Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Buy the Pearl, Buy the Field


 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
31He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it 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."
33He 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."
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; 46on 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; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and 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." 52And 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."

     I usually try to start my sermons off with a little humor. You know, a silly Sarah Palin impression or some self-deprecating statement about the state of my house occupying the same parallel universe as the state of my brain, or some ridiculous thing my dog or my kids have done lately, usually involving poop or licking something inappropriate in public, but today, I’m just not feeling it.

    Frankly, I’d like to go back to bed and pretend that the past few weeks never happened. The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, the shelling in Gaza, the Ebola crisis in Africa, certain Supreme Court rulings, the continual war on the hungry, the oppressed, the alien -  all of it - press the delete key, rewind the tape, do that thing Superman does by flying so fast around the earth that he alters its rotation.

    I’d like to just stick my head back in the sand and pretend that none of this has happened, but I know I wouldn’t be able to escape it for long, because I’m sure, if the world’s trajectory keeps going in the same direction, I’ll probably soon discover that the sand has been inundated by some rare flesh eating flea species that has remained dormant until folks decided it was a brilliant idea to stick their heads in the sand.
    The death tolls keep rising. The earth is melting. And God’s commands to provide for the widow and the orphan, to welcome the alien, to fight for justice are clearly being ignored.

And our words of hope for today?
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
It’s like yeast in dough.
It’s like a farmer who finds treasure in a field and buys the whole field.
It’s like a merchant who finds a rare pearl and sells everything he had to buy the pearl.
Well gee. Thanks. Jesus.

Our words of hope for today?
A mustard seed that will turn into a mustard bush, take over an entire field, and chaotically jump the neatly plowed rows and literally grow like a weed. For the farmers of Jesus’ time, the mustard tree was an invasive, crop-choking, trash tree.
Or. Our word of hope is a piece of fermenting dough, rotting dough, really, leaven, which was considered unclean by the Jews of the time — not like those neat packets of Fleischmann’s we get from the grocery — enough for three measures of flour, enough for 100 loaves of bread.

Or a morally questionable tenant farmer, who, for some reason, decides to trespass on someone else’s land, dig around for a bit, find some treasure, and without telling anyone, without an accurate tax assessment or proper inspection, goes and buys the land.
And our word of hope for today is a merchant who will spend everything he has for one precious pearl. A merchant, who, without any more goods to sell, without any more capital to invest, will surely go bankrupt because of his one rash financial decision.

The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, this place where peace reigns and justice is done and sickness is no more, this place where God is king, is set up against Rome and principalities and corrupt dictators and terrorists and self-righteous diplomats who must make sacrifices of “collateral damage” for some greater good. This kingdom of God is where morally questionable tenant farmers and bankrupt merchants are its model citizens.
This place where God rules is a place where trash trees take over the farmland, where rotting dough is mixed in with perfectly good flour.

The Kingdom of God, where, if we’re looking with human kingdom eyes, we would think is a pretty chaotic, unsustainable, illogical place.

And these are the words of hope for us today, amidst airplanes falling out of the sky and viruses killing babies and thirty second mortar shell warnings?

Seeds and yeast and dirt and bankrupting pearls.
And the folks I encounter at The Table - our biweekly meal ministry at Hot Metal.
They’re folks I think of when I think of weeds and leaven and farmland and financially questionable decisions.
I think of Danny and John. Danny, whom we’d have to ask to eat outside because he had fleas or lice or both. John, whom I met under the bridge so drunk he didn’t know what happened to his friend the night before, who had been so drunk for so long that when they had to call the ambulance for help, they couldn’t take him in the truck until he’d been stripped and sprayed down right there under the Tenth Street Bridge.
I think of a woman we call “Grandma,” who consistently comes forty-five minutes late and drives us crazy by insisting that she sit and eat even though we’ve already cleaned up.
Or Pearl, who hoards food and always, always asks for more.
Or Donna, who has fought cancer with everything she has and is about ready to give up, but still brings three to-go meals to the shut-in neighbors in her building.

The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is found in the most common, the most mundane, the most overlooked everyday things in our world.
In weeds and homeless drunks, in hoarders and in the fiscally irresponsible.
In the ragweed and cottonwood, in the folks who practically tackle each other to get to our free bread table.
In the tenant farmer poking his nose where he has no right to be and in yet another homeless girl who comes to us for help because she has discovered she’s pregnant.
In the merchant who will surely go bankrupt, and in Carolina who comes to me begging for a pile of quarters and some laundry soap so that she can spend one more night inside a 24 hour laundromat instead of on the streets.

The Kingdom of God is like these.

Like all of these. Together.  A messy pile of folks and uncleanliness and irresponsibility and chaos. And the Kingdom of God has enough bread to feed them all.

So often we think of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven as someplace where we go. And even Jesus’ parable of the fish - those kept and those thrown away - has often been interpreted in this way. But when it is, when this parable is used as a “who’s in and who’s out” of this place we call “Heaven,” it’s used out of its context - out of the context of invasive weeds and unclean leaven and nebby farmers and ridiculous financial decisions.

Faith isn’t about worry about where you’re going; faith is about seeing where you are, right now.

The Gospel is a weed.
The Gospel is dirty.
The Gospel looks morally questionable.
The Gospel is not financially responsible.
The Gospel is right here. Right now. In the midst of the violence and the death and the bombs and the morally questionable leadership decisions.  It’s there, in the fields of corrupt dictators and terrorist organizations and somewhere hidden in the guy who cuts you off in traffic and then flips you the bird.

And the participants in the Kingdom of God buy the field. They buy the pearl.
They go all in.
They feed people who haven’t earned their bread.
They give coffee to the drunks and quarters to the homeless.
They give Pearl one more tube of toothpaste.
They plant weeds and ferment their flour.
They spend all their money on an acre of dirt.
They go bankrupt, investing all that they have, on the one beautiful thing they encounter in their life.

They step fully in to this whole, miserable, broken world.
They buy the whole lot just to find the one treasure hidden within it.
Jesus says, do it, and you’ll find the hope there.

In the Kingdom of God, You’ll find doctors bowing in front of an 11 year old boy whose dying wish was to donate his organs.
You’ll find the Palestinian and the Jew sharing a cup of coffee and a prayer.
You’ll find the legacy of the unknown AIDS advocates whose plane was shot out of the sky.
You’ll hear about the joy, encouragement and peace of a doctor who contracted the Ebola virus himself after treating over 100 patients whom no one else would.

You find out that the drunks you thought would die alone and cold and inebriated into oblivion on the streets of Pittsburgh have taken a shower, have been sober for the last 3 months, have found an apartment.

Buy it, Jesus says. Buy it all. Buy the lice and the mold and the bread and the forgiveness.
Go all in.
The Kingdom of God is invasive and unpredictable like weeds and yeast and hidden treasure and bankruptcy.
It’s a different kind of economy. It’s a different kind of “buying.”

The Kingdom of God is a Table, where everybody is fed, sure, but where you realize that you’re just as hungry, just as broken, just as broke, just as corrupted, just as lost and distracted as everybody else. And hey, look, there’s bread for you, too. Enough leaven to make enough bread to feed an army. But instead, it’s there to feed the lost and broken and messy and crucified and convicted. Take a piece. Plant some weeds. Give your whole life to God’s beauty, to God’s economy, to God’s treasure.

Thanks be to God.


  1. First of all . . . this is very well written. I enjoyed the many well-turned phrases in the prose. I loved the careful and intentional use of repetition.
    Second, (and probably more importantly) I was moved by the message. It was piercing and timely. Let those who have ears . . . . (unfortunately, it is my guess that the kind of person who really needs to hear this message would not be caught dead in your congregation).
    Third, if you were preaching anywhere near Holland, Sara and I would probably start going to church again!!
    Great job, Jenn. I am proud of you!!

    1. Thanks, Chacha! Heheh. I have no shame. I preached this as a guest in an older, more conservative congregation - although I confess I did take out the Sarah Palin reference ;) I would be honored to give a sermon with you and Sara in the congregation! Anyway, if you ever need it, put me in your long long waiting list of willing India chaperones. Once a week, without fail, I usually have a crazy dream where I'm back there...it's all so vivid and bright.