Sermons from St. John's Episcopal Church
Jun 17, 2018 |
Towards the Horizon| The Rev. Jesse W. Lebus
Towards the Horizon
What an amazing day: the readings - I love parables, I love the Kingdom of God, the story of David being called from the ranks of his siblings and when we hear Paul’s words, when we mark them and inwardly digest them, what an effect...how does it feel to hear it proclaimed that if anyone is in Christ...there is a new creation.
And speaking of being in Christ, right after I step out of this pulpit, we’re going to baptize Ava Elizabeth Hildebrand... listen to what is said over the water, hear the prayers that are prayed….and who will be there with Ava, among her family and friends? Her Father, on father’s day...a new creation indeed!
Here’s why I love parables: Jesus told them, not for certainty but for discovery. When Jesus says the Kingdom is as if someone did this and that and the Kingdom of God is like a seed that does this and that, you know what we want? We want an explanation. I wanted one from my library and from the internet, conversation and commentaries, you all want one from me and the disciples wanted one from Jesus.
For millennia our cry has gone up: “Give us the static, edifying word that confirms what we already believe and affirms what we’re already doing…”
A touch of sarcasm of course, but it mirrors a popular approach… one that’s currently en vogue with many of our politicians who are using scripture for the sake of satisfying their worldview and justifying their actions, rather than using scripture for the sake of discovery.
In 1993, Stanley Hauerwas published a book called Unleashing the Scripture and in it he compels us to take theological inventory. He wrote of the pitfalls associated with assuming that we “have all the 'religious experience' necessary to know what the Bible is about.” As the result of such a presumption, Hauerwas wrote, the Bible risks becoming “the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church."
Of course the politics of the church concern the Kingdom of God and not the fiefdoms of ideologues. And so Jesus told parables for discovery not for certainty. He told them, not for explanation, but for exploration. The word parable, according to it’s etymology, its roots, is something that is thrown alongside. Para: alongside. It’s where we get the word parallel.
So just imagine that these parables run parallel to our lives, never actually intersecting... but between them, between their constant alignment, between the Word of God and ourselves, is a force that compels us to go back and forth between the two as we move forward... and as a result, the revelation of God’s kingdom appears in a mutual, reciprocal, even circular motion...not in a one-to-one, end result expectation.
The purpose of this life of faith, where Jesus and his parables travel alongside us, is not to arrive at some point of intersection, the kingdom of God does not rest on that distant horizon where the lines seem to meet... the kingdom of God, as Jesus tells his followers, is near, is at hand, is within you. The Kingdom of God is here... and between the Word and our lives we can taste it, even we catch a glimpse of it.
And on a day like today, as we walk alongside Jesus, as we hear his parables, as we baptize Ava, as we share in the Eucharist meal, here, today that glimpse of the kingdom comes into a little sharper focus.
These parables remind us that seemingly small things, grow silently and sometimes slowly into magnificent things. Even their length, the number of words, speaks to how something so small can come to mean so much. They capture the Kingdom in its very mystery and even in its apparent weakness. Yes it’s weakness, because those things which appear small, insignificant and ineffective are often disregarded.
We live in a world filled with threats and large scale social and geopolitical problems. I’m not presenting this as something new but as something very real. We have been reminded, in the wake of two recent high-profile suicides, that there is a one-way ticket out of this difficult life... And we Christians swing in with little more than a simple message: in Christ there is salvation. And not a few folks want to say: “Give me a break!”
But we keep on repeating the old story because we believe that somehow, some way, it’s going to work. If we yoke these two parables now, we can see both how puny our efforts may look and our ardent faith...that even though we don’t understand how these kingdom seeds grow, they do whether we are watching or not, whether we are tending them every moment or not.
They grow silently and mysteriously in people’s hearts. The seeds didn’t look like much to begin with and they grow without making much noise. Go and sit next to our vegetable garden across the pond after we plant another row of seeds in the earth...you could sit on the edge of those beds all day and throughout an entire night and you’d never hear a blessed thing.
There is much in these parables to inform the hope that’s in Ava’s baptism. Her own life, like the Kingdom, has been planted, it’s sprouted and yet what will grow from here...the how and why of who Ava will become in the fullness of time is a mystery to us. One day she will talk and walk, make friends and go to school… but who knows from there…the possibilities are endless...
And the Kingdom of God, like a mustard seed, so small and seemingly insignificant, which will be nourished in her today, it can become something so grand and sustaining and restorative. The day will come when the results of the kingdom’s silent, steady growth will be impressive. But for the time being we love it even in it’s smallness.
And wasn’t David the smallest, a shepherd boy not even invited to cozy up to the fire, the youngest son and yet it he would grow - slowly, mind you - into the one who would unite the nations of Israel and Judah. He didn’t always delight in the law of Lord, we know that, but he will be forever remembered as a leader of people, a king, who was faithful, forgiving and repentant.
In a Kingdom where God reigns, it’s not the great who are called forth but the meek...God seeks not power, celebrity and prestige to bring about his Kingdom, but sacrifice. It’s a selfless sacrifice embodied in the baptismal vows that we will share in, it’s the sacrifice necessary to offer ourselves our souls and bodies to receive holy communion and to live in unity, constancy and peace.
Maybe that’s the Kingdom of God...unity, constancy, peace...it’d be hard for me to tell you exactly what the Kingdom of God is, and maybe a bit hypocritical, considering my opening reflection, to do so. I do seek the kingdom daily, in prayer and scripture, I try to bring it closer through my own thoughts, words and deeds...I look for it and sometimes I do indeed see it, sometimes dimly, sometimes clearly, but I can’t tell you what it is…
...You can seek it yourself, you can do your best to bring it into focus...I can’t tell you what the Kingdom of God is... but I can tell you what it’s like...it’s like a seed that grows despite the sowers shortcomings, it’s like a tiny seed that becomes a tree for ALL of the birds, it’s like a family united, it’s like a parent who loves his child, it’s like the child...the seed of our faith, the bearer of our hopes, hovering near the edge of the font, just a splash of water away from a journey that will lead her towards an unknown horizon: exploring, discovering, along the transforming along the way.
May we, between our own lives and our constant companion God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, catch fresh and transformational glimpses of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom which is already here, among us and within us. Amen.