Due to technological issues this sermon was not given as written, but it is the basis for Father Joseph's extemporaneous sermon on June 17.
The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
Pentecost +4, Proper 6, B
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
17 June 2018
In the name of God:
who creates, redeems, and sustains us. Amen.
When I was in high school,
it was really, really important
to study vocabulary words.
Especially junior and senior years.
Studying lists of vocabulary words
wasn’t just important for reading comprehension.
It was necessary for taking the SAT.
It’s changed since I took it,
but when I took the SAT analogies were a major part
of the verbal section.
You had to know what words meant fully
to understand how they related to one another.
Today, and not just today,
Jesus is giving us analogies for what the Kingdom of God
can be compared.
Remembering that Jesus is comparing the kingdom of God
to planting and to mustard is important to remember.
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable will we use for it?” Jesus asks
before talking about the Kingdom of God as though it’s a weed.
These stories may be familiar,
but they would have shocked the first people to hear them.
Think about it.
They’re a relatively small religious and cultural group
and they live in a region occupied
by the largest empire history had ever known.
In their own history they have had kings
and throughout their history the Jewish people
knew what kingdoms looked like.
They did not look like
scattering seed, going to sleep, letting the seed do its thing
and then harvesting.
This is a haphazard and accidental way
of building a kingdom.
Jesus’ next example is even weirder.
First, mustard plants are not the greatest shrubs.
They’re spindly things
and grow rapidly and quickly
but they don’t actually get very big.
Except when they’re like the kingdom of God:
then birds can nest in them and hide in their shade.
Second, and I love this,
mustard plants were not something people actually liked.
They were a nuisance plant in the first century.
They’d come into a field,
grow and spread quickly,
invite birds to eat their seeds,
and the birds would spread the seeds
the cycle starts over again.
More mustard, more birds, more mustard.
When mustard — aided by birds --
is choking out what a farmer has worked to make
that’s not a very happy farmer.
Add in the birds spreading the mustard seeds
and probably eating the actual crops too
and this is a weird comparison,
a weird analogy.
But this what Jesus compares God’s reign to:
a weed that grows quickly
and brings in unwanted strangers
and may choke out the orderly and planned.
The reign of God, Jesus says,
isn't something that we plan and we build.
It’s something we scatter the seeds of
and then get out of the way when the harvest time comes.
But the harvest time?
God’s reign probably disrupts what’s comfortable.
That'll bring in birds of the air —
people not like us --
and this is something we’re supposed to be excited about.
Given that God’s love,
love we can barely fathom
has defeated death and the grave
disrupting the natural order
where death is the last enemy of the fascist tyrant,
I am here for disruption.
Throughout the gospels Jesus insists
that by his incarnation
the kingdom of God is at hand, it is near.
I see it here.
The letters we have out front
we're sending to our elected representatives
begging them to act to keep children from being separated from their families.
We’re scattering seeds in Washington
and waiting to see the harvest.
With some of our outreach
from Starbucks office hours
to community dinner
to showing up at SummerFest
we’re scattering seeds of the kingdom
and have to look for the abundant harvest.
On Mondays in Olympia
I’ve seen people that the political, comfortable establishment doesn’t want --
the poor --
showing up like birds of the air
and disrupting the flow of things, specifically traffic,
like mustard plants.
The kingdom of God is at hand,
and it looks like sending seeds of mail
and showing up with a few more people week after week
demanding justice for the downtrodden and forgotten.
The kingdom of God
isn't something that we plan or control.
Jesus doesn’t even directly tell us about it.
He uses analogies,
like the SAT used to use.
That lack of control can be disheartening,
particularly when those who claim to be Christian
are publicly working against
the vision of God’s Reign that Jesus casts.
Yet we know that Christ is raised and dies no more.
That’s where we stand as witnesses to the resurrection:
between knowing the kingdom of God is at hand
and waiting for those scattered seeds to bear fruit.
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable will we use for it?”
Seeds in the mail,
people blocking traffic. Amen.