It seems to me that the stories Jesus tells today are offered to open up our hearts’ imaginations to see God at work in the world in unexpected and always abundant ways.
Jesus does so by speaking of ordinary things:
- Like a tiny seed which grows into something tall and sturdy which at its strongest provides a home for birds.
- Like a bit of yeast which folded into the dough makes the baking and the eating all worth it.
- Like a treasure hidden in a field and the determination of the one who gave all that he had in order to make that treasure his own.
- Like a single fine pearl, which when the merchant recognized its value, bet his life’s worth on it in order to have it in his possession.
- And yes, like a net thrown into the sea, gathering up fish of every kind, only to be sorted out later by those with the discernment to do so.
Jesus speaks of the sorts of things his first listeners would have known well in order to make his point that God works in unexpected and always abundant ways.
And in doing so, he opened up imaginations and deepened joy, both the sort that has found a way to be known now and the sort that we experience as anticipation as we wonder where we will discover God’s gifts at work next!
Now some of these stories still work today, to be sure.
Those with whom I gather know a lot about seeds, for even if we don’t garden ourselves, our neighbors do, and even if our neighbors don’t, this small midwestern city is surrounded by fields which boast corn and soybeans, so in every season we are aware of what seeds can and do, year after year.
Fewer of us have much experience with yeast itself, as for the most part we buy our bread and other baked goods neatly packaged from the grocery store.
And hardly any of us know what to make of a treasure hidden in a field and fine pearls to be sought after and bought. And while some of us do fish, it is not normally in the fashion described in today’s reading from Matthew.
Even so, I expect we all know something of hidden abundance. Just not necessarily in the way Jesus describes today. And so I wonder now what it would be like to simply tell stories of unexpected abundance right where we live and serve. The kinds of ordinary things which open up our imaginations even now to recognize that God is at work. That God is always at work.
This is where I would begin:
I would tell the story of our Lutheran World Relief Quilters who keep on getting large donations of fabric and other things necessary for putting together the fabric in beautiful ways to make quilts which are shared around the world for the most vulnerable fleeing war and natural disaster alike. They boast (and rightly so) that normally all they have to actually purchase is the actual thread to bind those quilts together. Indeed, a month or so ago, a local quilting shop was shutting down and the owner donated thousands and thousands of dollars of beautiful fabric to our quilters. They sorted through it, realizing that there was so much, too much for them to be able to assemble quilts from them in any kind of timely way, so they started calling quilters from nearby congregations to see what they could use. It was with such joy that they came and loaded up their trunks with all this fabric, knowing what a difference it would make.
Or I would tell this, how two members of our congregation came to realize they had known one another years and years ago in a different time and place and of how when they discovered this past connection, they also realized that though different, their journeys of life and loss have paralleled one another’s. It was with tears of joy that one of them received this recognition a few days back. It was joy I got to listen to her express on the phone for a moment or two and I knew that their lives will be richer and fuller because they have been brought side by side again.
Or this. I would speak of a CNA who came back when it was not her shift to say good-bye to my mother as she was dying, and of another who greeted me with gladness when I made a call in that same place not so long ago. I would speak of my young nephew who stayed by her side late into the night, all night long, while some of the rest of us went home to sleep, of the countless ones who took a moment to send her a card and continued to do so long after her funeral to the rest of us, of all those who paused to listen and still do, of the precious colleague and friend who came and sat in the balcony at her funeral, but who made sure I saw that he was there as we left for the cemetery. Who just a few days ago spoke of her funeral and of how the preacher described her as one who blended the sacred and the secular so beautifully. Indeed, in a time of struggle and loss, unexpected abundance was then and has continued to be mine to experience and receive again and again.
This is what Jesus seeks to give us eyes for today and every day. To see the hand and heart of God in the middle of our lives, in times and places we may least expect to see it. In seeds and in yeast. In buried treasure and fine pearls and in nets gathering up fish of every kind. This is the gift intended today that we might be able to recognize that God is at work.
That God is always at work.
Even when we cannot quite yet see it for ourselves.
- What strikes you in the images in Matthew’s Gospel which are ours to share this week? Do these speak to the people with whom you gather? Is there a way to contextualize them in your setting?
- Where have you seen God’s unexpected abundance in these last days or weeks or months? How might you share those stories?
- What difference does it make to you in your life that God’s (sometimes hidden) abundance is also always yours to receive?