"Joyful Grapeshot," Pastor Kinsey
Jesus would have flunked preaching class! His professors would have called this week’s sermon: “grapeshot.” Too many little ideas going every which direction, for listeners to really absorb. Just about the time you’ve got the seed thing, Jesus is on to bread, then treasures, then pearls, then fish, and finally, householders – and Oh, it makes my head spin, and I think I have, parable-fatigue!
But then, Jesus had a big subject – the kingdom of God! – the rule of God, and what it meant that it had come among us in Jesus! Life with God, kind of defies explanation, and isn’t just one thing, is it? So Jesus does his best with us. I’d be happier, though, with this complexity of life with God, if the ways of God matched up a little better, with our earthly expectations.
The mustard seed thing for instance… I can go along with the imagery of the little seed packing a wallop of potential – you can almost hear his disciples panting with eagerness for the kingdom – ‘Life in God’s rule is like’ the little seed, the tiniest of seeds, really, that grows into... and here, the disciples might have expected: the legendary Cedars of Lebanon. The biggest trees alive! Or at least a righteous, Oak! Because… this is what they are needing to hear. They are poor, oppressed, beleaguered people. They are an occupied country and taxed to death by Rome... a mighty empire getting richer and richer, while the poor get poorer. …They are daily being harassed, physically and mentally by the Roman soldiers, and the threat of imprisonment.
…They press in, more and more eagerly on Jesus, for his good news, of the kingdom of God. “And the tiny mustard seed becomes... a glorious shrubbery!” Really Jesus, a shrub?!
…You’re telling me the kingdom of God will grow into, A bush? “Well, a small tree, really,” the Master qualifies. “But how is a small tree going to crush Rome,” the Disciples wonder, “and give us victory over the evil empire?”
But look here: this rather glorious bush is big enough to make a home, a safe and refreshing nesting place, for the little-creatures – the small birds. That’s where God’s eye is... on the sparrow! Life with God is concerned with every little thing, from the ground up, not top-down empire-building.
…Here’s where the real game is, says Jesus: how concerned God’s people are, for sheltering the little-ones. You don’t have to be that big – and not that powerful – to be a safe haven for the most vulnerable. That’s! what life with God, is all about.
But then it seems like size does matter in the rule of God, because before the disciples can even digest that one, he’s on to the yeast and the bread. Once again, the yeast is a small grain, that multiplies. Jesus has been on that for a few weeks now, trying to teach us about God’s expansive ways among us. But three measures of flour is a HUGE amount. God is like a woman, who is baking for a crowd, it seems. Leavening that much flour, would yield about, 150 loaves of bread!
…Now, if you were going for an abundant, hearty meal, the disciples might have been more interested in the rule of God being like, a liege-lord, who assembled his subjects for a fabulous pig-roast, with generous tankards of mead and ale. No, it’s a simple meal, consisting of the ‘staff of life.’ But bread in generous proportions: as though a crowd is expected.
So the kingdom of God is small, but abundant; generous, but basic to life. It’s not about size, as in, earthly empires, but it’s about size in expecting a crowd, in being ready to feed the strangers coming our way. …Ok. Maybe I’ve got that.
And then – in grapeshot succession – we get two more “twin parables” about seemingly opposite things, that God’s rule is supposedly like. It’s like treasure you stumble on, without looking for it at all. And, it’s like that thing you have been, diligently, obsessively searching for – which are two really different ways to come upon the treasure of God... but in both cases the result is the same: the value of life with God is so apparent, that both the lucky day laborer, and the compulsive small business owner, go with joy, to give everything they have, in order to possess it.
WE could probably stop here – and maybe avoid that parable-fatigue. But Jesus doesn’t. He wants to gather it all up now, so that the ways of God are like a big net, that just scoops up everything. The net doesn’t discriminate. It just puts it out there and lets what comes, come. Fish of every kind. Not just white fish, but red fish, blue fish, fish of every color and kind.
…And once again, we want to know why Jesus would advocate for that?! Just like letting the noxious weeds grow up with the good and righteous wheat – so now these indiscriminate fish, are all gathered up without any sensible regard for bringing in, both what’s good, and what’s bad – workers from two different kingdoms. But if we open ourselves to it, we get a startling glimpse of God’s open arms of grace! God’s wild, hopeful, risky desire that the whole world, will come to God!
In grapeshot fashion, we hear today from Jesus, the desire of God, that the intimacy of the small, sheltering bush, will make a difference for the little-ones who otherwise would be trampled and forgotten. That the crowds of strangers will enjoy the blessing of heavenly food! That the leaven, hidden in the flour, will infect the whole shebang and raise wholesomeness and satisfaction within the world! That those who stumble upon treasure, and those who search 24/7 for the value of God’s ways, are equally entitled to its joy! We see the net... and all those caught up in it, without maybe even knowing what hit them. Good and bad together! Fish of all kinds!
…We see God’s risky gamble here. God’s fervent hope that the world will come to wholeness – and evil will be subsumed, in the power of love. God gives us chance, after chance, after chance. That’s the-way-of-God, among us, in Jesus.
Like the disciples – We may be impatient for the reckoning. We long for evil empires to be crushed with God’s shock and awe, not with talk of glorious shrubs. We want those weeds of evil, infesting our world, and those bad fish, stinking up the joint, out of there! Paul gives us a whole list of them: Rulers, bosses, the powers that be, terrorist attacks – really, how the power of death keeps chipping away at us – not to mention, hardships... poverty, famine, disease, the cruelty of cancer, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, you name it. While we want to separate these things from our human experience, Paul reminds us that none of them can separate us from – the love of God, the way of God, the life with God – that we possess and inherit, through our baptisms into Christ.
Jesus promises that he’ll give it to the end of the day... so that the whole world might be made whole, in God’s love. But at the end of the day, we will live free of those evils of this world. That is, that at the end of the age, we will be citizens of a kingdom where there will be… no more sorrow, no more crying, no more dying, no more war, no more despair, no more injustices, no more fear, no more crushing poverty: Just light, and love, and blessed peace, and the face of God to shine on us forever! In the death and resurrection of Christ, the promise has already been made true. We live in that hope, that life, that love, now, and forever.
Jesus asks the disciples if they understand all this. Yes. They say. I’m not so sure.
…But I hope that you heard something ‘old and new’ today, as Jesus says. The old story of God’s love, and the miracle, that that love is enough to sustain worried lives, small congregations, and unity in the midst of diversity.
...And that you’ve also heard the new: a ‘living word,’ for our world today, of a shelter, abundance, the joy of giving all we have for the treasure of our life with God, and a risky wild love that invites the stranger in.
Let us open ourselves, and our lives, to this kingdom of heaven, and walk right in, each new day.