Tag Archives: parables

The Kingdom of Heaven Isn’t In Hidden Places But In Surprising Places Meant to be Found

GOSPEL: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
{Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …
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.

It was a month ago that I last preached a sermon to you. And a lot can change in a month’s time. 

A month ago COVID-19 was slowly but surely being socially distanced out of our communities (although with some alarming rising case numbers in the US). Our province of Manitoba was talking a lot about restarting economies and lifting restrictions. The protests of May were falling out of the public awareness and the end of school and summer plans were on the minds of most. 

Today, surging case numbers across Canada and a tsunami of cases numbers and deaths are crashing into our neighbours to south. Our Manitoba government’s plan to further lift restrictions to near normal levels of activity was met with swift push back from citizens. Political leaders in Canada are under ethics violations for possibly giving wealthy government contracts as favours to a cozy with politicians WE charity. And south of border an unstable President with strong facist tendencies is sending in secret police to escalate non-violent protests and punish protestors all while looking like the “law and order” candidate to his electoral base of support.

No to mention the persistent issues of racism, discrimination (such as recent attitudes towards Hutterites in Manitoba in response to covid outbreaks) police brutality, the unavailability of childcare for working parents, questions about a safe return to school in the fall, the outsized effect of this economic downturn on women and the recovery being put on the back of essential workers who are often the poorest among us. 

Phew… does that about cover the last month?

Nothing in 2020 has been normal or expected and each day, week, month brings with it things that we wouldn’t imagine being possible. 

And somehow in the midst of this unimaginable world we are living in, we are left to sort through what God might have to say about all of it, and just where the good news of the Kingdom of God might be. 

Today, we continue along into our season of green Ordinary Time. Jesus again is speaking in agricultural terms and in parables. And the people of Genesis, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah continue to navigate their way through the world with God’s covenant promise along side them. Their complicated story continues with Abraham and Sarah’s grandson Jacob making agreements for marriage only to be tricked into having to do twice as much work in order to get the woman he wants to marry. 

And somewhere in the collision of our COVID world and Jacob, Leah and Rachel’s reality, we find something of our story being retold in the biblical witness. Somewhere in the parables of Kingdom that Jesus tells today, we are reminded of where the Kingdom of heaven is revealed. 

Today, Jacob sets out to make a deal Laban for marrying his daughter Rachel. Jacob as you recall is Abraham and Sarah’s grandson, son of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob we already know is a trickster. He has tricked his older brother Esau out of his inheritance and wrestled with God. Yet, when it comes time to negotiate with Laban he meets his match and Laban tricks Jacob into marrying both of his daughters for 14 years of work. 

But of course there is a back story here. Laban is not some vague relative as the story suggests, but the brother of Jacob’s mother… Laban is Jacob’s uncle. And when Laban was younger, Abraham sent his favourite servant to find a wife of Jacob’s father Isaac. Laban was in charge of that negotiation too. But the clever servant managed to trick Laban to giving Rebekah away for less than he wanted, by appealing to divine Providence. 

So this time Laban is ready to negotiate, maybe even to get back with interest what he lost out on by negotiating harder and tricking Jacob. 

So now let’s set aside. The problematic aspect of this story. The close family relationships, the sale of women as if they are chattel to be owned and traded for. 

This family is a complicated system and web of relationships. And we know that after this Jacob ends up fathering children from 4 women, Leah and Rachel and their two maids, Bilhah and Zilphah. And the 12 sons that result become the forebears of the 12 tribes of Israel, with the most famous son, Joseph, whom after being sold in slavery by his brothers saves his family from slavery by bringing them into Egypt… which then leads us to the story of Moses and so on. 

In fact, the twists and turns of the story of the family of Sarah and Abraham feel awfully familiar. Jacob puts in the time and work with the promise of getting what he wants at the end, only to find out he has to start all over sounds a lot like what many of us are feeling after months of staying home only have to a resurgence of the virus. 

What Jacob imagined for his life and what he ended up getting in Rachel and Leah and his many children sound an awful lot like the expectations we hold for coming out on the other side of this pandemic wanting things to go back to normal while at the same time knowing that 2020 is going to change our lives and world forever in ways we cannot imagine. 

As the new coronavirus surprises at each turn,

As we grow tired of restricting our lives for what can feel like an invisible benefit,

As we juggle keeping people safe, healthy both physically and economically during this pandemic, 

As politicians make messy promises and make self-serving decisions,

And as the people of the world having unimaginable stressors placed on us…

Maybe we are just an extension of the story of Abraham and Sarah’s family. 

And maybe as they did, we might wonder what does God has to do with us? What does God have planned for us? Where is the good news of the Kingdom of heaven?

As Jesus speaks in parables today, he describes the Kingdom of God over and over again. The Kingdom of God is like… Like mustard seed, like yeast, like a treasure in a field, like a fine pearl and so on. 

And we might wonder, why is that the Kingdom seems to be in hidden places? 

But I think that it isn’t about where the Kingdom is hidden, but that the Kingdom is found. Found in unexpected places, founds where we wouldn’t usually think to look, found in the messy and surprising places of life. 

The message of these parables isn’t that God’s kingdom is hidden from us, but that it is constantly being found. Found where? Amongst our complicated and twisting and turning lives. And boy do we know about complicated, twisting, turning life, don’t we?

The Kingdom of heaven is constantly showing up in places we never imagined it would be, so that in our complicated, twisting and turning lives, the good news of God’s love and life given for us keeps finding us. 

The Kingdom of heaven that was promised to Abraham and Sarah in the covenant at the beginning of their story, and that God keeps bringing back to this family, this chosen people over and over again as they cast about in the wilderness. 

The Kingdom that we got used to hearing promised to us in person, at church, and next to our neighbour, at the font and at the table, has been finding us through computer screens, through zoom calls, text messages and over the phone. 

The Kingdom of God that is hard to see, hard to know, hard to believe some days, is finding us unexpectedly and surprisingly the care that we have been giving to one another in hard and difficult times of which we don’t when the ending will come. 

Today, our story, like Jacob, Leah and Rachel’s seems to start and stall. Our world, like theirs, is a world with twist and turns and challenges and surprises. And yet in the midst of that, the promise that God made in beginning, the promise of the covenant, the promise of the Kingom, the promise of love and live given for us…. That promise somehow keeps finding us. The God of that promise keeps finding us, keeps showing up where wouldn’t expect to find God, or to be found by God. 

And God promises that the complications of this life won’t overwhelm us, that the surprises of this world will not define us… but rather the Kingdom of Heaven will. 

God promises that when we wonder where God is in this messy world of ours, that God is coming and finding us in the Kingdom of God. 

God is not the Maniacal King of the Wedding Banquet Parable

Matthew 22:1-14

… The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city….

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Read the whole passage)

 

This doesn’t really sound like much of a party does it.

As we are coming out of Thanksgiving weekend, most of us having sat down at some point to a feast with family and friends, it is hard to imagine a banquet going so badly as in Jesus’ parable. Even the most chaotic of family dinners don’t usually end up with soldiers burning down the whole city. Thank goodness Jesus waited until after Thanksgiving to give us this apocalyptic banquet scenario.

Today, the parables of Jesus continue as they have all summer and fall. They haven’t always been easy to hear, there have been difficult themes to contend with, racism, violence, death.

But just to make sure we are paying attention, the parables ramp it up a notch and violence continues. Jesus tells us the parable of a wedding banquet where everything goes wrong and not even in a comical kind of way like in the movies… people die and guests are thrown into the outer darkness. Sounds like quite the occasion.

Last week as we heard the parable of the wicked tenants who murdered the slaves and son of the landowner, we noticed that Jesus was telling a parable that had taken an unusually violent turn. Well, this next parable which follows the parable of the wicked tenants, does not drop the violence but rather doubles down on it.

As Jesus continues to talk with the temple priests and pharisees, he tells the story of a King. A King who is throwing a wedding banquet for his son and he invites all the well-to-do guests of his Kingdom. When the party is nigh, he sends his slaves to let the wedding guests know to come to the party. But they don’t… they ignore the invitation. And so the King, expecting that his subjects will come to the banquet, sends his slaves again to announce the beginning of the party. This time the guests take it out on the messengers and put the slaves to death.

This, of course, enrages the King who sends out his soldiers to destroy the murderous wedding invitees and burn the city… the King’s own city.

Yet, lest a little violence, murder and destruction ruin a good party, the King sends out his slaves to round up whomever was left in the streets, the good and the bad, the poor and lowly, probably beggars and homeless folks. And they fill the banquet halls with wedding guests. Guests who have been dragged to the party by force… even as the city the burns.

And then, just in case we haven’t figured out that this King is nuts… as the King goes out to greet his guests, he finds some poor sod wearing the wrong party clothes. I guess he didn’t get the memo, as he was being dragged into the banquet, that he should have been dressed up for the party.

And the King has this unfortunate fellow dragged from the party and thrown into the outer darkness… tossed into oblivion.

The Gospel of the Lord?

If you are wondering what is going on with this King, join the club.

Many commentators and preachers have twisted themselves in knots trying to weld this nutty behaviour of the King in the parable to a moral lessons about God. Come when you are invited they have said. Make sure you are wearing the right robes, or are prepared they have said.

But those kinds weak and limp exhortations to be better followers don’t really communicate the good news. Where is the Jesus who dies on a cross for us? Where is the Jesus who rises on the third day? Where is the God who has come to love all creation and forgiven sins and bring healing and wholeness?

When we let this message of this parable speak on its own, without trying to make it say something about God and faith, we can see that the King is far from being god-like.

In fact, this King seems to be rather human. Just like the rest of us, he is filled with imperfect expectations. He is flawed and self-centred, he wants his banquet to be a certain way and he wants the people around him to meet is expectations.

Perhaps like a Thanksgiving host, he frets about making sure everything is perfect for the wedding banquet. And probably like some we know, when his expectations aren’t met, the anxiety and stress goes up.

Its no wonder the invited guests aren’t interested in attending the wedding banquet, no one wants to go to a party where the host is so full of expectations about how things will go that you don’t know what will cause the big blow up.

This self-centred King is no example of God’s righteousness judgement as much as he is a lesson in what happens when we let our expectations get the better of us. And we are guilty of doing just that, perhaps not to the same destructive level, but we let our expectations rule us just the same. In fact, most of the conflicts we experience – conflicts between spouses, with children and parents, with family or friends, in the workplace, in the community, at church – are the result of our expectations not being met. We are all often guilty of thinking things will go a certain way, that the people around us will be a certain way… and when those things don’t happen the way we like, it can thrown us into a rage also. Put a toddlers food on a blue plate instead of a an orange plate and you will find out what the rage of unmet expectations looks like.

Or host a thanksgiving meal for family that doesn’t go the way it was planned to go…

Or put a lot of time into a task at work only for it not to be appreciated by the boss…

Or develop a new ministry at church only to have a less than enthusiastic response…

Expectations fuel a lot of conflict and tension.

And those same forces are precisely the things lurking behind the parable of the King and his wedding banquet.

As Jesus tells this parable, he has just entered into Jerusalem as a triumphant King-like figure. A King and conqueror that the people were hoping was on his way to oust the Romans, to restore the glory of Israel. Expectations were running high.

But instead of gathering an army, Jesus spent the days after is triumphal entry telling parables. Parables like the one we hear today. Parables that provoked crowd to eventually become a mob… a mob that would arrest Jesus – their King from only a few days earlier  – and take him to the authorities to demand his execution.

Expectations turned to rage and destruction and violence.

The comparison of this maniacal King and his banquet to Jesus is not to show us what is God is like, but to show us how different a kingship Jesus embodies.

Jesus the King is not the conquerer who comes full of expectations.

Jesus the King is the one who invites himself to our tables, who comes to eat with sinners.

Jesus the King is the one who welcomes all wherever he goes… he doesn’t demand that we follow, nor force us to attend… rather Jesus comes to us bearing new life.

And Jesus the King is the one who comes wearing the wrong clothes to the big party…. the one who has a crown of thorns and the purple robe put on him by mocking soldiers.

Jesus the King is the one who defies our expectations, who does not put himself first, but who puts himself last.

And this King, is the one that this parable really should remind us of. The King of the wedding banquet is so absurd in his maniacal rage, his expectation filled rage and violence, that we should be reminded of just how different and opposite a king Jesus is.

But in case we forget, or don’t get the memo… Jesus reminds us here, week after week, that God is constantly defying out expectations.

When we expect condemnation, God gives forgiveness.

When we expect judgement, God gives mercy.

When we expect conflict, God bring us peace.

When we expect force, God gives us love.

We when expect death, God gives New Life.

Here, as we gather as a community filled with human expectations, God strips us of the things we expect week after week.

God washes expectations away in the waters of baptism.

God forgives expectations in the words of absolution.

God overturns expectations in the gospel word.

And God re-forms us anew, without expectation, at the banquet table of bread and wine.

And so, when we heard this parable the first time, we likely expected that it said something about God, about a God who carries many expectations that we better live up to or else…

And Jesus completely defies our expectations by being a King that we could never imagine.

But to be the King who God has sent to us to give us new life.

Bigger Barns, Rich Fools and Refugees

Luke 12:13-21

And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Read the whole passage)

We have been hitting a highlight reel of the gospel of Luke lately. We have heard very well known and familiar stories like the story of the Geresene Demoniac and Jesus exorcizing the demon called legion. We have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. We stopped in for dinner at Mary and Martha’s. We learned the Lord’s Prayer along with the disciples who wanted to know how to pray.

But today, we step off the highlight reel to touch on a much more taboo topic. No, not sex. Not even politics, despite all the news about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Today, Luke has laid upon us the issue of money and how we value it. The way we understand money and wealth in the Church has a varied history. Some have said that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Others would say wealth that is not used to help the poor is one of the greatest sins imaginable. Either way, money and its place in our lives and world elicits strong feelings for all of us. We know that money holds power over us, and we also know that putting money in its place is something we struggle with.

Jesus is standing in a crowd teaching his disciples when two brothers come forward and ask Jesus the teacher to settle a dispute over inheritance. Inheritance was a complicated issue in the ancient world, like it is now. The eldest son of the family received a double portion of the wealth, compared to other sons. And the assets, the land, the buildings, the servants would belong more the clan or tribe than the particular  landowner.

But what passes us by quickly, is that most people wouldn’t be landowners in Jesus’ day. Most people were day labourers, or might have been lucky enough to have the skill to make something to sell. Landowners were wealthy, and often they were the economic drivers of a community. Their land produced food, jobs, provided places to live. They were responsible for their communities.

So when these two brothers are seeking to divide their inheritance, it is possible that they will be dividing a whole community. The estate that they look after together might not be able to adequately provide for their community once divided. But the two brothers, aren’t thinking about that. They are probably thinking about controlling their wealth themselves.

And so Jesus will have none of it. He refuses to arbitrate their dispute as a respected teacher.

Instead, he offers a scathing parable about greed.

Often in Biblical parables, the rich are portrayed as having acquired their wealth in unethical, even illegal ways. But the farmer in today’s parable has done nothing wrong. He does not steal, or cheat, or break the law. He simply is the owner of land that produces abundantly.

In fact, the farmer’s wealth is not at issue in the parable. It is what the farmer says that seems to be the problem. Listen to his words: “I do, I have, my crops, I will do, I will pull down, my barns, my grain, my goods, I will say, my soul, Soul you have ample”. In the short 3 sentences that this farmer speaks, he makes reference to himself 10 times. It is easy to see that this farmer is rather self-centered, and that he sees the land and grain as belonging to him.

Yet, the land would truly belong to his family. His wealth would then belong to his community and all of his relatives that would be working the fields along with him. But our farmer only considers storing his grain — his wealth. He does not consider other options like providing for the poor, giving his workers a bonus or sharing with relatives whose land did produce as well.

The farmer in this parable is a caricature. He is the extreme version of our human instinct to create security for ourselves.

We know very well the thought process that is being outlined in this parable. In times where there is even a small amount of extra, saving it for when there is not enough is important. Today’s farmers could use some harvests with extra, some years when next year’s crop wasn’t already being used to pay this year’s.

It isn’t the actions of the farmer in this parable that are brought into question. Rather, as God demands the life of this wealthy farmer today, the issue is about the proper place of money in the world. It isn’t just that those big grain barns won’t do this farmer any good once he is dead. But more importantly, that storing all this grain, all this wealth hasn’t done anyone any good.

Who is remembered at a funeral for the size of their grain bins? Or house? Or wardrobe? Or bank account? Or car collection?

Jesus is making a point not just about the next life, but about this one. This absurd farmer and all his wealth has missed an opportunity to build something far more valuable than money and wealth. The farmer has missed what it means to build relationships with people.

People are more valuable than any amount money. Full grain bins mean nothing when there are people starving next door. And yet our world routinely chooses wealth ahead of people. Our world is full of overflowing grain bins and starving people.

This week, our church and our community was blessed with a powerful reminder of how easily people can be forgotten in our world, and how the economic systems, and political systems around us often put money and the things money represents – power, influence, security, – ahead of people.

On Wednesday night, the Red River Churches Refugee Team welcomed 7 people to our community. 7 people whose earthy possessions and wealth could fit into one small suitcase, not each, but for all 7. Even my daughter who not even a month old, has more stuff than can fit in one suitcase.

And yet, these 7 sudanese refugees represent more than a reminder of how people are easily forgotten for the sake of money and wealth. They also show us what it looks like when we do put people first. They remind us that bigger bins for our grain, for our stuff is not what we need or the world needs. They remind us instead of how God sees us.

When Jesus scolds these two brothers for wanting to divide their inheritance, it is because when he looks arounds his world is full of people just like our new refugee family. People whom have been left behind by the world in our struggle to have more money and wealth. People who are forgotten by those with riches. People who could benefit from some of that extra and abundant grain.

But it isn’t just that Jesus reminds these brothers and us that those with more than enough can afford to share with those with not enough. But Jesus reminds us that ultimately, on the night when our life is demanded of us, that we too are refugees with nothing. All the wealth and money and power and security in the world means nothing in the face of death.

And how lucky are we, when we forget the proper place of money and the value of people, that God does not. That God places people above money, wealth, power and security. That God is willing to give up all those things for our sake. How lucky are we that God is into refugee sponsorship in a big way? That God welcomes and provides for us, for us with nothing to offer, with nothing of true value to our names. God gives us the most valuable name of all – beloved child.

And if we were to retell the parable that Jesus tells today, but with God as the main character instead of an absurdly rich landowner, it would sound very different:

Then [Jesus] told them a parable: “The land of God produced abundantly. And God thought to Godself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then God said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and instead of building larger ones, I will give my grain and my goods to those who are hungry, to those who are in need. And [then] I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods to feed all who are hungry and all who are thirsty; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But then sinful humanity said to God, `You fool! This very night you will be betrayed’ And God said, “Then take my life, take my body broken for you. Take my blood shed for you.”

And then Jesus explaining this new parable said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God, for God does not store up treasures for Godself, but has been poured out for you, and is rich towards all.

Amen.