Brookside Community ChurchJuly 30, 2017Pentecost 8A - Matthew 13:44-52.
“Just do something!”
The real human question being ask of us is whether there is anything we care enough about that we would be willing to risk everything, even our very lives, in order to protect it.
“Do something!” That was his wife’s plea. “Now you need to do something!”
I know that you didn’t see Moana. (I’m still trying to figure out what kind of movies you folks watch around here. Like I said, it’s the summer and I’m choosing to spend my sermon prep time watching movies.)
Maybe you did see this 2002 movie. John Quincy and his wife, Denise, were watching their son, Michael, at a baseball game when he collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital. After a series of tests, it was discovered that Michael has an enlarged heart and will die without a transplant. John turns to his insurance provider, saying “but I have insurance!” It turns out that what Michael needs is a procedure that is not provided under his coverage. The hospital administrators require a sizable amount of cash up-front in order to put Michael on the transplant list. John Q then panics and promptly converts all of their family assets into cash—but it is not enough. When his wife says “Do something,” John decides he has nothing left. He will do everything and anything for his kid. So he takes the emergency room hostage as a ransom in exchange for the hospital administration’s willingness to do the transplant.
This story raises a number of important ethical questions. Not least of which, especially for those of us who spend a significant amount of time in hospitals, is what we make of John Q’s methods. When it comes to the ethics of healthcare, unfortunately, we don’t have the time nor the resources to get into that debate this morning. But here are some of the questions the movie raises: Do we have a collective responsibility for the health and wellbeing of our society’s children? Who decides how healthcare resources are allocated? What, if any, role should our government play? Is violence ever justified, even in dire circumstances, like when the lifeand wellbeing of a child is at stake?
“The kingdom of heaven is like…”
In Matthew 13, Jesus gives us seven parables, each telling us what the “reign of heaven” is like. None of them call us to look up or ahead, but instead down to the earth.
Parables, again, are sayings that allow us to compare two things, as if we are placing them side by side. Our passage today contains the last three of the seven parables in Matthew 13, each telling us that the “kingdom of heaven can be compared to…” We have stories of farmers, wheat, and mustard seeds; of yeast, a pearl, a fishing net, and even a hidden treasure.
What have we learned so far? We have heard that the “reign of heaven” calls us to put our hands to work and help get the ground prepared to receive the love of God. We have heard that the “reign of heaven” requires patience and care, not quick fixes. We have been challenged to train our eyes to look beyond the problems and to see the promises of the world around us. And we have been told, repeatedly, that the “reign of heaven” is small, even hidden, but it is always at work. One thing I have challenged us to take note of is that in all of these teachings, when Jesus spoke about heaven, he never once said “look up,” or “trust in me and wait until after you die.” Instead, each time, he called us to look at the earth and learn from it.
In this week’s text, the fifth and sixth parables, we hear that heaven is like a hidden treasure and a “pearl of great price.” Again, we see the kingdom of heaven is hidden or small. Nevertheless, to example characters, it is of such great importance that it causes behavior most of us would likely label as obsessive, radical, even absurd; they are moved to do enormously risky, even costly things. The “reign of heaven” is like a discovery that disrupts all other priorities, and those who make the discoveries have their entire lives shaped by them.
What, do you imagine, the surrounding communities would have said or thought about such radical action?
“Wow!” They might say, with gawks and stairs, “Has he really lost his mind? Why would he pay so much for that worthless field? He’s going to find himself homeless!”
“Wow!” They might mock, tease, and taunt, “That ole merchant has finally fell off his rocker now! Does he think that single pearl is going to keep his business open?”
It is as if there is this deep and undeniable, eternally driving voice that speaks out and says, “Do something!”
The Example Character
When you think about it, who do the main characters in these parables represent? Does the man who purchased the field, or the merchant, refer to people who are willing to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the kingdom? To God’s plan?
I think it is always bad practice to begin by looking for the “noble people"—the people praised in Jesus’ teachings and identifying ourselves with them . Sometimes, instead, we should see ourselves as the adversaries, as the competitors, or merely as the outside onlookers—like in these parables.
On the other hand, is it possible, the characters in these parables represent God? We are, remember, supposed to be saying something about the nature and character of God?
God’s voice, as we have heard in Matthew, is the voice that speaks over the waters of baptism and says, “You are my beloved!” God, as Jesus has told us in his teaching and actions, is the one who draws the hurting, the sick, and the outcasts and declares them “Blessed!” God, as Jesus’ teachings have exemplified, is the one who calls out to the “hungry, thirsty, weary, and burdened” and says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest and restoration.” If Jesus’ ministry tells us anything at all about God, it is that God finds those things in the world that are often discarded and treated as worthless and says, “Look here at the immense, sacred value that is here!”
Wendell Berry and the “Secular Pilgrimage”
I think it is a very healthy thing for us to regularly take inventory of the things that matter most to us. But, the real question for today—the one that might provide us with the best insight when it comes to the teachings of Jesus—is this: What are the things that matter the most to God? One way to really get at this question is to ask it in the negative: “Are there things that God cares so little about that God is willing to set back and do nothing?”
There is a “Contrarian Farmer” from Kentucky that many of you know has been a big inspiration to me in my faith—Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry has a lot of important things to say about faith and God and creation. But he doesn’t always have the best things to say about institutionalized religion. Berry’s faith is better characterized as, what he calls, a “secular pilgrimage.” It is a “religious state of mind,” because it involves
“an implicit and essential humility, a reluctance to impose on things as they are, a willingness to relate to the world as a student and servant, a wish to be included in the natural order rather than to ‘conquer nature,” a wish to discover the natural form rather than to create new forms that would be exclusively human…[A] presence of mystery or divinity in the world…Attitudes of wonder or awe or humility before the works of creation.”
Berry explains that he begins with the assumption that the greatest disaster in human history is one that happened to or within religion. That is, there became a conceptual division between the holy and the world, working to excerpt the Creator from creation. His criticism for the traditional Christianity is scathing:
“The contempt for the world or hatred of it, which is exemplified both by the wish to exploit it for the sake of cash and by the willingness to despise it for the sake of ‘salvation,’ has reached a terrifying climax in our own time. The rift between the soul and the body, Creator and creation, has admitted the entrance into the world of the world’s doom.”
For me, Wendell Berry asks the most poignant question of all: “Do we really hate the world?”
My question for you today is this? Does God care about creation? Or maybe God cares so little about creation that God is willing to set back and watch as it is being destroyed.
I think, however, our passage this morning says something different about the nature and character of God. I think it says that—in the words of the most famous memory verse of all, John 3:16—God so loved the world that God would be willing to do anything and everything to see it cared for. For those of us that follow Jesus, escapism, apathy, or antipathy are not an option. If we are to follow Jesus, then we are called to see the sacred things in the world that have been discarded and desecrated and to be moved by the heart of God to “Do something!”
This morning, I hope you leave with a burning question in the pit of your gut that says, “What kind of ‘reign of heaven’ to we imagine?” For me, I imagine a God whose love for the world is of such immeasurable worth that its rescue is of unrivaled importance. I believe God wants us to have such a deep and abiding love for the world that our entire lives are to be shaped by it. Can we respond to God’s love for the world by being willing to do new, risky, costly things? Can we hear the voice of God calling out to us this morning: “Just do something!”