Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hope and Hopelessness

I guess it has been a while since I've posted anything!
Here is todays sermon... since I don't have audio... Our recorder walked away.

Here's todays words-

Matthew 13:31-46
31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 
33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 
Jesus loves similes…
Sometimes it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that God is working when things seem to be falling apart around us. When our loved one is dying, when war and violence take the lives of thousands, when children are seen as political pawns rather than loved children of God, when the community we love is going through struggle and transition.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what God is doing in the world right now- let alone to understand what God is calling us to in the future.
In todays text, the crowd who is gathered has heard of this man who teaches and heals, and who breaks the rules in the name of love. They know he is a provocative guy- and they are curious and hungry to know more- to experience the new way of life he speaks of- and lives. 
The people come and they gather- to hear a word of hope in a time of hopelessness.
You see, this is life in the first century in the Roman empire— and the masses of people- 98 percent of the population- often find themselves hungry for hope. Their sick loved ones are cast aside.. those born with physical differences are dismissed as perpetuators of sin. In the Roman Empire a small number of people hold power and wield it ruthlessly. The world of who’s in and whose out- leaves countless people marginalized and oppressed. Have you seen the HBO series Rome from a few years back? This graphic show paints a troubling and realistic picture of the world when ‘slaves’ weren’t even considered human, and women were property and violence and hunger were norms.
It would have been easy to feel hopeless. It would have been difficult to imagine the kingdom of God.
It is in this context that Jesus came- a contradiction from the start- a king born in a manger- who lives on the outskirts of town and rides a donkey rather than a horse.
In todays text- halfway through the book of Matthew- Jesus relentlessly casts image after image to stir the imaginations of all who gather..
Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed planted in a field to grow- to grow from a shrub into a tree- a great tree that provides a home to birds and their babies”  
The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour- enough flour to make 150 loaves of bread..  until all of it was leavened- piles of leavened dough overflow from her little kitchen- enough to feed the whole village.
Now - it’s important to note that a mustard seed and yeast weren’t positive symbols in their time...A mustard seed is a teeny tiny seed that grows like a weed. An invasive weed that can take over a crop.. and yeast was associated with sin and corruption. 
So Jesus says that this weed seed- is like the kingdom of God- as it grows and becomes a tree- a symbol of power and strength- strong enough to support life. Jesus takes this symbol of sin and corruption and buries it in heaps of flour until the yeast has become a source of life and nourishment.
 The people who heard these parables heard them not as warm, fuzzy and comforting —but as subversive; Jesus speaks of a kingdom that is invasive, unstoppable, a nuisance, urgent, shocking, and abundant. 

The kingdom of God is like taking a little seed - like a dandelion blowing in the wind- and watching it grow into life and wonder- a home to birds. And like watching yeast - our brokenness and pain- be smothered with wheat until it grows to nourish many.
The “kingdom” spoken in a time of deep struggle and rampant injustice- looks like something entirely different from what they were expecting.

When and where and how we least expect it, God’s justice, God’s peace, and God’s freedom break out in this world in unlikely ways and unlikely places.

God is working and stirring in places and ways we cannot even imagine.
There is hope in the midst of hopelessness.
This weekend at the church has been one of my favorite weekends of the year around here. More than 400 bands have filled the streets, and restaurants, and coffee shops and bars of the neighborhood. Every hour between 4 and midnight there have been different musicians and artists performing here in the sanctuary- people of all walks of life come in and sit down in these pews- some who haven’t been in a church like this for years- if ever.. and they watch and listen to incredible creative and inspiring music.
Some of the bands notice and name the ‘strangeness’ of playing in a church… For groups that are use to playing in bars- we are a dramatic change of scenery. One of the bands Friday night would stop at different points through their performance and throw out questions to the crowd.
They asked “How many of you believe in God?” As the pastor - and general nerd around all things God- sitting in the back of the room my ears perked up. I looked up to see a small handful of hands in the crowded sanctuary rise with this question. 
Too few feel little hope in the God they have been taught about - few believe in a heaven with pearly gates- an old guy on a throne, and angles standing like bouncers at the top of the stairs..
Few are interested in a notion of God that prioritizes doctrine over wonder and reinforces those same old notions of whose in and whose out that were so painful in Jesus’s time.
These ways of understanding the kingdom of God leave us feeling hopeless.
And Jesus comes - with his subversive imagination and speaks a story that is bigger- more mysterious- more abundant than we can imagine.
The way of God- while it may seem small- even un-see-able at first … is a disruptive, and pervasive in-breaking of creative life and freedom— 
And Jesus tells us that this is a way that is worth searching for- worth acting on. Jesus goes on in the parables to speak of treasure hidden in fields, fine pearls waiting to be found.. when we find this new way of being we discover that it  is so valuable it is worth letting go of that which holds us back and seeking the fullest most beautiful.. seeking justice, kindness, humility, and love- and letting go of all that keeps us from these things.
At the first UMS I attended I heard Ian Cooke play.
As I watched him take this beautiful instrument- really an ordinary cello- made of wood and string- I saw the way he created music- with his voice and with this cello- that was unexpected. I heard a radical freedom.. a moving, grace filled and unexpected sound that reverberated in my chest and moved me to tears.
I asked him after- When did you let yourself break the rules in the name of creativity? When did you set aside the training of cords and rhythms- in order to play from a deeper place?
The kingdom of God is disruptive. It turns the expected on it’s head.. and not to bring chaos- but to make room for beauty. To take our brokenness and turn it into bread. To take the weeds of our world and and turn them into trees that support life.
The kingdom of God is like an unexpected song.. that first stirs in our imagination- and then comes to life with a chord, a single note- a single pluck of the strings turns into a rhythm, a melody.. and a crescendo.
and then it grows and moves and stirs and evokes something you can’t even describe with words— -evokes something deeper- more freeing and liberating— a deep hope- you can feel in your gut—
fills you with joy or laughter or sadness- you can’t help but move… clap, or dance, or cry
— the way of God stirs life and grace and justice. 
Moves us to reach out in love and to sing a song of hope when all seems hopeless.
The way of God is beyond anything we can imagine… even when all we see are lowly seeds, or weeds, or a lump of yeast.. 
God is there stirring and moving and calling us to act for life, grace, and healing. 
To search- step out- to give up everything that holds us back.
May we see the kingdom of God in fresh ways. May we feel in our bones the presence of the one who creates and challenges and inspires us to love.
May we dance, and sing, and cry as we know God’s kingdom is bigger than we can imagine.
May we feel hope in times of hopelessness.


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