Sermons

Sun, Jul 30, 2017

Subverting wisdom

Series:Sermons

The dual-citizenship fiasco embroiling our federal politicians continues.

The latest involves Malcolm Roberts--

the One Nation senator from Queensland--

who was born in India to British parents.

As an infant, he travelled on a British passport...

and his name appears in the British Government's register of British nationals born overseas.

He claims that he has formally renounced his British citizenship...

but he won't release the document to prove when the renunciation was finalised.

And some of his statements have been a little confusing--

to say the least.

In a media release, Senator Roberts' spokesman wrote...

"He is choosing to believe that he was never British".

One could suggest... 

that doggedly maintaining a belief in the face of overwhelming facts to the contrary...

has characterised his entire approach to politics thus far.

But, as one commentator pointed out...

claiming that "one does not believe oneself to be a citizen of a country would be a novel legal approach".

Legally speaking, belief doesn't create reality.

What he believes doesn't change the law...

or the facts.

And that's also true, scientifically speaking.

Theories--

beliefs--

are subjected to rigorous testing and re-testing before they are accepted.

But, in a sense, that's not universally true.

It's not true, for example, in the case of an artist...

or a writer.

In fact, it can be quite the opposite.

Through the mythical, the fabulous, or the surreal they seek to point to deeper truths...

prompting us to see things differently...

to imagine new possibilities...

to open up, or indeed to create, new worlds.

And, of course, that is precisely what the Gospel parables aim to do.

Parables are metaphors--

literary devices...

everyday stories that convey a deeper meaning.

At times they may appear to be simple similes.

But, according to Marcus Borg, parables are invitations to "a different way of seeing"... 

even a "radically new way" of seeing.

Indeed, they are an attempt to subvert conventional wisdom. 

In other words, parables are stories that seek to challenge our taken-for-granteds.

Now, with the exception of the last one--

which... 

with its theme of judgment and social exclusion... 

clearly comes from the hand of the author of Matthew's Gospel--

the series of parables in this morning's reading probably stems from the historical Jesus. 

In form, they appear to be similes or even aphorisms-- 

simple, slightly pithy sayings--

not long, extended or complex stories. 

As parables, however, they still invite us "to a different way of seeing". 

But, perhaps, we need to see them in their first century context to appreciate that fully.

Note: all of these parables are about the "Kingdom of God"--

which, in the author's Hebraic idiom, becomes the "Kingdom of Heaven".

And, in the time of Jesus... 

the Hebrew people were expecting God to intervene--

and to intervene dramatically--

in order to overthrow the hated Romans... 

to drive them out the land... 

and to restore the Kingdom of Israel once again. 

It was a common hope and dream--

one that had sustained them through generations of brutal occupation.

And yet, Jesus' parables of the Kingdom subvert that.

They subvert the Hebrew expectation of dramatic and violent liberation.

At the same time, they also subvert the very experience and ethos of Empire itself. 

That subversiveness is most apparent, perhaps, in the first two of our parables:

"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...

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."

In both of these simple parables, the point that's being made is that the Kingdom of God--

contrary to popular belief and expectation--

is not to be found in power... 

or in majesty... 

or in might. 

Both of these parables subvert the expectation of some great and dramatic divine intervention--

long before they realised that God doesn't work like that at all.

Instead, what these parables suggest is quite the opposite. 

In other words, the Kingdom of God--

that is, God's imaginative intention for creation...

and God's transforming presence in the world--

is not to be found in power or in majesty or in might...

but in the insignificant and the inconsequential.

Even more than that...

what's interesting about both of these parabolic images is that they involve things that were--

in many respects--

regarded as unclean.

The mustard plant was, in fact, a weed.

It was nigh on worthless.

It wasn't something that a good farmer would plant in his field.

And, indeed, to plant it with other crops wasn't considered kosher--

it wasn't right, or proper, or pure.

Similarly, leaven--

not yeast...

but a fermented dough mix used as a rising agent, similar to the way that sour-dough is made...

because that's all they had back then--

leaven was seen as impure...

unclean...

potentially corrupting.

In other words, in the subversive worldview of the parables...

the Kingdom of God--

God's imaginative intention for creation...

and God's transforming presence in the world--

is something that would actually be considered by most not just to be insignificant and inconsequential...

but, in fact, improper or even inappropriate.

According to these parables, the Kingdom of God was insignificant...

impure...

and, indeed, offensive to popular expectation and sensibility--

both socio-politically and religiously--

in much the same way that Jesus, himself, was.

In other words, these parables effectively function as metaphors of the incarnation itself.

And yet, they're not simply making a statement about Jesus--

about his ministry and mission...

let alone about his nature.

Rather... 

they're pointing to a reality that goes beyond God's transforming presence and work in the life of Jesus.

They're pointing to something even bigger.

They're pointing to God's whole modus operandi. 

Throughout history, and even now, God's transforming presence in the world...

and God's imaginative intention for creation...

is known...

is revealed... 

is experienced...

incarnationally. 

God's incarnationally transforming presence is experienced in ways that we least expect... 

in ways that, according to our religious tradition, we might find offensive;

and through people we probably least imagine. 

That, in the end, is the deeper reality to which these parables are pointing.

After all, what's striking about the parables of the mustard seed... 

the leaven... 

and, indeed, the treasure in the field... 

is the implication that the realisation of the Kingdom of God... 

rests on ordinary people.

God's incarnationally transforming presence-- 

is to be known and experienced through ordinary people... 

going about their ordinary lives... 

doing ordinary things... 

and, in so doing, fulfilling God's purposes. 

Indeed, we are the ones who make it happen. 

We are the agents of God's imaginative intention for creation.

We are the manifestation of God's incarnational transformative presence. 

We are the ones who realise the kingdom of God--

even briefly, fleetingly, or seemingly inconsequentially--

through every small act that makes God known;

and through every small act that bring closer the fulfilment of God's re-creative purposes.

It is through us that God's kingdom is realised.

It is through us that God's creation is-- 

and will be--

restored, renewed, and made whole.

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