Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52 and Romans 8:26-39
I took a week of vacation last week in fact, you may know this if you called the office or tuned in to worship last Sunday. The good news is, I was able to simply unwind for a few days; the bad news is, not everyone has had the chance I did to do so recently, and we all need a break so badly.
We assigned a theme to our vacation this year, to lessen the sting of transitioning to a “stay-cation” – we canceled our plans to go away due to COVID precautions. We decided to make it an Ice Cream Trial. We searched out different local ice cream places each day, sampled their product (in other words we ate a lot of ice cream), and judged each one. So, the good news – ice cream; the bad news -- it will take a lot longer to remove those extra pounds the ice cream put on my waistline than it did putting them there, and it won’t be nearly as much fun.
The good news today is that we are able to gather in worship as we are, together under the glorious dome of God’s creation; the bad news is that it will soon be hot enough to fry an egg, thus keeping some folks away and we’ll all likely be sweating a bit soon, if we aren’t already.
There is other good news/bad news for us to share today and most days – to my knowledge, to date, no one from Zion has gotten sick from COVID-19 and that is great news; the bad news is that most of us know someone who has tested positive for the virus, and many of us know people who have succumbed to it.
The church building has been deep cleaned and the gathering space spruced up – good news; we still aren’t able to gather indoors or worship indoors and won’t be for at least the next couple of months – bad news.Many of us are finding great success in gardening this year and have spent lots of time in gardening therapy – good news; the current heat wave is destroying crops in places and testing our abilities to keep things watered and alive – bad news.
You get the picture. There is lots of both good and bad to go around. If we flip the way we look at the world, good news abounds, but so does the bad. True to our nature, we are far more likely to see the bad most of the time, than to see the blessings of God at work in our world and in our lives in each new day.
I keep hearing the phrase – I think it is supposed to be encouraging – that we are all “in this together.” While the sentiment is honorable, I question the truth of that statement. “We” – you and I are in this together – reaching out to one another, praying for each other, calling each other, joining in on studies and online gatherings if we are able. But when we look at the world around us we see plenty of the good and the bad all around us, and we are astounded at how fractured and polarized we as a nation and we as a world are – and how mean and hateful people can be to one who holds a different viewpoint – at least I am. I am amazed, and so utterly disappointed and disturbed by the current trends.
We could point our fingers and name all kinds of institutions, people, and things to blame for the condition in which we find ourselves, but the thing is, we all participate in the brokenness of the world. Things over which we have little control frighten, overwhelm, and hurt us, and we strike out in the dis-ease that is created; the good things we usually decide are “blessings” and we hoard those because God forbid we should lose them or have them taken away.
The thing is, that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are Good News people – at least we are supposed to be. We are supposed to be sharing the Good News with the world, because the Good News is for all people, even if we all too often forget that and think it is really just for us – just about us.
Overwhelmed as we are with the brokenness and the bad news all around us, we might truly feel like, in the midst of COVID 19 deaths on the rise and the Black Lives Matter movement challenging us to look at our racist histories and practices, and while Christians in many areas of the world are being imprisoned, tortured and martyred, and things are heating up in an election year unlike any in modern history, we might wonder what Jesus really has to say – what, as Christians we have to say that will make any difference at all in such a fragile and unjust world.
But then, we are reminded that Jesus himself preached to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the lame, the rejected, the neglected, the hopeless, the worthless, the sinner, the fallen, the faithless, and the oppressed.
Jesus taught them to see themselves as citizens of the Kingdom of God that had come into the world through him, and Jesus invited them to be part of the Kingdom, where God is generous in grace, rich in mercy and abound
ing in steadfast love for them all. This is the Kingdom where the King goes to the cross for the poor and the prisoners, and the blind and the lame and the rejected and neglected, the hopeless and worthless, the sinner and fallen, the faithless and oppressed. In this Kingdom, God binds the wounds and dries the tears, clothes the naked and through Jesus gives living water to all who thirst.
In this Kingdom God puts all wars to rest, reconciling enemies and with the blood of his Son, reconciles the world and restores his beautiful creation.
Jesus describes through story – not science – for the bible is a book of stories using poetry and metaphor, hyperbole and imagery to depict and describe the character and goodness of God. So through 5 short stories we call parables today, Jesus uses images from everyday life to convey the essence of God’s Kingdom – as a place where seed is planted abundantly, and a tiniest of seeds grows into a plant that offers provision and protection; where yeast or, more accurately translated leaven, which was symbolic of corruption in the ancient Near East instead becomes the basis for growth and the multiplying of substance.
Good and bad will continue to coexist on this planet until the final trumpet is sounded and we all appear before the Lord our God for the final reckoning, but until that time the apostle Paul’s words celebrate the depth of God’s love and actions for us: “What are we to say about these things?” he asks, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”….. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardships, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?”
And then, with words so full of promise and reassurance that they are read even on our deathbeds, even at our funerals, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
“No,” Paul continues, “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.”
Such reassurance and promise strikes deep in the heart that yearns for love, acceptance, and connection. Jesus, through the power of God’s love and mercy, tells us it is so. Amen.