Readings: 6th Sunday after Trinity

by
18 July 2014

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Proper 12: 1 Kings 3.5-12; Romans 8.26-end; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love toward you that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Continuing his line of thought from last week's reading, Paul has entered the courtroom. Assuming knowledge of the Jewish tradition, including the satan, "the accuser" (Job 1.6-12), he asks whether charges can be raised against God's people and who is laying them.

Echoing Isaiah 50.7-9, Paul concludes that only Christ Jesus has the authority to condemn, yet he is interceding for us. Without prosecuting counsel, there is no trial, but the debate begun in last week's reading continues. The motion is: "This house believes that the sufferings of the present age are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed."

First, evidence for the motion: God has given his Son for us and, with him, everything else. When we do not know how to pray in the turmoil we face, God has already acted on our behalf, and the Spirit intercedes for us.

Similarly, Jesus assures us that, even when we cannot see it, God's Kingdom is steadily growing, as from a tiny mustard seed. Christians live by faith and not by sight. Equally, yeast works unseen to make bread happen. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to the yeast rather than the bread, thus making God's Kingdom the invisible catalyst for growth rather than the finished product. That is dynamic.

Second, evidence against the motion: Paul's reference to being killed for God's sake (Psalm 44.22) and Jesus's parables assume that the Kingdom of God exists alongside suffering and wrong. Unfortunately, the lectionary separates Paul's three references to "groaning" (Romans 8.22, 23, 26), while the NRSV's "sighs too deep for words" obscures the repetition.

Paul asserts that creation groans while waiting for the revealing of the children of God, who groan as we wait for adoption. Creation groans in labour pains (loudly!); we do it inwardly because we have the first fruits of the Spirit; and the Spirit does it wordlessly and deeply. Biblically, birth pangs have eschatological associations of anguish and turmoil: Paul cannot keep his eyes off the glory that is about to be revealed to us.

Third, surprise evidence: pious Jews described themselves as "those who love God and keep his commandments", whereas Paul astounds the Roman church, which was struggling to hold together Jews and Gentiles, by changing the end to "who are called according to his purpose". That changes the role of the law radically.

Jesus similarly startled his hearers. Instead of choosing an exotic or beautiful plant to describe the Kingdom of heaven, he preferred the mustard seed, an analogy he used of faith (Mathew 17.20). The Kingdom of God is like this common-or-garden invasive weed, which grows rampantly, seemingly from nowhere, into a tree eight to ten inches high. Then it does something life-giving: it offers shelter and shade.

As I was writing this, we were dealing with a cathedral visitor's need which we could not solve, but the vergers, chaplain, and I did what we could. When the visitor thanked me, I realised that the temporary shelter we had offered was experienced as a hitherto-unknown foretaste of God's Kingdom.

Fourth, summing up: Paul approached the question from another angle: who will separate us from the love of Christ? The processes of the law could not, so a catalogue of potential separators is rolled out, to no avail.

Finally, "I am convinced" (Romans 8.39) develops "I consider" (Romans 8.18) in the light of evidence. If "consider" means "think over" rather than "believe", then all the evidence has been debated - creation's suffering, our sharing in it, the place of hope, the Spirit's help, what we know of God's ways, that we are to be glorified. Finally, the motion under consideration is carried: "I am convinced."

What does all this tell us about God at work in the world today, where there is suffering, we are weak, and many people are burdened by guilt? Yeast and a buried mustard seed cannot be seen, but do their work none the less. The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs that we cannot even hear.

How would the world be transformed if we followed Solomon's example in the Old Testament reading and, knowing our failure to know how to act, yearned for wisdom, made sure that seeds are scattered, and kneaded the yeast? Then they can do their work through us, miraculously providing shelter and food for whoever needs it.

 

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