Saturday, July 25, 2020

Pentecost 8A

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

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."

Verses 34-43 between what the lectionary peeps chose for today are Jesus' interpretation of the parable of the weeds in earlier verses 24-30.

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.

47"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."

52And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Prayer – COVID-19

As a new world emerges, trust God's future and pray through words from The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, retired bishop of the Episcopal Church USA and Native American of the Choctaw People.

"Something sacred is coming this way."

That is how my ancestors would have said it. In the midst of all this turmoil and confusion, when we cannot clearly see the path before us, when we feel trapped in a situation we cannot control, then I believe the wise elders of my holy heritage would climb to the high place of the heart, draw the circle of reason and faith around them, and stand to sing their prayers into the open sky of the history to come.

They would not shrink into a corner afraid, but rise up to catch the first light of what was coming into being all around them.

We are living in a time of emergence.
We are the witnesses to a great renewal.
The world is full of the fear of birth and change, but that transformation will one day be our blessing.
Do not be afraid, but be believing.
Come to the place where the ancestors are already standing.
Come and see.

"Something sacred is coming this way."


A couple weeks ago I mentioned Matthew 13 includes the biblical number of 7 parables. Paraballo originally was an act of throwing something edible to a crowd to tame its appetite for violence. Later on parable meant to play alongside. Parables can be similes, allegories, analogies, illustrations, metaphors, comparisons—in any case, a parable isn't "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." In today's reading Jesus makes five is like comparisons of the kingdom of heaven to familiar objects and situations.

The famous mustard seed parable in verses 31-32 compares the inbreaking Kingdom of Heaven to a seed that has almost no value if it hasn't been planted, but after the seed grows into a bush, shrub, or plant it has many medical, culinary, and other practical uses. In southern California we have mustard plants interspersed with golden poppies, an arrangement that doubtless benefits many insects, small creatures, and other organisms, and that creates legendary visual beauty. We know mustard isn't the very smallest seed, yet it's a good illustration because it's quite tiny and grows into a very large, sheltering, life-giving plant. We've learned the COVID-19 virus is sub-microscopic and it's inert without a host, yet its reach has expanded worldwide. I like to say our actions – good or bad – are synergistic, adding up to more than the sum of their small individual parts.

Scriptural Context

Every person lives in a complex context made up of countless interwoven factors that include spoken language, geography, culinary preferences, social habits, occupation, religion, family structure.

The most recent sections of the bible are two thousand years old; all of the bible comes from cultural contexts very different from ours. When Jesus talks and teaches he places his ideas within a context his listeners would understand. Story-telling was huge in the Middle East! Jesus worked as a tekton, a trade that probably encompassed both carpenter and handyman. Most of his first disciples earned their keep fishing. Like our own, their context basically was urban, with many families tending crops as farmers. In any case, even when his listeners mostly fished, they'd understand agricultural illustrations and terminology. Even if they mostly farmed the land, they'd know enough about the yield of rivers and lakes to "get" Jesus' nautical analogies.

Our Context

Everyone lives in a complex cultural context made up of countless interwoven factors that include spoken language, geography, culinary preferences, social habits, occupation, religion (or "none"), family arrangement(s).

Especially with the bible originating in a time and place so different from ours, we need to interpret it into our own situation—that's known as contextualizing, or placing it in… context. If we don't know something about the cultural context of the bible, doing that can range from hard to impossible. In addition to resources like a good study bible or the many excellent online commentaries of various lengths and degrees of sophistication, books and articles by the late Kenneth E. Bailey ("The Scholar Who Made Jesus Middle-Eastern Again") and by Amy-Jill Levine, who currently teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School are particularly insightful.

We've discussed Martin Luther's exposition of the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant in his Catechisms, as he contextualized the demands of the commands into his own sixteenth-century Europe. Pastor Peg told us the people she asked about relevance of Luther's interpretation to contemporary life thought his ideas mostly still applied, with the exception of parts of his application of honoring earthly parents.

As twenty-first century people, we've learned to migrate between different contexts; most of us are quite skilled at a type of code-switching that's not so much changing our own identity and self-presentation as it is fitting into the context where we currently find ourselves.

Creating Our Own Parables

Jesus used parables to show listeners what he meant related to their own everyday lives. What comparisons would you make if you were explaining to a newcomer the…

• ministry of Jesus

• reign of heaven on earth

• identity and nature of the church

• particular mission and ministry of LCM (outside of God's call to the entire church catholic)?

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