Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sermon Offered at Christ Church Cathedral, July 30, 2017

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52 Proper 12
Year A

Open my lips, O Lord, *
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen.

Good Morning. Wow. I look out into this group of people and I see so many faces that I love. I am about to cry.  

I remember the first time I walked through those red doors. The first thing I saw was a man sitting in a chair, asleep leaning against the wall. The second thing was the banner that stated Our Church Has AIDS. Each of these things struck me as profound.

It was on a hot day in August, 2007 when my family and I walked through those doors, two moms and a boy, on a journey from Texas to find where God was calling us. As we walked into to this space, we knew surely the Holy Spirit was here with us.  
It is good to be back within these walls. Who knew I would be here this many years? Ten years!! Or that I would one day be standing in this place, in this pulpit?

But I am not here to talk about me. I am here today to talk about new things. Yet it is out of the old news that new things have come.

I am here today to talk about Jubilee Ministries. May 2016 Bishop Smith named me the Diocesan Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of Missouri. I learned about Jubilee Ministries because as manager of Trinity Food Ministry at Trinity Church CWE, the Pantry had been a Jubilee Center for a long time.

The idea of Jubilee comes from passages in Leviticus declaring every fiftieth year a year of release for the captives – release from whatever holds them captive. 
Moreover, God reminds the people that no one owns anything, that all belongs to God. We all are aliens and sojourners with God.

In Deuteronomy 15, a plan is laid out to make certain that no one lives in poverty and that we all love God and take care of one another. That’s the idea of Jubilee.

Jubilee Ministries was created by an act of General Convention in 1983 as a way to encourage Dioceses and parishes into ministry of joint discipleship in Christ with poor and oppressed people, wherever they are found, to meet basic human needs and to build a just society.

St. Louis City has its share of poor and oppressed people and those whose basic needs are not being met. Some would say that it is a very unjust society.

I read an article by Wes Moore, CEO of the Robin Hood Society – he made a heavy pronouncement: The war on poverty has become a war on the poor.

And I see the truth in that statement every day.

Healthcare, housing, education, hunger – all basic needs. All as so far below adequate for too many people. We are not taking care of one another.

What we have here is a basic conflict of Kingdoms.

Jesus came to redefine the understanding of Kingdom. The world was split in two – those who understood Jesus to be the new king and those labeled “this generation” who were in opposition to all that kingdom meant. They were fine with the old. It was good and safe and known. And more than that, they thought it was enough.  

But Jesus was telling them that everything was changing. His death and his resurrection would turn the world upside down. His message was– pay attention! the Kingdom of heaven was NOW.

The kingdom of heaven is here. We cannot spread it. We didn’t build it or establish it. It has already spread. It is already built. It is already established. Jesus did that. He is trying to tell that in these parables.

masal (MAW-SHAL) is the Hebrew word for parable but it can be translated many ways. A figurative saying, a proverb, a riddle. But it is not the meaning of the word parable with which we must concern ourselves. Rather, it is how the parable works in the Gospels.

Allegories can have many points; a parable just one. Parables are not moralistic, but tell us to be ready, to UNDERSTAND something.

Last Sunday, the Gospel parable was about the weeds growing up in the midst of the wheat. The bad is growing right in the midst of the good but it is not ours to separate, because we can’t always tell which is the weed and which is the wheat. So, we leave that part of it alone. Let it be.

The parables for today begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…”
Anyone who has ever gardened or worked with mustard plant know that it may grow large with a lot of pruning, but it does not grow into a tree. If it is not properly pruned, it is scraggly and produces few leaves. It becomes more like a weed than a food source, much less a place for birds to makes nests.
But what a contrast! This lowly plant used as an image for the kingdom of heaven! This image that Jesus builds is beyond our own understanding of our known reality.

“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.”
Three measures of flour equal approximately a bushel. That is a lot of bread! Who needs that much bread? But the kingdom of heaven is abundant, more than we can imagine needing.

Yeast is most often used as a symbol of corruption in the scriptures – the leaven of Herod, the leaven of the Sadducees. Here it is used in a positive way.

This NRSV reading of the gospel does not use the word “hid” but the RSV does. The woman “hid” the yeast in the flour and it worked silently to grow and expand. Yeast is disruptive. It changes things. The kingdom of heaven is disruptive to what we perceive to be normal.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, and, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; and these treasures being found.

The man in the field and the merchant each sell all that they have to pursue this one treasure, pure and fine. Each of these parables note one thing – the pearl/the treasure is worth more than anything else. It is the ONLY thing that matters.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when they pulled it in, they put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age.

A reminder of the importance of what we are doing now – prior to the time of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Because there will be a sorting of the good and bad eventually.

Jesus asks, “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

We have a responsibility to be a part of that Kingdom.

So, to recap: the kingdom of heaven is beyond our understanding of reality; it is disruptive, timely (now), precious, selective, and we have responsibilities. Like the weeds of earlier or the good or bad fish, it is not ours to separate the evil from the righteous. This is not about “fishing for people”. The separating and the sorting will happen eventually but what are we doing in the meanwhile. It is a choice that must be made immediately – to choose the treasure now or to continue to hold on to the old understandings. NT Wright calls the choice “real, stark, and sharp.”

We continue to be faced with this choice. Do we understand now any better than the disciples did? Do we see that the old is that scripture, traditions, past glories, these are our old treasure? Do we see that the new treasure is Jesus and the understanding that his gospel is our truth as followers of Christ? That the new shines light on the old treasure allowing us to see it in a new way? We don’t need to discard it. We just need to look at it differently.

Are we stuck in lamenting the passing of the old or are we rejoicing in the possibility of new vision?

Wright also wrote that these parables are a challenge to us in two ways: understanding and action.
“Understanding without action is sterile; action without understanding is exhausting and useless.”

I think that many of us can relate to that quote. How many times have we understood but done nothing? How many times have we followed our leaders but did not fully understand? Or we got so caught up in the action that forgot the reason why we were involved. That is what burn out is all about. Burned out and used up.

What does it mean for us today to be scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven? I tell you, we are scribes being trained for the kingdom of heaven. What other reason do we have for being here?

Jubilee Ministry is a training ground for just that. Jubilee is about living out our baptismal vows – to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love one another as we are loved, to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. It’s all about understanding and action. It is a ministry of joint discipleship in Christ with poor and oppressed people, wherever they are found, to meet basic human needs and to build a just society.

Christ Church Cathedral has a rich history of social activism and past heroes. The AIDS epidemic is one thing that comes quickly to mind. And with that Michael Allen who proclaimed:
“At this table we do not accept nor do we condone the ways of this world, the way we separate people from each other, separating rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, black and white, and all the other ways we use to demean and belittle the people around us.”

These ideas are the rich words of the old treasure.

But there is more. From racial justice & gay rights to issues of homelessness & poverty– Christ Church Cathedral has a rich history of working to defend the dignity of every human being.

And the work continues:
 – Ms. Carol’s Breakfast is still meeting the basic human need of food on Saturday mornings. Work is ongoing to build a just society with the housing initiative. Acting as a temporary shelter on frigid winter nights. Offering a safe space for those who need to get out of the heat during the summer days.

Yet…what new thing is God creating for us and through us right here in this Cathedral today?

A new vision of what is good and just for the Cathedral of the Diocese might be a Jubilee Center, working in that ministry of Joint discipleship in Christ WITH poor and oppressed people, meeting basic human needs and building a just society…right here, in this space, downtown St. Louis City.

What more can be done than is already being done?   We are limited only by our human imaginations.

The kingdom of heaven is beyond our understanding of reality, it is disruptive, It is Now, it is oh so precious, it is selective and we have responsibilities. What are we going to do about it?

Are we able to understand this?

I have to get Paul into this sermon somewhere. So here he is to help us understand this kingdom of heaven:
Thank God for the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness, knowing that we don’t pray or act as we should yet the Spirit knows our hearts and comes in with sighs too deep for words. And God, searching our hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit acts only according to the will of God.  

All these things work together for good for those who love God, and who are called according to God’s purpose. We have a purpose here. For those who are called are justified and those who are justified are glorified. If God is for us, who is against us? Who can separate from the love of Christ? Will Hardship? Distress? Persecution? Famine? Peril? separate us from that love?

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor opioid epidemics, nor homelessness, nor gun violence, nor hunger, nor environmental disasters, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are in the midst of the Kingdom of heaven. We are scribes being trained for this kingdom of heaven.


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