Sermon for Sunday 24 July [OELC]
Text:  Matthew 13:13-17

There is a little corner of grass off to the side of our oval at school where, at the right time of the year, the dandelions flourish, and some of the students delight in picking them and carefully constructing ‘daisy chains’ – though, I guess, strictly speaking, they are ‘dandelion chains’.  And they wear them around their necks, or as circlets crowning their heads, and think they are the most beautiful thing ever.  Jesus might walk up to them and say, “These flowers are so beautiful; and they’re just weeds!  If God cares for what we call weeds, and makes them look so pretty, just think how much more God cares for you, his children!”
Actually, Jesus did once say something pretty close to that…
If your child came to you first thing in the morning, before you were even out of bed, and said, “For breakfast can I break up a block of chocolate in a bowl and cover it with cordial instead of milk?” you would say, “No!  You can’t have that first thing in the morning!  It wouldn’t be good for you! Maybe later, after lunch.”  You know, when you pray to your heavenly Father for things that you think sound desperately attractive at the moment he might also respond in the same way, “No.  It wouldn’t be good for you.”
Actually, I think Jesus said that once, too!

It should not surprise us, really, that if we go about looking closely at the lives of God’s creatures we will observe patterns that enable us to better understand the design, the thought, the care, the love of the creator.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” is how one psalm-writer puts it.
Look carefully at Jesus’ ministry and you will find that over and over again he draws on the realities of our day to day living – the good and the bad, the achievements and the struggles, the times when we are in control and when we are out of control, the moments when we simply observe what is happening around us – Jesus draws our attention to these experiences and observations and invites us to build on them an understanding of the deep, co-existing realities of God’s gracious presence in our lives.

The sad truth is that because of our sin we lose sight of the creator – even though we stand constantly right in the middle of his creation!  From the moment we asserted ourselves and decided that we would share in the knowledge not intended for us we had to start ripping leaves off the trees to cover ourselves, or strip our fellow creatures of their hides so that we might hide, and use our fingers to point accusingly at others or selfishly at ourselves rather than towards the wonder and glory and love of God – we decided to assert our will over God’s design and primacy – from that moment we have lost sight and understanding of the knowledge that was intended for us – the knowledge of God’s loving plans and loving design. 

So we have to learn to see again….
In these current weeks our Gospel readings each Sunday have been taking us through some of the parables of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.  One little text, at the heart of these chapters, hasn’t been included (from Matthew 13:13-17):
Jesus said:  The reason I use parables in talking to them is that they look, but do not see, and they listen, but do not hear or understand.  So the prophecy of Isaiah applies to them:  “This people will listen and listen, but not understand; they will look and look, but not see, because their minds are dull, and they have stopped up their ears and have closed their eyes.  Otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear, their minds would understand, and they would turn to me, says God, and I would heal them.”    As for you, how fortunate you are! Your eyes see and your ears hear.  I assure you that many prophets and many of God's people wanted very much to see what you see, but they could not, and to hear what you hear, but they did not.

When I was a child I remember being taught that a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”.  And, I guess, that was a useful definition in a way.  But it is sometimes unnecessarily narrow in helping us to understand what Jesus actually does in his teaching.  It may even lead to a rather bad habit of taking everything that Jesus says, and treating it like an allegory, and trying to find a ‘heavenly meaning’ for each detail in the story.  Indeed, Jesus himself occasionally explains some of his parables as allegories and works through exactly that process!  But when Jesus says, on another occasion, “If you give a child a cup of cold water…” – he doesn’t want us to go off and try and imagine what is meant by a ‘cup of water’!  And he doesn’t want you to write a thesis on the nature of thirst, with a hundred and one metaphorical propositions!  It is an act, a gesture which you ‘get’ immediately and instinctively.

It is more broadly useful to think of parables within the whole context of ‘the incarnation’ – that the Word becomes flesh – the Son of God become a human being – in the world – with all its hot & cold, sun & shade, food & hunger, dancing & mourning, losing & finding.  When Jesus stops to point at the birds of the air, or the mustard bush, it is essentially no different from when he has dinner at the home of Zacchaeus, or heals a paralysed man lowered through the ceiling, or calms wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee – God, the creator, is here – in, with, and under his creation, to bring his grace, to restore his loving design. Look!  See!  Notice!
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells parables.  In John’s Gospel Jesus might say “I am light for the world” and heal a blind man; “I am the bread of life” and feed the multitude hungry in the desert.  The Word speaks the grace of God in story, in action, in teaching, in example – in ordinary, concrete, real and everyday situations that are easy for us to comprehend…
if you know the language! – if you know ‘compassion’; if you know ‘love’; if you know ‘grace’.
Some of you may remember the “Little House on the Prairie” books (and there was a TV series) from many years ago.  As a pioneer family moves into the unknown of the prairies in the western United States and builds home and farm and community at one point the eldest daughter, Mary, becomes ill with the tragic consequence that she also becomes blind – she loses her sight.  Mary’s slightly younger sister, Laura, takes on a significant new role in their relationship when Mary tells her, “You will have to become my eyes.”  And so Laura, who would later become something of a writer – Laura, who is able to see, becomes the one to communicate to her sister all the wonders of the world in which they live together each day.
In a very real sense this is a role that, by God’s grace and the gift of his Spirit, each of us are able to take up:  to be eyes that see and ears that hear … for the sake of others:  we who know grace … to communicate grace; we who know compassion … to be compassionate; we who know forgiveness … to forgive; we who know Jesus’ deathandresurrection … to communicate the reality of that “I make all things new” into the lives of those in our families, workplaces, and communities.
And in so doing we are able to be both as clear and as profound as any parable Jesus ever told.  Jesus might very rightly stand over there on the side and point at you and say, “The kingdom of heaven is like that – a mother cheering on her son, a father comforting his crying daughter, a teacher going over the work (again), a kid inviting another to ‘come and play this game with us’, a meal delivered, sitting and listening – how do you think people learn ‘faithfulness’, ‘generosity’, ‘compassion’, real forgiveness that brings healing & maintains relationships and rebuilds lives?  By God’s grace we are not only surrounded by pictures of God’s love, but we are pictures, that Word proclaimed, that earthly story with heavenly meaning and heavenly story in our earthly everyday.

Jesus says, “As for you, how fortunate you are! Your eyes see and your ears hear” – you and I have learned the language of grace, the language that makes the Gospel visible, and real, and liveable; that makes the parables in the Gospels direct us to trust a God who is faithful; that makes the sacraments – simple rite, simple words, simple everyday things – makes the sacraments moving, hope-providing, peace-creating connections with the almighty creator-God and saviour-God; that makes our fellowship and friendship, our simple keeping in touch, our prayers, our words of encouragement – all the everyday things done in faith and love – makes them echoes of the same Word that created ‘in the beginning’ what God could see and hear and celebrate:  “This is really very good!”

And as complex as we sometimes tend to make our whole understanding of ‘mission’ and ‘ministry’ at the heart it is as simple as helping those immediate to us ‘see’ and ‘hear’ love, grace brought into their world, so that the Spirit might also help them to that “Aha!  That’s what God is all about….”  Sometimes, maybe, it takes even just a cup of cold water….
Use your life to help others ‘see’ and ‘hear’ God’s grace – every day, in the everyday.  That’s why Jesus uses parables.  That’s why he has chosen and crafted you!