Sunday, July 24, 2011

and the pearl is Christ (sermon on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost)

1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136

Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Kingdom of heaven is like this.

Like a mustard seed, like a sower, a farmer, like a pearl and the merchant who wants it, sells all he has in order to own it, like a net full of fish, like a bird on a branch, like yeast mixed with flour, like finally arriving at a far, strange shore that nobody has to tell you is home after a long, dark night spent at sea.

Like angels sorting baskets.

The Kingdom of heaven is like these.

I wonder if we wonder enough about what the Kingdom of God is like.

I don’t mean that as a put-down. I wonder, can we ever wonder enough about what the Kingdom of God is like? The Kingdom which is that kingdom for which you were made.

The Kingdom is like... What is it like? How do you describe it? When have you seen it? What was it like the last time you encountered it?

The Kingdom of heaven is like an old, weathered woman, her name was Teresa, she lived with the poor, because she saw the pearl of Christ in them. The Kingdom is like the pre-med student who disappointed his parents when he abruptly stopped his schooling and became a monk, moved to the country in France, because, he said, he had found the pearl worth selling all for. The Kingdom is like the young woman student who likewise disappointed her parents, but this time when she enrolled in pre-med, because, as a doctor, she would be able to tend the fish in the net, she said. Especially the fish, the people, she explained, in the poorest corners of rural Africa. Like the teacher whose name you don’t even remember – only that she loved you with a smile that made you believe that you were God’s pearl. Planting the seed of the Kingdom of God. Sprinkling the yeast of love on which God’s Kingdom stands.

The Kingdom of heaven is like these. Like treasure. Like selling.

Like a woman, come in early on Saturday’s morning to set the altar, fill the cruets, trim the candles, saying prayers as she does so for the congregation that will meet the next day, praying by name, as she looks out on their customary spots in the pews. Like a man who bravely picks up the strange book before the Sunday Assembly and at the end of the reading calls out, “The Word of the Lord,” hiding a slight tremble stemming from the mystery that these words have touched his lips. He remembers the first time, as a youth, he was invited to read; he felt a joy as if the Lord himself had called him; like Peter. The Kingdom is like the youth who is not ashamed of her age but stands before the children and leads them in songs of raucous praise for a week at church camp. Like the anonymous one whose action is unseen to the church and the world, as she sits in quiet at the bedside of the home-bound, praying, holding hands, holding the silence over which the Spirit alone presides.

The Kingdom of heaven is like these. Like sharing. Like leading. Like self-giving.

Like a wedding banquet and no one came, so the host opened the doors to the streets. Like a movie shown in evening light, strangers collected under a bell tower, neighbors from the streets stopping to drink in the occasion. Like a tiny group of holy friends meeting every week, midweek; over breakfast, sharing stories of God at work in their lives. Like the accidental meeting of friends between aisles nine and ten, just before the produce section. Like two or three gathered in His Name.

The Kingdom of heaven is like breaking bread. Like drinking peace. Like forgiveness. Like new life. Like challenge. Like rest. The Kingdom of heaven is like these.

The Kingdom of heaven is like the small gift that no one thought mattered. But it did matter. Like stories we remember as children: like the boy David, made King. Too small to be noticed. Like Mary, still a girl. Not married. Small things don’t always stay small. But they almost always start small.

Like the first light that speaks dawn in the darkness.

The Kingdom of heaven is like life we did not expect.

A boy once marveled to his mother on his way home from church, in the car, he marveled to his mother his amazement that his God was big enough to become small enough to live inside of him.

For all of these reasons, the Kingdom resists being measured in numbers; the Kingdom’s only visible measure is love lived in motion. Small things with great love. The Jews in Jesus’s day wanted a military of thousands. Large numbers and power. Instead, they got Mary. But Mary said, “yes,” with love, and the powers of this world were unmasked with a baby’s birth. Because big things without love are like no things at all in this Kingdom, but no thing is too small with the love of this Kingdom.

The Kingdom of heaven is like saying ‘Yes’ to God, with love. Like love with arms in motion.

The Kingdom of heaven is like pursuit of the pearl. Like giving up wealth and becoming truly rich. Like buying the pearl. And the pearl is Christ.

And Christ is not glamorous. Christ is not pretty. But this is not the story of things glamorous and pretty things, is it? This is the story of small, unnoticed things, but small things filled with unspeakable love. Not big, pretty things, but the truly beautiful things. And should you look around you in the course of a day, in an unhurried way, you will notice that we are surrounded by truly beautiful things.

The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven,/ And every common bush afire with God,/ But only he who sees, takes off his shoes; / The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

(Had Browning lived to see them, she might have added iPhones and smart phones to Blackberries on the list of things we use to distract ourselves from the truly beautiful.)

The Kingdom of heaven has a well-established habit of speaking in the silence, inhabiting the poor, appearing in the unlikely places. And all places become unlikely when we grow too big for love.

“Love is patient; love is kind,” writes St Paul. “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

We know these things about love, because we have seen these things in Christ.

The Kingdom of heaven is like God’s Son on a cross. The King of kings on a tree. “Greater love has no man than this,” Jesus says, “than that he lay down his life for his friends.”
And elsewhere, “...unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

And so Christ Jesus,
6 ...though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

The Kingdom of heaven is like this.


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