The 8th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 12A (7/30/2017)

Lessons
1st Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136 (130)
Romans 8:26-39
St. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Semicontinuous Series
Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b (1, 45)
or Psalm 128 (1)2

Prayer of the Day
Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson

13:31 [Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 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.

St. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with glory and grace
I want to see my Savior’s face
Heaven is a wonderful place
(Do you want to go there?)

An a cappella group in the 80s used to sing this little ditty. In it they imagined the beauty and majesty of heaven. A spiritual home for those faithful ones whose earthy lives have come to completion. A place wonderful beyond our capacity to imagine it. A place where we will see Jesus face-to-face. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

Many have wondered about heaven over the years. What might it be like? Will its residents recognize and enjoy those they knew in this life? (I’ve wondered if my dad will look to me like he did a few months before he died at the age of 74, or if he’ll look to his own father like he did when he was 15, just before my grandfather died.) Will God wander among crowds of believers, stopping to visit, or to field a few questions? Will heaven be inhabited only by Lutheran Christians? (I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that one…) Or would I be surprised to know who finds their way to an eternity with God? The Bible doesn’t deliver us a set of blueprints or organizational charts, so we’re left to wonder and hope.

Jesus doesn’t have much to say about it either. In the record we have of what he said and did, mentions of heaven as reward or afterlife are few and far between.

But he discusses the kingdom of heaven at length, and seems to have a rather clear vision of what it is. Five examples make up the bulk of this week’s Gospel lesson. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.

What do these images have in common? Obviously, the kingdom of heaven is not something we experience only once we’ve died. It is not something to wait around for. It is, instead, something very much part of the life we are living. These stories depict action. They are productive. They describe a mission to join, to support; something to which we can give our lives. The kingdom of heaven is a reality where much is accomplished by little, where everything is affected by the efforts of the faithful. The kingdom of heaven is worth everything we’ve got, and universal in scope.

It is an extraordinary vision of what God’s kingdom looks like. It is also an invitation: an invitation to discover what is important to God, and to give ourselves to it. Right here and right now. With the knowledge that as we go about it, we will feel closer to God than at any other time in our lives.

Wow — what an extraordinary kingdom. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do these five parables say about Jesus’ understanding of heaven?
  2. How might this knowledge have been helpful to his first century followers?
  3. What images of heaven has the church promoted throughout the years?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How do I envision the kingdom of heaven?
  2. What actions or commitments in my life identify me as a citizen of this kingdom?
  3. How do Jesus’ words challenge me to live a richer, more faithful life?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.