Where the pious pout

File:Pouting boy in Shamar, Iraq.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 30, 2017

Year A

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

A mustard seed doesn’t become a tree. It can be a big bush, but not a tree. And it was improper to plant mustard in your garden. It had something to do with the mixing of kinds and the unruliness of mustard. God’s commands to ancient Israel were to keep such things separate. But it’s not like Matthew doesn’t understand this. Matthew does indeed. There is a scandal, here. Like leaven hidden. You don’t ‘hide’ leaven in the loaf unless it’s not supposed to be there. Like maybe someone intentionally desecrating the Passover bread.

Flaunting boundaries. Jesus has been doing this all along. Not just welcoming outcasts, but laying hands on the dead and touching lepers and not observing the fasts, and eating with unwashed hands and sharing the gifts of God with a Canaanite woman (well, those last two stories come after this one, but we who hear the text know something about the audacity of Jesus).

So why does Matthew let Jesus call the mustard shrub a tree? So that Jesus can say that “the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” It is an allusion to the prophetic word in Ezekiel about the splendid cedar that will rise from the broken twig God will plant.

We are still proclaiming the wondrous and unexpected harvest that will certainly come. God’s scandalous kingdom where sinners are welcomed and the dead are raised and the pious pout and fume. But those who see and hear will sell all to possess it. The priceless pearl. The surprise treasure. The dawn of grace.

So Sunday we hear Solomon ask for wisdom and receive all things. We will hear the psalmist sing of the glories of God’s teaching and hunger to hear what is now proclaimed in Jesus. And Paul will describe the creation groaning for that day when the promise is made complete and exult that nothing can separate us from the love of God. And Jesus will tell us that the reality dawning in this audacious Jesus is worth selling everything to possess.

The Prayer for July 30, 2017

O God, whose promises never fail
and whose purpose for the world
will be brought to its fulfillment in Christ Jesus:
grant us wisdom to recognize the riches of your grace
and to live now the joy that awaits us;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 30, 2017

First Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12
“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” – After David’s death, Solomon gains the throne and comes to worship at the ancient holy site of Gibeon where he asks God for wisdom.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:129-136
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” – In a majestic tour de force in praise of God’s law/teaching/word, the poet celebrates the guiding commands of God in twenty-two eight-line strophes that proceed from Aleph to Taw (A to Z) with each of the eight lines in every strophe beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Second Reading: Romans 8:22-23, 26-39 (appointed 8:26-39)
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”
– Paul’s argument that God has reconciled us to himself through Christ by God’s favor (grace) apprehended by our trust in his promise (faith) now culminates in an ecstatic declaration that nothing in the heavens or on earth can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.” – From unlikely beginnings – a tiny seed, a bit of yeast – comes an extraordinary end, so it is with the reign of God. What is sown looks frail and powerless – a Galilean rabble and a crucified ‘messiah’ – but from it will come an exceptional harvest. Like a merchant finding a priceless pearl or a farmer finding a great treasure, the wise will do all in their power to obtain it.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APouting_boy_in_Shamar%2C_Iraq.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Come, let us make bricks

File:India - Sights & Culture - Rural Brick Making Kiln 02 (4040024973).jpg

Wednesday

Genesis 11:1-9

3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.”

We are in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. This means this story of Babel happens after the flood.

Humanity is not changed by the crises that, but for the grace of God, would have utterly destroyed them. Humanity had not only turned from God and lost the garden; they committed fratricide, violence, and transgressed every boundary – even with heaven, having children with the beings of the heavenly realms. The Genesis account gives the brutal judgment: Every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.”

We are not a people who honor limits. We build ever bigger and more deadly weapons. We join house to house and field to field.” We consume in a day what the earth took a millennium to create. We have trouble respecting sexual boundaries, family boundaries, ethical boundaries.

And we are not changed by the flood. God is changed, God hangs up his weapons of war, but Noah gets drunk and his children transgress him. God blesses humanity again, but yields the right to kill and eat God’s other creatures – just not the blood. But it doesn’t take us long to ignore even that.

And then humanity discovers how to bake bricks – and they are off again, building a tower to the heavens, ready to dethrone God forever.

We will not fill the earth; we will stay and build a city. We will not acclaim God as God; we will “make a name for ourselves.”

But we do not play together well. And we are left with a profoundly divided world. Our aspirations are sabotaged by our passions. ‘Me’ and ‘mine’ triumph over ‘us’ and ‘ours’. The tower goes unfinished and the rupture of one from another descends even to our most basic ability to communicate. We don’t understand each other even when we speak the same language. We misread tone. We misread body language. Even at our best we mishear.

But then comes the child of Mary. Then comes the word made flesh. Then comes Easter and the empty tomb. Then comes Pentecost…a miracle of speaking and hearing.

Every people, every language, every heart – the whole world hears. The world is gathered. The Spirit is poured out. The new day dawns.

We are children of the earth, yes. But we are more. We are children of the empty tomb. And we are children of Pentecost.

So come, let us make bricks – to build bridges rather than walls, and highways rather than towers.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIndia_-_Sights_%26_Culture_-_Rural_Brick_Making_Kiln_02_(4040024973).jpg By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons