The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Deacon Anne Flynn
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Today marks the third of three consecutive Sundays where we hear from the Gospel lectionary — parables of Jesus concerning the kingdom and as Dean Lipscomb said two Sundays ago Jesus is a “masterful storyteller.”

Three measures of flour is an enormous amount of flour. In modern kitchen parlance that is 144 cups of flour that will yield 52 loaves of bread, that is enough to make 416 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — far more than one woman could knead or one person or household would consume and the image this brings is one of either extravagance or generosity.
What is the message of the story?

It’s simple: The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who wants to do more than feed just her family. The kingdom as announced by Jesus is like a woman who wants to feed the village. And perhaps the kingdom is best represented by the communal oven of a village in Galilee where everyone has enough to eat. It is present in everything and is available to all just like the sun shines and the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

The message of the merchant and the pearl is not about a search for a possession but about transformation. It tells us that the kingdom of heaven is shown by what happens to the merchant when he re-assesses what he values and understands what is really important. Once he comes to that understanding, he sells everything he has to have what he now understands is truly important.

The stories about the mustard seed and the yeast bring us back to daily life by reminding us about the necessities of life — bread and shelter. At the same time, those stories show us that a single person’s actions can have an impact on life beyond the immediate context.

The woman is working with three measures of flour – enough to literally feed the whole village. The mustard seed is tiny, but from it will come an enormous tree. The parables remind us that people will benefit from the large amount of bread the woman has produced and that the birds will nest in the branches of the tree. In short, we have an effect beyond ourselves. Like all of Jesus’ stories, these parables are meant to challenge the hearer, provoke thought and to invite reflection.

So what are the challenges of these particular parables?

The seed parable is set in a garden or local field; the yeast parable is set at a village oven. The kingdom of heaven is found in everyday life and everyday living. The kingdom of heaven is realized when the people of God use the gifts of God to bring about the kingdom. The woman hides the yeast in the dough. The man sows the seed. Who prepared the dough or who sowed the seed is less important than the yield that feeds the people or shelters the birds.

Jesus told parables because he wants us to think beyond the present. He wants us to understand that in helping each other, we create the kingdom right here. He wants to help us formulate the big questions — how do we live in community, how do we determine what ultimately matters and how do we live the life that God intends us to live. The parables are not answers but invitations to further thought. That thoughtfulness often comes in the form of questions.

We’re seeing that right here at Grace. The people of Grace have been gathering twice a month at a local Watering Hole for what we are calling Beverages and Big Questions. It’s been a lively group of about 23 people. And, while the composition of the group has changed from time to time, the participants have consistently reported that the gatherings have prompted them to re-examine their own beliefs and ask how their lives can best bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.

And our questions have revolved around figuring out how our lives do justice, love mercy and show faithfulness to God?

We may be able to call to mind our faithfulness to God pretty readily. We are here on Sunday morning. We support Grace Cathedral financially. We regularly participate in Sunday school, Bible study and fellowship opportunities.

We love mercy. We have a number of ministries to feed people: Saturday sack lunch, back pack and food for friends. We contribute financially and with our time and talents to the community efforts to show mercy to the homeless, the hungry and those at the margins and this is in keeping with Jesus’ command to love one another.

The harder one might be justice. That’s the one that trips us up – it tripped Jesus up too. Not that he shied away from justice but in challenging the Roman rule he put himself at great risk — yet knowing the risk he did it anyway.

Luckily, we don’t have to challenge the Romans, but we are called to justice just the same. Think about it. Here we are, in Topeka KS, in the heartland of the USA, in the 21st Century and yet blocks from here, blocks from Grace Cathedral there is a man living in a house with no running water, no heat in the winter and a box fan to cool in this summer heat? He does have faith that God is working in his life. He believes in an afterlife and he believes God’s mercy is reflected in the care he receives from hospice. I visit with him. I listen when he tells me his story. I pray at the conclusion of our visit and I am humbled and grateful for his prayer for me – God be with you he prays as I leave his home.

He worked as a truck driver. Honest work. Something we all depend on. Now he is old and sick. This or some version of this is reality for too many people.

How is this happening in Topeka Kansas, in the United States of America, in the 21st Century? I am not singling out Topeka — We are here in Topeka! We are not in some third world country. We are in the capitol of the state of Kansas. We can see the dome of the capitol building from the front steps.

How is this reality a reflection of Jesus and of Jesus’ example of love? How does this imitate Jesus’ life and how does this reflect our response to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as our self? To love our neighbor as God loves our neighbor?

How does this reflect our response to Jesus’ command to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God?

I doesn’t! And I am not going to tell you exactly how because that answer is different for each of us.

But I will leave you with this — my prayer for this community that I prayed on April 25, 2017 when Topeka filled this cathedral for a night of justice:
Gracious God, creator, redeemer and sustainer we give you thanks for the opportunity to gather tonight as people of faith, as neighbors and friends. We hear your commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God, help us recognize injustice when we see it. Guide us and inspire us to work together to eliminate the injustices we find — so each person can live the best life they can live.

Thank you God for the resources we have. Give us wisdom and guide us to direct those resources so our sisters and brothers have what is needed to live a dignified life, to work and care for themselves and their families and at the end of the day to find rest and refreshment in affordable and safe housing. We ask all these things in your name. Amen.