McFarland

8th Sunday of Pentecost July 26, 2020

Readings

First Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Second Reading: Romans 8:26-39
Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Prayer of the Day:

Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Gather Us In  ELW #532
Be Thou My Vision  ELW #793
Sent Forth by God’s Blessing  ELW #547
God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind   ELW #400

Reflection on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven to a sower who tosses seeds on four different types of soil and to wheat that grows among weeds.  Today we get five more short stories, this time using the images of a mustard seed, some yeast, hidden treasure, a fine pearl, and a fishing net – all to spark our imaginations when it comes to envisioning what the kingdom of heaven is like.

This is, for the time being, our final dive into the parables.  We are introduced to an assortment of people in this collection.  We meet a “sower of seed, a woman making bread, a fortune seeker, a merchant, [and] a commercial fisher.”[1]  You may have noticed that these positions aren’t of global, cultural, religious, or governmental significance.  Jesus chose to describe the kingdom of heaven through pretty ordinary people doing pretty ordinary jobs.  The kingdom doesn’t necessarily reveal itself through a hierarchy that this world values but, rather, the kingdom is within reach and accessible for all people.

The kingdom is not unattainable, incredible, or unrelatable, but common, familiar, and close at hand.  The kingdom of heaven is all around us.  It is infused in everything we do, like spending time in nature, preparing meals, dreaming for the future, engaging in commerce, and working.  There is no division between what is the kingdom and what isn’t.  In the words of one author, “The ordinariness of the tasks invites us to see signs of the kin(g)dom of heaven in our day-to-day lives; to recognize that it is emerging in our very midst.”[2]

The kingdom is all around us and permeates everything we do.  So, for me, the kingdom of heaven is like a canoe ride with my family.  Paddling with my three-year-old is a lot of fun but I wouldn’t describe it as overly calm or relaxing.  There are goldfish crackers or granola bars or water bottles to distribute, only after discussing their varying merits.  There are birds and fish and Lilly pads and trees to locate, point out, and identify.  There are songs to sing and questions to ask.  It’s loads of fun and I love our adventures, but I wouldn’t necessarily advertise it as peaceful.

These typical excursions are plenty reflective of the kingdom, but there was one time a few weeks ago, we were out and Theo was laying down in the bottom of the canoe on some towels, all jammed into his little-kid lifejacket, and he was quiet and calm.  Mike and I were slowly paddling and just enjoying the moment.  There was a bright blue sky; it was a crystal, clear morning.  I was at the front of our boat, the Yahara River was relatively wide at this point, and there was no one else around.  I couldn’t stop tilting my head back, feeling the sun on my face, marveling at the cloudless sky, and drinking in deep breaths of fresh air.  It was as if I could see the arc of the dome of the sky.  The birds were singing, a few bull frogs grunted now and again, and there was the quiet lap of the water as we paddled our way back to the car.  I could feel the expansiveness, yet the closeness, of the kingdom of heaven.

And the kingdom of heaven is like no-touch baptisms, a liturgical piece that Pastor Tim and I are thrilled to be doing once again.  I’ve preached a number of times about how much I love doing baptisms.  I love the feel of the water dripping down my arm, all the way to my elbow.  I love tracing a cross on the wee one’s forehead as they are marked by God’s love forever.  I love seeing the parents smile, wondering how the baby will react, and trying to notice how many grandparents have tears of joy.  I love walking from the font in the back all the way up front as the child symbolically enters into the community.  I love the assembly that gathers together, that promises to love and support the parents and the child, and that claps when we introduce the newest member of the family of God.

But this is the time of covid, and just because there are things that I love and that I want, that doesn’t mean they are safe or wise to do.  I won’t get to feel the water because we are using a sea shell.  There is no feel of oil – at least for me, anyway.  That task is given to a family member.  There is no way to tell who is smiling behind their mask, no walking to the front, no huddled groups for photos.  And while there is a small representation of the community here and a larger group online – there is no large collective of our community who has gathered physically together in this space.

While I will argue all day long that those things are important and I can’t wait for them to be a part of our worship life again, the Spirit’s creativity has showed us how to still celebrate baptisms.  God still gives us water.  God still calls parents to bring their child to the sacrament.  God still makes us a child of God.  God still showers us with the promise to always love us, forgive us, and never leave us.  God still gathers a community together – just in a new way now – and still calls us to surround this child with love and care on their journey of faith.  And it is beautiful and there will still be tears of joy.  The kingdom of heaven looks like no-touch baptisms in a time of pandemic.

The kingdom of heaven is all around us.

The kingdom of heaven is like someone who prints off the church’s devotional materials so a friend, who doesn’t have a computer, can still participate in the life of this church.

The kingdom of heaven is like someone who orders their sister a pizza when their child has the stomach flu, because planning and preparing dinner for the healthy ones in the house seems impossible.

The kingdom of heaven is like emptying the dishwasher or cleaning off the counter; the experience of accomplishing something concrete when the world feels so chaotic.

The kingdom of heaven is like getting a card or text or email or little gift from a dear friend.  Not anything big and not for any reason in particular other than they care.

The kingdom of heaven is like someone who reads about a different life experience or who watches a documentary about an unfamiliar reality in our world, and who lets that information widen their understanding and maybe even change their opinion.

The kingdom of heaven is like someone who continues to volunteer in our community or who supports local and global organizations that are taking care of those who are hit hardest at this time.

The kingdom of heaven is like groups of people – church committees maybe – who are intentionally staying connected and checking in with one another, who are thinking outside the box and brainstorming how we can pivot our energies and still be the church and still continue to share God’s love with the world.  People who continue to pray for and financially support the ministries of the congregation they love, and of the congregation who loves them.

My goodness – the kingdom is everywhere.  We can’t go off and look for it, then leave and come back home because it’s already everywhere.  The fortune seeker in our parable found the hidden treasure accidentally, and the merchant found the pearl intentionally.  The kingdom is near whether we know where to find it or happen to stumble upon it. 

We know where we can look for the kingdom; we know our chances are good when we go to worship or engage scripture or attend a Bible Study or participate in community.  God has let us know some rather reliable places where we can recognize the kingdom’s presence and activity.

But there are still times when it’s presence will catch us delightfully off guard, like when we are on the water and look up at the sky, welcome a child to the life of faith, print off church devotionals, order a pizza, empty the dishwasher, or check the mail. 

When we are grieving and feel powerless and have no control – and when we’re tired of being quarantined and aching by the number of people getting sick and dying – and when we want nothing more than to make real eye contact and give someone a hug…when it feels like the kingdom is nowhere to be found, or at least it’s somewhere far, far away, we can trust that the kingdom of heaven is still here, even if all we see is bread and not yeast, or all we see is a tree and forget about the seed.  It really is everywhere.

So the kingdom of heaven is like a canoe ride.  The kingdom of heaven is like a touchless baptism.  What is the kingdom like for you?  Thanks be to God.

Amen.

[1] Holly Hearon, “Preach This Week, July 26, 2020, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4512 (accessed July 19, 2020).
[2] Ibid.

Let Us Pray

God of life, thank you for surrounding us with the glory of your kingdom, whether we are able to perceive that is close at hand or we are surprised by its unveiling. Train our senses to recognize your movement and presence in the world and in our day-to-day lives. Be with us as we grieve our continued isolation and as we yearn to be with our loved ones and faith community once again. Grant courage to those who are struggling, hope to those who faltering, and healing to those who are ailing. Envelop us all in your love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.