You can join this week’s worship service by visiting: https://youtu.be/rzVp_kPovQg
Thank you to Paul Toner for sharing the gift of music with us this week and to friend of the congregation, Ron Shaw for bringing greetings from his home in Eastern Passage, NS.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and prayers for this week. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other.
The peace of Christ be with you all.
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-49
Music: More Voices #1, Let Us Build a House: Haugen, 1994
The Garden Song written and composed David Mallett, 1975, performed by Paul Toner.
We’ve been hearing a lot of parables from Jesus over the last couple of weeks; a story about wheat and weeds and about a farmer sowing seeds. Today we hear parables about transformation in mustard seeds and yeast in bread dough, he tells about discovering hidden treasures and about separating the good from the bad. He kept using different images to help people understand different aspects of what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Jesus didn’t use deep and structured arguments rooted in logic. Instead he met people where they were at and spoke to them in ways they could understand. He used common images that the people of his day could relate to and understand.
At the root of all of this, I suspect, Jesus saw a problem. The religious leaders of his time had returned to the earlier teachings focused on performing sacred rituals and abiding by the strict letter of the law. More of the way religion was practiced in the time of King David rather than on the later teachings of the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah who lived in a time of occupation. The prophets were more concerned with people embracing the spirit of God’s law; on peace with justice and hope rooted in compassion. They believed in caring especially for those who were on the margins.
Palestine in the days of Jesus was also occupied. What it seems he really wanted to do was help people break away from the understandings offered by the religious authorities of his day who benefitted from not rocking the boat and keeping people focused on their personal salvation in the time to come when they had died.
Jesus wanted the people to see the reality of God in an entirely different way, a radically new way from what they had learned; a way that would allow them to have a fuller and richer relationship with God and each other.
He used simple stories to draw parallels between their lives and what they saw and understood in their own context so the scales would fall from their eyes and they could see how God was at work in their lives and in the world that surrounded them. He offered new ways of understanding God in ways that most had never considered.
He talked about how the tiny mustard seed grows into the biggest bush in the field; so large that the birds of the air built their nests there. And how yeast when mixed with flour, salt and water – gives life; life not just to the inert ingredients but something so transformative that it becomes the bread of life itself.
These parables are not about how little things grow in size, they are about transformation. As another preacher said, “It’s about how the kingdom of God can take over everything around it. The mustard seed takes over the field. The yeast takes over the bread.” Mustard seeds and yeast, they may seem small and insignificant at first but they eventually transform their surroundings and change the reality of the common and every day. That is how the kingdom of God works; something seemingly insignificant becomes all encompassing. He was talking about how God’s love can transform everything.
He talked about how the kingdom of God was like a treasure that you stumbled on in a field or found after searching long and hard for the most precious pearl – it didn’t matter how you found it – what mattered was that you found it and suddenly realized you needed to hold onto it.
To Jesus, it wasn’t so much about performing the sacred rituals or being bound to a belief or practice so tightly that you could not act out of love, justice or compassion. Faith was about finding the presence of God in the very midst of life and the world and knowing that God was with you. That you were not alone and that God’s power was able to transform even the darkest time for individuals or for the community into a time when God’s light and God’s love broke through and suddenly the kingdom of God becomes all encompassing.
Just as Jesus lived in a time of change, so do we. These days, there are many voices amoung religious authorities screeching that we need to focus on our personal relationship with God and if you do that God will look after you. God will make you prosper and will take you up into the heavens; as long as you believe in the right way. That usually means if you believe in what they are saying.
I believe you are smart people and that God blessed you with wisdom and insight so that as you listen closely to the word of God that you will see certain things.
– That the kingdom of God is in our midst, it may not be fully realized, sometimes you may wonder if that seed has even germinated but I can assure you it has.
– That God’s greatest desire for you is that you experience the miraculous power of God to help you grow and blossom,
– That God’s greatest desire for all of us is that we set aside old beliefs such as life is all about getting rid of all the weeds in our own lives and in the world when what God really invites us to do is invite others to join us in the feast of life, that God invites us to tend the garden, row by row, inch by inch, caring for ourselves and caring for others.
For we are not alone; we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God!
Gracious God, you have given us the gifts which we know. In this season, we watch the miracles of gardens growing from seeds so small into flowers that please us and plants that nourish and sustain us and we marvel at the wonders of your creation from the rich soil to the galaxies that swirl around us in the night sky.
What we treasure though is our connection to you and others through a smile that warms us and a tear that moves us, through a sigh of pleasure and a shout of protest, through laughter and weeping. Through prayer and silence and the beauty of the day and the place, God for these gifts and the meaning they give us we offer you our thanks.
Today, we pray for your church – sometimes failing and distant and other times welcoming and present to the very real needs we feel personally or through society or even globally. Help us to draw together more closely even as we must be at a distant so that we may care more deeply and fully and better serve you as we serve others. Help us as your church to appreciate and value what we have received and to have clear eyes to better see where you are calling us to in this moment and in the future to help transform the world through the power of your love.
We pray for the people and places that are especially in need: the people of the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa and Mexico where the virus is on the rise. We pray for the people in parts of the world where there is not only the threat of the pandemic and economies that are in turmoil but also where there is hunger or war or conflict or disruption.
We pray for those who are grieving today. May they find comfort and peace in the knowledge that they and all of the faithful departed are in your company, surrounded by eternal love.
We pray for all who are in hospital, who are receiving treatment and living in places where they are receiving care. Bless those who are caring for them with wisdom, compassion and insight.
We pray for all who are in need and we remember especially those with whom we are the closest and whose names are in our hearts and on our minds. In addition, hear our prayers for those whose names we do not know. Surround them with your steadfast love. Touch them with your infinite mercy. Fill them with a peace that passes all understanding.
In Jesus’ name we pray, in the words he taught us, Our Father, who art in heaven. . .