July 26th: Proper 12, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, July 26th, was preached based on the below manuscript . The gospel text was Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.

Toward the end of Matthew Chapter 12,
“some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’
But Jesus answered them,
‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign,
but no sign will be given to it
except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Rather than give them signs,
Jesus starts telling parables.
He teaches with parables,
hoping that people hearing him —
both the crowds and his disciples —
will be able to understand what he’s saying.
Today Jesus tells parables to the crowds
how God’s reign can be compared to
the growth of mustard seeds
and yeast mixed into flour.
Then he tells parables to the disciples
about God’s reign being like
a buried treasure,
a priceless pearl,
and a dragnet.

I’ve said before that
parables are special kinds of stories,
meant to tickle our brains
because something in them
isn’t quite right.
Many of us may be familiar with
how small mustard seeds are,
but do they grow into trees?
No! This is hyperbole!
Although over the last 100 years
the mustard weed has been cultivated to be
broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi,
mustard weed doesn’t grow into a tree.
It gets to be the size of a large bush,
but not a tree.
This is what God’s reign,
which Jesus’ presence inaugurates,
is like.

We’re still living in
situations similar to that
faced by the church for which Matthew was writing.
Jesus still hasn’t come back yet.
Last week I was a little glib
about federal agents? officers? troops?
snatching and holding protestors in Portland.
They got here yesterday.
I’m tired of mentioning it in sermons,
but we’re up to almost 150,000 Americans
dead from COVID19,
due largely to
malfeasance and lack of leadership
from federal authorities.
The Secretary of Education said this week
that kids are covid-stoppers,
which has some hardcore republican educators I know
wanting to spit and pull their hair out.
It’s possible
that our in-person gatherings
may have to be suspended again
to keep doing our part
to fight virus spread.
We’ll see what we need to do.

Listening to Up First
on Monday morning I was starting to despair.
There is so much that has gone wrong
that didn’t have to have gone wrong.
Some of you may have seen me tweet
“Maranatha!” about a news item.
That’s basically praying,
“Jesus come back and fix it!”
As we inch toward November
one decade at a time every week
I was, like some of the scribes and Pharisees,
praying for a sign as well.

God, through the Consultation on Common Texts,
offered me these words,
Jesus put before the crowds another parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and hidin three measures of flour
until all of it was leavened.”
The parables Jesus tells today
aren’t stories about church growth.
They’re about God’s reign of perfect justice and perfect love
growing all around us,
even when we cannot see it.
Matthew’s church has seen the destruction of the Temple.
They’ve faced ejection from their synagogues,
and which has divided families.
Jesus warned them about that.

These two parables that Jesus tells the crowds
and Matthew recounts to his church
are tangible signs of hope.
A small mustard seed
gets big enough as a bush
to have branches and shade for birds.
Grains of yeast
get invisibly mixed in with 50 pounds of flour
and make enough dough to feed 100 people.
We’re still living in
situations similar to that
faced by the church for which Matthew was writing.
Jesus still hasn’t come back yet.

I asked for a sign,
and Jesus gives me —
with Matthew’s Church —
signs about God’s reign.
Jesus answers my requests,
the scribes’ requests,
and his first followers’ requests
with concrete stories
about God’s reign growing,
even when we can’t see it.

Douglas Hare writes about these parables,
“God’s action in the world,
while almost imperceptible
(the mustard seed was proverbial
as the smallest thing that an eye could see)
or hidden (as leaven in dough),
is nonetheless real
and will in God’s own time come to full fruition.”
We don’t see yeast
as it works its microbial magic
and makes dough rise.
We can’t see with our naked eyes
how a plant — any plant —
grows at the cellular level
from a seed to be a large bush.
This is what God’s reign is like.

Jesus came —
a single mustard seed,
a grain of yeast —
and started God’s reign around us.
God’s reign is the mustard plant
that birds of the air, birds of heaven —
Gentiles, us —
find respite in the shade in.
God’s reign is the yeast working in 50 pounds of dough
as much as one person could knead on their own
making enough bread to feed 100 people.
God’s reign is creeping all around us,
started by God becoming human in the person of Jesus
who defeated death and the grave,
opening eternal life to us all.
As Hare reminds us,
it’s real
and will come to fruition in God’s own time.
In God’s own time
there’s so much bread
that it has to be a party.

As we inch toward November
one decade at a time every week,
God’s reign is among us.
Like Jesus keeps saying,
the kingdom of heaven has come near.
Labron James is helping people
pay Florida’s new poll taxes
after they serve their prison sentences.
Some of you are planning
to join demonstrations in Seattle —
against police violence,
against unjust immigration policies, and
against overreaches by the government.
I asked for a sign
that things aren’t as miserable as the seem
or at least won’t always be so miserable.
Jesus answered
by reminding me that God’s reign is at hand,
and it’s been growing for 2000 years,
even I can’t see it…
or if I can only see it if I look for it.
Where do you see
mustard seeds
turning into big bushes or
bringing abundant life?
Through Jesus,
the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Let’s pray to see it a little more clearly. Amen.

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