Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 2020
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This week as I read the Gospel text, the 1980 hit movie Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta and Debra Winger came to my mind because of the song “Looking for love in all the Wrong Places.” Now, I know that this is a strange song to enter one’s mind when one reads the Bible, but the song does have a theological connection to the Gospel text.
And so, before I go any further, I would like for you to listen to the words. They go like this…
I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places
Lookin’ for love in too many faces
Searchin’ their eyes, lookin’ for traces
Of what I’m dreamin’ of
Hopin’ to find a friend and a lover
I’ll bless the day I discover,
Another heart- lookin’ for love.
In the song, the words describe a person’s quest as he or she looks everywhere, in too many faces, and in all the wrong places, for someone to love. The words articulate the awkward attempt we humans sometimes take to find the perfect soulmate and/or the person of our dreams.
And that is where the theological connection to our text comes in, because deep down within us, there is also a yearning for God’s presence in our lives and a knowledge of God’s purpose for our world.
We desire a deep relationship with God, and a vision of God’s activity in His creation. We seek a sign of what God’s Kingdom will be like (and what our lives will look like) when Christ comes again in all His glory.
Unfortunately, like the characters in the song, we tend to look for God in all the wrong places. We tend to look for God high up in the heavens or far away in some distant location and forget that God came down to be with us where we are located here in this world.
And that is why Jesus Himself describes the Kingdom of Heaven by using analogies that are very earthlike and ordinary to us in our world. He used simple down to earth concepts such as a mustard seed, yeast, treasure hidden in a field, and a merchant. Jesus describes qualities that seem hidden, and He uses everyday imperfect human beings in the process.
Today our text starts off with the Parable of the Mustard Seed, one of the best-known parables that Jesus used to teach the crowds. And Jesus highlighted the fact that a mustard seed is one of the smallest of all seeds, and one of the lightest of all seeds due to the fact that the seed is practically weightless.
Jesus emphasized this fact, to highlight that mustard seeds can often go unnoticed and lie hidden in a large sack of other seeds. In the minds of the crowd, they could easily picture in their minds a farmer unaware that he or she was sowing a mustard seed in the field as the farmer sowed wheat in his or her field.
I found it interesting to learn this week that the mustard plant is actually a wild weed. It is something that farmers would try to get rid of, because once it is sown, it is very hard to eliminate.
And yet, that is the point. Jesus uses this example of a weed that starts off as a small hidden seed, but when germinated, becomes a bush large enough that birds can make their nests in it. But that is how it is with God’s activity in our world. Just as it only takes a spark to get a fire going, or a tiny mustard seed to grow a huge bush, God’s kingdom breaks into our world in the smallest and most unsuspecting activity.
In this first parable, the often-unnoticed activity of the Holy Spirit is contrasted with the great and surprising results of God’s Redeeming Activity in our world. And so, the question is, have we been looking for God in all the wrong places???
In the second parable, Jesus uses the example of yeast, which in the minds of the crowd that day was also another unwanted agent.
In Jewish tradition, yeast was a symbol of corruption and impurity. Yeast was something that women would try to get rid of in their home in preparation for Passover. Yeast was considered evil and unclean. Yeast was not the highly valuable ingredient that it is today in the bakery department in our local supermarket.
But in the parable, yeast is the agent that produces remarkable growth in God’s Kingdom, and it infiltrates every part of life in God’s Kingdom. Like a woman who spoils the flour with yeast, God is fermenting the Kingdom of Heaven with His love and His mercy.
And so, the question is “Do we have eyes to see God’s reign hidden in everyday life?” Or are we looking for God in all the wrong places?
In the next parable, Jesus informs us that 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 the field.
God is just like that man. John 3:16-17 states: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Can we picture a God with so much grace? Have we been looking for God in all the wrong places?
Jesus then continues with another parable concerning a merchant in search of a fine pearl. When the merchant joyfully finds it, he sells everything he has in order that he might buy that one pearl.
In other words, the merchant puts himself out of business by radically selling all he has to make the ultimate purchase.
In light of this parable I ask, “What is the most radical act through which we witness God’s love for this broken world?” If the answer is “I don’t know”, maybe we are looking for God in the wrong places.”
Finally, Jesus tells one final parable concerning a net that was cast into the sea which caught fish of every kind, good and bad. The fisherman then pulls the net full of fish ashore and then sorts the fish. The good fish he put into baskets and the bad fish he threw away. Jesus then concluded “So it will be at the end of the age.”
In our world, the good, and the bad exist together, even within ourselves. Just as we were told last week that Jesus told the farmer not to pull the weeds so the wheat will not accidently be uprooted, Jesus is instructing the crowd not to speculate who will be saved and who will not be saved. That is not our decision. God has a plan to determine who is good and who is bad.
And the angels will complete this task, not us. If we think it will be up to us to determine who is in and who is out, then we have been looking for God in all the wrong places…
As you can see in four parables today, Jesus uses every day, ordinary items, and people to describe how God is at work in our world. And the Good News is amazing.
God is at work in our world. God is present and active today. God is even embracing our brokenness and transforming us even as we live out our imperfect lives.
As the 20th century theologian Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) states “The kingdom of God is still under construction and we are still under construction. But that kingdom is growing. The Good News is that God so loves the world that God is continually at work in our lives in the world, in order to draw us, in love, closer and closer to God’s and to each other.”
Today we hear that the reign of God is not far away, but close at hand and with us today. You and I no longer need to look for God in all the wrong places because the Kingdom of Heaven is right in front of us. And that is why Jesus taught us to pray… “May your kingdom come. May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Let us pray: Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your Word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.