Readings: Romans 8:31-39, Matthew 13:31-35
Let us pray. O God open our hearts and minds to your Word. May we find assurance, challenge and guidance for our lives lived in Christ and may we be renewed and strengthened in our faith we pray. Amen
Last week Jason began his sermon with a list of horrors happening in our world. The Ukraine, Gaza, abuse of Nepalese workers in Quatar, ISIS persecutions of Christians. This week the death toll in Gaza has risen from 339 to, at last count, over 750; the stories of deception, disrespect and exploitation continue in the Ukraine, and at least 500 people have died from the virulent ebola virus in West Africa where medical facilities are few and far between – and it doesn’t really make the front page any more.
Nothing seems to have changed, maybe it is worse. Are we still able to, as in Jason’s analogy, do a ‘van Gogh’ and refuse to allow the pain of our surroundings to dictate how it is that we express ourselves in our lives, our work, our faith, to create things of beauty despite the hopelessness of our world? And the answer, says Paul, is an unequivocal yes.
We talk today again of the hope found in the promise of Christ Jesus, the hope that sustains when all else is crumbling, that refuses to allow us to be separated from God, that is found in the small and the undervalued and the overlooked.
Paul, as we continue through his letter to the Romans, has some more penetrating questions and indisputable facts to lay before us – ‘if God is for us who then is against us?’ ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? ‘The one who gave up a son for us will surely not withhold love from us – ....nothing can separate us from the love of God. Powerful sustaining words, hope in the midst of the reality of life. For Paul has no illusions about the stuff that will go on in our lives: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword. We might in this day have some other words to use but we all have our own lists of that which overwhelms, presses us down into hard places and dark hopelessness. Paul tells the people of Rome not that these things will cease to happen to them but that within them, and through them the love of Christ will sustain us and the light of Christ will shine! He states with all the passion he is capable of that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not height nor depth nor anything in all creation.
A small aside: last week after the service I spoke with a person who found difficulty saying the modern Lord’s prayer – they realised that the problem was in the translation of ‘lead us not into temptation’ into ‘save us from the time of trial’ - we seemed to be suddenly saying that we prayed for the removal of all things difficult, sad, unfortunate in our lives – no trials, please God for your good and faithful servants. I don’t for one moment think we mean that but that is what it seems to say. So what do they do –change ‘from’ to ‘in’ – and now pray ‘save us in the time of trial’ Now there is a good topic for discussion over our cuppa, yes?
Back to Paul – in our living there is much that will try to separate us from God – hardship, distress, persecution, but the love of Christ for us and in us will be stronger than the darkness that envelops the world – God will not be denied.
How so? How do we stand against the horrors of our world? How do we make a difference?
The two parables we heard from the Gospel of Matthew today have rightly been called subversive, counter-cultural, taking our understandings of the world and turning them upsidedown. What symbols did he use but two tiny, insignificant and very unwelcome objects from daily life. The mustard seed and the yeast were not just so small as to be overlooked, they were also both considered something of a disease. In Jesus day the mustard tree or bush was a noxious weed, to be removed so that the good seed could flourish. And like all weeds it seemed to grow inches overnight and pop up in the least appropriate places and have to be constantly pulled out. And yeast for them was reviled as a symbol of bodily corruption and impurity, something to be cleansed from the house before Passover.
So Jesus was choosing some rather intriguing symbols to talk of the kingdom of heaven?
What was the sub text? What layers of meaning can be found in these parables.
Maybe Jesus thought we needed some help in our categorisation of what was an unwelcome weed, – that we wanted a harvest of our choice, our predictable planting but actually spectacular faith can come from disruptive, uncontrollable, unpredictable and very little seeds not under our control.
I just love this interpretation of the mustard tree by Denise Hoe – wildly beautiful and filled with colour and life! She had read this passage and imagined the love of God starting in our hearts as a seed and growing to be so large as to provide shelter to all creation in its branches.
And maybe the same thought with the yeast - that often from minscule beginnings, irrepressible growth can just emerge to create new shapes, transform the very fabric of our being and bring new life to that which lay dormant or seemed dark.
Joy Cowley sees yeast as the light which transforms our lives, in her poem ‘The Leaven in the Day’.
The thing about yeast is we need so little of it
to put some lightness into a stodgy day.
There’s the man at the newspaper stand
who’s always ready to throw us the smile
that we carry away. We toss it in the air,
see the way it bounces off other faces.
One smile can lift an entire street.
...We can find yeast in something as small
as a butterfly or a pumpkin flower,
or the purr of a well-tuned engine,
or the crunch of fresh shortbread,
or the way the light falls across
the feathers of a pukeko in a paddock.
Yeast is everywhere, my friend,
yes, everywhere, little bits waiting
to be scooped up by our senses.
It doesn’t take much to fill a heavy world
with the lightness of God.
Small things, ordinary things that we do and say and be are the mustards seeds and the yeast of the world. Sure we tackle the big issues in whatever way we can and where we can, online campaigns, making our opinions heard, joining in marches, voting and readings and supporting, sometimes even spearheading but it is our quiet prayers, our careful choice of words and actions, our generous forgiveness and warm hospitality that says that we are a people of God living out the love of Jesus Christ here in this place.
Here is a something to take into our week – can we image this faith community as a bunch of tiny seeds of hope and faithfulness, love and grace which, in the power of that same love becoming a tree of safety and rest, of nurture and shelter which is just the best soil for many unexpected things to thrive and grow.
And so we continue to live out the promise of the unbridled power of love that Jesus is for us here in this community, small seeds bringing new light and life in ways we can’t imagine, and have faith, with Paul, that in all the ups and downs, good times and difficult, nothing in all creation, past present or to come, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God