24 July 2011
Year A. Pentecost 12
Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. Green.
Call to worship Psalm 105:1-3 Responsive from Uniting in Worship
Hymn Together in Song 164 The great love of God is revealed in the Son
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
We thank you for the wonder
and the mystery of your creation:
for the life held dormant in a seed, waiting to grow
and be far more than it appears.
For the possibilities we can only guess at
in the people and things we can easily overlook
For the mystery that your royal reign
is growing in a world
that seems to ignore you
or even to be hostile.
We confess that we overlook the signs of
your kingdom of work.
We fail to see your love
growing in the people and events around us.
We fail to take the opportunities you give us
to share your love with others.
By our words and actions
we deny the power of your presence
in your world, and in our lives.
Declaration of forgiveness
...our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Kids' time – Lyndal
Hymn Together in Song 467 I am the church
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
When we think about the parables Jesus taught with , we often think about the long, complicated ones, like the sower or the prodigal son. But he also told lots of short, sharp stories. Some of these stories were taken from everyday life his listeners would be familiar with, even if it's a little outside our experience. And some of his stories were unbelievable, both then and now. Each parable is meant to give us a piece of a picture – to tell us something about the basselia: the kingdom, reign or dominion, of God. They tell us something of what it is like when God is in charge, and recognised as in charge. (You may want to pick up your Bible and follow along with this.)
Let's look at this batch of short, sharp, parables.
Verses 31 to 32 take us to the story of the mustard seed. It's a garden herb, a plant from about 60cm to 2m high, but not really a tree. When we plant a mustard seed, we expect a herb plant, a bush at most. A tree, with birds nesting in it, now that would take us by complete surprise. The kingdom of God might be found in the most unexpected of places, in the most humble of things – like a herb out of the kitchen or garden. And it can take us by surprise, and grow beyond all expectations.
From the mustard seed, we jump to verse 33, the parable of the yeast. We begin with a woman. (This is a surprising start. Jesus at times told parables about women, talking about the reign of God. Yet everyone in Jesus' day knew women never did anything important.) She began with three measures of flour. Doesn't sound like anything out of the ordinary – unless you know that this is enough to make sufficient bread to feed 100 to 150 people. It's very extravagant – over-the-top, more than any reasonable woman would be doing in her day's work. Then she “hid” the yeast into the flour. It doesn't say she placed the yeast in the flour, or kneaded it in. She “hid” it – as if it was something secret. If you don't know the yeast's there you may be surprised to see what it does – and this was a lot of flour to leaven! The yeast is hidden – so you can't always see where the kingdom of God is actually at work – maybe in the church, but maybe also in surprising places outside of the church. God works in “hidden” ways. And sometimes what God does is not only incognito, it's totally, unexpectedly extravagant, so over-the-top that no-one could have expected anything like it.
Verses 44 to 46 take us to the hidden treasure and the pearl. The basselia is like some thing of great value that is worth so much you should do everything to get it – by any means at all possible. The ploughman's actions are both illegal and immoral – but the prize he's after is far more important than anything else in the world, and it's worth committing every for. The pearl buyer's actions are legal, but they're bizarre, to give up everything for one tiny pearl The basselia is worth the commitment of everything. (Remember the story of the rich young man who couldn't follow Jesus because his wealth was too important to him?)
Now, verses 47 to 48, we have the parable of the net. It's a regular, normal first century event. There's a dragnet, operated by several men, bringing in all the fish. Once the fish are on shore, the men sort them; saving the good, discarding the bad. There's a slight variation from reality here: the inedible fish were either thrown back in the water or they were buried – wet fish weren't gathered up and burned on the beach. It's a story about sorting and separating. All the fish are in the net together, and no-one can tell them apart until the net is brought in. Like the parable of the wheat and weeds we heard last week, there's no telling whether the fish in the net are good guys or bad guys until the time of sorting. They're all gathered in, because until it's revealed which is which, any one of them could turn out to be a worthwhile fish. The fish don't sort themselves out. Who is and isn't in God's royal reign, is God's choice, not ours. We don't get to look at the other fish in the net with us and decide we're in and they're out.
So what do we learn from our visit to quick parables about the kingdom? It's surprising: we find God at work in places we never expected. It's hidden: we don't always see where God is at work even in our own lives, let alone other people's and the world around us. It's often unexpected – God works not just when we ask, but when we don't even realise there is a need to. It can be very small – we may overlook something because it seems insignificant, but it can prove to be very important to the way God is working either in our lives or in the world around us. God does work in the little things. It is growing beyond all our expectations – God's vision, plan, and royal reign extends beyond anything we can see, plan for or even imagine. We sit in our little church here on Sunday morning and have no idea where we fit in to the kingdom, or just how big the thing we are a part of is, or is becoming. It's extravagant – God doesn't do things by halves – if we need the price paid for our sins, God won't just give us a loan, but goes to the extreme of paying the bill for us, in the form of Jesus. It's worth giving everything else up for. - there is absolutely nothing else in this life or the next that is more valuable than God's love for us. It's made up of the people God recognises as a part of it – whether or not we recognise these people as part of God's kingdom. And God's kingdom isn't just what happens when everything is sorted and all is revealed – it's here and now among events, people, and times, so ordinary that we may overlook it – and living alongside and intertwined with the everyday world.
Hymn Together in Song 608 Where cross the crowded ways of life
Prayers of the People
We pray for this world -
a world of your making
and the object of your love
So often, things in this world
don't seem right to us.
People are hungry -
people suffer abuse -
people live in poverty -
people live with fear -
people live amid war -
We don't understand
how all of these things
can be a part of your world -
but you know.
Help us to trust that is enough.
We hand the needs of this world over to you -
And in a time of silence,
we pray for the special needs
that are in our hearts and minds ….
You know and care about
all the needs of your world.
And we give you thanks
and praise you that
amid all we don't understand
the mystery of your kingdom is alive and well.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 411 Filled with the Spirit's power with one accord