Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Rev. Mary Vano
St. Margaret’s, Little Rock, Ark.
July 24, 2011
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Year A, Proper 12
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

There’s a funny little social debate that has arisen in the last generation or so as the result of developing technology. When you’re expecting a baby, do you choose to be surprised? I always find the commentary around this topic to be both funny and fascinating. In today’s obstetrical practices, multiple ultrasounds are considered both routine and necessary. The picture has developed to the point that in most cases, an experienced ultrasound tech can plainly see the sex of the child. So parents get a choice: do you want to know the sex of the child before it is born? Or do you prefer to wait and be surprised at the time of the birth?  Most everyone seems to have an opinion on this topic and different reasons for making their argument. I find it fascinating because the choice and the argument can tell you a bit about an individual’s personality.  Who wants more control over their situation? Who’s possesses more patience? Who’s more traditional? I find it funny because, when it comes to the sex of the child, there are only two possibilities, so how surprised are you actually going to be anyway?! If it tells you anything about us, Stephen and I chose both times not to be surprised. Both times, we were prepared for the boys we got. But, I’m not sure we were prepared for the constant stream of surprises since then!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has given us five little parables. Each one begins with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like…”  If you like a good surprise, you should enjoy these!

So, we start with the mustard seed. Of course, Jesus points out that it is surprising that something that starts out so tiny can become something so large. But there’s actually more to it than that. Mustard is not the kind of seed that most farmers would want to introduce into their crops. It’s very nearly a weed – it grows on its own without tending from the farmer, and once it’s there, it’s hard to get rid of! And Jesus makes a point to say that it grows large enough that birds will flock to it and take shelter in it. For his contemporary Jews, the birds are a not-so-subtle suggestion that the Gentiles too will be welcome in the kingdom.

Surprise! The kingdom of heaven will grow large from something tiny; it won’t require human tending; it may even be unwelcome; and even the Gentiles will find shelter in it.

Then there’s the yeast… “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until it was all leavened.” What’s surprising here?… well, for starters, the yeast!  Yeast is potentially poisonous stuff, yet mix it in the right way with flour and incredibly it rises and becomes delicious, beautiful bread. Yeast, used to make leavened bread, is also associated with daily living, as opposed to the unleavened bread required for holy days. Oh, and let’s don’t forget to notice how much bread this woman is making. Three measures of flour is roughly 50 pounds – that’s more than enough for a grand feast.

Surprise! The kingdom of heaven is like this tiny little fungus that you can barely even see and when you mix it in just right it can make a feast for the whole world!

Next, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; and in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.” This one sounds a tad unscrupulous to me. Shouldn’t the worker disclose the treasure that he found to the owner of the field? But that misses the point for Jesus.  Jesus is asking us to notice this ordinary person who gives up everything for the one thing that matters.

Surprise! The kingdom of heaven is a treasure waiting to be found, and when you discover it, you will give everything for it – and it will be worth it!

“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.” That doesn’t sound like a particularly solid business strategy. That’s a merchant who has bought and sold many a pearl, and yet still discovers one that moves him.

Surprise! Even when you think you’ve seen it all before, the kingdom of heaven can still turn your heart.

Finally, “the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.”  This one I’ve done before. If you drag a net from your boat for a while and then bring it up, it likely is not going to have just one kind of thing in there. The net is not selective, it brings up all things – the living and the dead, the edible and the inedible, the dangerous and the innocuous. It all gets gathered in.

Surprise! The kingdom of heaven is a net that will bring in all manner of people.

In each and every one of these short little parables Jesus challenges the way we see the world. He calls us to stretch out our imaginations because we need to see what the world will look like when it is reconciled with God’s good will. In the kingdom of heaven a tiny bit of faith can grow beyond our imaginations.  In the kingdom of heaven God’s grace will bless us and feed us all. In the kingdom of heaven the love of God is worth giving your livelihood and your life, and all you get back is joy. And, this is the kingdom that is for all of us.

We have to stretch our imaginations and expand our minds because God’s word doesn’t always match with our own world. But we can’t stop there, because our imaginations will always be limited. So, in the process of expanding our imaginations, we must also be expanding our hearts. For the biggest surprise of all is that the kingdom of heaven does not have to be just a distant vision. The kingdom of heaven begins now within us when we seek out the grace of God and allow it transform us.  If you think it’s an adventure to wait until birth to be surprised by the sex of your child … well, just wait! For one thing is certain – the love of God exceeds our imaginations. Everything else is a surprise!

Amen.