Filed under: Sermons
Jesus speaks in parables to the crowds, and explains things to his disciples later. Sometimes, we get to hear that explanation, and at other times, we can be left scratching our heads. It gets even harder to understand when we’re confronted with an image that doesn’t mean quite the same thing to us. It’s like translating another language’s idioms- something major gets lost. For example, in French, April Fool’s Day is called “Poisson d’Avril” – Fish of April. What on earth does that mean? Or try explaining the English phrases “barking up the wrong tree” “throw someone for a loop” or “raining cats and dogs” to a someone just learning the language.
I’ve always thought of the parable of the mustard seed as an image of elevating this humble seed- kind of like Aladdin’s “diamond in the rough.” But a little mustard seed, growing into a huge bush wasn’t exactly something anyone wanted in their field. It would be more like Jesus saying, one day a man mowed his yard and spread weed and feed on it. The day before, his daughter had been picking all the dandelions and blowing out her wishes as she spread their seeds. The dandelion was so strong and powerful that its seeds sprouted and covered the lawn in bright yellow flowers, even though the man had intended there to only be neat, green grass.
And that would be the parable of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is like a little girl and her hearty dandelion which cannot be killed or prevented from spreading.
Sometimes I think we image the kingdom of God like my grandparents’ house. My grandfather was an engineer and a second generation German immigrant. Everything in their home had a place. Walls were white and freshly painted, trinkets were valued, and kids were not supposed to touch. Order and cleanliness. Not wild… never chaos.
My grandparents’ house was an image of stability, much like the image of the kingdom spoken by the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel speaks the promise of God to those who are feeling their kingdom’s collapse. Their way of life is destroyed, but God’s promise says that it will be rebuilt. The image Ezekiel draws is that of a cedar tree, noble and tall. It will be replanted and grow strong.
In contrast to the stately cedar, the image of a new king coming from the established line, Jesus gives us a weed. A large weed. Still, it shelters. Like the cedar, which Ezekiel describes as a home for every kind of bird, the mustard weed also has branches and shade for the birds to nest. In the eyes of the world, the weed may not look like much, compared to the cedar, but for those who are weary or need a safe place to live, it works wonderfully.
Jesus fulfills the messianic hopes that Ezekiel speaks. But he appears much more as a weed than a cedar tree. He pushes against the accepted norms of how people act, and who is welcome where. Jesus is the new king, but he ends up crowned with thorns and reigning from a cross.
The Church is an expression of God’s kingdom. We might think of ourselves as a beautiful cedar, but it might be more faithful to accept our mission as weeds. Not simply to be admired for our own greatness, but to be actively changing the way things are, growing abundantly and never giving up. The Church is meant to be the weeds that grow where no one would expect life to be, in the crevices between concrete, slowing crumbling the structures of the world that oppress life. Dismantling the way things are doesn’t look like good work. But it is God’s work.
As I sat at Synod Assembly a few weeks ago, I heard about the amazing ministry that is happening in our area, in our church. We are a part of that work, our money is used to bring life, our prayers are effective, and the work we do matters. So often I look at inspiring buildings or well run websites and judge that church to be successful. But it was the stories shared of people receiving welcome, hope, and new opportunities that really showed the sheltering, life-giving work of the Church.
In these stories, there was some dismantling, some overturning, some pulling up the blinds and seeing what’s really going on that happened for me. I grew up in Racine, but my life kept me sheltered from the struggles that many are facing there today. High unemployment and violence, homelessness and poverty, and a structure that kept me isolated from the real struggles of my neighbors— these are the things that the Church is meant to be breaking apart with the life-giving gospel of hope. And it is. The churches of Racine, supported by our prayers and our money sent in to the synod and churchwide, are sheltering communities in which people are healed, and from them, people are sent into the world to change it, so that pain is pushed back and lives can be whole.
We are a part of this great weed of God’s kingdom. Sometimes it’s messy work. Sometimes things don’t work out. But weeds are hardy. Certainly God’s kingdom is growing in its sheltering work. We are called to be a part of this work: bringing hope, healing, and love to all who need a safe place to be welcomed. You have a place in this big weedy tree kingdom, and there is room for many others.
Filed under: Sermons
If I were to use one word to describe my faith- even to characterize what is central in Lutheran teaching, it would be grace.
While I was at my final retreat for Spiritual Direction Formation, I prayed over my image of grace. The joy of the Gospel is the unbounded love God has for each one of us. This is grace.
Paul gets at this grace towards the end of our reading from Second Corinthians as he talks about seeing from a certain point of view. Grace grows out of God’s point of view.
When Lydia was born, I would sit with her in my arms and just gaze at her. There was nothing she could do. Nothing she could contribute, nothing she could prove. I would just look at her, filled with so much love. In looking down at her, I contemplated God’s gaze on us.
God’s point of view is love.
God sees us through Jesus Christ. God’s point of view goes through the clarifying lens of Jesus. It is by Jesus’ holiness, Jesus’ faith we are judged.
This is the gospel that has the power to change your life. God judges you. God judges you through Jesus. All God sees when God looks at you to judge you is Jesus’ perfect faithfulness. God loves you for Jesus’ sake. God looks at you through love for Jesus; God looks at you through Jesus’ love. This is grace: that the love which belongs to Jesus is freely given to you.
You judge others. You remember their snubs. You remember their favors. You carry grudges, you hold loyalties. You see your own feelings when you look at them.
What would happen if you look at them through Jesus? What if your point of view were closer to that of God’s?
I’m not telling you to subject yourself to abusive and life-destroying relationships. Let God love those people you cannot.
But there are some cases in which we are subjecting ourselves to destruction because we cannot let go of that which needs to be let go of. We feel like we can’t forgive. We don’t think the other deserves our love.
This is why it is so necessary to spend time basking in the loving gaze of God. We need to soak up God’s love, the love God gives to us that is completely undeserved, completely gift, totally extravagant.
Then, we can become like a reservoir that is exceeding capacity. We can turn the gaze of love onto those around us.
If you are holding someone in your life- pinning them down on the judgment seat- it’s you who are experiencing punishment. You were created to live in love. To rejoice in unbound grace.
When you are so full of God’s love, so assured that the most powerful being in the universe has declared you loveable, maybe you won’t need everyone else in your life to be so perfect. Maybe you’ll be ok with knowing you can’t tell a secret to a certain person, but can love them anyway. Maybe you’ll be ok knowing another person won’t ever understand or appreciate all the work you do, but you can love them anyway. Maybe you’ll have the strength to be around that one who makes you face all the things that aren’t perfect about yourself, but God’s love will keep you ok, and you’ll love that person anyway.
Paul declares, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor 5:17). God’s gaze of love transforms. Through Jesus, you have been made loveable, and you are deeply loved. May God continue to work in you, so that you may be brought into the newness and joy of seeing through God’s point of view: looking out into the world with grace.