July 30, 2017 — Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Rev. Alison Quin
Living the Questions
One of our Eucharistic prayers has this phrase: Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith. And the response is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
It’s called the memorial acclamation and it expresses the central mystery of our faith. But it is not the only mystery—our faith is full of mysteries.
Paul touches on several even in today’s short excerpt from Romans. Predestination vs. free will? Predestination of some, or all?
What does it mean to say that God makes all things work together for good for those who love the Lord? How does that square with the daily news, or some of the events in our lives?
What about Jesus’ mysterious parables of the kingdom that we have been reading? His teaching on parables concludes today, but he packs in five parables in short order—and none of them are self-evident.
I used to think my task as a preacher was to try to explain some of the mysteries of our faith.
But the longer I live, the more I’m coming to accept that many things will remain mysterious to me, until I see God face to face. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wrestle with the mysteries of our faith—that we shouldn’t ask questions and discuss and pray for guidance.
As the poet Rilke puts it, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Today, I thought we could wrestle with the beautiful little string of parables in Matthew, because we won’t be hearing them again for a while. We will definitely get another chance to wrestle with Paul’s letter to the Romans—it goes on for many weeks.
So what do these parables tell us about the kingdom of God? Matthew uses the phrase kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God because as an observant Jew, he would not have used God’s name. But just to be clear, Jesus wasn’t talking about heaven—he was talking about the reign of God on earth.
He began his ministry by announcing that the kingdom of heaven is here. His teaching and healing were a sign of the kingdom. He soon attracted great crowds who wanted to hear more about this kingdom of God. What’s it like, Jesus?
So, he told them about it in the form of brilliant short parables—each one reflects something of the kingdom. Perhaps it is too great a mystery to convey more directly. I think of Emily Dickinson’s poem:
Tell all the truth, but tell it slant
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind-
Jesus told the first two parables—the mustard seed and the yeast–to the crowd. The lectionary skips some verses in which Jesus goes into a house and speaks to the disciples separately, so the rest of these parables were aimed at them.
The kingdom is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but it grows into one of the largest shrubs, in which birds can build their nests. From something small and humble, something great can grow, and provide shelter to others.
The yeast, which is invisible once it’s mixed into the dough, can still leaven the whole batch of dough, which by the way was big—3 measures of flour would make about 100 pounds of dough. Something hidden results in transformation into something that is life sustaining for many.
If we are like the scribe and are looking for new treasure from these old parables, what would we find? Where do we see something great growing out of humble beginnings? When have we experienced transformation?
The next parables were for the disciples and that makes sense because they are about discipleship.
God’s kingdom is like treasure or a precious pearl, worth giving everything you have to obtain.
What would we give for the kingdom of God? What is more precious than God’s love?
I’d like to offer some glimpses of the kingdom that I have seen here at CTK. I’m going to tell them in the form of a parable, even though they reflect real events. If Rilke is right, it’s more important to live the parables than to explain them.
The kingdom of God is like a woman who noticed some of her neighbors struggling to make ends meet. She started a food pantry in a basement that fed three families a month. The food pantry grew and grew and now feeds hundreds every month, in partnership with many other churches and community members.
Again, the kingdom of God is like a church that learns that their priest is gay. At first, some people are upset. But God’s love transformed the whole church and now, they are a welcoming home for members of the LGBTQ community.
Again, the kingdom of God is like a successful businessman who closes his business to go to seminary and become a priest. Or like a priest who sells all he owns to live a life of prayer in a monastery.
The kingdom of God is like a whole group of people who gather for worship week after week and year after year. One day they are surprised to realize that they are being transformed by Christ’s love and they want to give all they have to share that love with others.
The kingdom of God is here—mysteriously present in and around us—not always visible, but active and powerful, transforming us and the whole world.
Live the questions, love the questions. Let the truth of God’s kingdom and God’s love dazzle you gradually, so that you are not blinded by it.