Proper 12a, July 30, 2017

July 31, 2017

The Thing That Changes Everything

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52


31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”


It can be argued that the endless little decisions we make on any given day or the small things that happen to us at any given moment can have profound impacts on the courses of our lives. We don’t usually see the large ways in which those small things are going to play out in the future, but by putting off your trip to Walmart for 15 minutes you might have some kind of profound impact on something that will affect someone for a lifetime. I don’t have a good example of this, but it seems plausible. Small things can have large impacts, but we usually aren’t aware of how those small things are going to change everything.


Of course there are also those moments when people know that what they’re doing is going to change everything. How do you think Galileo felt when he figured out that it wasn’t the sun orbiting around the earth but the earth rotating as it orbited around the sun that caused the sun to rise each morning. He might not have been the first person to figure that out, but he generally gets the credit for that earth-shattering idea. His idea wasn’t well welcomed by the authorities of the day. They found his idea to be an inconvenient truth, and I think he was almost executed for corrupting the minds of other people with this unsanctioned idea, but they couldn’t get that genie back in the bottle. This was one of those ideas that changed the course of world history.


Few people do things or reveal things that change the world in short order. But Jesus wanted us to be conscious of the way in which small things can have powerful impacts. Two of the parables we’re looking at this morning are focused on these small things that have huge impacts. He said the Kingdom of God is like a small mustard seed that grows in to a huge plant. And then he compared the Kingdom of God to leavening, and we all know that a single teaspoon of yeast can have a powerful impact on several cups of flour. It’s interesting that he used these two examples because mustard seeds and leavening weren’t considered to be valuable things. In fact, mustard plants were considered to be nuisance weeds in grain fields, and leavening was considered to be more of a contaminant than a useful ingredient.


It wasn’t because of their value or desirability that Jesus compared these things to the kingdom of God – it was because of their amazing capacity to grow and the impact they had on their environment. This reminds me of another small thing that can have a powerful impact. Our Episcopalian neighbors down the street had a terrible experience with fleas. They had a bunch of feral cats living in the crawl space under their sanctuary, and their sanctuary became infested with fleas. And I don’t know of a smaller creature that can be a bigger pest. This scenario is a nightmare to me. I think they had to be out of their sanctuary for about 3 weeks as they bombed the fleas and captured the cats. I haven’t called Father Burton about this. I feel bad for him, but I’m afraid he would sense how grateful I am that it didn’t happen here.


I know that was a terrible experience for them, but it’s a pretty good example of the way in which a small thing can have a powerful impact. I wouldn’t put it past Jesus to remind us that the Kingdom of God is like a flea infestation. These small creatures can fill huge spaces and make people move to new places. Jesus didn’t want us to imitate the bad characteristics of nuisance plants or pests, but he did want us to take note of the remarkable way in which small things can take hold and expand – that’s the characteristic of the kingdom of God that Jesus wants us to notice.


And then Jesus told these parables that compared the Kingdom of God to a treasure hidden in a field and a pearl of great value. What these parables seem to indicate is that we are to be on the lookout for hidden values. He compares this enterprise of serving in the Kingdom of God to being on the watch for material treasures, but he wasn’t telling us to focus our attention on great financial treasures. It’s certainly exciting to come across an undervalued item at a garage sale, and it’s fun to hear stories on the Antiques Roadshow of people buying priceless works of art for virtually nothing at out of the way places. Jesus understood those sentiments that we have, and he wasn’t critical of them, but he wanted us to expand our understanding of what it means to find a treasure. Jesus wanted us to know that there’s nothing more valuable that living in relationship with God – of abiding in God’s Kingdom. And he wanted us to pursue that relationship with the same passion we have for finding buried treasure.


As surely as some people have an eye for great works of art or for financial opportunity, Jesus wants us know that there’s such a thing as having an eye for spiritual treasures, and we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to invest ourselves in those places. I think a good example of this is the way in which Phillip Brown has chosen to get involved with a group of kids in this community that are in need of some attention and opportunity. Phillip has recognized a problem, and he’s responded to it as if it’s an opportunity to do something good. This IMAD program – which stands for: I’m Making A Difference, is rich, and I think this is the kind of treasure Jesus is wanting us to find.


In order to create a little urgency in our hearts to search for spiritual treasure, Jesus told the parable of the fisherman who goes out and hauls in a huge catch of fish and then goes about the business of sorting out the good ones from the bad ones. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I went fishing with my grandfather at this little pond he had built. Whenever I caught what he called a Ricefield Slick he told me to throw it out on the bank not back in the pond. At the time I didn’t fully understand what he had against those colorful little fish, but I came to understand that they weren’t good to eat and they could overpopulate the pond.


I’m not saying that God feels the same way about Ricefield Slicks that my grandfather did, but Jesus knew the practice of sorting good fish from bad ones, and he didn’t want us to live our lives in ways that put us on the level of expendable fish. Jesus wanted us to know that there are ways of living that put us in touch with true life and provide us with true life, but there’s also the possibility of remaining oblivious to the kingdom of God and ignorant of the spiritual treasures around us And when we live like that we’re about as useful to God as a Ricefield Slick was to my grandfather.


Now I tend to think we are rarely one thing or the other. Certainly there are some people who are a lot closer to perfection than others, and some people have chosen paths that seem to resemble perfect evil, but most of us move with fits and spurts toward the Kingdom of God. On most days I think it would be hard for the divine fisherman to quickly throw most of us on that pile of culled fish, but on any given day we might not be immediately recognized as prized catches. In other words, I think we are often made up of mixed agendas. We have an eye out for spiritual treasures, but we can also spend an inordinate amount of time seeking meaningless treasures.


It might be helpful for us to think of ourselves as the fisherman who has a net full of fish. Maybe we each have a pond and we’ve seined the pond to see what kind of fish we’ve got. And it turns out that some of us have ponds that are full of fine fish – catfish and crappie and bass and bream, but some of us discover that we have a good number of trash fish caught up in our nets, and we’ve got some work to do to improve the population of our pond.


Jesus told these parables about activities from everyday life to help us take note of the way in which we can live extraordinary lives. He didn’t give amazing motivational speeches that ramped up everyone’s energy level with the expectation that they were going to go out and change the world tomorrow. Jesus pointed to the small things in life that generate amazing results over time. Jesus didn’t expect us to do anything other than pay attention to our own lives and to the way in which we invested ourselves. Jesus wanted us to be aware of what we’re wanting and what we’re seeking, and he wanted us to know that it’s these small things that make all the difference.


I’ve never really thought about this last illustration that Jesus shares with the crowd. He talks about the scribe that’s been trained for the Kingdom of God, and how he is like the master of the house who brings out his new and old treasures. This is an unusual instruction, and it’s not easy to know exactly what he’s talking about, but it makes me think he’s talking about the work of a preacher. A scribe who’s been trained for the kingdom of God is a pretty good description of someone who’s been trained to be a minister. And you might say the task of preaching is to bring out the old and new treasures. We read the old treasure of scripture and we try to point out the way God’s kingdom continues to be revealed.


Whether Jesus had that in mind or not, this is what it brings to my mind, but I don’t think such work is limited to those of us who work in professional ministry. Those of you who don’t have the credentials of ordination don’t have to think of yourselves as scribes, which is fortunate, because Jesus didn’t generally have much affection for the people who bore that identification, but I think Jesus wanted all of us who have affection for the Kingdom of God to share our treasures of the kingdom.


If you’ve found a great pearl you should let people know about it. If you’ve done all you can to acquire one of God’s hidden treasures you need to bring it out and share it with others. When you’ve seen the way that God has produced some miraculous growth in your own life or in somebody else’s you don’t need to be quiet about that.


On some level, following Jesus Christ is a very practical thing to do. It’s not that mysterious. It’s about living a plain and simple life while keeping an eye out for the opportunities that God provides for us to extend some grace and love for one another. Small things can grow in to large operations. The small thing you do because you think it’s something Jesus would like for you to do may be the very thing that changes everything for somebody else.


Thanks be to God.



One Response to “Proper 12a, July 30, 2017”

  1. michael wilson Says:

    another good sermon – thanks for keeping us from being overwhelmed by all there is to do Thompson!

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