Sermon – Sunday, July 27, 2014
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church – Heidlersburg, PA
Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52 & Romans 8:26-39
Have any of you scene the show Undercover Boss? It’s a show where owners of a big business go undercover to see if the company is doing what it should do. He disguises himself as someone in need of a job and training so he can see if the people working there are doing their jobs correctly and to get them to talk to him about problem that need to be fixed. In one recent episode, a man who worked in hotel maintenance told this undercover boss every little thing he was upset about – how people were being mistreated, how the managers were cutting corners, and how he wouldn’t want to stay at that hotel. It’s amazing what the owner usually discovers. One housecleaning staff told this boss how she and her husband work two jobs just to make ends meet and how her daughter needs surgery, but they can’t afford it yet. Are you really supposed to go into detail about your personal life on the job? The people’s reactions are nothing short of shocked when he eventually reveals who he is. Talk about weeping and gnashing of teeth. Can you imagine if you told your someone all the problems with the company you work at only to find out it was your boss undercover? Or what if you told a new friend all the problems with another friend of yours only to find they were that friend disguised? Weeping and gnashing of teeth would soon follow once the truth was revealed.
Things that are hidden can cause a lot of problems. Think about a tiny splinter in your finger. It may not be visible to the surface, but it causes a lot of pain and under the skin may eventually become infected if not taken out. Blackflies are tiny insects that are barely bigger than the tip of a pin, but if they bite you they can leave a hard welt the size of a golf ball. Little white lies, seem like rather harmless words ,but in reality they can cause deep pain and anguish for another person. They can kill. They spread and cause damage just like a small virus that grows out of control. Hidden things can cause a lot of problems.
So most of the time we don’t like things that are hidden. We know the dangers that can lurk beneath the surface. It’s the focal point in any horror movie – it’s what we don’t know that bothers us. It irritates us. We want to know the answers. We don’t want to wait, because waiting just makes our imaginations run wild with all possible scenarios of what could possibly be going on. Like waiting for medical test results to come back – will it be something serious? Or waiting for the grade to come back from an important test to get into college – did I pass? Most of us like things laid out pretty straightforward. Surprises are okay as long as they are good ones, like a birthday surprise, or a nice gift. But life doesn’t always guarantee that the surprises will be good and we don’t always get straightforward answers. Even Jesus told parables, stories that really make a person think and more often than not come away with more questions than answers. The meanings are hidden.
Today’s parable is all about the hidden things. The tiny mustard seed is amazing in that it can grow into a leafy bush six or seven feet tall. In fact Jesus’ story exaggerates and says it can grow into not only a bush, but a tree! But everyone in Jesus’ time knew that a mustard seed growing out of control was not a good thing. It was a weed. No one wanted that in their field! It would spread and get out of control and there would be no way to stop it. All those mustard seeds sown into a field to cause damage. Small hidden things can cause big problems!
We hear about a woman who took yeast and hid it in three measures of flour. Yeast comes to us today in a small neat package that when added to flour and water activates the mixture to rise and form bread. But for the people hearing this story in Jesus’ time, yeast was very different. Yeast – or leaven as it was called back then – was a small portion of bread set aside to spoil. Then a small piece of this was added to the batter to make it rise. If the leaven was not spoiled enough it would not cause the batter to rise and if it was too spoiled it would not only ruin the bread but it could turn poisonous and be fatal. It was considered “unclean” and leaven would be cleaned from the house during Passover where only unleavened bread was eaten. So only a small piece of leaven or yeast was needed to produce nourishing bread – a tiny portion, just like the mustard seed. Yet hiding this yeast in three measures of flour (about 10 gallons) would have produced enough bread to feed 100 – 150 people! The action of this little bit of yeast was out of control! Hidden things can cause a lot of problems!
And what about the pearl in today’s story? Pearls themselves are caused by a tiny grain of sand trapped inside the oyster that gets more and more irritated, forms a blister, continues to get irritated and eventually is transformed into …..a pearl – something of great value, something a person wants more than anything else. A little grain of hidden sand….and look what happened!
All these things are supposed to represent the kingdom of God, but if you listen carefully they are hidden things that are causing big problems. Is Jesus trying to say that the kingdom of God causes big problems? Is he trying to say that the kingdom of God – God’s reign, the Word of God, is as invasive as the mustard weed? As out of control as a little bit of hidden leaven amidst the flour? As irritating as a grain of sand in an oyster, yet as transformative as the pearl it produces? I think this is exactly what Jesus is trying to tell us! The kingdom of God is like nothing we have ever experienced before and it cannot be stopped. It is hidden amidst the smallest things and it is out of our control.
Humans want to control things. We want to call all the shots. It’s the reason we tend to worry so much. It’s the reason we are afraid. When we’re young we worry about growing up. How do I look? Will I find a girlfriend or a boyfriend? Will I fit in? Will my friends like me? Will I get into a good school? As we get older we worry more about our health (not that some young people don’t have health concerns) Will I get cancer? Will I have enough money to retire? What if I can’t take care of myself any longer? The worries may change, but they’re still there. And these hidden worries can really eat away at us. Sometimes we don’t want people to know the really hidden things about us because deep down we are afraid someone might find out something about us – like the Undercover Boss – and discover we aren’t perfect and therefore aren’t worthy enough to be loved. Hidden things can cause a lot of problems.
We don’t like the mention of weeping and gnashing of teeth in this text because we don’t want to be thrown into some fiery furnace because of our evil deeds. But the truth is the kingdom of God is already here and so is the weeping and gnashing of teeth, but it is not God’s doing; it is our own sinfulness that has brought it on. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth in the midst of the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, Israel, Palestine, and Ukraine . There is weeping and gnashing of teeth as thousands of innocent lives are being killed. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth as thousands of innocent children are crossing our borders to escape the violence in their own countries and they have nowhere to go and no answers to their homelessness. When will the weeping and gnashing of teeth end?
The causes of these problems are hidden in the materialism of our societies. It is hidden in the greed to make more money at the cost of people’s lives. It is hidden in the very products we buy in our grocery stores and the private deals that supply money to the very companies that make weapons that destroy. It is hidden in the lack of compassion for those who are not part of a particular group. Sin is hidden in the very fabric of our societies and it causes big problems that are spiraling out of control.
But be not afraid, for the good news is that the kingdom of God is here as well and it too cannot be stopped. It is hidden, but we have glimpses of this kingdom. It may seem small and hidden, but it is as pervasive and out of control as a mustard weed and a little bit of yeast. It is growing and it will not be stopped! Nothing can stop the coming of the kingdom of God. It is this promise and this hope that gives us light in our darkest days. Psalm 119 says, “the unfolding of your words gives light.” The Word of God gives light in the darkest of times and this light can never be extinguished. It is unstoppable.
We who through the sacrament of baptism are made workers in the kingdom of God are to allow this light to be seen through us. Eventually what is hidden comes to light. It does not matter how old or young we are; we are instruments through which the Holy Spirit enables others see the kingdom of God. It is seen through the actions of people from age 5 – 105 who take the time to write to their congressman and representatives to make policy changes that will affect the lives of people in their communities and around the globe. It is seen through the actions of people who take the time to start community gardens that feed those around them. It is seen in the actions of people who though hidden from public news do random acts of kindness that make a huge difference in the life of one person. It is seen through the actions of people who stand up against injustice because all people have value in the eyes of God.
The kingdom of God is hidden in a million small unpublicized acts of compassion, but these seeds of love will spread out of control. Mother Theresa said, “ we can do no great things, but only small things with great love.” These small hidden things are great things. And we have been given strength to carry out these small things with great love through the Holy Spirit, who constantly prays on our behalf with hidden “sighs too deep for words.” We are given strength when we receive the bread and the wine of Holy Communion, which through a great hidden mystery that we cannot fully understand are the living body and blood of Christ hidden in these simple ordinary elements. The kingdom of God is hidden in the ordinary and often small, but hidden things can cause great transformations!
In the final revelation in the series, Undercover Boss, the owner reveals who he is, speaks to the staff, and makes the changes necessary to make the company thrive again. Sometimes he lets people go, but usually he simply takes the information he’s learned and shows the people how to do it differently. And he always bestows on several people who work hard and are really suffering financially thousands of dollars to ease their burdens.
God may not bestow on us thousands of dollars to ease our burdens, but God has given us something even more priceless. We who have been joined with Christ have the promise of sharing in the kingdom of God. We have something that can never be taken away – eternal life – we can never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us.” We are loved by God. You are loved by God. I am loved by God. Let those words take root deep within you. They are the truth. We are more than conquerors! Amen.