Saturday, July 23, 2011

Keeping it Real

Commissioning of Hans Vigesaa, AiM
Calvary Lutheran Church, Bemidji, MN
July 24, 2011
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

[Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” ….

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

These last three Sundays we’ve been wending our way through this 13th chapter of St Matthew’s gospel…pondering seven parables, seven “jewels” of Jesus’ teaching….witnessing firsthand how Jesus himself is (in his own words) “like the master of a household who brings out of treasure what is new and what is old.” (v. 52)

It occurred to me the other day how ir-religious all these parables are.   They are not stories about spiritual people doing profoundly spiritual things.  The parables, rather, are narratives of the sheer  daily-ness of  life lived close to the earth.

Jesus spins yarns about farming, weeding the fields, germinating tiny seeds, making bread, finding unexpected windfalls, catching fish.   He could have lived here in our part of the world—imagine that:  Jesus in northern Minnesota!    That’s probably why these stories have had such a long “shelf life.”   They are stories about real-life people doing real-life things.

Hans, today as we commission and install you as an ELCA Associate in Ministry, I remind you that the ministry to which you are called is also about real-life people doing real-life things:   working and paying bills and tending homes and trying to get along with one another and mending fences and raising kids and sharing good news.   I think you already get that—and I urge you never to forget it.

There’s a story about a Scottish minister who sequestered himself in the parsonage of the church that he served, which was connected by a covered walkway that led him straight from his home right into his pulpit.   All week long the minister labored over his Sunday sermon, and he took pride in the fact that he could walk directly from his home to his pulpit without being distracted by anyone or anything.

It was said of this Scottish minister that “six days of the week he was invisible, and the seventh day he was incomprehensible.”  

Although this story is a bit far-fetched, it does get at something that really bugs me:  the fact that so much of what we do and say as Christian people seems to be divorced from the daily-ness of life.   How far removed we are from our Lord Jesus who loved to tell tales of sowing and harvesting and mustard seeds and buried treasure and sorting out the “keepers” from the rough fish.

Hans, I urge you to “keep it real” in your ministry with children, youth and families.  We have a real Savior who walked in real time on the real earth and now in the power of his Resurrection walks among us in the same way still.

But there is more here in these parables of Matthew 13.   It’s not simply that these are down-to-earth stories about stuff that happens all the time.

These are also stories about how God’ has a predilection, a preference for salvaging lost causes….redeeming confused, hardscrabble, fault-filled lives.

Because in each of these parables in Matthew 13 there is ample recognition of the dark side of life.   The seed that is sown appears mainly to go to waste—it lands in all the wrong places, gets choked out by all sorts of malevolent forces.   Enemies come along and plant weeds in our gardens--there’s always someone or something throwing a monkey wrench into our best-laid plans and efforts.   It’s debatable whether mustard was a cash crop or a prolific noxious weed—whether leaven was  an ingredient to be used or a mold to be avoided.    The treasure hidden in the field may well have been stolen goods.  The pearl of great price shouldn’t have been lost in the first place.   And the rough fish—the carp, the suckers the zebra mussels—why do they proliferate so much faster than the walleyes and the northerns?

These parables are not pristine tales of a too-good life in a perfect world.   Like all good stories, there’s always a problem, a dark side, a tension needing to be resolved…..just as it is in life itself, don’t you know!

And God is smack dab in the middle of all that, as Jesus never tires of reminding us.   God is working out God’s renewing, faith-creating, future-opening activity in the midst of all the “problems” in this real-life stories.

And Hans, there’s another keeper, I hope, for you and your colleagues and those whom you serve….perhaps especially in the “worlds” of youth and family life in this 21st century.  

This is a hard time to be growing up.   This world is a broken, treacherous, terribly uncertain place.  I can’t blame young people for wondering what the future holds for them.   There are all sorts of reasons why folks could well be tempted to pull the covers over their heads,  just stay in bed, not venture out, not risk themselves in the treacherous adventures of work and learning and faith and family life.  

You are here at Calvary, Hans, to speak up for our amazing God who does some of his best work with bent lumber, flawed building materials, twisted situations….starting with the Cross itself, a perverse sign hoisted up in Jerusalem’s garbage heap—a perplexing sign that nonetheless rescues us from all that would do us harm.

There is one last thing I want to say about these treasured parables in Matthew 13.   There’s a little bit of sheer, off-the-wall craziness in each one of them.   Jesus portrays things and persons and situations that end up blowing our minds—knocking our socks off, surprising the heck out of us.

So even though most of the seed doesn’t germinate properly, the kernels that do grow produce astonishing off-the-charts yields.  The “mixed bag” of the church provides a fertile seedbed for all sorts of persons to grow up together into Christ.   Stumbling upon the treasure, the pearl leads people to go a little nuts—to liquidate all their earthly assets in order to possess the treasure.   The mustard seed that can barely be seen, winds up producing a tree that birds can call home; the yeast multiples the bread-making capacity of the baker so that hundreds might be fed.

You get the picture:   God takes ordinary, even twisted things and God produces  totally-unforeseen, amazing, life-enhancing results.   God gets his way—and God’s way means life for us, freedom from all the ways we mess up, and a wide open future to boot, in Jesus Christ whose very life for us is the parable of salvation par excellence.

There’s a take-away here for you, too, Hans.   I admire you and anyone else who works full time in youth and family ministry.   Although I’ve always had my finger in that pot, I haven’t made it the focus of my working days as you are doing.  

But I know what keeps you going—I understand why it’s gotten into your bones.  

You get to see the results, the payoff.   You have the joy of witnessing all the ways God takes confused folks, crooked lumber and fashions out of them a thing of beauty.  

My prayer for you, Hans, is that in the midst of the dry and challenging times you will inevitably experience—the promise of that payoff, God’s New Creation beckoning and continually bursting in, will keep you faithful, steadfast and excited to come to work every day.

In the name of Jesus.


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