Monday, July 24, 2017

MT 13: 44-58
Matthew in the Margins…8th S. After Pentecost…Revised 2017

The definitive "Yes" the disciples answer to Jesus' "Have you understood all these things?" has to be a whopper, doesn’t it! How much of Jesus & his teachings do any of us completely understand? Like the disciples, we must take Jesus on trust. In faith & hope, & love! Which includes grappling with our misunderstandings; or, at times, apparent contradictions. But if we’re among the ‘religious, but religiously ignorant’, there’s no time like now to act!

The treasure represents, broadly, 'the things of God'. Lying hidden in the fields of everyday life. Not so hidden that people like us can't unearth them serendipitously. If members of our congregation were to share their story, who might tell of coming upon God when they were not particularly looking for Him?

Jesus contrasts the above with the merchant's deliberate searching after treasure in the next mini-parable. Just as God's Rule is wide, so are the means of coming upon it. This time the merchant is a deliberate searcher for the Truth of God. His selling up everything else in order to buy the priceless pearl is an icon for those of us who need to off-load life's baggage if we're to recognise God & appreciate God when we find Him. This will likely include discarding churchy stuff that’s past its use-by date! Until we shed baggage we won’t have enough space for the inexhaustible riches of God in Christ.

Those of us who exercise any level of authority in the church can be tempted to play the role of they who do the netting, & sorting out others as the 'fish of every kind'. Right under our noses the world is swinging to the (self)-righteous Right. To do what’s right in God’s eyes we need the gift of discernment to tell right from wrong. The apocalyptic bit here, where Jesus cedes responsibility for 'sorting' to the angels points to all this taking place in God’s time, not ours. But when is there a time that’s not God’s? I’m inclined to the view that a lot of people-sorting would be carried out more compassionately if we were more conscious of ourselves being angels in human clothing. An unkind joke told of the late Ian Paisley had it that when preaching on this passage, & being told by a mocker that they had no teeth to gnash, told them ‘don’t you worry; teeth will be provided!’ Is it a case of God will meet all our needs, in this world & the next!

The Scribes usually get bad press from Jesus, but here they apparently represent anyone who studies God's Word seriously. The continual renewal of our discipleship depends on us discerning & responding to the ever-new-dynamic that Jesus offers us. Matthew Fox quotes Meister Eckhart as saying, "God is always the newest thing there ever is”.  Genuine renewal like that is always two-way traffic, spiritual & practical!

When Jesus has finished his teaching he leaves wherever he's been & moves on (back to his old territory, as it turns out). Knowing when to move on, move out, move back, or move forward, is in itself a gift of God's grace, even if not a formally listed one.

Monday, July 17, 2017

MT 13: 24-30 (31-33) 36-43
Matthew in the Margins…7th S. after Pentecost…Revised 2017 
I’ve just come in from a spell of gardening. After showery weather that’s kept all but the hardiest gardeners inside. How the weeds have grown! The wet spell was all they needed for their tasks-over bid! Before I go out a-weeding I make a batch of quick-rising Irish Soda Bread for lunch & leave that rising as it bakes while I garden. Weeds need time to take over. So do good things, like grain, mustard, leaven; even the baking soda working to raise our lunch, needs time to do its job. 

Jesus isn’t talking of wheat, mustard, leaven, even soda,  but life itself. About the ‘very grain of being’ as Christian Wiman puts it in his poem, ‘Prayer’, that introduces his ‘Once in the West’ collection’.A Preacher's reaction to evil in the world may be to theologise, or worse, rant about up-rooting it. But out in our margins we have to live in real time among weeds of various kinds - & beware lest we become one! A threat to our own or someone else’s being! As we wait & work for God’s will to be done ‘on earth as it is…’  

What are we to do about the problem of evil? 'Live with it' is the realistic answer in both spiritual & worldly senses. As Jesus Himself demonstrates. Beware lest we add loosing the dogs of our own fears & insecurity, aggression, etc. to ‘the whole armour of God’! Which would just sow more weeds, not better ways of living for God & with God.When Evil self-sows, taking on new life of its own, let’s not blame some scapegoat 'Devil'! 

Jesus’ grain, mustard seed, & leaven, can all be taken, too, as metaphors for God's little ones. God can make a little go a long way! God can build, too, with all that the 'birds' of the story, (us?) can gather for God. On another tack, grind mustard seed, mix it with what you fancy, & it packs a wallop! God’s little ones can pack a mustard wallop for God, too! As yeast packs a punch for its size, raising milled grain into bread; as even baking soda can do!

The last section may sound to some more like John the Baptiser than Jesus. Hard to deal with, except for ‘hard-liners’; sign of Jesus’ growing frustration with responses He’s receiving or not receiving. Frustration comes built-in with human-ness. We need to let God control it in us, & our preaching, as well as discourage it in others. 

1 Once in the West, FSG, NY, 2014

Monday, July 10, 2017

MT 13: 1-9 (10-17) 18-23
Matthew in the Margins…6th S. After Pentecost…Revised 2017

If we're to be effective preachers, story-telling needs to be part of our whole ‘armour of God’! That Jesus is a great Story-teller, Teacher, & Preacher begins with His not missing a thing that's going on round him. In homes, on the land, in the market place, in the Temple precincts; anywhere & everywhere. Especially out in life’s margins. It’s all grist to the mill of telling stories, making them our own in the process, & helping people ‘get it’!

In a land largely dependent upon small-holder fishing & agriculture, Jesus knows how things work or don’t. Survival or starvation. The Holy Family no doubt goes hungry at times & like others, lives on survival fare; except for the rare celebration, e.g. the wedding at Cana. Experience itself becomes part of Jesus’ whole ‘armour’ of story-telling.

The point of the sower parable is so obvious it doesn’t need un-packing so much as apply-ing. In a parish we were once celebrating the gift of a delightful stained glass ‘Byzantine’ style window of the Sower. After the congregation has gone to morning tea, I happen to wander back into the church for something & find two 10 year old boys closely examining the new window. As I draw near, I overhear one say to the other, "Hasn't that sower got a sad face!" Quick as a flash, the other responds, "So would you, if you'd just lost as much crop as he has!" Out of the mouths of......! I feel the Real Sower has a very smiley face as He listens to this exchange. Well pleased with donor, artist, & these two kids! By the way, the donor of the window was an old lady who wanted to "sit near it & enjoy it before I die". Therein lies yet another story!

The incident offers insight into how our efforts in sowing or not sowing, tending or not tend -ing, harvesting or not harvesting may cause the Real Sower to feel. Living for many years now in a state with vast hectares of wheat reminds us how good seasons provide for farming families & the rest of us, & keep local community alive. Also, how destructive failing seasons - like the current one, here, for many - are, of community & individuals. Life in general & the effort we put in or don’t, offer similar lessons for the observant. What kinds of seasons are we experiencing in our churches as we sow & tend ready for God to harvest? At the moment this harvest isn’t encouraging. Is it?

That disciples know secrets of God's Rule not available to others isn’t hard to grasp. The very idea of God deliberately making things hard for anyone to follow is! Maybe Jesus is posing a riddle here? Let’s imagine a knowing smile on Jesus' face when He does pose a riddle & wait for us to grasp it. Harvest it. Even as we seem to struggle along the path, on stoney ground, & among thorns, how about we make God's day by persisting towards being a good & fruitful crop!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

MT 11:15-19 (20-24) 25-30
Matthew in the Margins…5th S after Pentecost…Revised 2017 

We all need to ‘hear’. Some need to hear differently in today’s world. Even those who have never had, or lost, the gift of physical hearing. How to preach so all have an equal chance of hearing Jesus, the Word of God, one way or another?

Have the children been watching their adults playing music & dancing to it, & are now mimicking them? Have they been watching funeral processions go by & are now playing at that too? Jesus’ contrasts between joy & sorrow seem to embrace all the ‘games people play’. Perhaps we all need to be spiritually wise enough to eat, drink, & dance with God & enjoy God in the process? Or mourn with God on occasion! A more joyful relationship with God than some we may preach? 

John & Jesus both end up as losers in the world’s eyes, yet ‘winners’ in God’s! What matters from our beginning, our middling, & our earthly ending, is God & God’s Truth. Revealed in God’s prophet(s) & supremely in God’s Anointed One.  Truth that puts all earthly rulers in their place! Can we expect holding to such Truth will cost us less than it costs John & Jesus?

(The bracketed verses illustrate accepting / rejecting in other terms. To pursue these, try settings from today’s world that might speak more to our hearers.) 

Praising God is central to Christian personal & corporate spiritual life. Can there be a life of faith without perpetual praise? Jesus Himself leads by example, not only on this occasion. As Jesus sees us, those who are really wise & understanding are those who are the ‘little ones’ He often speaks to & about. Those who are a gift to the Church & the world, but overlooked & under-valued for the gift they are to us. No matter the role we play in our local church & world, are we among those ‘little ones’ for whom God always has a ‘soft spot’? There are no ‘elites’ in God’s eyes. Scrambling to join one elite or another reveals who we are & what we are!

In a multi-faith & no-faith world, Jesus’ claim that no-one knows God except through Him sounds extraordinary! But from a Christian’s point of view, there it is! In black & white! Others will disagree, & we mustn’t put them down if they claim another way to their God or no-god! But as a Christian, in Luther’s words, ’here I stand!’ How & what do we preach this in today’s multi-everything societies?

In the 1662 Prayer Book eucharistic rite, at one point there were what were called, ‘Comfortable words’. Among them were Jesus’, ‘Come to me…’ Except that the second bit, the ’take my yoke ..’ was extraordinarily omitted! Can we ‘Come’ without taking the yoke, or as some seem to do, ‘Take’ the yoke without coming?