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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 7/27

Watch Your Treasures Grow

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
July 27, 2008
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Bethany Lutheran Church

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea catching fish of every kind. The kingdom of heaven is like all of these things. I have no doubt that you understand every one of these parables, these almost non-sensible metaphors. The disciples certainly claimed to have understood. But I will let you in on a little secret. When the local pastors met this past week to study these readings together, after we read that the disciples understood every parable Jesus had spoken, most, if not all of the pastors burst out into laughter. For do any of us every fully understand? Five different parables describe the kingdom of heaven. How is it possible that there be only one central meaning?

I rarely, if ever, understand the needs of a crying baby. Some of our nation’s leaders have had to make decisions that would affect our entire nation without fully understanding the outcome of their decisions. Scientists continue seeking to understand the complex make up of different plant and animal species as well as searching for cures to diseases and illnesses.

The bible also can be one complex set of writings, everyone seeking to understand them, and yet everyone arriving at different interpretations. Our only solution when this happens is to dialogue with one another, to ask questions of one another, approaching every theological thought and viewpoint with an open mind. This spirit of dialogue is at the very heart of our ecumenical dialogue, our conversations with people of different Christian denominations. This spirit of dialogue is even at the heart of the ELCA. It is a continual dialogue, a continual exploration, a continual seeking to understand the scriptures since we are a church that is constantly interpreting and reinterpreting scripture. This is perhaps why bible studies are often so interesting, because we all come together from a myriad of cultural, economical, and social backgrounds to discuss a common passage of scripture. And even though we may not always agree with one another, our understanding of scripture widens itself.

‘For the disciples, realizing the reality of the kingdom comes as a surprise, very much like a discovery.’ They had their Jewish law codes, some of them dating back to the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They knew what was clean and unclean, they knew the risks of being thrown out of the temple if they were to be found breaking one of the laws. And yet, the gospels illuminate a host of scenes in which Jesus is found breaking those very laws. Jesus ate with sinners, dined with the social outcasts, and challenged what was clean versus unclean. Jesus – who did he think he is?

These parables are no different. Each of the five parables in our text today highlight something that was socially unacceptable and turn it into something that is rich and good. The first two parables about the mustard seed and the yeast, have been nicknamed by biblical scholars as parables of growth. Mustard seeds were the smallest of all seeds in antiquity. The initial plant that would grow from a mustard seed was commonly regarded as a weed. This is one plant the disciples would not have wanted in their garden. But Jesus says let it grow and as Pastor Geier said last week, do not be so quick to determine what is a weed, to pluck them out. This mustard seed, this weed, would grow into one of the greatest of shrubs, eventually becoming a tree fifteen feet or more tall, where all the birds of the air come to make nests in its branches.

The imagery of birds nesting in this great tree is an Old Testament eschatological image of what is to come. It is an image in which every nation will come to rest in the branches of the same tree. The image appears most clearly in Daniel (4:10-13) as part of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

“Upon my bed this is what I saw; there was a tree at the centre of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew great and strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth. Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it, the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed.”

That is the kingdom of heaven. It is a kingdom where every plant, animal and human being – everything that God has ever created – will be able to live in harmony.

The yeast of the second parable is no different. The disciples and the Jewish people would have preferred unleavened bread because it would have been regarded as more sacred. Unleavened bread reminded the people of their history, their exile from Egypt out of slavery and into the promised land. Unleavened bread reminded them of the Passover and their connectedness to the God who created them. Yeast would have “ruined” the bread causing it to rise. The bread would cease to be unleavened. Jesus turns this negative view of yeast around and points out that even the smallest bit of yeast can affect over an entire bushel of flour. This leavened bread would grow and provide food for a great number of people.

So much comes from so little. The parables are not describing some perfect vision of what heaven will be like. Quite the contrary, the kingdom of heaven is here and it is now. The parables are about what we should be doing today, tomorrow and each day of our lives. We do not simply sit around, passing the time, waiting for heaven to come to us. Rather we become actively involved. The kingdom of heaven is something that cannot be expected. The kingdom of heaven is something that consumes us, entering into every aspect of our lives. Our Christian faith is not something that we practice only on Sunday mornings, it is indeed something we live and express to everyone we meet.

Consider the third and fourth parables. In the third parable this person finds a treasure in a field, although the field is not his. At finding this treasure, the person goes to sell all that he has in order to purchase the field in which he found this treasure. The fourth parable describes a jeweler who is actively seeking out pearls. When he finds one, he sells all that he has in order to buy that one pearl.

The pattern between the third and fourth parables is one that moves from discovery into great joy. In the first instance, the treasure is stumbled upon by the one who found it, in the second instance the pearl was actively being sought out. We cannot measure the number of Christian believers in the world because they do not all come to church. We are also living in an era in which there are some people who have never even stepped foot in a church. There are many children, college students, and even some adults who were not raised in the church by their parents. These are the people that have never even been invited to a worship service, as hard as that is to imagine. These are the people of the third parable. They simply go about their days, neither Christian nor unchristian, until they stumble upon a great treasure that is the gift of Christ. They have not been searching for Christ or for Christian views, and yet God, through abundant grace, finds them.

We on the other hand worship regularly. Some of us may have doubts at the moment. Some of us may feel hurt by the church, by something that has been said or done. Some of us simply come week after week, almost out of habit. We are the people of the fourth parable, the merchants who know that the treasure is out there somewhere. We are the people who regularly find pearls; we are the people who know the abundance of God’s love and grace. But merchants do not keep the jewels for themselves, rather they offer them to others, and that is what we are called to do. Our discovery of God’s blessings lead us into expressions of great joy.

‘The only possible response to our discoveries is a commitment that risks everything without reserve. God’s presence and reign are often hidden below the surface of life, but we experience much of it through surprising and unplanned moments.’

Let me recap. The first two parables describe the growth and potential in each of us – so much comes from so little. The second two parables denote both the active and passive discoveries of the riches of God, the blessings and promises of Christ to us. From these discoveries, we go forth in great joy celebrating these treasures. The fifth parable then invites us to cast our nets – to live out our faith every day – especially on days other than Sunday. We cast out our nets and haul in everything that we catch, but we leave the sorting of fish, the final judgment to God.

I have at times in my preaching asked you to consider who are the unchurched. Who are those people who never step foot in a church? Who are those people that are merely lying in their beds full of depression and anxiety? To those people, I invite you to share the treasures that you have found. Share with them the peace and love of Christ that our savior Jesus brings about through his very death on a cross. Share your treasures in the world and watch how so much can grow out of so little.

I am reminded of the lyrics to the song “Seasons of Love.” 525,600 minutes – how do you measure the moments of a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. The lyrics eventually go on to ask, how about love? And although it is a secular song it explains that love is a gift from up above. So share that Christian love with the world. Share the good news of Jesus who continually brings about peace, seeking to reach out to every alienated stranger. Share your richest treasures and watch how it grows.


Paraphrased excerpt from “The Lectionary Commentary,” Roger E. Van Harn, ed., page 81.

Ibid.

Vicar Luke Smetters
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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