Thursday, August 3, 2017

It Is Hidden From Us

I grew up a Lutheran in New Hampshire.
The church I grew up in as a child was a small church.
The large churches were for my Roman Catholic friends.
Most of the people I knew outside of Church didn’t even know what a Lutheran was.
I was surprised when I first got into the ministry to hear stories from my congregation about “the good old days” when church was filled with people.
I simply never had that experience of Church.
It is easy to believe in Church growth.
In fact, one of the problems I think we face in the Church today is that we have been running on the idea of infinite Church growth for so long that we are shocked that it hasn’t continued.
But I want to suggest this morning that this is not a bad thing.
For us as Christians kingdom building is always a bit problematic.
Kingdom building can lead us down some very tricky roads.
It can, if we let it, lead us away from seeing the real kingdom of God.

All of our parables this morning talk about the kingdom of God.
They are all different ways Jesus gave us to understand what this Kingdom of God looks like.
And all of them are in contrast to the kingdom of the world that Jesus lived in and that we live in.
All of them are about finding treasures in hidden places.
They are all about small things that add up to more than what it is valued at.
We don’t have enough time this morning to go through all five parables.
I want to focus on just one of them.
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until it was completely leavened.” (different translation than the one we had this morning from the NRSV)
It would appear that this parable is about growth.
That in taking leaven and adding it we get growth.
The sermon I thought I was going to give this morning was about leavening our lives so that we can grow the kingdom of God together.
But after reading the passage a couple of times, and doing some reading, something else stood out.
The women hid the yeast in the flour.
(We have a different translation from the NRSV.)
This is the thing about God’s kingdom it is often hidden.
It is hidden from our eyes and our view points.

I like that it is hidden from us.
It should be hidden from us.
Because when we get involved we usually mess it up.
We make following Jesus about a triumphant march, instead of a slow and often unsteady walk of faith.
If we could make the kingdom happen I would hope we would have done it already.
If all that was necessary to make the kingdom of God appear is that we have everyone go to Church, and everyone believe in God than we would have had it already.
But the truth is that the message of the Gospel cannot come to us in this way.
It is hidden, buried not in our institutional involvement, but what is in our hearts.
It is hidden in the interactions we have outside of these four walls.
And what we come here to do is to uncover it.
We come to dig through the doe so we can find what leavens the bread.

This is all too theoretical for me.
So let me try to give an example.
People want to know about Family Promise, “Pastor how many people have we helped?”
They want some numbers to show progress of the good we have done.
Of course there are numbers.
I can tell you we have helped 12 families.
I can tell you the stories of those 12 families.
Families like Christina and her son.
She came to us with no job, no place to live, no money, no future.
She will be leaving the program with a steady job, and a new house that habitat for humanity helped build.
She will leave with a life.
But all of that does not tell the full picture.
All of that are only surface things.
None of those things is the real picture of the good that was done.

There are things that came from Family Promise that none of us will ever see, or know about.
There were lives changed, epiphanies received, and growth.
We will never know, because it wasn’t just the families who were helped.
The people who provided that help were also helped.
The people, who brought a meal, stayed the night, provided some money, the people who prayed for someone they didn’t know.
How were those lives affected?
How was the agenda of God advanced within each of us, or the hundreds of other volunteers?
It is always hidden from us.

We do these things not because of the numbers.
We do the things we do because of faith in God.
We believe that the help we offer, the volunteering we do on behalf of another is far beyond our ability to see the outcome.

That is why we have Church.
Not because we can give God a spreadsheet of all the good we have done for people, but because we believe in faith that we are participating in the kingdom of heaven.

In our trip to Germany we saw the dangers of kingdom building.
We saw what happens when the Church is obsessed with building bigger and bigger churches.
When it is consumed with political power it forgets that everything we do is based on faith.

At camp once a pastor got up and gave a very nice sermon.
At the end he told us that we were going to go out and change the world!
I don’t believe in that message.
It is nice to say, and perhaps it will make everyone feel good about themselves.
But that is not what Jesus is teaching us this morning.

He is telling us that the kingdom is found in small and foolish things.
He is telling us that it is found in God’s ability to take hidden things and turn them into enough bread to feed a hundred people.
That is always what we must believe in.
That God’s plans are bigger than ours.
That God’s ways are beyond our ability to make them happen.

I am not saying that we don’t have a part to play.
The Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel would never say that.
I am saying that we will never know the full impact of the love we share, the things we give away to others.
We are not to build the kingdom, but rather to participate in it.
We are to live in faith, totally dependent on the wonder and beauty of God.
Always believing that hidden underneath everything, the good, the bad, the sinful, the strange, the unexplained, is God at work.

So may all of our lives be filled with the yeast that is hidden.
And may we always live in faith that God is growing the kingdom in that hidden yeast.

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