Eighth Sunday After Pentecost: July 26, 2020
Year A, Proper 12: Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Genesis 29:15-28; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
View the sermon below from YouTube. The text is below too.
Homilist: The Rev. Becky McDaniel, Chaplain, St. Catherine’s School, Richmond
In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us some of the most powerful images of the kingdom of heaven, well-known and loved images like the mustard seed and the yeast and the pearl of great price, images that the children I have accompanied in Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd recognize immediately from their work with—and exploration of parables.
Being at home for so long now, I find myself yearning to touch the tiny mustard seed, to prepare the yeast and the flour, to watch the children gently and reverently handle the small pearl during their time in the atrium. Those precious moments of wonder seem so far; indeed the kingdom of heaven is feeling very far off lately. Of course, I know that the kingdom of heaven is not distant, as Bishop Porter Taylor reminded us in his diocesan sermon last week, “the gate of heaven is wherever you are.” He is right, and as Jesus shows, the kingdom manifests as we tend it, as we care for it, as we give it our attention and our trust. It is hidden and tiny when we do not tend it or when we fail to draw our awareness to its presence.
For the last six months, I have been thinking a lot about the kingdom of heaven as the way of love. In all that we face, I find myself struggling to move forward in hope if I do not pay close attention to the way of love. Anger and frustration arise so easily these days. I have to stop myself and remember to begin from a place of love. It is a practice, and one that is often three steps forward, two steps back. Just turn on the television or the computer and you face the risk of getting swept out of love very quickly. Betrayal and cynicism are on the rise in our culture, and this is particularly affecting the young. As a school chaplain, I have listened to many young people express a deep despair and a growing doubt in the power of love. In her enlightening book, all about love, bell hooks says that:
“When [she] travels around the nation giving lectures about ending racism and sexism, audiences, especially young listeners, become agitated when [she] speaks about the place of love in any movement for social justice. Indeed, all the great movements for social justice in our society have strongly emphasized a love ethic. Yet young listeners remain reluctant to embrace the idea of love as a transformative force.”
Bell hooks cites cynicism and fear as the great barriers to love. It is cynicism and fear that pull us away from the kingdom of heaven, away from the way of love. She goes on to say that “being part of a loving community does not mean we will not face conflicts, betrayals, negative outcomes from positive actions, or bad things happening to good people. Love allows us to confront these negative realities in a manner that is life-affirming and life-enhancing.”
So the question we all must ask ourselves as we walk this journey of love, as we venture towards the kingdom of heaven, is how do we overcome the cynicism and the fear that continue to creep onto our paths, especially as they affect our children so profoundly? How do we not, in the words of John Lewis, “get lost in a sea of despair?” How do we guide our youth to reclaim the way of love?
In answering this question I would like to offer a story.
About this time last year, I was serving at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, and our family ministry team led a youth mission trip in the city. Rather than travel outside of our community, we put together a program based on the principles of “becoming beloved community” to study the history of Richmond and the need for continued work in healing reconciliation. We stayed overnight at Richmond Hill and gathered for daily worship before and after learning and working primarily in the East End. One of the highlights of our time together was under the leadership of Rev. Tee Turner, retired Baptist pastor and former director of the Peter Paul Development Center. Rev. Turner led us along the slave trail, and we began our journey at the foot of the Confederate monument of soldiers and sailors in Libby Hill Park. In a profound opening talk about the history of enslaved people in our city, Rev. Turner shared his experience with the statue overlooking the James River. He told us about a transformational moment in his life when he found himself looking at that statue and feeling the intense pain that he as an African-American had suffered. And then he said that he was suddenly overcome with a grief that arose from a very different perspective. He realized that this statue represented not just Confederate soldiers who had fought and died, but loved ones lost: brothers, fathers, sons, and husbands. Rev. Turner said that the Confederates “built that monument out of grief, and they need to be healed as well.”
Walking the way of love, Rev. Turner was able to hold pain and anger in one hand and grief and forgiveness in the other. His story prepared our hearts for the work to be done, and on our way back to Richmond Hill at the end of that day, one of the high school boys said to me, “I think that I have learned more in this one day than I did all year in school.” Because what we had learned was more than facts and historical accounts; we had learned how to hold space for hurt, pain, betrayal, as well as grief for those who would hurt you, forgiveness for those who caused extensive damage and wounds that still need healing. We learned what bell hooks wrote in her book: “Love allows us to confront these negative realities in a manner that is life-affirming and life-enhancing.”
We, and the generations that follow, must embrace this way of love, this doorway into the kingdom of heaven, what Jesus describes when he speaks of the mustard seed and the pearl of great price: that which opens us to another way of seeing the person standing across from us, the person turning away in disagreement, and yes, even the person who has betrayed us. Because love, if it is true and if it is tended, will indeed grow like the mustard seed and make a kingdom of heaven for us all. There is much work to be done; may we have the courage and the awareness to do this kingdom work from a place of love. Amen.
Before our church buildings were closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, sermons were recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for those sermons, CLICK HERE.