A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
July 20, 2014
(Genesis 28.10-19a; Psalm 139.1-11, 23-24 (p.370); Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-43)
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I remember waking as a child from a dream and for some time struggling to discern the difference between I had seen in my sleep and the reality around me. Somehow the two had merged. Perhaps God’s is not the only voice that speaks to us as we sleep but, if the biblical accounts are reliable (and I believe they are), God is most certainly one of them. I wonder if God has ever spoken to you this way?
Our readings this morning opened with that most memorable account of Jacob’s dream.
This young man, in obedience to his father Isaac and in fear of his enraged brother Esau, is heading back to his ancestral land. He is on the edge of the area God promised to give his wandering family – about to journey from the promised land back into the land his grandfather, Abraham, left.
And it is here that God dramatically renews his promise. As Jacob sleeps he dreams of a ladder extending from heaven to earth, sees angels ‘ascending and descending’, and receives a renewal of the promise given to his father.
Jacob does not know it yet, but he is moving in to a time of great testing. He will be gone from this land – and the call to dwell here – for many years. There will, of course, be joy – he will meet Rachel, the love of his life, and become a father. Great riches will be his.
But Jacob, the one named and characterised as one who ‘supplants’ or ‘deceives’, will be for the first time on the wrong end of such manipulation. The deceiver will become the deceived. He will end up with two disputing wives and a father-in-law who uses Jacob’s blessing, desire, and service for his own greedy end.
Somehow, as you no doubt know, the blessing of God does not equate with ease. Jacob will in time return to this land of promise, and indeed to this makeshift altar, a broken man.
But for now, all this is in the future. It is unknown and unexpected.
But what Jacob does not know, God does. Jacob is in need of this dream, this vision, this reassurance, that God knows. After all, there is a lot a stake: nothing less that the blessing of ‘all the families of the earth’.
Somehow it is a good thing that Jacob wakes, concludes that God ‘is in this place’, and makes his pillow into a monument. He will need to remember this night and indeed this place. So, he builds his altar naming the place Bethel, House of God.
God’s renewal of his promise seems perfectly timed.
We rarely know the future – although there is something in us that desperately wants to. We are fascinated by it, desire to glimpse it, and are often drawn to those who claim to knowledge of it.
But we are rarely granted intimate knowledge of what is to come. Even Jacob as he lies on his stone pillow, glimpses an an open heaven, and listens to the voice of YHWH, does not see all.
But he does see enough.
Jacob’s dream is a broad brushstroke of God’s cosmic plan. This single man will be blessed with a family ‘like the dust of the earth’ and God with dwell with him:
‘Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you’ (Genesis 28:15).
David, one of Jacob’s descendants, penned the moving psalm we read together this morning. Here is a God who searches and knows all about us; sees our rising and retiring, and; knows each word we speak. There is nowhere to flee from such loving and gracious knowledge.
‘If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast’ (Psalm 139:9-10).
David ends his song with a plea for this all knowing God to search him more, to continue to lead him through all that lies ahead. By the end of the psalm this, at times uncomfortable knowledge God has of David, becomes deeply desired: ‘search me…test me…lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23-24).
This theme of continues in the words of Paul. We, the people of God, are a community no longer committed to the leading of the ‘flesh’ but to the leading of the very Spirit of God. God is leading us. God knows us.
Yes, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the one now enthroned in heaven – we are called ‘children of God’. We are an adopted people who have come to know the God of the universe as ‘Abba Father’, Daddy or Pappa God. It expresses perfectly the personal and cosmic God we have come to, and, indeed, are coming to, know.
Paul is most open about the fact that this, much like the experience of Jacob, does not translate into an easy life or a divine freedom from suffering. Indeed, how could it? We follow one who knew pain and embraced death.
But, though we may find it difficult to see, the challenges of now, according to the great Apostle, have no valid comparison to all that God is doing. For our God is radically renewing all of creation. The very universe is waiting expectantly and hopefully for the great day when God’s promises will be fulfilled.
Begin to hold all this together and we could only conclude that God’s perspective is wonderfully personal and breathtakingly cosmic.
And this knowledge is creating in us a genuine hope. It does not mean we see in detail but that we are a people learning to wait patiently for the fulfilment of God’s purposes.
And until then we are a people who take encouragement from the parables contained in our Gospel reading. Each one is a ‘here-and-now’ story. They encourage us to endure and nurture our ability to see what God is doing in our world.
The parable of ‘The Weeds and the Wheat’ is the big story. In it Jesus sowed his good seed but it is deceptively mixed with bad. The story recognises the less than ideal nature of the present and that there is a problem. We live, unfortunately, in a world where not all is right, where, as we have seen this week, civilian planes are bombed and precious lives are lost.
But the master’s decision not to disturb the field is motivated by his concern for the seed he ordered planted. Although even the slaves cannot see it, there is still a harvest to come. The master is working toward the day of harvest, a day when the righteous will truly shine.
The parable of the Mustard Seed also tells us something of the nature of the kingdom of God. It is like the tiniest of seeds. Yet, when it is full grown it is considered the ‘greatest of shrubs’ resembling a tree and sheltering many.
Though we may not always see it, the kingdom of our God is growing and, indeed, providing.
Finally, the kingdom of God is compared to yeast mixed into a dough. It, perhaps like buried seed, is unseen, yet makes all the difference.
Each of these parables relates the activity of God to things hidden. Somehow it seem that Jesus knew that the kingdom could be difficult to perceive.
And so we have been given the encouragement of Jacob and his experience, the wonder filled song of David, Paul’s articulation of God’s unseen cosmic plan, and the simple stories Jesus told. Through each of them our ability to recognise the activity of God in our world is nurtured.
It may take care, training, and an ear attentive to the things of God, but we are a community learning to see the somewhat hidden growth of God’s dream for our world. Such vision may develop from a careful reading of our scriptures, a listening to each other, or even a visit from God in our sleep.
But however it comes, I pray that we may be a people open to the Spirit’s development among us of a twenty-twenty vision of the kingdom of God.