Sunday, July 26, 2020
A pearl of great price
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
July 26, 2020
I really enjoy the Tuesday Bible study group. We look at the readings for the coming Sunday and many weeks a well asked question or thought hangs around for the rest of the week until it grows into a sermon. It was a question that was asked this week that prompted this sermon. This happens so often that I have moved staff meetings where we review the bulletin and select hymns with Carl and Jason to Tuesday after the class. I got tired of having to change selections when we met on Monday. At any rate there’s a quick ad for the group and I would love to have more people join us. Now for the sermon that was prompted by this week’s class.
This week’s gospel is a collection of 5 parables in Matthew, one right after the other. It almost seems like Matthew was thinking, well I want to make sure I get all these written down, I think I will just put them together into one section. Knowing how Jesus taught and used parables I don’t think he would have used all of these in one sitting. Or maybe he was trying to make a point and the disciples just didn’t seem to get it and he thought, “Well that example of the kingdom didn’t work, I’ll try another one and see if they understand.”
Now Jesus is describing the kingdom in several ways. One is something small that has a huge impact. The second is the kingdom as something valuable, so valuable you would sell all that you have to obtain it.
Now my original thought was to look at the mustard seed parable and look at the idea of something small that has great impact. The mustard seed Jesus is talking about was used all the time as an example of something small. As someone pointed out, they really aren’t that small, but they do grow into a great shrub (not a tree). In biblical times it was an invasive weed that could take over a garden. Similar to kudzu for any of you who have lived in areas where that grows. So the idea is something small that spreads and takes over. Well the idea of the kingdom as an invasive species is kind of interesting and I thought well that will be a good idea, but then we started looking at the third and fourth parable.
The question was asked, “What is the pearl of great price that you would sell everything you have in order to obtain it?” Now part of me wants to just roll that question out there to each of you and sit down and let Carl play some music while you meditate on that question. Yet in this time of gloom and doom, I think we all could use the gift of a pearl of great price.
I spent much of Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning pondering that question and I am guessing that several of the people from Tuesday morning were thinking about it as well. I continued to do my research but running through my mind was also the funeral readings. In the past week or so funerals are sadly something on my mind. It also appears that I have become the person one of the local funeral homes is calling when an Episcopal or Anglican priest is needed for someone without a church. Now just a quick note, I never turn down a funeral. I believe that being with a family at the death of a loved one is an honor and a duty of any clergy person. It doesn’t matter what their faith journey is and often when it is a funeral home there are some issues with the institutional church underlying the situation. However, I can show the family a positive caring face of the church and to be honest I have gained more new members over the years from funerals than weddings!
First one of the pearls of great price to me, comes from those funeral readings. This is part of the Romans passage today. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or alternatively the Message translation: “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”
This pearl grants us comfort that no matter what happens in this world or anywhere else that we are promised to never be outside of the reach of the love of God. In times such as we live in today this promise is one of great comfort to many. This is an image of God large enough to transcend anything we can imagine and even things we cannot imagine staying united with us. This is an image and a theology of God in keeping with what we are looking at in our Wednesday Theology Lunch discussion of the book Love Wins by Rob Bell. This is the great promise that Rob Bell writes about that says no one is outside of the reach of God’s love. God never gives up on anybody, even if we do. This is also a key to an inclusive theology that invites all in and accepts all into our church.
This is an image of God that is also carried by Psalm 139 that we looked at last Sunday, that no matter where we go or what happens, God is always there for us. God is not pursuing us, God is everywhere and therefore wherever we go, God is already there. Even more important we are created by God in God’s image and likeness. And God says at the end of the creation story and it was all very good.
Times like these can be incredibly discouraging and I know more than a few people who say they wonder where God is in all of this. Well there is a second pearl in the passage from Romans.
As I look for a unitive view of religion where God blesses everyone, God loves everyone, no exceptions, I find a challenge to how to pray for this. In a world as deeply divided as ours is, often by people claiming to love God, but hating others I find I have no words. I have no words but a great pain in my soul over the harm I see done by people of all faiths in God’s name. This is where the second pearl comes into play and that is the opening lines of this passage.
Rom. 8:26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27 He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. 28 That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Just as in the psalm, Paul tells us in Romans that God knows what is in our hearts. God knows the pain, the unborn prayer waiting to be expressed. Even when it is only the deep sighs and the groans for a hurting planet. Yet ultimately what God desires is that we desire God. In that deep and profound love there is no need for words. There is the promise of the infinite love of that life giving, liberating God that we know deep in our own souls. This is a God that knows us better than we know ourselves. So there are two pearls of great price. I invite you this week to ponder the question of what is that pearl of great price for you?