sit down at the keyboard and quickly click through to the solution. I just donít have the patience, but in the end the person hasnít learned anything. They say it is better to teach a man to fish, but Iím happy to give the fish and move on.

Matthew 13 is filled with parables. Weíve heard a few over the past few weeks. Our lectionary jumps forward to verse 44, but in between are the parables of the mustard seed and leaven. These parables, and the ones for today, are about the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus uses these parables to bring a deeper spiritual truth into common language for the people listening. At the same time, parables can be confusing because we want to fit our own understanding into the stories, often making the meaning too complicated or not really listening to what Jesus has to say. Now, parables can be understood in different ways, depending on oneís perspective, but we must be careful. It is so easy to make the stories fit our own opinions and interpretations while missing out on the deeper truths that God would have us know. Sometimes we even say we understand when we really arenít paying attention to what God is saying.

The chapter begins with Jesus teaching from a boat just off the shore with the crowds standing on the beach. After a time, Jesus went into the house. His disciples followed. Jesus gave the disciples explanations about the parables throughout the teaching, and He told them why He taught in parables. They heard several more parables inside the home that had a slightly different focus, but like the mustard seed and yeast, they taught how a small and hidden thing can become something of great value.

Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure found in a field. The man who found the treasure hid it again and then went to purchase the field. Some are bothered by the idea that the man hid the treasure again, suggesting that there are legal and ethical problems with the way this story is told. Yet, the man who found the treasure could have easily just taken the without bothering to purchase the field. The purpose of this parable is to teach us that great treasures come with some sacrifice and cost. How many people think that they can have the benefits of Godís grace without giving up oneís self? The man who found the treasure wanted it enough to go to do the right work to possess it. He will love and appreciate what he has received far more than the one who would simply take it from its hiding place.

Again, Jesus told a parable about a pearl of great price. In this parable we learn that the kingdom of heaven is something of such value that we should be willing to give up everything we have to gain possession of it. It is tempting to see these two parables as a statement about the work we must do to receive the kingdom of heaven for ourselves, but we are reminded that the value is not in our work but in the treasure. These are stories about letting go of ourselves and our stuff for the sake of something that is worth so much more than we could possibly give. We are made part of the kingdom through Godís grace, and by His grace we are called to go into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. It is not enough to know about Godís kingdom, or even to be part of it. We are called to possess it, to grasp it and hold on to it, to make it a part of our whole being.

When Jesus finished speaking these parables, He asked the disciples, ďHave you understood all these things?Ē The disciples answered, ďYesĒ but we know that the disciples did not always understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. Jesus had to repeat the lessons after His resurrection that they had been learning for so long. The Holy Spirit gave them knowledge and understanding after Pentecost, and we have the same benefit today, but we are still filled with questions. We do not always understand.

We hear these stories and we have some understanding. We know about seeds and yeast. Even if we arenít a farmer or fisherman, you probably recognize the earthly concepts in the stories. The treasure and pearl make us think about how we would react if we found something so valuable. We can look at those parables and understand that Jesus is talking about sacrifice and commitment. We can see that the kingdom of heaven is of great value and worthy of our dedication and submission. We can interpret those parables to our own lives and learn lessons that will help us grow into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. When Jesus asks us if we understand all these things, we can probably answer like the disciples.

The final parable is a little troubling, however. I think the final parable might be a little harder. Jesus said, ďAgain, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some fish of every kind, which, when it was filled, fishermen drew up on the beach. They sat down and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. So will it be in the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Ē There is a sense of victory to us in this story. We believe that ďothersĒ (especially our enemies) are the wicked in the story and we are glad to know that God will deal with them as they deserve in the end. We are certain that our enemies will be in that furnace of fire weeping and gnashing their teeth, and though this might not bring us joy, it does give comfort us in our times of trial. I imagine the disciples are thinking in these very terms when Jesus asked if they understood.

Leading up to the teaching of these parables, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man. The people were astonished, but the Pharisees claimed that the power Jesus used in the healing was from Beelzebub. Beelzebub was the prince of demons. In this interaction, the disciples could see that the relationship between Jesus and the authorities was not going to be congenial. The Pharisees and teachers of the law approached Jesus demanding proof of His authority; they wanted a miraculous sign. Jesus refused. This was was not going to be an easy ministry. Even Jesusí mother and brothers seemed to be against what He was doing. They were going to have enemies. The only comfort in doing work against so many enemies is to know that in the end you will be proven righteous. The proof of a ministryís success is in the failure of the enemies. Jesus would be proven right when God separates the good fish from the bad.

When Jesus asks, ďHave you understood all these things?Ē we want to say ďYes,Ē but we want to see the parable of the net through the eyes of our vindication. We will be the good fish, saved from the furnace. We will be the ones who receive the kingdom of heaven. There is something deeper and more important in this parable, and the other parables, however. Jesus reminds us repeatedly that we are not the king. We do not rule the kingdom of heaven. We are not judge, jury, or executioner. God is in charge. He will do the separating. We canít see the hearts. Those we see as wicked may been seen much differently through the eyes of God. It is God who will make the judgment and He looks at things much differently than we do.

We have to see the world through wider eyes. Our understanding is so narrowly focused, based on our biases. We see things through our culture, our gender, our experience, our geography, our race, our religion, our hopes and our dreams. We see things a certain way because of our personalities, our financial condition, our relationships. Jesus taught the disciples, however, that they have to see things through new eyes. Now that they have the understanding of the kingdom of heaven, they have to see things through the old and the new. We have to do the same thing, seeing the world and the kingdom of heaven through the eyes of those who have been given the understanding of God.

He is King and should never rejoice over the destruction of anyone, even our enemies.

We donít have to defeat our enemies. Living faith means trusting that God is with us and that He will ensure that everything will be made right.

We say that we understand but it doesnít always make sense. I know that I often see the parables in a new way when I study them. Whatever our perspective, however, we are called to accept reality that we canít do anything without God. Thatís what Paul is talking about in todayís 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; He is more valuable than the richest treasures of earth. Just like those examples in the parables, God is able and He will do exactly what He has promised.

Paul writes, ďHe who didnít spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things?Ē The work of God through Jesus Christ made us free to live according to His Word. We need not worry about the seeds that wonít 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, ďFor I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from Godís love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Ē

We have all probably had an experience like this one. My daughter needed a laptop for school, which at the time was a pretty large financial expenditure for our family. I did a lot of research, trying to find the best laptop for the best price. I looked on the Internet and checked the displays at every store. One day we went into a store, but for some reason I didnít bother to look at their display. At home I checked the ads in the paper and realized that very store had the best computer for an incredible sale price. If I had looked, I would have been able to get what my daughter needed at a price that saved me money for other upcoming school expenses.

Unfortunately, unbelievable deals like that one usually only last a few hours because the stores carry a limited quantity and people rush out to be the first in line. The sale began early in the morning and by the time I saw the ad, I thought it was too late. I didnít go back. Later that evening, however, we were out in a neighboring town that had another location of that store. We decided to run in, just in case. We got lucky! They had one laptop on the shelf.

I donít really believe in luck. I do know that God has his hand in the world and He is able to put us in the right place at the right time. He ensures that we are exactly where He wants us to be. Now, I donít necessarily think that He ordained for us to be at that store at that moment to get that very last laptop. His purpose is bigger and deeper than our financial security. The type and cost of our possessions does not matter much to our spiritual welfare. If anything, God would more likely teach us not to rely on those things that turn our attention from Him.

However, God does make all things work for those who love Him. There are coincidences, of course, but many things we consider ďluckĒ are really God-incidences. God may not have moved our footsteps to be in that place at that time, but I believe God can use everything that happens to us to work for His glory and our benefit. The reason we were in that neighboring town was not a happy one. We had no reason to believe that store would have the laptop. However, perhaps God gave us a nudge, whispering that we should try.

Whether it was luck or God was nudging us to go into that store that evening, we sighed with relief over the purchase. We no longer had to worry about whether we could find the right laptop. We could rest a little easier. I was thankful, and I praised God because He has promised to have such an intimate concern over every aspect of our lives, even the seemingly unimportant things. We should never look to God as the giver of stuff; He is not a pop machine God who will fulfill every wish. But it is good to praise God in every aspect of our lives. God is always with us making everything work out for our good. There is a comfort in knowing that, especially when things donít go so well. Just knowing that God is working things for our good, we can face the difficulties with patience and courage.

The psalmist writes, ďThose who trust in Yahweh are as Mount Zion, which canít be moved, but remains forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so Yahweh surrounds his people from this time forward and forever more.Ē How we live in a world of sin is dependent on our perspective. When we trust in God, we know that we will be unmoved even when tragedy strikes. When we trust in God, we can face our enemies with grace. We are a holy people, set apart to share Godís love with the world. We werenít chosen because we are particularly special; we arenít. He has made promises to His people, from the days of Abraham, Moses, and beyond. We have become His people through faith and we are called to live according to His good and perfect word.

We are blessed to be a blessing and we are called to share Jesus Christ who is the manifestation of Godís love for the world. Jesus was sent to set us free to live faithfully in that love. We will face enemies; Christians have faced enemies during every generation since Jesus. Yet, we need not concern ourselves about these things, for the difficulties we face in sharing Godís grace will not stop the work of God in this world.

We take this one day at a time. Even if the seeds we plant seem miniscule, or seem to fall in the wrong places, God can make them grow. Even when the yeast disappears in the flour, it is there, making it rise. The treasure we have found is worth the price of our lives, for our lives were worth the sacrifice of Godís Son. In the end, some of the catch will be thrown back, the weeds will be burned. Yet, we need not concern ourselves with who is who since God is the judge that will choose. Even when we face the difficulties of life, we can live in the confidence that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.

Jesus calls us to living faith in the kingdom of God, even if we do not fully know or understand everything He has taught us. Every parable has a glimmer of Godís grace and each story draws us to move ever more deeply into His heart. Living in His love we are called to take His kingdom to the world, sharing Godís wisdom with all so that they too might know the freedom to live in His love.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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