Welcome to worship for this 9th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on July 30, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it you’ll find the order of worship, the words and responses of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. All the words you need to know will be on your screen, and the sermon can be found on this page below the worship video.
If you wish to have a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to have a candle in your space ready to be lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn, along with the altar candles. And if you’d like to participate in communion, you may do so with having something small to eat and drink nearby, ready to be consumed at the appropriate time during the service. Further instruction will be given then.
May God’s kingdom inform you and your lives, this day and forever!
Lord God, may the unfolding of your Word give light and wisdom to all who seek your truth, that our minds and hearts be opened by the presence of your Spirit, and we be able to see your kingdom throughout our lives and community, in Jesus Christ. Amen.
You know, I just love talking with my kids. And not just because they’re at about the same maturity level as me, but because they’re so honest and willing to be vulnerable and able to admit when they just don’t understand. I’m being truthful here too, I’m not even trying to be funny.
I mean, just the other day, one of our kids was watching one of the newer Marvel properties that has somewhat of a complicated plot, one that I don’t even know if I would have understood that well if it weren’t for my vast comic book knowledge. So I asked if they understood what was going on, and they were like, “uh, no.” And you all know how much I love to talk about this stuff so I very happily explained it to them… not just the plot, mind you, but the backstory of the characters, a complete commentary on the story’s nuances and overarching themes, and even how it fits in the larger continuity of the whole Marvel universe.
After I was done, like some 15-20 minutes later, I asked, “you know what I mean?”
And their very innocent response was, “uh, no.” And that’s just music to my ears because now I can explain it all over again. So yeah, I love talking with my kids.
It’s different with most adults though. Most adults would probably be like, “oh yeah yeah, I get it, just stop talking my ear off about it.” Which is fine, not everyone has the culture and class and sophistication of a comic book nerd such as myself. But really, don’t a lot of us just say “yes, we understand,” when we really mean, “no, we don’t understand but we’ll say yes because we don’t want to look dumb or uninterested or maybe we just want to change the subject”?
Believe me, I’ve been a pastor for a long time now and I’ve had a loooot of conversations with folk over the years, and I can tell when people lose interest (like pretty much every Sunday). But they’ll politely nod, give a knowing look, and maybe even say “good sermon pastor.” I often am tempted to ask “oh yeah? What was your favourite part?” just to catch them off guard a little. But I don’t. I don’t want to embarrass anyone and quite frankly, I don’t know if I really want to hear about my sermon.
See, I do it too.
I think we all do. Because we like to look like we’re in the know. We like to seem learned. We want others to think that we have profound understanding and can easily comprehend complex concepts and subjects. Or maybe we just don’t want to look dumb.
Take the people that Jesus is talking to for example in today’s gospel reading. Jesus goes all rapid fire in the parable department today, like 5 one-liners in total. And while parables are supposed to make things easier to understand, quite honestly these ones don’t really seem to do that. But that didn’t stop the people from replying to Jesus’ question, “Have you understood all this?” with “Yes.”
Because no you didn’t! Don’t lie. Ain’t no one understand what Jesus was saying here.
Why not? Because these parables don’t make any sense. I mean, ain’t no birds making no nests in no mustard plants. For that matter, ain’t no mustard plants being a great shrubs either. Ain’t no woman making that much bread. Ain’t no dude buying a whole field because some treasure was in it. Ain’t no merchant selling everything to buy some pearl. And sure as heck ain’t no net catching every fish from the evil to the righteous one, with the evil being thrown in some furnace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. I mean, when have you ever seen a fish weep? They ain’t got no tear ducts!
So you see what I mean? And don’t you just say “yes” now to get me to shut up. These parables really don’t make any sense. They aren’t likely or even probable situations that anyone would be able to relate to. They aren’t, in any way whatsoever, bringing us any closer to understanding the kingdom of God.
So what’s the point of all of them? Why did he tell so many so fast? Why is each one more confusing than the last and not actually helping us to understand this kingdom of heaven?
Well, maybe that is exactly the point. Maybe we aren’t supposed to understand. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be able to relate. Maybe the kingdom of heaven actually doesn’t make any sense.
I mean, why would it? We live in a world that is run by power and greed, systems of oppression and exploitation, and we’re taught basically our whole lives how to be materialistic, selfish, and to look out only for ourselves and our own best interests. But the kingdom isn’t like that at all. The kingdom teaches us how we can treat each other with grace and mercy. The kingdom shows us how we are loved and forgiven and motivates us to, in turn, love and forgive. The kingdom reveals to us the joy of living in God’s righteousness and community.
So according to what we know of the world, it doesn’t make sense. Because of how we’re taught to operate in the world, it’s hard for us to understand Jesus’ words and ways of being. And with how the world just is, it just doesn’t jive with kingdom living and God’s wisdom and teaching around relationship, community, and joy.
But we’d like to understand, don’t we? We’d like to be shown exactly what the kingdom looks like so we can recognise it when we see it, we can emulate it if we wanted to, we can be it according to our call. And maybe above all, we want to know exactly what we need to know, so we can tell others what they should know and point out what they don’t. Unfortunately that’s where the church in all directions, whether left or right, seems to be headed. That seems to be the M.O. of those with strong political stances, those with their self-defined educations, those armed with their own brand of infallible knowledge. That seems to be where many of us might be, standing with those people hearing Jesus’ words for the first time, perhaps responding with “yes” when asked if we understand. Because maybe, hopefully, by pretending that we understand, we might eventually understand.
But in light of all this, maybe it’s ok to not understand. Maybe it’s ok to not get it. Maybe it’s ok to just continually ask questions and learn and see new viewpoints and be innocent and vulnerable like a child who just wants to know more about comic book and super hero movie plots. Because I think if we become more sure in our understanding and in our knowing and perhaps our possible arrogant conclusions, we lose some of the magic and mystery of the kingdom. We lose some of the fluidity and flexibility of what God’s love and mercy could look like in and around our lives. We lose some of the gospel and grace of the joy of being God’s people in this mixed up world.
As we heard before, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but it’s certainty.
See there is a beauty in not fully understanding but believing anyway. There is a freedom in knowing something to be true without being certain that it’s true. There is a joy in seeing life as a gift, where things needn’t always make sense for it to be full of grace, mercy, and love.
This is the kingdom. This is where we as God’s people reside. This is where we see God’s face in each other and in our relationships and community, where we aren’t driven by knowledge and understanding, but by love and grace and faith in God’s Word and promises. Yes, we’d like to know, I get it. But let’s turn our focus and goal to be love over knowledge, forgiveness over understanding, and faith over certainty.
So the kingdom isn’t something that makes much sense in the world, but it makes perfect sense when seen through the eyes of grace and peace, giving us the hope and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who gives us strength and leads us down paths of relationship, community, and love.
In this season after Pentecost, let’s bring down the walls of our arrogant understanding and certainty, and learn how to learn with humility, as God continues to shower us with grace, love, and faith, and leads us to live in community in this kingdom of heaven. Thanks be to God. Amen.