* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on July 30, 2017 *
Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.
Texts for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost:
Romans 8:26-39 + Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Please pray with me:
We thank you for your vision and your dream for your world,
Even when that vision and dream feel small, hidden, and disguised.
Help us to see that vision more clearly this morning,
That we may join you in doing what we are able.
One of our dear friends died yesterday.
We’ve been praying for Herb Boerstler and his family for over a week, and yesterday morning, Herb claimed the eternal promises made to him in his baptism. Promises of life in spite of death…promises of living and dying in sure and certain hope of the resurrection, because if in our baptism, like St. Paul writes, we are joined to Christ in a death like his, how much more surely will we be joined with Christ in a resurrection like his…promises that through the crucifixion of Christ, death has been conquered and death does not have the last word…promises that God’s final word is one of life…
We don’t have details to share right now, but when we do, we’ll share those.
I know…it’s not a super-happy way to start a sermon, but I think there’s something really beautiful about being to share and talk about the ways a faithful disciple of Christ has made a lasting impact on our community of faith.
See, Herb liked to tell stories. And, my God, he had a bunch of them. Herb had a story for almost any situation or occasion. And most of those stories ended with you holding one of your sides because you were shaking from a good old-fashioned belly laugh.
I have a tendency to begin most of my sermons with a story. A story about growing up, or a story from my time in Chicago… And as I get more time and more experiences in Houston, I’ll have stories about Houston too.
And as most of y’all know already from the facebooks, Tiffany and I just bought a house this weekend. And by the way, if you’re on the facebooks and we’re not friends, feel free to find me and add me as a friend. I like to post sermon excerpts, things I find interesting, and sometimes pictures of the house Tiffany and I just bought. Or cat videos… Anyway, so if you give me some time I’m sure I’ll also have some pretty good stories about the lovely spiritual discipline of homeownership.
I think one of the things we can take away from the parables of Jesus that we hear occasionally every year is that Jesus also liked to tell stories.
See, stories have a way of telling a deep truth about ourselves, about life, and about the world we inhabit together. Stories help us to relativize and personalize things that are complex, nuanced, difficult to understand, and difficult to talk about.
For example, I think I’ve mentioned before, or maybe you’ve read in my bio, that I like to brew beer. I certainly like to drink it, but I also really like to make it. And one of the ingredients when you’re making beer is yeast. And it wouldn’t be beer without the yeast, because the yeast eats all those sugars in the beer mixture and that’s what makes alcohol and carbonates the beer. But you can’t use too much yeast, because otherwise you’ve ruined the beer. And you can’t use too little, because otherwise you just have flat sugary water that tastes a little like bread.
See you have to use just enough. And it’s always amazing to me how just the right amount of something can make something as wonderful and tasty as beer.
And I think that’s true of Jesus’ parable about yeast too. You need yeast to make bread, but you’ve got to have just the right amount, not too little or too much. But it doesn’t take much, right? A little yeast goes a long way, because yeast packs a lot of power in those tiny molecules. Jesus tells us, “A little bit of yeast will leaven the whole batch.”
The kingdom of God appears unassuming at first. Small and insignificant…maybe even unthreatening…but the influence, the staying power, and the extent to which it will take over and spread like a mustard weed, and how it supplants the way things currently are for God’s vision of how things could be is colossal.
Truthfully, we probably don’t even know what exactly we mean when we say phrases like “the kingdom” or “the reign of God.” Even though we’re told over and over throughout the prophets and in the Gospels by Jesus himself what God’s vision, God’s reign, God’s kingdom looks like. Right?
Think of Isaiah. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. No longer will they learn war or violence. The wolf and the lamb, the lion and the calf, they’ll all be friends. The people of God will not hurt or destroy or be violent or kill because all the created world will be full of the knowledge of God.
Remember Micah. This is what the Lord requires of you, o mortal one, that you live in and create systems of justice, that you commit yourselves to love and kindness, and that you walk in fervent humility with your God.
Blessed are those who create peace. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the ones who show mercy and have mercy shown to them. Blessed are the hungry, the naked, the sick, the dying, the homeless, those who can’t repay you.
And blessed are you when you alleviate these sufferings, because just as you did to one of the least of these, you also did to me. And whatever you did not do to one of the least of these, you also withheld from me, Jesus says.
The kingdom of God is not a fanciful idea or a lovely thing to put on a poster. The reign of God is a real, actual vision for how the world could look. And God’s bringing it about with or without our help.
But what a gift…what a remarkably tremendous gift…to be able to have a part…to just participate in God’s work when, where, and how we can in helping to make our little corner of the world just a little more reflective of the vision God has for God’s world.
We often confuse the kingdom of God in Jesus’ parables with us, don’t we? We think that we’re the yeast, we’re the mustard weed, and we’re the invaluable pearl.
And sometimes we are, to an extent, but be careful, because that interpretation replaces the reign of God with people, and while the people of God are part of the reign of God, the people aren’t the totality of God’s reign.
Because when people become the totality of the reign of God, we misunderstand what the greatness and expansiveness of God’s kingdom looks like.
But when we understand God’s reign in it’s fullness, greatness in the kingdom looks less like more Christians, and more like the presence of justice and equity.
When we understand God’s reign in it’s fullness, greatness in the kingdom looks less like discrimination veiled in religious wrappings, and more like how we show compassion and kindness to someone who’s different.
When we understand God’s reign in it’s fullness, greatness in the kingdom looks less like the push for more butts in the pews, and more like how we practice peace and love and righteousness and mercy.
It’s more hungry stomachs filled, more naked people clothed, more imprisoned people being visited and set free, and more sick being made well.
Those are things…that’s a vision…that I would sell everything for.
The reign of God is God’s vision for how God’s world could be. And the growth and multiplication of God’s kingdom is not the spread of the religious institution or the church or Christians themselves, but the out-of-control explosion of the message of hope in God’s future for the world, and not just the message, but the actualization of it.
We try and live into that vision as best we can here at New Hope. And we can certainly do more.
Over the past few weeks, dozens of lives were impacted by their experience at Camp Hope. We blessed and were extraordinarily blessed by our amigas and amigos from El Buen Pastor in El Salvador.
What other visions are waiting to be discovered and uncovered in this field?
Those dreams we envision…the stories we tell…speak to deep truths about our selves, our world, and our lives. Like the pearl hidden in a field, those truths are precious and priceless. And like the yeast and mustard weed, they have explosive potential.
So what new stories is it time for us to tell?