The Sunday Sermon: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Scripture: Matthew 13:10-17
We Have Been Given to Know
Pray with me …
In Matthew’s story of the Incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, chapter thirteen marks a turning point. As the second half of Matthew’s Gospel begins, Jesus moves away from the authoritarian eyes that have been challenging and questioning his ministry of teaching and healing, the “brood of vipers” that are beginning to conspire against him. He resumes his teaching ministry, which he began in the Sermon on the Mount, after healing many. Take a look at the chapters that follow his most famous teachings in chapters six through eight. Matthew tells the tales of Jesus healing – leprosy, paralysis, fevers, demon possessions, raging storms, blindness, muteness, withered hands, hemorrhages, fear, and even death.
The teaching and healing of Jesus are intricately and inextricably bound together in Matthew. One doesn’t happen without the other. Jesus is not about miraculous cures. He’s about communal healing through proper living, life in the Kingdom of God. He teaches us: Here’s what it looks like. Here’s how you live in and into it. And he heals us: Here’s what happens to you when you do – you feel, you move, you see, you speak, you live fully and offer that full life to others.
And as chapter thirteen begins, he starts teaching again. We heard all this last week. He starts teaching again, but he takes a different tack. He begins to teach in parables, stories that are intended to tease our minds into insight rather than tell us what the answers are. Remember that? He begins with the parable of the Sower that we explored last week. For this series, this season, we interpreted that parable as a call to us to scatter the seeds of the Good News of Jesus Christ everywhere we can! “Ours is not to reason why.” Or, in this case “where.” Just sow the seeds of peace, mercy, grace, compassion, joy, and love everywhere!
As Jesus begins these new teachings, Mathew has him do something extraordinary that we too easily miss. Matthew says, Jesus goes “out of the house” and he sits beside the sea. He leaves the rituals and religion that are confining and domesticating God through scribal and pharisaic literalism and certainty and he sits beside the sea, the uncontrollable and unfathomable mystery that is the true God of us all. Jesus has stopped trying to teach to those whose eyes don’t see and whose ears don’t hear and he begins speaking directly to us, his disciples.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Matthew 13:10-17. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Oh, this is so cool! Jesus says that our eyes see and our ears hear what many prophets and righteous people long to see don’t and long to hear but can’t. We have been given to know the secrets of heaven. Last week we celebrated our sacrament of Communion together. We shared the bread and the cup that Jesus first offered as the memory of all he said, did, taught, and died for so that we may bring him back to life every time we speak, do, teach, and die to new life in his name. This morning, we celebrated our sacrament of Baptism together. Through the baptisms of Ryan, Sarah, Jackie, Will, Catherine and Colton, we remembered our own journey through the waters of creation and birth, death and rebirth. Our eyes are open and we see. Our ears are open and we hear. We have been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven! And to “we who have” more will be given.
Last week we started a conversation that, as much as anything I think, is asking us to take advantage of our open eyes and open ears to see and hear even more. In our first gathering last Sunday morning we agreed, we covenanted as Ashia asked, to “convert our way of thinking” from scarcity to abundance. To change the way we think and feel about our church, our congregation and the community that it is a part of. Far too often churches spend too much time concerned about potential internal conflicts, changing neighborhoods or the fate of a denomination. We lament the past and spend our time worrying about the way things used to be or old ways of doing ministry. We worry overmuch about finances and cycle through the same people seeking leadership and volunteer help. All this and more come from a mentality, a theology actually, of scarcity.
A conversion from this way of thinking and believing in “abundance” begins in the hearts and minds of each one of us, not just the “leaders” of a community – and certainly not just in its Pastors, but in every member of it. It begins with each one of us being grateful for “what is.” Not what was, or what will be, but what is. That sounds so easy, but we are not programmed to pay attention to the “now.” We consume ourselves with “remember whens” and “what ifs.” Our global culture encourages us almost every minute to think of the next minute. With our attention elsewhere, we, too, fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that Matthew’s Jesus quotes. We find ourselves listening but not understanding, looking but not perceiving. But we have just heard again the Gospel good news that we are not those whose hearts have grown dull.
Ours is a theology of abundance. Our eyes see and our ears hear. “God comes in the now, disguised as our life” (Paul D’Arcy) and we must listen in ways that allow even more to be heard. Our conversation in the hour before this one explored what the authors of The Neighborhood Church called the “DNA of listening” and began with a section they entitled “The Altar of our Ears” (what a beautiful phrase). In the days we’ve been given on this earth we have myriad opportunities to listen, but in this world we are losing both the ability and the desire to do it. We take polarized sides and argue, respond too quickly with labels and categories, and we don’t wait long to move on to the next “noise.”
But, if we listen from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity then we slow down and focus on finding ways toward acceptance and away from judgment, at least as an immediate response. All of this is what is required in our national political lives, of course, as citizens of the United States, Kentucky, and Oldham and East Jefferson Counties. But it is precisely what is required of us as disciples in this place. Jesus couldn’t be more clear about that than in our reading this morning. And of all the institutions in the world, the church should be leading the effort to listen attentively to others (35). Not just to each member of a particular congregation, and not just to the broader world way out there, but to our most immediate neighbors and the neighborhood we are situated in.
And here, of course, is the real challenge: if we allow ourselves to listen and to learn more fully, more abundantly, on any level – national to local, then we should expect ourselves to change, or more theologically “to transform.” We cannot be given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven and think for one minute that those secrets will allow us to remain the same men and women, boys and girls, we’ve always been; the same people we’ve become comfortable with being. These secrets, our wide eyes and open ears change us. And so we’re looking and listening more intently in this last of the summer of 2019 – for what is, here and now.
In the conversation we’re having in the hour preceding this one on Sunday mornings this month, we read a poem by Mickey ScottBey Jones who describes herself on her website a “Creative Extremist for Love,” a “Justice Doula.” Her poem is entitled “Invitation to Be Brave.” It seems to me that if we take our Gospel lesson to heart this morning, and every morning, we accept this invitation. We’ll end here this morning for the weeks ahead :
Together we will create brave space.
Because there is no such thing as a “safe place.”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world …
We will not be perfect (in this space)
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together
We will work on it side by side.
“Why do you speak to them in parables?” the disciples asked Jesus. “
“Because,” he answers us, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” May our eyes be open to what is truly around us and our ears hear what is begin spoken to us.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 11, 2019