Jesus gives us pictures that open up God’s realm to us when we contemplate them and hold them in our minds and hearts: God’s inseparable love is the treasure beyond price that we find.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 17, year A
Texts: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52; Romans 8:26-39
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Understanding how God works and rules in the world isn’t easy.
We know how the world has worked for thousands of years, how power is kept and used. People claim power, use it to benefit themselves, people tend toward self-centeredness and self-interest. Whether we’re talking about people controlling their families or at work, or even how we rule politically, it’s the same “get what you can for yourself” kind of pattern that repeats endlessly over time and cultures.
We might assume that God rules in this world the same as we. Many Christians claim that. But the Son of God came to us from the heart of the Triune God, wore our flesh, and showed us that God’s way of rule is dramatically different from our way. Jesus taught us of the realm of God, how the Triune God works and rules in the world, how God is in charge.
Sometimes Jesus gave us ideas: that God’s realm is found in love of God and love of neighbor; that forgiveness is the center of God’s relationship with the world and our relationships with each other.
But sometimes words aren’t enough, so Jesus used pictures. Parables. Images of what God’s realm is like. Today we have five such pictures. Rather than converting them into neat and tidy teaching, let’s use them as Jesus intended, as windows into the mystery of God’s rule. The images themselves are the gift, they’re what we want to take away from today. When we contemplate these pictures, we’re drawn deeper into Christ, into the heart of God. We begin to see the truth of God’s rule and realm in this world, and the life God offers all things through it.
Now, the world’s way demands instant gratification, immediate achievement of goals, with minimal sacrifice or effort.
No matter how complicated a problem, we want results now, from cosmetics to politicians. Even if a better solution exists, if it takes time and sacrifice, we take the quicker option.
But consider the mystery of a seed, Jesus says. Everything the plant will be is inside it already. The tiniest of seeds can grow to enormous, shading plants. But you wouldn’t know either of these by looking at that dead seed. That’s how God rules in the world.
Envision a seed, then, when your faith is tiny or weak. See that the full child of God in Christ you are meant to be is already within you, contained in God’s planting. See that a seed has no visible power, but it can break apart concrete and reach the sky.
What else can you see in the seed?
Or consider yeast, Jesus says. Without it, you’d have a lump of paste. But these tiny organisms eat and ferment and produce carbon dioxide, and empower a golden loaf able to feed those who hunger. That’s how God works in the world.
Imagine yeast, then, when you feel that the good you do in the world is insignificant, a tiny contribution. Consider how these tiny beings affect many things around them and make growth and healing far greater than their size. Consider what happens when there’s no yeast.
What else can you see in the yeast?
Again, in the world, we cling to our tribes and clans, and judge those not like us, to feel safe and secure.
Whether family or ethnicity or belief system or even the human species, we judge who is in with us and who is out. Whether it’s genocide or destructive pollution, shunning of a family’s black sheep or ignoring the suffering of those who aren’t us, this is how the world works.
But look at someone fishing with a net, Jesus says. The net drags through the water and picks up everything in its path. Not just fish, but trash, driftwood, everything, Jesus says. Look and see: God’s realm is this net, so we’re in the net, not in charge of it.
Contemplate this, Jesus says, that God holds the net, and all things – not even just people – are included. Ponder that God alone decides what to keep and what to throw. Who knows if the One who draws a net through the world can use an old boot, sees beauty in a broken wheel?
What else can you see in the net?
We already know how God will value all things in the net.
At the cross, Christ gave his life for love of the whole creation, the cosmos itself, to draw all things into the heart of God’s love. Paul tells us today that nothing in all creation, not present or future, not any powers or evil, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. And Paul shares Jesus’ inclusive vision, declaring that the whole creation is being brought into this heart of God, this inseparable love. Not just our kind of humans, not even just humans themselves, the whole creation.
For the One who draws in the net, the judgment over all things inside is “this is good and precious to me.” The Netminder has need for all things in it, broken or whole, ugly or beautiful, strong or weak. No matter how we might judge what jostles alongside us, or they us, the only judgment that counts is the inseparable love of God in Christ for the whole creation. God’s inclusive net is where our true safety and security is found.
Now, we know our world values much that we’re taught will satisfy us, make us happy, but don’t.
We don’t get to take our wealth with us in death. We don’t find happiness in selfish gain. If we need more things to be satisfied we never will be. All we’re taught to strive for ultimately leaves us empty.
But see this realm of God? Jesus says. When you dwell on the seed and yeast and dragnet, do you see this treasure? If you were looking the world over for the most precious thing, like an enormous pearl, and you saw this realm of God I’ve shown you, you’d stop immediately, sell everything, to have that treasure of inseparable love and subversive grace.
Or maybe you weren’t searching, you just happened on this treasure of God, Jesus says, when you weren’t hoping to find anything. Like walking in a field and being surprised. You’d still immediately give anything for this treasure.
When we hear Jesus, see his love at the cross, when our eyes open to the image of a seed planted that will shade the world, a tiny growth that will produce bread for all, a net that will bring all things into God’s love, when these images sit in our hearts and minds, we begin to grasp what real treasure is.
And when we contemplate these images, we also see the path of the cross.
The path of the cross is a way of patience and trust in hidden growth, subversive grace, an enduring of “already but not yet” in our personal faith and spiritual lives, in the life and healing of the world. There aren’t quick answers, but seed and yeast show God will give growth and life.
The path of the cross is a way of learning God’s eyes of judgment instead of our own. There’s patience here, too, as we bump in this net alongside all sorts of things and people we neither like nor understand, whose value and worth elude us. Because all are loved by God, we are asked to love all, and that’s costly and painful. But contemplate the great joy that we, too, are in this net of inseparable love.
The path of the cross is a way of letting go of all that keeps us from the true treasure. Dying to the ways of the world, letting go of our selfishness and self-centeredness. Our habits that hurt the world and others. Our need to be right. Our need to be in control.
As we turn our eyes to this pearl, the treasure of this astonishing love of God, nothing else matters for us and for the world. Once we see the treasure of God’s realm, meant for the whole creation, no sacrifice or loss is anything compared to being drawn into that love.
God’s realm in this world is deep mystery.
There are few easy explanations, we rarely have a moment where it’s all clear.
But if we contemplate these simple pictures, take them home, bring them into our hearts and minds in prayer, the Spirit will open our eyes. That’s Christ’s promise. We’ll see growth from seeds planted in us and the world, rising dough creating food, the joy of sharing God’s net of inseparable love. We’ll see ever more clearly the precious treasure of life within God’s heart that Christ is offering the whole creation.
And the best treasure of all? We don’t need to understand the seed’s mystery to enjoy shade, or understand science to delight in bread. We don’t need to understand why God’s judgment is always love to be swept up into the net of life in Christ. God’s realm will be, even if it remains mystery to us.
This is what God’s realm looks like. Seed. Yeast. Net. Treasure. This is how God is working and ruling in the world. God give us eyes to see.
In the name of Jesus. Amen