Revised Common Lectionary reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 30, 2017
Lessons: 1 Kings 3:5-12, Alternate: Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 119:129-136, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are not afraid to admit that we sometimes don’t “get it” when it comes to matters of scripture and faith. Instead, we acknowledge our struggles and spend time in faithful dialogue, prayer, and worship. We trust, as people in process, that the reign of God is still breaking in—right through our cracks and broken places.
Key Scripture: Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matthew 13:51-52
This week’s gospel selection contains, among other things, more weeping and gnashing of teeth and trying to figure out what Jesus is talking about. It’s a continuation of last week’s lesson in which the disciples ask Jesus to “unpack” a parable for them. Wheat and weeds were last week’s topics; the real issues were who’s in and who’s out and who is righteous and who is damned. Wherever you went with last week’s lesson, there’s more of the same “stuff” to work through this week: parables and similes employed by the teacher to stimulate growth, learning, and wisdom.
In chapter 12 of Matthew’s gospel, readers get a glimpse of Jesus’ faithful ministry and the varying reactions and responses. In chapter 13, Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven, about the in-breaking of God’s way of doing this thing we call life, and about an alternative vision for what it means to really live into the divine economy of abundance, grace, and love. Yes, this is a good week to talk about stewardship in a big-picture sort of way.
The only problem is that we humans have a tough time seeing the big picture. We get so concerned about the minutia of day-to-day existence and about issues of wrong and right and personal affirmation and satisfaction that it’s easy to miss Jesus’ points about this abundant “alternative path.” The first-century disciples, even though they were with Jesus every day and witnessed the miracles, had a tough time with these counter-cultural teachings, too. They were, after all, only human.
I know that I would have to say “no” if I had to answer Jesus’ question in verse 51. I get little glimpses of the answer. I see Jesus’ face in the world. I encounter him in word and sacrament. I realize that God’s way is at once both as elusive as quicksilver and as concrete as the nose on my face. Cognitively I can grasp the concepts of “already and not yet” and countercultural, faithful discipleship and stewardship, but living them is another thing entirely. I’m really not sure that I always “get it” and that I fully understand the implications of radical, 100% committed discipleship.
Like adolescent students afraid to show our lack of understanding, folks often claim an understanding of the mysteries of the faith and what it takes to be a faithful steward and disciple. After all, no one likes to ask the dumb question or be perceived to be lacking in knowledge. Maybe this partly explains why folks fail to flock to Bible study or decide against being part of a worshiping community. We can no longer assume that folks “get it.” For the church to meet the demands of our 21st century world it’s absolutely essential that we have clear teaching and preaching, working on biblical literacy in ways that abate fear and feelings of inadequacy, helping families find ways to nurture faith in the home, and welcoming everyone to the table and life in Christian community.
Jesus uses story, image, metaphor –whatever it takes– and he is definitely hands-on in ministry. So take a cue from the master teacher and use the same sorts of teaching tools (albeit with a careful eye toward the needs and mores of your particular context). And don’t spend your time weeping, wailing, and gnashing your teeth about how the church is dying, and how people don’t care, and how hard you’re trying to do church right, or whatever reason or rationalization you can conjure. Just take to heart the final verse and remember you’ve been trained for the kingdom of heaven, you are rich in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and you have Jesus’ teaching guide in the gospels. This treasure, old and new, is enough. According to theologian and missiologist Darrell Guder, the church is a parable of the kingdom.* As the Body of Christ, we truly do embody the good news. The kingdom of heaven is like you and me, ordinary sinner/saints, when the Spirit shines through us to part the clouds and mists of this beautiful, broken world.
The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…
The kingdom of heaven is like the 75-year-old grandmother holding the restless infant child of a single mother new to the congregation. The kingdom of heaven is like the hands of the men’s group that show up to build a wheelchair ramp for a church neighbor after learning that her mother has a degenerative disease and has come to live with her. The kingdom of heaven is like the eight-year-old who makes bracelets to raise money for malaria nets for families in Tanzania. The kingdom of heaven is like the six-year-old who donates her birthday money to support the local food bank.
Yes, the kingdom of heaven is like this and so much more. Tell those stories. Invite people to come up and share where they have seen the kingdom of heaven break through. Tell the stories in short parable form, and be sure to have a few folks “primed and ready” to get this improve storytelling opportunity rolling.
Talk with youth about what the reign of God looks like right now. You might want to mention the Pauline concept of the “already and the not yet.” Have each youth come up with a simile for what this looks like to them OR how they would like for it to be. Let each youth write their simile on a sheet of paper and illustrate it on the other side. Stick figures are great! Let everyone look at the pictures and try to guess the simile “The reign of God here and now is like…” For the next round, use metaphors. “The reign of God is…” When you are finished with the metaphor round, plug all the words into a word cloud using Wordle or Tagxedo (both free programs), print copies and share with the congregation.
Alternatively, take the worship idea a step further and invite the youth to create a video about modern-day parables of the kingdom of heaven. Be sure to provide an opportunity to showcase their work in worship and/or on your congregation’s Facebook Page and YouTube Channel. You could also experiment with using an app like Vine to capture very brief expressions of these parables.
You Have Been Chosen for the Winning Team! Romans 8:26-39\
Most children have experienced being picked (or not picked) for a team or game. It’s tough to be on the team that never wins, or to be overlooked and chosen only as a last resort. The good news we have as Christians is that God chooses us–ALL OF US! Every single one of us gets to be on the team that has already won. As members of the “God Squad” we are more than conquerors. We are winners who will never be separated from the one who created us and who loves us.
To illustrate this concept dress in a “God Squad” sports jersey. Invite all the children to be a part of the team. If you can buy inexpensive t-shirts and make stencils with your computer, give every child a God Squad t-shirt with your congregation’s name on it (another option is to tie-dye shirts if you have time and write God Squad with fabric paint on the finished and dried shirts). Be sure to remind children that God’s squad is bigger than any one congregation or denomination. God wants to recruit everyone to be a part of the most divine team ever.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Where have you seen God’s kingdom breaking in and through this week? In what ways has God’s abundance startled, gladdened, or challenged you? As a stewards of the Good News and abundant blessings God bestows we are called to share and to be a blessing to others. The kingdom of heaven is like….
Stewardship at Home
This week make a “kingdom of heaven collage.” Either take digital photos, draw, or find images to cut and paste to show how you see God’s reign breaking into everyday life. Post this in a visible place and add to it every day. Pray for God to open your eyes for signs of the kingdom. The more you begin to look, the more you will see!
Photos: Photos by Samah Arafat, Abie Sudiano, and Makelessnoise used under Creative Commons License.Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2017, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.