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The Mustard Weed and the Family in his Likeness

July 25, 2014

Matthew 13:31-32           martyr-of-st-peter-1701-midRomans 8:26-39

Important Cultural Background: Mustard was a WEED in first century Palestine. So straight after telling us that we should not be trying to separate the weeds from the wheat… Jesus (in Matthew’s gospel in the very next parable) announces that the kingdom of heaven begins with a weed…(important context)

God knows how we can’t be relied on to sort good from evil, to clear out the weeds. Look how we treated God’s own Son as ‘evil’! For us he was a weed. And we did what humans do. Root out weeds. Jesus became a mustard seed. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.”

It was in the suffering of God’s Son that the kingdom began … a weed became a tree of hospitality for all the birds of the air. The kingdom begins when God, and all who are caught up in God’s mission, become victims of the world – willing victims (not victims against their will) – those who fall into the ground and die. Jesus didn’t die of pneumonia. Jesus didn’t die of old age. He died because he upset the social order. He was ‘a spanner in the works’. In the garden he was a weed. We tried to eliminate that weed – or rather ‘the works’ tried to… the machinery of Rome and the machinery of religion, the basic machinery of the mob, tried to eliminate the weed. But the mustard seed took root anyway. We call that the resurrection.

Let’s turn our attention now to our epistle reading. Paul in Romans writes (v 18) of ‘the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed’. He talks about the groaning of creation like a mother in childbirth (last week). And he ends with that famous passage we read so often at funerals… about how ‘nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord’ (the mustard seed of the new creation).

I think we need to take a fresh look at that passage we read so often in funerals…

Who is Paul writing to? Christians… Christians in Rome… yes but what is their situation?…

Suffering people… they don’t even know how to pray (v26 we do not know how to pray as we ought – ‘The Source’ translation reminds us that this is not about style. It translates it ‘we don’t know how to pray so that our praying corresponds to the need). Let’s face it, if we don’t know how to separate wheat from weeds, how can we know how to pray? How to pray is often a mystery.

In a more everyday sense, I notice that sometimes I find people nervous about praying out loud… they tell me they don’t know how to pray. Jesus says to us (whether in suffering, or just feeling inadequate) “The Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words” (v 26). Prayer is not our burden to carry. Prayer is a space where the Spirit carries us. It is normal not to know what to pray. That’s why prayer begins with silence.

Then Paul says to his fellow sufferers. ‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose’. Not, notice, that all things are good (if only we understood them better). Rather in the ultimate working out of all things… (‘things working together’) goodness will come.

God has a plan! Again not a detailed blueprint for every detail of your life… forget about that. That’s a recipe for neuroses. Paul is clear, the plan from the beginning is for us to be (v29) ‘conformed to the image of his Son’. The pre-planning, the designing, on God’s part (we used to call it predestination) is that we become like Jesus.

And what will it look like when all things work together? Paul suggests that Jesus will be the ‘firstborn within a large family’.  And there will be family resemblance. There will be a family/community that looks like Jesus.

In what way will we look like Jesus? Long hair perhaps? Paul gives us some pretty clear indications what this will look like.

These suffering Christians are not suffering in any old way. They may be dying of old age or dying of pneumonia or whatever… but that’s not the kind of suffering Paul is talking about here. Paul lists the things that threaten the Christians in Rome ‘hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and the sword’ (v 35). He even quotes a verse to describe the situation of the Christians. ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’…

That’s heavy stuff! And yet its also a familiar phrase reminiscent of this one: “as a sheep before its slaughterer is dumb”. The Christians are suffering because that is their destiny. It’s their destiny and God’s plan that they will become like Jesus… abandoning their safety for the sake of the world’s need, giving themselves into the jaws of the system… becoming like him in his suffering… a spanner in the works of the world.

There’s no doubt that Paul connects the dots… whether we take it literally or metaphorically ‘being killed all day long’ is the shape of a life like Jesus. Suffering is not an accident of following Jesus… it is a consequence. It is our family resemblance to the Son of God.

There is no safe and secure Christian life, this side of the eschaton (final resolution). And here I want to make an important connection. There is no safe and secure church life… no safe and secure Coastal Unity. What there is, is a life that looks like Jesus and his kingdom.

So this passage we read at funerals… its not about survival (none of us gets out of this life alive)… its not about security, or a good comfortable life, as individuals or as a church.

Paul says, ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’. In hardship, in distress, in persecution, etc … in ‘being killed all day long’ after the pattern of Jesus… we are more than conquerors (conquerors of what?… conquerors over the dominion of death… as it dominates the world).

As Jesus said again and again… its only as we are prepared to die… (for this kingdom) that we will really be living for it.

This applies to us as individuals and to us as a parish.

’For [we are]… convinced that [in all of this] neither death nor life , nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love (what love? the love that conforms us, the love of our mustard seed… the love) of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

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