July 26, 2020
Matthew 13:24-33, 13:44-53
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 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.’
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.’
‘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.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 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.’ When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
During the pandemic, like all of us, I’ve limited my in-person interactions with people. I’ve done this for Eric and my health, and to do our part for our community, but I’ve also restricted who I get to be with in person so I can work with volunteers on Tuesday’s unloading produce for the farm to stoop project, and then load that food up to be delivered it into the city on Wednesday’s, along with delivering groceries from the Assistance Center of Towson Churches to our neighbors in Woodbourne-McCabe. Limiting my interactions with people has meant that I, like so many of you, choose not to spend time with friends or family in person. It’s my way of making a calculated risk, in the hope of doing my part to end this pandemic, while also living out Jesus’ call on our lives. If I’m honest though, I miss hanging out with my friends. So for the past few weeks, when our signups are a bit low for volunteering on Friday’s, I’ve found myself texting friends and colleagues to see if they’d like to hang out and deliver groceries together, while being socially distanced and in masks, outside, in separate cars; friendship has found a way, while not having to sacrifice discipleship or health.
Recently I was texting with a friend, who will be volunteering next Friday with me. I asked her how she was doing, and after sharing she asked me how I was. I realized I hadn’t put into words how grateful I feel most days, for the health of myself and my family, but also how sad I’ve felt, how hard it is not to be with people, and the crushing weight of so much death and grief around. It felt right to acknowledge what hurts, and that it’s mixed up with moments of feeling grateful, of finding joy sprinkled in along the way.
Jesus’ parables this morning offer a window into the experience of feeling both blessed and blighted in the same moment. This isn’t “focus on the positive” prosperity gospel propaganda. Instead it’s an acknowledgement that there are difficult, even evil experiences we encounter. But also, there are moments, people, opportunities that are the inbreaking of the reign of God in our everyday, and we are invited to take a risk and jump all on, trusting that, while evil might seem to have the upper hand, God’s got the last word. I love the tension, and lack of easy answers with these parables. We hear a call to cling to the moments of encountering the community of the Holy, and let the Reign of God transform us and those around us, while also acknowledging that there is evil we can’t deal with at the moment, while, all at the same time, being called to be a part of transformative work, planting seeds that bring wholeness and flourishing, mixing the yeast of God’s dreamed of world into the flour of our lives.
These can be ordinary moments of joy, gratitude, transformation, and wholeness that reflect the cosmic work of Christ in our world. Sometimes we have moments where we see the whole world change, justice breaking in. Other times we are invited to make changes in our individual, family, communal lives, that reflect the pattern of what God dreams of for our world. Jesus isn’t encouraging us to give up on the world, and only make personal or small changes that don’t threaten the dominant forces of evil in our world. Instead we are invited to be yeast, being a part of small changes that offer a radically different way of living than the powers of this world, starting on a small scale.
I’ve seen this kind of transformation and growth this week in impossible mustard trees sprouting up in the lives of so many of you who care for your loved ones in the face of Dementia, Parkinson’s, and Cancer. When I pray for you, I am overwhelmed by the compassion and love you share for your spouse, your loved ones. And in those prayers, I find myself invited to be honest with God about how much it hurts, how hard it is. In the midst of the Pandemic, I’ve seen church folk getting creative with how to keep each other safe and build community. Leigh has been doing amazing work with folks experiencing poverty in Station North with our friends from farm to stoop, connecting folks out of work to cook food purchased by North Ave Mission. And when the virus threatens, I’ve seen folks become contact tracers, showing more responsibility than our governments and national public health officials, showing at a small scale what we should be doing to love our neighbors on a national and international scale.
And this week, I’ve seen the reign of Jesus’s love in my Beloved Portland. This city, this state that is so white, with such a racist history, is stepping up. There was some vandalism at the justice center early on, but the presence of secret militarized federal agents was a clear power move by empire to try and punish and intimate a progressive city by the current administration. But instead of meeting the forces of death with force, I’ve seen the creative yeast, the mustard seeds of the Kingdom of God taking root. I’ve seen my friend Sabina, joining with the Wall of Mom’s. When Mom’s get involved, tyrants are afraid, and for good reason. In Oregon when I was growing up, we talked about the spirit of pioneer women. You don’t mess with them. It’s why I feel so at home with the folks who identify as women here at MPC and in Baltimore we work with; there’s a recognition of deep wisdom, something growing inside, a seed planted, that Jesus has set loose and you don’t want to get in the way of. I laughed this week with joy when the Wall of Mom’s was backed up by the wall of Dad’s, men who come with scuba goggles, gloves, and wipes to get the tear gas off folks. Many of them come with leaf blowers to blow this chemical weapon of war being deployed against our citizens away from protestors exercising their first amendment rights. And in the past few nights, these parents have been joined by the, wall of vet’s, Military Veterans who take to heart the vow they took to defend our constitution from domestic threats by those in power. Christopher J. David, a Navy veteran who went to the protests for the first time last weekend, was furious at what he saw federal agents doing. He calmly walked forward to ask officers whether they felt their actions violated the Constitution.. They broke his hand with a baton. So now he’s been joined with Vets with Black Lives Matter signs. There are retired Marines who feel compelled to put their bodies in harm’s way again for the sake of our rights. When evil is sown, in the midst of tear gas, there are mustard seeds and rising dough that are undermining the forces of empire creatively.
Beloved, evil and suffering is a part of our world. But when the creative Holy Spirit shows up, when there is something good, we can magnify it, cherish it. We can undermine that which seeks to destroy the bonds of love that can grow in our midst. And there is hope that the Holy Spirit will move among and do something, that God will have the last word.
I wonder for you where you see the yeast rising? Where mustard seed trees are sprouting? May we cherish the moments and give thanks for the blessings, and may we mourn together where it hurts, knowing we are in the midst of God’s transforming, subversive love.