Monday, July 18, 2011

Shocking: Proper 12, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Genesis 29:15-28 or 1 Kings 3:5-12

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39

Matthew 13:30-33, 44-52

This Week's Reflection
At church Sunday, a member of the congregation asked me if I was tired of coming up with sermons about seeds. This makes me wonder if he is tired of hearing about seeds! This Sunday's lectionary text is the final in a series of three weeks covering parables of Jesus involving planting seed. This week has Jesus giving what others have called a "rapid fire" parable feast. The kingdom of heaven is like . . . a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, fine pearls, and a net full of fish. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is hidden, yet glorious; unexpected, yet all-encompassing; unseen, but always present.

The same church member also took issue with my claim that Jesus was a city boy who knew nothing about farming. He said it makes more sense that Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about, but pretending to know nothing about farming. He is probably right. Jesus was most likely trying to shock everyone. I wonder how much we take these parables for granted. If you are reading this, then you likely read other reflections in which the same point is made - these are shocking details in the parables. For those in the pews, who are there week in and week out, how shocking do they seem these days? As preachers, we need to recapture that for our listeners. The first hearers of the parables would have laughed out loud at the thought of allowing mustard weed to grow and birds to nest in it; one scholar compares it to Kudzu in the southeast. And, we think we understand the use of yeast as comparison for the hidden kingdom, but this was work kept only for women.

For this Jewish rabbi to use "woman's work" as an example for the kingdom of heaven would have been laughable at the least and riot-producing at the most. We could go on evaluating each parable and the ways in which each is shocking - I mean a guy who finds a treasure in someone else's field, then hides it and buys the field? - shocking!

Are the lectionary creators trying to tell us something about being shocking this week? The Genesis passage is that crazy story of Laban tricking the trickster, Jacob, into "going in to" Leah, his eldest daughter instead of Rachel, the younger daughter whom Jacob loved. Is it a story about perseverance, Jacob working seven additional years, making a total of fourteen waiting for the love of his life to be presented to him? Is it a story that should create in us dis-ease about how women were (and are) treated like property? Is it a story about justice where Jacob finally feels the pain of his own brother, Esau, and his father after tricking them out of the birthright that was not rightfully his?

And, what about Paul's letter to the Romans? Is there anything shocking to be found in this text? How about that part that says "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." Anyone who has been fired by a church with no explanation knows this is just not true. Cancer patients reading their Bibles daily find this sentence shocking. Children who have lost their parents due to a stranger driving drunk don't hang this up on the fridge. For our congregations' sakes, we have to be willing to ask the question for them, "Really? Am I really supposed to believe that all things work for good despite all the evidence to the contrary?"

The ending of the Romans text is that beautiful passage about nothing being able to separate us from the love of God. No question is off limits. No shocking detail is too much. No amount of trickery keeps us from the kingdom of heaven indefinitely. As Christians, we must be able to see what is hidden among us. We must be willing to share the shocking details of God's kingdom that is here and now. In so doing, we point others toward the shocking kingdom of heaven and do our part to reveal it on the earth.

This Week's Art
Mustard + Parable found at Maria Laura's Blog
The Hidden Treasure by
The Leaven by Sir John Everett Millais
A Little Leaven by James B. Janknegt
The Kingdom of Heaven is Like by Kathie Luther
Treasurefield #2: Sell Everything by James B. Janknegt
The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks