Sermon Notes - Matthew 13:31-36,44-52 (Psalm 119:129-136)

Morning Prayer Sunday 26th July 2020

Preparation

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you

And also with you.

This is the day that the Lord has made.

Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

We come together in the name of Christ to offer our praise and thanksgiving, to hear and receive God’s holy word, to pray for the needs of the world, and to seek the forgiveness of our sins that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may give ourselves to the service of God.

Lord God, we have sinned against you; we have done evil in your sight. We are sorry and repent. Have mercy on us according to your love. Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sing.  Renew a right spirit within us and restore us to the joy of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sing:

1 All glory, laud, and honour 
to you, Redeemer, King, 
to whom the lips of children 
made sweet hosannas ring. 
You are the King of Israel 
and David's royal Son, 
now in the Lord's name coming, 
the King and Blessed One. 

2 The company of angels 
is praising you on high; 
and we with all creation 
in chorus make reply. 
The people of the Hebrews 
with palms before you went; 
our praise and prayer and anthems 
before you we present. 

3 To you before your passion 
they sang their hymns of praise; 
to you, now high exalted, 
our melody we raise. 
As you received their praises, 
accept the prayers we bring, 
for you delight in goodness, 
O good and gracious King! 

 

1st Reading: Psalm 119:129-136

129Your statutes are wonderful;
    therefore I obey them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
    it gives understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
    longing for your commands.
132 Turn to me and have mercy on me,
    as you always do to those who love your name.
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word;
    let no sin rule over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
    that I may obey your precepts.
135 Make your face shine on your servant
    and teach me your decrees.
136 Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
    for your law is not obeyed.

 

Taize Praise

The kingdom of God is justice and peace
And joy in the Holy Spirit
Come, Lord and open in us the gates of your kingdom

 

2nd Reading: Matthew 13:31-35,44-52

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[b] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
    I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

 

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

 

Sermon

The Psalmist this morning says, “Your statutes are wonderful; therefore, I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

The past three Sundays have seen parables being told by Jesus to the crowd, and then the disciples being taught in private.  But this Sunday we find in the second half of this gospel reading, that Jesus has already retreated with the disciples into the house. Verse 36 tells us ‘Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said ‘Explain to us….’’

And yet, after the first two parables this morning and after explaining the parable of the weeds, Jesus returns to say another two parables to teach not the crowd this time but the disciples.  He uses again simple images but with extravagant actions.  – A man finds treasure, but then buries it and then somehow finds the money, selling everything he has, to buy the same field he has hidden the treasure that he found.  A man, a field, everybody’s dream of finding treasure – free money and yet the actions are so over the top!

And the second parable, fishermen, nets, bad fish and good fish, baskets, sorting them out. Home territory, everyday actions, for some of the disciples whilst money for the likes of Matthew is more his world than fish.

And then Jesus goes for the BIG QUESTION – ‘Have you understood all these things?’  And they answer ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’ they replied.  Isn’t it amazing that Jesus doesn’t reply “Really?”

The words of the Psalmist would have been familiar to them, statutes, obey, longing for commands, directing footsteps, obeying precepts.  And yet did they really understand what Jesus was saying? Do we? Is everything as clear as it could be that we understand all these things?

The disciples later actions will prove otherwise!

A woman once asked the poet T S Elliot, what do you mean in your poem Ash Wednesday ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a Juniper tree?’ to which he replied ‘I can give you a straight answer. I mean ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a Juniper tree.’’  In the same way, followers of Jesus have been seeking for clear, direct, satisfying singular interpretations of his parables from the time he first uttered them to the current day.  But the parables can’t simply be translated, once and for all, into direct, plain speech without loss. Could the three white leopards represent the three to be crucified, the Juniper the cross? Does that make any sense?  If we’re to try to uncover the meaning and the experience of the parables we must be prepared to struggle and be unsettled and confronted by these pregnant texts, that have so many meanings.

The meaning of today’s pair of short, familiar parables about mustard seed and yeast, however, seem pretty obvious.  ‘Little and large’ is surely what they are about, not of course, the old television double act, but two images of massive growth from tiny and unpromising beginnings.  The parable of the mustard seed with its image of a glorious future, serves as an encouragement to Christians struggling in the meantime.  The parable of the yeast tells us that the Kingdom is immersed and present, though hidden, in all aspects of human life for those with eyes to see, and that ‘seeing’ sustains our hope that God’s kingdom will come ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.  That’s about as much as we can and need to say about the text and its meaning for us today.  An obvious point to bring this short sermon to a close.

Except that those who know their Bible and the customs of the time will recognize that mustard trees and leaves were known for their negative and destructive characteristics and seem an old choice here.  Why did Jesus cite the mustard tree as a source of blessing when it was more usually despised as a voracious weed? Why did he refer to the picture of birds nesting in its branches when this, as his hearers would have known, had already been used to condemn the proud cedar tree in the OT that gave rest to the enemies of God’s kingdom?, And to deepen the puzzle, why were these two parables placed in Matthew’s gospel immediately after the parable where good and bad, wheat and weeds are permitted to co-exist till harvest?

But if they are not crystal clear then do these parables have an opposite meaning or argument to that which we think they mean?  The image of the kingdom at the end of the OT period was that of a pitiable tree stump or branch. Now Matthew in his gospel seems to be hedging his bets as to whether the tiny seed will become a great shrub or a modest tree!

The parable of the yeast involves the actions of a woman who collects a small portion of yeast from the moldy reminder of the last bake and sneaks it into a vast quantity of new, pure flour.  (That’s really what bread baking is about isn’t it, adding something that’s old to something new and pure?) And that’s ok until we are reminded by Bible scholars that yeast it an image of the corruption throughout the Bible.  Its use here in this passage then suggests what?  We’re told that the woman had ‘three measures’ of pure flour, a precise note that indicates a sacred amount (a trinity perhaps), that underlines the purity of the flour in stark contrast then to the yeast which was corrupt.  Is the parable, perhaps, inviting us to go above the idea of pure and impure? Is it hinting at a more glorious redemption than our plain direct speech can contain, one that is experience in Jesus sharing bread with sinners, where the pure mixes with the impure?

We’ve seen that even the briefest of parables can unsettle, intrigue and confuse and confound us.  We’d hope to distil their meaning in plain English, in plain, ordered, rational and controlled language, where if I may use the phrase black is black and white is white, and to bring the story into our world.  But as T S Elliot’s inquisitor was hopefully to discover, poetic language, and notably that of the parables, has the capacity to ambush and interrogate us rather than just the base language of the parable.  It can open us up to the possibility of a new alternative world that can only be accessed by the language of imagination, the what-if this stood for this today, but what if it stands for something else tomorrow.  With each parable, we have to immerse ourselves in their strange world of reality and imagination, let them seep through and strike up time and time again new and conflicting ideas, images, ways of thinking in our lives.  The parables invite us to inhabit the regular mundane world of planting, pruning, breadmaking, fishing, eating and celebrating, time and again, but also to see through each one the signs of the Kingdom that prefigure a glorious conclusion. 

As Jesus himself said, quoting from Psalm 78 ‘I will open my mouth in parables.  I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’ (Psalm 78:2).

Please re-read Psalm 119:129-136 (above)

 

Prayer concluding with the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

Amen

 

The Blessing

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen


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