By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
May only God’s Word be spoken, and only God’s Word be heard.
Jesus is a funny guy. Do you ever think so?
Like in today’s Gospel reading, he is throwing parables fast and furious at the crowd:
“Hey Y’all, get this! The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a great bush. It’s like a pinch of yeast that makes great big loaves of bread. It’s like a treasure buried in a field. It’s like a pearl you’ve been searching for your whole life. It’s like a net overflowing with all kinds of fish. Do you get it, everyone? Do you understand?”
And the whole crowd said, “Sure.”
But really? Really? I cannot imagine that everyone understood what Jesus meant.
Perhaps no one wanted to look dumb in front of their neighbors. Or perhaps they were just ready for Jesus to move on to another topic.
Or maybe they were hoping the dinner break would come as soon as this session ended.
Whatever the reasons, everyone said they understood. And we are left to figure out what it all really means.
I have talked with you before about how the Bible is sometimes called the Living Word of God. How we can read the same passage year after year, and it can mean something different to us each time. How the wisdom of the Bible can speak to and inform just about any circumstance we find ourselves in.
And today I am looking at this set of parables in the midst of a pandemic. I am looking at them through this place of weakness and separateness and loneliness and frustration. I am looking at them with an inability to fix the problems before us today.
And so, looking at these parables in July of 2020, I see us right there in the midst of the parables.
Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, I feel like I am in a place in these parables where I have never been before.
The pandemic of 2020 is like a mustard plant, just barely breaking through the ground, after a great deal of effort. The pandemic of 2020 is like flour and water in the first minutes after yeast has been added, when no growth, no life is yet happening. The pandemic of 2020 is like a field, lying fallow, changing hands from one owner to another. The pandemic of 2020 is like a vast ocean in which maybe, somewhere in the vastness, there is a pearl of great price. The pandemic of 2020 is like a net in the water, churning with fish but not yet gathered.
The pandemic of 2020 is an uncomfortable place to be. It is a deadly place for many. The virus is killing people, and giving other people long-term health issues. Anger and violence are killing others. More and more people are living with deep depression and anxiety. Polarization is breeding distrust and us versus them thinking. The pandemic of 2020 is not a good place to be.
We are in a time of change, a time of revolution, a time of no-longer and not-yetness. I don’t like it.
And yet, in the midst of where we are, there is something good and holy and right from the past. There is some potential for hope, that is within this terrible time of in-between.
And yet, in the midst of where we are, there is something good and holy and right calling us into the future. There is some future hope that is within this terrible time of in-between.
And so, in July of 2020, I realize that I am not the seed or the the yeast or the treasure or the pearl or the net. I am not the grand mustard bush, or the fulsome loaf of bread, or the treasure, or the worth-it-all pearl, or the basket of fish.
No. In the midst of this pandemic, I am the in-between. I am not what I was in the past. I am not what I will be in the future. I am not who I thought I was. I am not who I want to be. But I am. I am within the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God is within me. And the Kingdom of God continues to make this current life valuable. The Kingdom of God proclaims that every life, every moment is of infinite worth.
And so I sit here, in the in-between time, not useless and hopeless. But waiting. Pregnant with potential. Beginning to feel the sun on my face, the leavening working, the spade cutting through the earth, the shell being found, the pull on the net. And I look and I listen and I pray. And I weigh my gifts and my abilities against the needs around me. And I know that I will be changed. And I know that I will continue to be stretched, I know that I will need to offer gifts I did not realize I had.
And I have faith that pretty soon, or sometime in the future, it will be time again. Time to grow towards the sun. Time to rise with abandon. Time to reveal the treasure. Time to beautify the world. Time to feed the hungry, and return what is not of use.
The kingdom of God is within us and around us. It is OK if we are not living into our full perfection and greatness every day of this pandemic. It is OK, for now, to simply be the sprout, be the flour, be the field, be the ocean, be the potential; and to watch, and to wait, and to hope and to prepare for that moment when we will again be called, transformed, into greater ministry, greater connection and greater life.
Each of us who are just getting by, surviving but not thriving, lying fallow and watching and waiting will be invited again to be active participants in God’s dream for our world at different times and different ways. First, we will see new layers of brokenness in our world. And then we will feel a need or a capacity within us to DO something. To participate in bringing about God’s desire for this creation.
Our praying in stillness will become praying in action. The potential of God’s hope for each one of us will become manifest through our lives as we participate in the healing of our world, as we participate in demanding and working for a more just and equitable world, as we begin offering ourselves and our gifts in new and surprising ways.
Sooner or later, and repeatedly, this world will provide you new opportunities to use your faith and your abilities to make this world a better place, to align it more closely with God’s desires. If you are already there: God bless you, and God strengthen you. But if you feel stuck in a place that you have never been before, hold on to these parables. Hold on to them as a reminder of that seed, that yeast, that treasure, that pearl, that fish, that nugget that is within you.
Rest and wait, watch and listen, prepare to be changed. Hope for the future, And BE the hope for the future.
I speak in the name of the One, Holy Triune God. Amen.
Listen online to this sermon here at SoundCloud.