Sermon by the Rev’d Dr Jeffrey A. Hanson for September 20, 2020, the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Hebrew Scriptures are full of reluctant prophets. But there was no prophet more reluctant than Jonah. Jonah is the only prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures who was sent by God to a people other than Israel, to a people other than his own; God commands Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh, in Assyria.

Now when I was taught this story in Sunday School, we were told that Jonah resisted this commandment from God and fled on a ship to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh because he was afraid of the Assyrians, who were a great enemy to Israel. It is true that Assyria was an enemy of Israel, but this is not why Jonah flees on the ship. We only learn the real reason why Jonah flees at the end of the book.

When Jonah sees that his preaching has actually worked, that Nineveh has repented and turned to the God of Israel for mercy, he’s not happy; he’s angry. “I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil.”

That’s the real reason Jonah flees: because he knows that if Nineveh does repent, then God will be merciful and gracious and will put away his anger and show his steadfast love for the people of that city. Jonah is angry not because he was wrong about God; he is angry because he was right about God. He didn’t want the Ninevites to repent because he knew that if they did God would show mercy.

God’s question then is a good one: “Do you do well to be angry” about this? Jonah’s reply is truly stunning: “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

There is a name for this attitude my friends, and that name is spite. I would define spite as maliciously regarding someone who has something good that you too have and being angry that they have it. This I take it is the point of Jonah’s story, to condemn the attitude of spite as the nasty and perverse sin that it is.

Jonah has given the Ninevites a great gift that he himself already enjoys: relationship with the God of Israel, maker of heaven and earth, the God of steadfast love and mercy. And this spiteful little man is angry that the undeserving Ninevites have accepted that gift.

The ending of Jonah pairs excellently well with today’s parable from the Gospel of Matthew. This fascinating parable is named by the Revised Standard Version the parable of “The Laborers in the Vineyard.” This is a misleading name. This parable is not about the laborers; it is about the householder, as Jesus himself says at the very beginning: “The kingdom of heaven is like a householder.” This householder embodies the steadfast love and mercy of God that we saw in the book of Jonah too.

This householder may be the worst HR manager of all time. He seems incapable of strategic planning and appears to have no ability to assess what his employment needs are. He goes to the open market and hires a group of workers for his vineyard “early in the morning.” Then again at 9am, then again at noon, then again at 3pm, then again at 5pm. How are we to make sense of this erratic pattern?

It will help to know something about the condition of hired workers in the ancient near east. Men hanging around the market waiting for day labor are in about the worst possible economic condition. In some ways it would have been better to be a slave.

A slave in Greco-Roman culture would have been attached to a household where he could at least count on being fed and lodged by the householder, who had at least some obligations to his slaves.

A day laborer was in a more precarious position. He could be hired or fired at will, so for him, a day without work is a day without food. And the day laborers that the householder meets at 5pm are the worst off of the worst off. I say that because of the literal meaning of the word “idle” in verse 6. In that verse the householder asks the 5 pm work crew, “Why are you standing here all day idle.” It’s an unfortunate translation in my opinion, because calling these men “idle” in English carries a connotation of laziness. It’s too prejudicial. In Greek the term here is argous, which is formed by contracting “a” with the word ergon. In Greek the “a” prefix is negative, it means “not” or “without,” and “ergon” means work. So literally the householder asks the 5pm crew, “Why are you standing here all day without work?” Their answer then makes perfect sense. We are not standing here out of laziness, we are standing here “because no one has hired us.” We have no work because no one has given us any work to do.

Now I think the desperate situation of these workers should be considerably clearer. The workers standing around at 5pm must work to eat, but the day is almost over, and no one has hired them. They have been passed over. Everyone else has been given a chance to earn a little bread but they have missed that chance. They are the last.

Mosaic law forbids withholding a worker’s wages overnight. You cannot hire a person who needs to work in order to eat and then postpone payment. They need dinner now, not tomorrow, not at the end of the week, but now. The householder does justice by paying for work he has contracted right away. Notice though that he gives the workers their wages in reverse order when the day is ended. He pays the last first, a full day’s wage for only one hour of labor. That’s not quite justice. That’s grace.

The householder’s act incenses the first workers, who in witnessing the householder pay a full day’s wage to the last, must have got their hopes up that more was coming to them by virtue of having been first.

We too are accustomed to think that extra effort merits extra reward, and that’s why the householder’s act seems unfair or at least incompetent. It is neither. It is rather an expression of love and mercy.

The householder in this parable, as I have already said, is by the world’s standards a terrible economist. But parables do not teach us about the world, they teach us about the things of God.

This parable is about God’s economics. In the economy of God, there is a place for justice, and there is a place for grace. The householder explains his act in terms of these two principles. First there is justice: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you…” This is justice speaking. No one has been wronged. I told you I would pay you a day’s wage for a day’s work, and now that the day is done, I am paying you what we agreed to, on time, fair and square.

Then there is grace: “I chose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” This is grace speaking. I will do what I want with what is mine. And what I want—what God wants—is to freely give to all. It is my will—it is God’s will—that all be fed this day, even the worst off, even those who have been passed over, even the last.

To begrudge this generosity is to fall victim to spite. I know because I do it all the time. The first workers spite the generosity of the householder; they have their wage, but it angers them that someone else does too, someone they think of as less deserving of it. So it is that the first really are the last and the last—for once—are first.

Two challenges to pose to ourselves. When God lavishes mercy and generosity on someone we don’t like or that we think is undeserving, how do we react? Spitefully? Or do we truly rejoice when God lavishes others with his steadfast love, just as he has done with us? I know what my tendency is.

A first step would be to rid ourselves of spite and learn to rejoice in the mercy, love, and graciousness of God, whenever it is manifest in the lives of others, but this is just a first step. Second challenge: How often do we ourselves show the generosity and love of God to others? Even when it looks incompetent or unfair in the world’s eyes? Because once we are able to rejoice in God’s favor to others in addition to ourselves, then we can take even further joy in promoting that very same generosity and love and mercy by extending it to others who have yet to feel it in their own lives. By making the last among us the first.

We are enmeshed in the world’s economy, which often justice and has no place for grace at all. This parable is about the kingdom of God, of which we are also striving to be members. And in that economy, justice is imperative, and grace abounds all the more.

Amen.

Sermon by the Rev’d Dr Jeffrey A. Hanson for August 30, 2020, the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

One way of thinking about how Matthew structured his Gospel is to see the dramatic events of the life of Christ as structured around two narrative arcs.

Along one arc, it becomes clearer and clearer who Jesus is: that he is the Messiah, although his Messianic mission is entirely unpredictable and nothing like what most people at the time imagined.

Along the other arc, it becomes clearer and clearer that powerful forces are arrayed against Jesus, and they will do anything possible to stop him from completing his mission.

These two narrative arcs collide in today’s passage, which in many ways is a kind of climax point in Matthew’s story. The New Testament scholar Don Hagner in fact calls it the “Turning Point” of Matthew’s Gospel.

Everything so far has been happening in Jesus’s home territory, Galilee, where he has performed many miracles and healings and taught large crowds of interested people.

Now he is headed south to Judea and Jerusalem, where he is not at home and where he will confront the hostile religious authorities. From here on out we will not hear much more about crowds of people. Instead Jesus will focus on teaching and training his twelve closest followers. From here on out we will not see many miracles or healings.

Instead the theme will be Jesus’s eventual earthly fate. In Matthew’s words: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and be killed and on the third day be raised.” That’s four things that Jesus “must” do, as if by divine imperative. It is necessary that he go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the religious authorities, be killed, and then be raised from the dead. All of this is definitely happening.

And even though the eventuality of the resurrection has already been mentioned to the disciples, apparently the shock of our Lord’s impending death overshadows that stunning promise, so much so that Peter is literally scandalized by what he hears.

So he takes Jesus aside for a private word: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

We can appreciate that Peter is shocked, but this flatly contradicts what Jesus has just insisted upon as being necessary for him to do. And that is why Peter, who has tried to rebuke Jesus, gets seriously rebuked in return.

Even our Lord’s body language intensifies his words; he turns to Peter and squares up against him, calls him Satan, and says Peter is a hindrance to him.

The word translated “hindrance” here is a funny one. In Greek it is skandalon, from which we get our word “scandal.” Peter, I said, was scandalized by what Jesus has promised about his mission, and I meant that literally.

You know how in the cartoons when somebody sets a trap by propping a box up with a stick? The idea is that you put some bait under the box and an animal comes along to take the bait and in so doing bumps into the stick so that the box then falls on them and traps them inside. Well a skandalon is that stick that holds up the box. The same word can also refer to a stone or rock outcropping, which is why some translations have Jesus call Peter not a “hindrance” but a “stumbling block.” Either way, the point is that Peter is trying to trap or trip up Jesus. He is in the way of his mission, and that is why Jesus tells him to get behind him. He needs Peter to get out of his way.

The irony here of course is that just a few verses before, in last Sunday’s Gospel, Peter made the breakthrough realization that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus said then that Peter was blessed and that he would build his church on the rock of Peter’s faith. Now he’s calling Peter not blessed but Satanic and not a rock of foundation but a stumbling block.

Things have turned around very fast, and I think I know why. We also saw last time that Jesus told his disciples—for some reason—not to tell anyone else he is the Messiah.

Now I think we know why. There is a great gap between knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, and knowing what it means to be the Messiah, the Christ.

Jesus told his disciples to keep that knowledge to themselves because if a guy as close to Jesus as Peter is can get it this wrong, can inadvertently be squarely in the way of Jesus Christ’s mission, can be a trap and a stumbling block, then how much more will the crowds get it wrong. Before rumors that the Messiah is here start to spread, it’s essential to be clear about what kind of Messiah we are talking about.

That process is just beginning. We have just heard it said plainly by Peter that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, and now Jesus tells only his closest disciples that being the Christ and the Son of God necessarily entails suffering and death. We have also just heard it said plainly by Jesus that to resist this necessity in any way is to stand with Satan in opposition to the Son of God’s divine mission.

I said that one way to look at Matthew’s Gospel is that it is structured around increasing clarity about who Jesus is and what the forces of evil will do to stop him. I also said that both of these narrative arcs converge here. In fact they converge not only in the same moment but in the same man.

Peter, the one who sees who Jesus is but in failing to understand what that means unintentionally stands in his way.

Perhaps Peter is torn within himself. Perhaps he intimates where all this is going. Because Jesus has not yet told us the worst. In verse 21 all he said was that he was going to be killed in Jerusalem.

Now in verse 24 he very subtly lets it slip how he will be killed and what that means for Peter and for anybody else who believes that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God. No longer speaking only to Peter, Jesus turns toward all the twelve: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

A cross. So not only will Jesus be killed, he will in fact be crucified. This subtle addition does nothing at all to soften the blow of his new teaching but rather in fact doubles down on it, compounding the shock.

Is it possible that Peter resisted this terrible necessity at first because he already suspected that Jesus’s fate was to be his own as well? For where the master goes, so too must go the disciples. “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you, because I definitely don’t want it to happen to me.”

Jesus subtly reveals that he will be crucified in the course of warning his disciples that they too must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him on that same path to Jerusalem and what awaits there. Not only must they get out of Jesus’s way; they must follow Jesus on his way.

That way is the way of self-denial and death, but it is also the way of true and unending life. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what they have done.”

There is much we could trade away our true life for: wealth, security, safety, prosperity, power. In fact the first time we met Satan himself in Matthew’s Gospel he offered Jesus all these things and more—the whole world in fact—but Jesus turned them all down, because our true life, what it means to be truly human, is found in none of these things. It is found only in those things that we do that will rejoice the heart of Jesus Christ when he comes in the glory of his Father. Because his way leads through death, through resurrection, and finally to the glory of the heavenly kingdom. And so too does our way. Then the whole world will know who Jesus Christ is, and it will be perfectly clear to all that no evil has stopped him from achieving his mission.

Amen.

Sermon by the Rev’d Dr Jeffrey A. Hanson for August 9, 2020, the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Over 25 years ago I was in Italy, my first trip to Europe. I took a boat trip from Bari to Patras, Greece; it’s a long ride, and you can go overnight. As it got dark I stayed out on deck and watched as the last distant lights on the coast winked out. I realized that it was completely black. Only the stars overhead. And I thought about the world before electricity, when night was very dark indeed and how much darker still it must have felt to be at sea. Then I realized with a sort of cold horror what must have been so terrifying about being adrift in the dark. How frightening it must have been to be afloat in the midst of a vast ocean without a single light visible on land to guide your efforts to rescue yourself from drowning.

No wonder the disciples were terrified.

Jesus has just fed the 5,000, an extraordinary miracle, and no sooner is this over than he immediately dismisses his disciples and the crowds he has just fed. He wants to be by himself in order to pray.

And he wants to be alone for some time it would seem. Evening has fallen, and the disciples have been struggling against an unfriendly wind for hours. Matthew tells us that it is in the fourth watch of the night that Jesus appears on the water.

The fourth watch, as the Romans reckoned time, is the final of four three-hour blocks of time that ends the night, from 3 AM to 6 AM. So the multitude was fed yesterday in the late afternoon, and now it’s probably almost dawn, which explains why the disciples can see Jesus at all by the early light of the rising sun.

Still, the sight of him walking on the water is a terrifying one, and naturally they assume they are seeing a ghost. A ghost after all could appear on water, while a flesh and blood person would obviously sink.

The sea was a dangerous place, and the Hebrew Scriptures speak of it often as not just a place of literal danger but also a place of chaotic evil. It would have been quite possible to imagine that the ocean harbored evil spirits or perhaps even the spirits of those nameless thousands who had drowned in its waters.

But Jesus immediately dispels the disciples’ fear: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

The commands to “take heart” and to “have no fear” bracket the reason why we should “take heart” and “have no fear”: Because “it is I.” It is Jesus, the man whom the disciples recognize at the end of this passage as being none other than the Son of God.

One commentator put this incident in the same category as the Transfiguration, which the church marked this past Thursday; both reveal clearly, to a few close disciples, the divine nature of Jesus. Only God himself is depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures as striding across the sea; that Jesus can do it too means only one thing, that he acts with the same mighty power as God himself.

But this story is not yet over. Matthew’s version alone tells the part of the story about Peter.

Convinced it would seem that this really is Jesus and that he really has divine power, Peter appeals to him to join Jesus on the water.

The reasons for his request are far from clear.

Does Peter want to take part in yet another miracle, like the feeding of the 5,000, which just happened yesterday?

Is he being impulsive, which we know he can be?

Does he just want to be close to Jesus, having been sent away by him not long before?

Hard to say, but the important part is that he could have stayed in the boat. But Peter chose to take a risk.

And at first it works. Peter is able, like Jesus himself, to walk on water. What this shows is that a faithful follower of Christ, empowered by Christ, is able to do wondrous things.

But when that same follower’s faith falters, then like any of us would, Peter begins to sink.

Now Matthew tells us fear comes back into the picture. In verse 26 the disciples “cried out for fear;” then in verse 27 Jesus “immediately spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’” Now in verse 39, “but when Peter saw the wind, he was afraid.”

When Jesus saw that all his disciples on the boat were afraid, he “immediately” spoke to them. And now again, that same word comes up when he sees that Peter is afraid. “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.”

When he sees his disciples afraid, Jesus immediately speaks, and Jesus immediately acts. The same Christ who has compassion upon and feeds thousands of hungry people, who has power over nature and walks on water, also saves from danger and death.

“Have no fear.” Should that not be the message for our time? I don’t think we have heard these words nearly often enough in the past few months. It seems to me every Christian should have these words on their lips and in their hearts, perhaps especially our church leadership.

One great church leader of the recent past made this his theme. “Have no fear” was the message of Blessed John Paul II, who preached a sermon on the day of his coronation as Pope, October 22, 1978. That sermon returned again and again to this phrase: “Have no fear.”

In a development that surprised the Pope himself, this became a sort of rallying cry for his entire papacy.

The words resonated because John Paul II was a man who had confronted plenty of genuinely frightening situations. His mother had died when he was only 8 years old, and his only sibling at age 12. He grew up under first Nazi and then Soviet occupation. As an ordained priest in Communist Poland he was under constant threat of being imprisoned or executed, but he was instrumental in overthrowing this unjust and oppressive regime. He recovered from being shot four times by a would-be assassin and finally was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that slowly eroded his abilities. Yet at no time did John Paul II fail in his obligations: to God, to his enormous global flock, to his many pastoral duties.

He could have stayed in the boat. But if he had, his exhortation to us to “have no fear” would have had far less credibility. He earned the right to preach this part of the Gospel message by the fearlessness of his own life.

We hear a great deal these days about safety. The life of faith however is not a safe life. What we do here in this church is not safe. Receiving the body of Christ is not a safe act. It has never been safe. We come here not to seek safety but to express our faith in Jesus Christ. And as Fr. Anderson reminded us so eloquently last week, Jesus Christ is a lion.

Approaching Christ the lion means stepping out of the boat and out onto open waters.  

We are promised that by faith in Jesus Christ we can do amazing things. We can minister to one another, we can soften human hearts, we can defeat injustices, we can survive disease and death—all miracles no less wondrous than walking on water.

We are not promised that we will never sink. We are promised that Jesus will catch us when we do.

To lose faith in this promise, to lose faith in the command to “have no fear” is ultimately to lose faith in the presence and power of Jesus Christ the Lord. That we must never do. For to lose faith in him is to drown for sure.

Amen.

Sermon by the Rev’d Dr Jeffrey A. Hanson for July 26, 2020, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

This summer we have been treated to a veritable onslaught of parables from Matthew, and we are still in chapter 13, now for the third Sunday in a row, and the onslaught continues.

I think we can read this series of short parables as continuing to shed light on the reality of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and the wisdom that belongs to those who believe in that kingdom and choose to live within it.

The first two parables belong together, as do the following two.

Let’s start with the mustard seed and the leaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all 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. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Both of these simple parables suggest that the kingdom of heaven realizes extraordinary results from unpromising beginnings.

A mustard seed is indeed tiny, and yet it grows into a sizeable shrub, large enough that birds find a home in it. And a little leaven can cause a large quantity of flour to rise.

Both of these metaphors are organic, suggesting a natural development. A seed naturally grows into a tree as long as it is allowed to do so, and leaven, given time, can convert dry flour into dough.

Two weeks ago I pointed out that Jesus tells his disciples that to them “it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” So there is something secretive about the operations of the kingdom of heaven, something that not everyone will see.

Not only is the organic development of the kingdom of God inconspicuous but downright hidden. The action of living things like the seed, like the leaven, can be invisible for much of their life.

Yet again the lectionary omits something here that is important to this very point. Between the first two parables and the last three we get yet another comment on parables. This time it’s not Jesus speaking but the narrator of Matthew. The lectionary skips verses 34-35, which read as follows: “All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.’”

Now no Gospel writer is more concerned than Matthew is to show how Jesus fulfills prophecy, and here again Matthew goes out of his way to show how even Jesus’s method of teaching through parables is itself a fulfillment of prophecy.

In this case the prophet is Asaph, a writer of psalms, and the verses that Matthew quotes come from the beginning of Psalm 78, where Asaph says he will open his mouth in a parable to utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world. So why is Matthew connecting this psalm to the parables of Jesus?

It will help to know something more about Psalm 78. It’s a long psalm, and it recites at some length the dealings of God with his chosen people Israel. Psalm 78 recounts how God struck down the Egyptian oppressors with a series of plagues, how he allowed the people of Israel to escape Egypt by crossing the Red Sea, how he led them through the desert by day with a cloud and by night with a pillar of fire, how in the desert he caused water to gush from the rocks, how he fed them with manna. Amid all this Israel was repeatedly unfaithful and forgot God’s mighty works and yet God always took them back and eventually established them in the promised land under the kingship of David.

So how is it that Matthew presents Asaph, in telling this long but familiar story, is uttering secret truths that have been hidden since the foundation of the world?

Here is what I think: Asaph in Psalm 78 is not just recounting familiar events, things that would have been known to any Israelite; he is disclosing their meaning. Asaph is not just telling Israel’s history; he is telling us what that history means. Matthew thinks that the content of the story that Asaph tells in Psalm 78 is not hidden, but that content is now being revealed in a way that has not been before—the true character of events is being disclosed. The essential message of Psalm 78 is not just that certain things have happened to Israel over their history but that those things are the result of God’s action in the world. So much so that even when Israel is faithless and punished by God, even these failures are overcome by God’s steadfast love.

So I said a minute ago that the metaphors of the mustard seed and the leaven are organic metaphors, suggesting a hidden but natural process. I think Jesus uses these metaphors to show how the kingdom of God that he is proclaiming is the natural outgrowth of God’s entire dealings with the history of his chosen people. Just as Asaph reveals the hidden work of God in the history of Israel, so now Jesus implies that the new moment in the kingdom of God that he is preaching is also the hidden work of God, now in a new phase.

Everyone in the crowd listening to Jesus expected the kingdom of God to be inaugurated on earth by the Messiah and that such a kingdom would be glorious and global in reach. That the kingdom of heaven will be like a tree full of birds is not surprising or secret. The surprising secret part is that it will come from the mustard seed. The point is that the next stage in the kingdom of God begins so unnoticeably that it could easily be missed by the inattentive or the unreceptive.

Jesus takes up the history of Israel that Asaph narrates in such a way as to reveal its inner logic and shows through his own teaching how that history is now being fulfilled in himself, in his own work and instruction to his disciples.

The next two parables, of the field with the treasure and the pearl, prove this and furthermore show us that while the kingdom of God may be found in small beginnings, we definitely do not want to overlook it.

Remember that Jesus said the disciples have a certain knowledge of things hidden. I think this is true too of the man who buys the field and the pearl merchant.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

What do these two guys have in common? I think they both know what they are doing. The man who finds the treasure leaves it in the field because he wants to establish his legal title to possession of the treasure. But to do that he has to buy the field and thus secure the right to whatever is buried there. He does this joyfully, selling all he has just to buy the field. He does so because he knows that whatever he has to pay doesn’t matter because what’s in the field is worth much more than what he has to pay for it.

Same story with the pearl merchant. He is searching for pearls, and he deals in pearls, so he knows what he is doing and what he is looking for. He happily sells all he has when he finds the one pearl of surpassing value, because once again he knows he has found the one pearl worth having, more precious than all the others and therefore worth selling all the others he has just to have this one.

So here is the lesson it seems to me: It may be very hard to discern where the kingdom of God is establishing itself. Remember last week: We can’t tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds in the early stage of growth because we don’t know what might be the beginnings of something new and powerful.

This is because the kingdom of God takes its place not instead of the world but within the world. The seed is buried in the ground, the leaven is hidden in the flour, the wheat and the weeds are in the same field, the bad fish are in the same net along with the good fish. Our challenge is to discern where the kingdom of God is invisibly at work in our world, knowing that it may be almost imperceptible. The key is I think to take a page from Asaph and Psalm 78: We must come to understand the events that go on around us as not just things that happen but signs of God’s action in the world, an action that is always steadfast, loving, and faithful.

What we are to do when we see that action is easier than seeing it: We are to seize it, giving up everything else we have in preference to the infinite value of the kingdom of God wherever we find it at work.

Amen.