The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Pentecost 6A Sunday Sermon
8 and 10:30am Service, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
Sunday Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-12, Psalm 119:129-136, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
How many parables do you think you heard
in that gospel reading?
Normally when we have a gospel reading dealing with
Jesus teaching in parables, we get to consider one,
or maybe two parables on a Sunday.
This time we have 5, six if you count the comparison of the scribe to the master of a household.
Each one could be a sermon in itself,
but don't worry,
I'm going to try to cover all of them,
but it won't take me the length of 5 sermons to do it.
First it's important to note that the developers of
the Revised Common Lectionary had mercy on you,
and split last week's parable and it's explanation out of this weeks lessons, so you only have 5-6 parables to deal with, rather than 6-7.
So if you were wondering why
there is a major chunk missing in the middle,
it's because that chunk is the explanation
of last week's parable.
See the way Matthew described this teaching,
is that first Jesus was teaching the crowd,
and he told them the parable of the wheat and the tares,
and the mustard seed, and the leaven,
then he met privately with his closest disciples,
and explained to them the wheat and the tares,
and told them the parable of the treasure in the field,
the merchant searching for fine pearls,
and the net.
It's good to understand that,
because grouping today's parables into two sections
helps us understand why they're different.
Maybe you didn't hear the parables at all,
but are hung up on the anxiety produced
with the image of the angels separating the evil from the righteous and throwing the evil into the fire.
If so you're not alone. . .
But the first two parables are addressed to the crowd,
and so Jesus helps them understand the way the kingdom
will surprise everyone by it's greatness.
The mustard seed is a very small seed,
but when it grows it becomes a large bush.
The kingdom of heaven planted in the world will start small,
like with a band of fishermen and poor people in Gallilee,
and develop into such a large living force,
influencing world history like no other movement,
and many will make their home in that kingdom.
Likewise, but even more hidden and powerful,
a woman mixes a small amount of yeast into a large amount of flour, and the hidden yeast eventually leavens all the flour.
It's like Jesus is saying to the people,
the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,
it is hidden,
so you may not see it now,
but it is at work, and before long,
it will transform the whole world.
Those who want to be disciples will be taking part in this
transformation, in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
The next set of parables are addressed to those who are
already disciples, explaining a little more,
what is required of disciples of Jesus,
and yet more importantly how great the reward.
Rather than dealing with many, and the grand plan,
they deal with how individuals encounter the kingdom.
The two parables about people finding the Kingdom of Heaven have important differences.
Both men in the stories experience joy,
and a desire to sell all they have to acquire that treasure.
The difference is in how they encounter the treasure.
The man who finds the treasure in a field,
finds it presumably without looking for it directly.
It wasn't his field, so perhaps he was working the field
for someone else, or surveying it,
or just walking across it.
But he finds the treasure as a surprise,
and then in joy goes and sells all that he has to buy that field,
Notice here that the man,
in his joy,
because of his knowledge of the treasure
knows all along that giving everything he has,
is small in comparison to the awesomeness of that treasure.
He's not risking it all for some unknown reward,
the only risk he experiences is that he might not get the treasure he found.
The merchant is coming to a similarly valuable treasure,
from a very different perspective,
unlike the man in the field,
this merchant is searching for his treasure.
He knows what he is after, and is a connoisseur of pearls,
so when he finds the magnificent pearl,
it is not hard for him to sell everything he has for it,
because he knows its worth,
and is prepared to give up everything else he has,
because this one pearl is worth so much more.
This is the timeless aspect of the story.
While it may not be so common to find treasure in fields,
or to seek a fine pearl these days,
it is common that people encounter the kingdom of heaven
it is always marked by joy
when one comes to know the risen Christ.
In uncovering the treasure of the kingdom,
some people encounter it seemingly by accident,
and some are searching for it a long time before they find it.
Either way, when people encounter the kingdom of God
in this world, it is not a difficult question
whether to sacrifice whatever they need to
in order to fully participate in that Kingdom.
The aspect of the treasure that is common,
is that you must give up much to acquire it for yourself,
but this is not based on blind faith,
but on a knowledge,
of the greatness of what you are acquiring.
The final parable, seems to put these disciple parables
back into the context of the crowd parables
dealing with the greatness of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The net is gathering all of the fish in
whether or not they want to be there.
This is complicated,
and I think I'm just beginning to get it,
but maybe some of you have considered this more
and understand it better.
The net shows that all will be required to sacrifice,
and all will be drawn into the kingdom,
but not all will stay.
As Dietrich Bonhoffer put it,
in The Cost of Discipleship,
the grace of God may be free,
but it is not cheap.
It requires commitment, and sacrifice,
and that is what differentiates a disciple of Jesus,
from a curious onlooker in the crowd.
Jesus showed us the commitment that is required,
and the joy that leads to that commitment.
We read that it was “for the sake of the joy
that was set before him,
[that Jesus] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2)
And so we come to understand Grace as an acrostic,
God's Riches At Christ's Expense.
It's free because Christ paid for it,
but since we are his followers,
we also need to give up everything to truly make it ours.
That is what differentiates those
who are being trained for the Kingdom,
from those who are just being unwittingly gathered in the net.
The difference between the fish in the net,
seems to be that some desire the kingdom
they are being drawn into,
and some don't
those who desire the kingdom,
submit to the training Jesus mentions
when he describes everyone who has been trained for the kingdom “like the master of a household,
who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
That is the goal of discipleship,
to become like a master of your own household.
I spoke to a woman recently
who didn't want me to come over to visit,
because she felt like her house
was completely disordered.
She was only talking about her physical house in some sense,
mostly she felt like her life was completely disordered,
her very self, felt completely disordered.
The master of a household, may live in the midst of chaos, but she knows where the treasure is,
and knows how to bring out the new treasure
and the old treasure,
and put it to the purpose that it was meant for.
That is our goal as disciples of Jesus,
to not only be aware of the treasure we have,
how we are being welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven,
not just to sacrifice all we have for the much greater
treasure of participating in that kingdom,
but when we have the treasure,
we must be trained to bring out that treasure,
and use it for what it was meant to do.
But maybe you have not yet found the treasure,
maybe you're seeking it,
and know exactly what you're looking for.
Or maybe you feel like you're just roaming in a field,
doing your work,
and it would be great if you happened upon some treasure.
The Church of the Ascension,
all churches made up of disciples of Jesus Christ
exist to help you find that treasure,
not because we want to grow for the sake of growth,
or because we need more members to be successful.
We want to help you and everyone find that treasure,
because some of us,
know just how wonderful it is,
and how pervasive the joy in your life can be,
when you find the treasure,
and give it all to acquire it.
If you think you've found the treasure of the kingdom,
and you need training for how to best use it,
we're here for that too,
that's the journey we are all on.
We're training disciples for the kingdom.
The spiritual life is a big learning process,
a work in progress
as we are all being trained for the Kingdom of Heaven.
We help each other be transformed,
and we learn how to employ the treasure within each of us,
to make the Kingdom more visible to others.
Perhaps after looking at all of these parables,
you're still hung up on the image of the fish,
being pulled out of the net and separated
into the good and the bad,
the righteous and the evil.
The Kingdom of Heave is like the Net
drawing all the fish in,
like the weeds and the wheat growing together.
But if you're concerned about whether in the judgement
you'll be in the good pile or the bad pile,
I would like to refer you to our reading from Romans.
I keep this verse on the wall of my office, to remind me,
what Paul says for all disciples of Christ,
He is “convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Once you have found the treasure,
and made it yours
there is nothing to worry about,
the angels will not separate you from Christ in the end.
Seek the kingdom like a fine pearl
and it when you find it,
it will be a joy to enter the training as a disciple
for the Kingdom,
it will be such a joy that you won't hesitate
to give everything you have to make it yours.