We will advance on two fronts this Sunday, covering the lectionary selections from Romans 8:26-39 and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.
In Romans, Paul writes about how God’s Spirit helps people with their prayers. This suggests that the Holy Spirit acts as an intermediary between ourselves and God. It is all quite a mystery, but it seems that the very essence of God helps get the core of our prayers delivered properly.
Then Paul writes one of the most popular verses in the Bible, Romans 8:28: “. . . all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” This verse is a marvelous reassurance that God will be there redeeming us from all sorts of situations. Our love for God and God’s love for us mean that we can claim redemption from anything that happens to us.
Suffering can have a greater purpose if we are open to it. There are always lessons to be learned and strength to be gained. Our part is to trust God. People struggle to make sense of everything from ordinary and mundane happenings up through terrible circumstances. Paul asserts that none of this suffering will separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35), hence nothing can break the bonds of divine love. This is a wonderful message, especially appropriate given that Paul was originally writing to persecuted Christians in the capital of the Roman Empire.
Today’s people of faith can draw the same consolation from Paul’s writing because suffering remains as real as ever. God’s essence is love, and because of this we can claim the greatest power in the universe. It isn’t easy to keep God’s promises in mind while in the midst of disruptions and distractions. As we remain faithful, God will help us gain the victory over any situation we face.
We can summarize Paul’s message by proclaiming God’s magnificent love, which stands above all else and will ultimately carry God followers beyond death. This is a fantastic promise. We know that in the minutiae of life we can miss or overlook God’s presence. We get sick, people do things against us, and in the end we are not spared physical death. Despite all this, the power of God’s love will build the bridge between this life and the next.
Now we turn to the section in Matthew. Central here is Jesus’ use of a series of metaphors comparing the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a gem merchant, and finally a large net. That’s a bunch of comparisons, all of which variously emphasize how valuable is existence in God’s eternal care. Our part is to muster the attitudes and actions which will activate God’s power on our behalf.
The first metaphor Jesus uses is comparing God’s kingdom with a tiny mustard seed, which represents how even a slight amount of faith can grow to become a huge plant of life. Similar to a minuscule seed, faith seems obscure or hidden until we consider how mighty can be the effects. The next metaphor Jesus offers is that of faith compared with yeast, which causes food to rise to a volume beyond the small amount of yeast initially added to a recipe. Seeds and yeast are tiny, but their hidden power becomes known under the proper conditions.
The next set of kingdom of heaven metaphors begins with a treasure-seeker, who buys a piece of land knowing that something of great value is hidden in the property. Akin to this is comparing the kingdom of heaven to a precious gem, a pearl that a clever merchant purchases because of its desirability. In these analogies, the kingdom of heaven is equated to value, like a superb investment, and therefore people should save-up and make a wise decision to follow God in order to obtain a more fulfilled life.
Jesus’ final example is describing the kingdom of heaven as a net holding many fish. Sadly, some of these caught fish are deemed bad, so much so that they will be cast into a fire by angels and burned. The image of baked fish is easier to take than a roasted person but it is this latter, horrific image of human suffering that the text emphasizes. The kingdom of heaven can be a severe, sobering topic. We needn’t dwell on the negative, destructive side because we’re invited to emphasize the positive, constructive aspect, that of utilizing our resources to gain great value from love and truth.
A helpful take-away from Jesus’ kingdom of heaven discussion is that we should invest in our future because it is a sure bet that will yield more than just earthly treasure. The return on our spiritual investment is not only in the future but also in the present, through a life of wellbeing and fulfillment. Are you planning your future? What are you investing in and can you count on an excellent return?
Greater than real estate, collectibles, Roth IRAs, a 401(k) and all other financial instruments is your heavenly account, which is the only thing left on your spiritual balance sheet when you make your final check-out. Make the best investments now, while you can, and God will take care of the rest. No Great Recession or other economic disaster will wipe your heavenly account. Instead, God’s abiding love is an absolutely stellar return on your life energies. Now that’s an unbeatable deal!
–Reverend Larry Hoxey