|Last week, you remember
that Jesus told us a parable about Godís word and how important that word
is in forming us -- each one of us, individually, but also all of us together
as a community. Jesus really wants us to listen to the word that
he proclaims, to let that word begin to grow within us and change us.
And so, today, Jesus teaches us again through parables.
However, itís important
for us to remind ourselves of what a parable is. Itís a very distinct
kind of a story and Jesus uses many of them. We heard 3 of them today;
many short, busy stories that have many possible understandings.
Thatís the unique thing
about a parable; itís open ended. You canít say that this is the
exact meaning of it. Rather, Jesus wants us to explore the parable
and to think about it and to try to say how that parable would instruct
me today in this time and place in my life. And so these parables
are good throughout the entire the history of the church, from the very
beginning when Jesus first proclaimed them to today. Everyone can
take a parable and find a way that it applies to me or to our community.
In todayís parables,
Jesus is instructing us about the kingdom of heaven or, in the words that
I used, the reign of God. Because I think those words say it better
of what Jesus is really talking about when he says Ďthe kingdom of is like
a farmer who sows seed in his field and so onÖí Jesus isnít thinking
of the kingdom of heaven as a place where we will go after we die.
We might, but we would totally misunderstand the parables if we began to
think of them that way.
No, the reign of God
is what itís about. And for Jesus, and those who lived in his time,
the reign of God meant Godís presence among us; Godís work within us and
among us; God bringing about a change in human society, making it better,
making it come closer and closer to what it will be when Godís will is
fully implemented within the lives of each of us and all of us together.
The reign of God means
God at work among us. ďThe reign of God,Ē Jesus tells us at one point,
ďis at hand; itís right here.Ē God is working among us right now.
And so when we listen to todayís parable, what do we discover about this
reign of God, God working among us right now? How do these parables
Well, first of all, I
think we have to remind ourselves that when we talk about Godís work among
us we will sometimes be very surprised at the way God works among us.
In that passage from
Isaiah that made up our first lesson last Sunday, where Isaiah talked about
the word of God coming down like rain from the heavens, Isaiah also says
this about God and the word of God: ďFor my thoughts are not your thoughts
and my ways are not your ways. Whereas the heavens are above the
earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts above your
So thatís a very important
caution to us as we try to understand what Jesus is saying to us in these
parables about God at work among us. Godís ways are not our ways
and Godís thoughts are not our thoughts. They are very different
and sometimes we limit Godís word very much by trying to confine it to
the way we think and the way we act. Our ways and Godís ways are
And so in the first parable
what did the servants want to do? Immediately, they came, after they
discovered that the weeds had been planted among the good seed, to destroy
it. Get those weeds out of there. But God says, ďNo.
No, donít act so quickly. You may make a mistake and pull out the
good seeds with the weed seeds.Ē Only God really would know what
are the good and what are the evil.
In the world in which
we live, it seems that thereís a very important caution for us that we
could draw from this parable. We live at a time where we are at war
and our president seems to be so clear about who are the good and who are
the bad. And weíre going to kill all the bad ones. Either youíre
on our side or youíre against us, because we know.
But it might not be quite
so clear who are the good and who are the bad. And weíre discovering,
in fact, for the first time, today, on the front page of The New York Times,
right in the most prominent part of the front page, thereís a story about
the innocent people that weíre killing in Afghanistan. Inside, thereís
a whole page with pictures showing how, in our attempt to destroy the weeds
as we think of them, we are destroying innocent, good people, among the
poorest people in the world.
So maybe we shouldnít
be acting so precipitately. Maybe we shouldnít be acting with such
violence, like we know who is good and who is bad, and weíll kill those
who are bad. In fact, I think that in many other parts of the world
people might look upon us, if they judged the same way we, do as the bad.
I came across a list
the other day in an article by the Indian novelist Arundahati Roy.
She points out that, since World War II, the United States has in fact
been at war and been has bombing. And she lists China, Korea, Guatemala,
Indonesia, Cuba, Zaire, Peru, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya,
Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Bosnia, Iraq, Sudan Ö and now Afghanistan.
No other nation in the
world has been at war so much as we have. And is it possible that
we go to war so often because we think we know who are good and who are
bad? But only God knows. Only God really knows.
And perhaps we are the
ones that, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, are the greatest purveyors of
violence in all of human history.
So the teaching for us
in that first parable is very important -- donít be so quick to judge --
in our individual lives, but certainly now as a nation. Donít be
so quick to say weíre the good and they are the bad. Donít be so
quick to say youíre either on our side or youíre against us and weíll do
to you what we want.
We have to learn.
God knows who are good and who are bad, we have to learn Godís ways.
And Godís ways are not the ways of violence and killing. We have
to learn Godís thoughts and Godís thoughts are not toward hatred and destruction.
Godís ways are for peace, for forgiveness, for love as we heard in the
first lesson today.
Our God is a merciful
god, a God who, yes, will work for justice, but who is also very merciful,
loving and forgiving. A God who will ultimately bring peace as this
God works among us.
And so the reign of God
is slowly coming to its fullness. But we must learn how to participate
in it according to what this parable teaches us.
The other parable about
the yeast, I think, is very clear. Itís reminding us that God is
truly at work transforming our world and transforming each one of us.
Thereís good and bad in every one of us. Sometimes, weíre so conscious
of the bad within us that we hardly think well of ourselves. But
thereís good in us also and God is at work within us, transforming us,
making that goodness come to itís fullness as we listen to Godís word every
week; as we listen to Jesus guiding us, shaping us, forming us.
And, finally, the parable
about the mustard seed is one that, I think, ought to give us great hope.
Because, sometimes, as we think about whatís happening in the world around
us and we say God is at work within our world, the reign of God is at hand,
but we donít see it, it doesnít really seem to be there.
Jesus is saying the reign
of God is like the tiniest of seeds that can and will burst into a fullness
of life into one of the biggest bushes possible out of this tiny seed.
And, sometimes, it happens, where a tiny seed that someone never expected
to bear much fruit does, in fact, become this big bush.
Over a hundred years
ago, during the time of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had a friend whom
he called him Double D Addams because his last name was Addams (with 2
dís). So the president teased his good friend Double D Addams.
And Double D Addams was someone who was very active in the abolitionist
movement, trying to bring about the end of slavery, bring justice for all
those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands who had been put into slavery.
And, one day, his daughter, Jane Addams, discovered him weeping.
And he said, ďThe greatest man in the world has just been killed.Ē
Abraham Lincoln had been shot and Mr. Addams thought that that would end
all hope for freeing the slaves and making true justice come. Lincoln
had already emancipated them, the slaves, but to make justice happen for
them was something else.
But his daughter took
inspiration from him and she began to work among the poorest of the poor
and especially those who had been released from slavery but were living
in extreme poverty. She developed tenement houses and programs for
them. And one person who became very enthralled with her work after
20, 25, 30 years, was a man named Miles Horton. He went and investigated
what Jane Addams was doing. He then went back to Tennessee where
he lived began a school where he wanted to train white people and black
people together and to raise the awareness among the black people, especially,
about their rights and how justice is due to them and so on.
And so he started this
school and after it had been in existence for a number of years--all of
this took place over about 75 to 80 years--he talked to Dr. Martin Luther
King Sr. and asked him, ďIs there any member of your church that might
profit by coming to this school?Ē Dr. King recommended to him Rosa
Parks. And so she went. Six weeks after she graduated from
the school, she refused to give up her place in the bus. And the
whole civil rights movement was on its way.
So from a very tiny seed
that no one would have been able to see the outcome burst forth into a
movement that brought about civil rights finally for black people in our
To me, thatís the kind
of story that can give us hope.
There are many examples
of things like this, where some tiny, tiny action that anyone of us might
do can have a rippling effect and we never know the outcome. But
it could be something marvelous and good.
So what Jesus tells us
is really true. The reign of God is like that tiny mustard seed.
God is at work among us and God is changing each of us and our world.
And at some point, the reign of God will fully happen in my life and your
And, finally, too, the
reign of God will come to itís fullness in our world. What Jesus
tells us is true. We must have a profound confidence and faith in
this word. Let that word guide and shape us and the reign of God
will break forth in our lives.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.