Sermon for July 26. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 and Romans 8:26-39. The last couple of verses today include Jesus talking about Treasures new and old. In Jesus God was doing a new thing. This is the first and only time God has become incarnate and walked around completely in human skin. And with that new thing of becoming enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth, God was also bringing about a new sphere of being, that Jesus went around talking about as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God- and this term was a political term, we could translate it empire or reign- the sphere of life in which God is truly in charge. This was a new thing that was happening because of Jesus. A new way for God to come near, a new chance for humanity to respond to God.
But while so much was totally new in Jesus, Jesus was a part of the Jewish people, the people with whom God had made a covenant, and then the people broke the deal and God made a new one- well more than once- God had given them land and provided for their needs and rescued them from slavery and given them laws to follow to help them know how it was best to live- Jesus came from that lineage, that long, long story of belonging to a loving forgiving creator.
And what Jesus says here is, so if you’re part of this thing I’m doing here, it’s like you have treasures from belonging to that old old story, old treasures, precious things you have learned from those generations upon generations- and there are totally new things, treasures that are different because of this totally new thing God is doing- but that still fit with the old treasures.
And for this day July 26 two thousand twenty, I thought, well this continues to be true in a way. Because we are living now in a time that has a lot of new to it. The novel coronavirus is still taking humanity to task. Our lives have been so rearranged. So many people are grieving or worried about their own health or for loved ones. I drove through a part of Hanford this week that I haven’t been through in a long time, and I was sad. I was sad to see restaurants closed and streets quieter than they used to be. Two women were on the sidewalk and they had their masks. My kids and all kids in California will be doing schoolwork from home when school starts in a few weeks. Life is just different. It is a time to contemplate what are the treasures of old, treasures of life we know from before that continue to be treasures, and what are new treasures. Treasures from this new chapter of life where things are so different but God is still with us.
That is one treasure that I think two of these short little parables make plain. The mustard seed and the yeast. They both start so so tiny, but lead to something huge. God’s kingdom is like that Jesus said, and in a way it says to me that God is unstoppable. People try to domesticate God into religion and church but God cannot be contained. God is an unstoppable force in a sense, even though starting from such teeny tiny things and taking their sweet time. God in the mustard seed is life, life, life. God in the yeast is growth growth growth. But there is more than one meaning to these parables also. Because not only was the mustard seed tiny and could grow huge, this kind of mustard seed was a weed, the kind that takes root and you just can’t get rid of it, like bamboo or kudzu. It is not the kind of seed a farmer would plant- remember Jesus usually says some unexpected things in his parables, like the sower who just threw the seed everywhere, or the farmer who just let the weeds grow right with the wheat. This farmer is certainly doing a strange thing by sowing on purpose a plant that will keep the good crops from growing, because even though so tiny, it will grow into a great sprawling bush. Yes strong enough big enough for birds to build nests in, but farmers don’t farm for birds. They farm for harvests. Aren’t all of the shiny material tied to branches in the orchards there to discourage the birds from coming and eating the fruit before it can be harvested. Here we have a counter- productive, maybe even subversive farmer planting mustard weed. God’s kingdom grows that way, no not even a novel coronavirus can end it. Then the yeast, well yeast was considered to be contaminating and corrupting. Remember that the holy festival of Passover, from that long long story of God’s faithfulness, was a time to clean out all the yeast from your house, eat unleavened, no-yeast bread. And this woman in the short parable she seems to be sneaking the yeast into the flour, and what a great quantity of flower, 60 pounds. Maybe a two month supply for a family? Why is she making SO MUCH bread? It is another surprise and strange thing to say. But this, Jesus says, this corrupting influence that just takes over, starting so small- that is what the kingdom of God is like. The commentary I have for matthew says that this means . “God’s empire will contaminate cultural norms like Rome’s empire, hierarchy, patriarchy, injustice.”
Wow. Talk about a treasure old and new. The reign of God Jesus was talking about was one that would sneak in and corrupt injustice. Jesus’ ways of solidarity and caring for one another tear down Rome’s ways of well, tearing people down. Contaminate patriarchy, where men had power over women and hierarchy where people had power over one another because of a title, because of the family they were born into. The empire or reign or kingdom of God- is like yeast that ruins the purity of those kinds of systems and societies. A holy corruption of those evil ways. One little yeasty air bubble at a time.
Here’s another way Jesus surprises in these parables: what was thought of as good or pure and what is thought of as bad and corrupting, are reversed in the kingdom of God. Anything that breaks with the ways of Rome, force and forced compliance, are ways of God taking hold. Anytime we think we know what is holy, what are the reserved tools for God, God will switch it on us. there are treasures old, and treasuers new.
And then there are a few more one or two line parables. Like someone who found out about a treasure in a field and bought the whole field, just to have the treasure. Or someone who really wanted one really great pearl and spent all he had on it. These do not sound like wise purchases. This is not investing in your future or your family’s future with sound economic practices. But there is a way the kingdom of God is like these strange purchases: you find out how wonderful, life changing it is, and you have to have it, you stop counting the cost because you know this is the thing. I tried to think of something like that in my life and I think I can compare it to falling in love. I left Pablo behind in Argentina after my year as a volunteer missionary and started seminary in Chicago- I remember saying to another student- I have to go back for Christmas break. The plane ticket wasn’t cheap, I had to rearrange when I would take my finals but I just had to be with my fiancé after 4 and a half months apart. It was worth it. The kingdom of God is like that. You do things not totally rational because you have found God at work. And you know it’s worth it.
And that is what the apostle Paul knew as he wrote these beloved words in the 8th chapter we read today: nothing can separate us from the love of God. Paul spent his life as a missionary going around spreading this message- he would be like this person who bought a field or a pearl, put his whole life into spreading this good news message of the new thing God had done in Christ Jesus.
Michael Fitzpatrick this week on Journeywithjesus.net puts it this way,
For the Good News of God’s kingdom is that when we make Christ Lord of our lives, neither death nor life, neither earthly powers nor the powers of the spirit, neither COVID-19 nor a future climate catastrophe, neither systemic racism nor religious genocide, neither wildfire nor cancer — nay, nothing in the highest heights or the lowest depths of this cosmos, or elsewhere in the whole of creation, has the power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is a message you may have heard before a treasure from old times, pre-Covid times- but it is a treasure to dust off and make new. The same God who loved the Israelites and provided for them is still loving people and caring for us. even in what seems like a very changed world, the new work of God that began with Jesus Christ goes on. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Because we know this love of God is so strong, we can continue with this very good old treasure in these new times. We can continue to be enactors of God’s kingdom even in these strange times, with God’s help.
If we follow the ways of God’s kingdom, we recognize the huge potential that small acts can have. An act of kindness, a telephone call or card, reminding one another that God’s way is the way of love. There are still forces that seek to have power over, hurt and belittle, but the power of the tiny yeast, the tiny mustard seed, in time takes over. God has come near in Jesus Christ, and shown us new ways of being. May we join God, go all in for an empire, a kingdom, a society where we expand the good God does, with treasures old and new. Amen.