Sermons That Work

Have You Understood All This?, Proper 12 (A) – 2008

July 27, 2008

Jesus asks, “Have you understood all this?”

Without hesitating, the disciples respond, “Yes!”

Now that “Yes” coming from the very same disciples who only back in Verse 10 were asking, “Why do you teach in parables?” has to strike us as somewhat unbelievable. Add to that 2,000 years or so of church history with extended periods and frequent episodes in which we, the church, quite clearly have not understood all of this, and one can begin to sympathize with Paul who appears to get it just right: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

We do not know how to pray as we ought. A tiny book called Prayers and Graces of Thanksgiving, by Paul Simpson McElroy, includes this prayer by an anonymous writer:

“Lord of the Universe, I am a simple man, an ignorant man. Oh, how I wish I had the words to fashion beautiful prayers to praise thee! But alas, I cannot find these words.
“So listen to me, O God, as I recite the letters of the alphabet. You know what I think and how I feel. Take these letters of the alphabet and you form the words that express the yearning, the love for Thee that is in my heart. Amen.”

Have we understood all this?

If we are honest, we might say, “No, not really.”

Years ago, long before becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, Tom Shaw, spoke to a group of clergy and addressed one of the Parables of the Kingdom, “The Pearl of Great Value.”

Bishop Shaw began by saying that our God is a very frugal God and does not waste one iota, not one jot or tittle, of our life experience. Each moment we live and breathe on this fragile Earth, our island home, God values and savors who we are and what we are doing – especially the work we do for God’s kingdom.

A hidden truth embedded in the Good News of Jesus, and hidden in these parables like yeast in dough, is that at the end of the day each one of us is the Pearl of Great Value. Through our Baptism, we are made God’s beloved. To show how much our God loves us, he sends his only Son to walk among us, dwell among us, to show us the way of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

So much does God savor our life experience that he did not let us get away with killing his Son, his only Son whom he loves, but returned him to us, so that wherever communities of Christians gather in his name, Jesus himself is in the midst of them, calling us back to the God from whence we come: We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. We are God’s beloved.

Bishop Shaw urged us to think of ourselves as Pearls of Great Value, hidden in this world, for which God was willing to pay a great price: the ultimate price. He sold all that he had to obtain us, to retain us, to bring us home to him.

So precious are we in the eyes of our God, said Bishop Shaw, that we really need to take time each day in our prayers to allow God the time to thank us for what we have done for God today. Every day we are to sit in silence in our prayer time and allow ourselves to feel God thanking us for all that we do for God in this world.

Are we really capable of believing and knowing that God loves us that much? Can we feel like Pearls of Great Value? It is central to the life of faith to accept and receive God’s love – to know how much our God values us and everything that we do.

This is why all these kingdom parables are so important to us. They each point to the hidden-ness of God’s reign in our midst. They each suggest that the life of faith begins with something as small as a little bit of yeast or a single grain of mustard seed. And like the yeast, this faith of ours often remains hidden and unseen – unrecognized.

This is why the disciples ask Jesus for more faith before he sends them out into the world to continue the work of the kingdom. But Jesus replies, “You just need a little bit of faith. With just the smallest amount of faith you can move mountains. With just a little bit of faith you can raise the dead. With just a little faith you will do the things that I do, and greater things than these will you do!”

We do not need to do big and heroic things. Though in truth, as God’s own pearls of great value, every little thing we do brings a smile to God’s face. And the more we let God thank us for what we can do for God, the more confident and empowered we become as God’s own people. And soon the people around us and the people we meet begin to feel like pearls of great value as well.

It does begin with faith. But all we really need is faith as small as a mustard seed to make the whole creation new. To give new life to our own tired bodies. To put a smile on the face of a stranger. To plant seeds of God’s love throughout the neighborhood in which God has made his home.

How ought we to pray? Like the anonymous author of the alphabet prayer, we can recite the letters and leave it to God to put our thoughts together for us. But as Pearls of Great Value to God, we would do better to be still, and know that God is with us. In the stillness and in the silence, give God the time to thank you for who you are: God’s Beloved with whom God is well pleased. And allow God to thank you for what you have done for God today.

The life of faith begins with accepting God’s love into our hearts, minds, and souls. Without that, we are nothing. With God’s love poured into our hearts we become Pearls of Great Value.

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Christopher Sikkema


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