28. July, 2014Sermons No comments

Sermon given July 27, 2014, by Fr. Jim Gordon.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.”

In the name of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The parables of Jesus are rooted in common things of the world — such things as mustard seeds and yeast — appropriately for a faith whose God comes into the world in order to save it and yet lived such an everyday life.

But the view of certain everyday things in that first century pastoral society in which Jesus was raised can be different from ours, removed from it by two millennia. And because of that, we can miss their meaning of Jesus’ words, or at least, some of the meaning.

If you think the point of the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven is that with God’s help, small things can quickly grow to have great impact, you are correct — up to a point, for there’s more going on here.

For us, mustard comes in bottles on the supermarket shelf. Its association is positive, pleasant — especially if it’s Dijon, for my taste, anyway. In first-century Palestine, mustard was a weed, a difficult and pernicious one.

And yet Jesus’ parable — actually, as you know, these are similes but for some reason they are called parables — Jesus’ parable talks about a man taking a sowing in his field. Why would a man do that?

And the yeast. Because it’s used to make bread dough rise, it, too, has a pleasant and tasty association. Yet in Jesus’ place and time, yeast, if too old, could poison and sicken. In the Bible it often is a symbol of corruption and impurity, So why in Jesus’ parable, does it becomes the agent of miraculous growth of God’s kingdom?

Because Jesus is making two points. Yes, small things can become great things under his guidance.

But also, God can use which is not valued by man — in fact, that which is despised by man. If you want a human example, look no further than Thomas, the disciple he called from the tax booth. Nothing was more loathsome to the Jewish people of Jesus day than publicans, yet Jesus said to Thomas, “Follow me.”

Lesson: We are not in a position to judge who and what God can use and who and what God cannot use to His glory.

Let’s move to the Pearl of Great Price:

To get a sense of it, we should understand that in his world, pearls were extremely prized and extremely expensive. There are tales of generals raising armies on the sale of a single pearl, and when Cleopatra wanted to impress Mark Anthony with the wealth of her kingdom, she served him the most expensive dinner of all time — a single ground pearl dissolved in wine.

I’ve always loved the phrase “pearl of great price.” Maybe it’s the rhythm. Maybe it’s because it’s easy for me to envision a single, great pearl, lustrous and perfect.

To have the pearl of great price, the merchant in the parable had to sell all he had.

He recognized what he had found, and he spared no effort to obtain it. He valued what he had found and gave up all he had for it. There’s a Swedish hymn about the Pearl of Great Price that includes the lyrics:

Have you given up all for this Treasure?
Have you counted past gains as but loss?
Has your trust in yourself and your merits
Come to naught before Christ and His cross?[4]

Our hymn, “When I survey the wondrous cross” includes the words “all my gains I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.”

The reference is from Philippians, where, after listing past accomplishments, Paul writes,

“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Which makes me wonder about our pearls, the lesser pearls — talents, abilities, time or any other thing that we cling to, that keeps us from possessing the Pearl of Great Price.

But what is it, this great pearl?

The truth of the Gospel? Jesus? The Holy Trinity?

To me, it’s the absolute assurance of God’s love, which brings us to today’s reading from Romans. It’s a famous reading, and rightly so, most especially the final two paragraphs

There is no better passage in Scripture to tie in our first two parables — the mustard seed and the leaven — with the Pearl of Great Price. In regard to people who surprisingly were used by God, I mentioned Thomas, but no one was more of a shock than Paul. Paul not only was despised for his persecution of the first Christians, he was hated — and feared.

Yet it’s Paul’s words that we will end with today.

Notice I said WE’LL end.

We’ll do it like we do the prayers. I’ll ask Allison to read the first sentence, ending with loved us. After that, the rest is up for grabs, each of you as the Spirit moves you. if you feel called to read part of Paul’s words, each of you just go from comma to comma. You’ll find the passage on the front page of the bulletin.

The words that we’re about to read are turned to again and again, especially in time of grief, in time of death. Which brings me to Toshi. By now, all of you are aware of his passing Saturday morning.

I didn’t know Toshi, but I did know of him, and I know what a beloved member of the Marfa community he was. And how, even though we knew he had been ill for a good, long time, and we knew he recently had gone into hospice, his death remains a blow.

I also don’t know what Toshi’s beliefs were; some of you probably do. Whatever they were, I’d ask that we keep Toshi mind as we read this beautiful paragraph about God’s love:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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