July 26 sermon of the Rev. Dr. E. Bevan Stanley, rector of St. Michael’s Church, Litchfield
From Paul’s letter to the Romans: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (This is a subjective genitive—the love God has for us.) Nothing in all creation, not COVID-19, not racism, not wealth inequality, not disagreements about politics or masks. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. God loves everyone, no exceptions. God even loves the swindler Jacob. In all of Jacob’s adventures and encounters, God is with him as promised. God uses every event to teach Jacob humility, and the need for fair play. God is softening Jacob’s heart. It takes a long time, twenty years, but the day will come when he is ready to go home and be reconciled to his brother. In today’s story, Jacob is just beginning his schooling in love and responsibility. God starts by having the swindler be swindled. Now he has a taste of what his brother felt.
In the Gospel, God With Us, Emmanuel is teaching us. Jesus is teaching the crowds about the Kingdom of heaven. This is the third week of readings from Chapter 13 of Matthew, and they are a bit confusing. First, there are three different kinds of material that are alternate in the final text. There are the sayings of Jesus, seven different parables. Then there are explanations for two of the parables. Finally there are editorial comments about why Jesus used parables for teaching, the scribe who uses both old and new material. The chapter concludes with his return to his own home where his neighbors were unimpressed with him.
Let’s review. Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the sower sowing seed on different kinds of soil along with an explanation of the parable. Last week, we heard the parable of the wheat and the weeds, and again an explanation was provided. This week we hear five parables with no explanations.
Many scholars think that Matthew and Luke used material from a source which was just a list of sayings of Jesus with no narrative connected. This chapter with seven parables, and especially today’s string of five in a row sound like that. They seem to be grouped by topic, at least somewhat. Thus, the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven are both about small things growing to many times their original size. Those about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price are about how the kingdom of heaven is more precious than anything else in the world. The net that brings up both good and bad fish that get sorted is very much like the wheat and the weeds.
And there is a flow to the order of the parables in the chapter. The first is the parable of the sower and it asks us whether we are ready to hear what Jesus has to say. What kind of soil are we? Are we receptive to the teaching of Jesus? Then the parable of the wheat and weeds says that we have live with the good alongside the bad. It will be up to the angels to sort it out at the end of time. For right now, good and bad live cheek by jowl, they are entangled with each other, and there is much ambiguity in our lives. It is a call to humility. Our ability to make judgments about other is severely limited. Then we get the two that tell us that the kingdom of heaven is like very small, almost invisible, things that grow so large as to provide shelter and to feed. They invite us to honor small things. they teach us to have hope in small beginnings. Lik as small kindness, or a one day a month food pantry, or in Jacob discovering love.
Then come the two parables about how we can respond when we stumble upon signs of the kingdom. We can realize that it is more precious and valuable than anything else in the world. In fact the kingdom is the new world that will at some point replace this one. Sign up for the winning side. If the first two are about perceiving the kingdom, the second two are about what we are willing to do to be part of this new world. Jacob was willing to work a total of fourteen years for what he loved and desired.
Finally, the net which gathers up good and bad fish. We are going to be evaluated. Our choices matter. How we respond when we catch glimpses of the kingdom will affect both our own futures and the futures of others.
This COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to look for the mustard seeds and the leaven of the kingdom of heaven. We see many in essential jobs taking risks on behalf of the rest of us. (By the way, how come those who receive the highest compensation are doing non-essential jobs, while those who are in essential jobs get paid hundreds of times less? That seems like a bad system.) We see people making different responses to the challenges of the pandemic. Different behaviors yield different outcomes. Different states’ policies have different outcomes in the number of cases that appear. And through it all God is with us. God is with us as God was with Jacob. God is with us and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Those who have ears, let them hear. Amen.