Eschatology is the study of the end of time and how it will come. You may have seen those bumper stickers that say, “In case of the Rapture this car will be empty” or “ In case of the Rapture you can have my stuff.” These stickers refer to one way of seeing how the end will come, how the reign of God’s kingdom will be ushered in. In this Apocalyptic Eschatology the world is filled with evil and at the appointed time God will break in to save the righteous in a powerful and obvious way. . They will be whisked away to be a part of God’s kingdom and the unrighteous will be left behind. Apocalyptic eschatology in particular stresses the lostness, the evil of the world with an emphasis on Imminent Divine Intervention. In this world view humans wait for God to act. This is not the only kind of eschatology. Another view to consider is Realized Eschatology which explains that Jesus came and showed us what the kingdom is all about by the way he lived. This type of understanding rather than emphasizing imminent divine intervention, of God breaking in like a warrior, instead stresses Immediate Divine Imitation , God waits for us to act, for us to follow Jesus’ example. But how are we supposed to act, especially when we can’t always see the kingdom at work? Today’s gospel gives a sense of the hiddenness of the kingdom. It’s like this tiny seed you can hardly see tucked into the soil, a treasure hidden in a field, a precious pearl that one has to search for, the leaven, the yeast hidden away but transforming in secret as a lump is transformed into a beautiful loaf of bread.
In his little book Parables of the Kingdom Robert Capon suggests that even though the kingdom may be hidden we should not assume it is someplace else and further we should stay away from the notion in the leaven parable that the kingdom is the yeast and the world is the dough. It’s all wrapped up together. So for every second the world has been a world it has already been the kingdom. Progress through history is not a transition from non kingdom to kingdom, rather it progresses from kingdom- in- mystery to kingdom made manifest. (p. 120-121 Capon). Notice how hard Jesus works at telling the disciples about the kingdom in all kinds of ways that can be visualized . This is the third Sunday in a row we are listening to stories about the kingdom. Jesus really wanted the disciples to not only understand the kingdom but to see it. Why would he work so hard for something that wasn’t about their existence right then? He is telling them that even in what looks like the mess of the world there are tiny little seeds right now that will lead to growth that is quite unbelievable to expect. There are hidden pearls, treasures, things at work as all of creation is pulled together in the net of the kingdom. How do we see it, how will we know? Many of us don’t have the wise and discerning mind of Solomon to recognize it but as Paul tells us, the Spirit helps us in our weakness and maybe if we are open to that Spirit we can begin to see how the unobtrusive, ordinary leaven, the insignificant mustard seed, the hidden pearls and treasures are woven together with creation in a kingdom that is right here right now. But it takes some work to look to see it. Frankly it’s a lot easier to sit in your car and hope that if you are stuck on Central during rush hour, that it will be time for the rapture and we will be whisked away from the world and all its complications. But just as Jesus really wanted his disciples to see the kingdom on earth , we as disciples today are called to look deeper into our world to take on new ways of being and seeing, to recognize the kingdom in our midst. There may be hidden treasures, leaven at work when there seems to be nothing positive happening and we need to expect the unexpected. The kingdom is already present if we look for it. But how do we shift our vision to discern the kingdom in its hiddenness?
In My Grandfather’s Blessings Rachel Remen, a physician who herself struggles with chronic illness, and counsels many people,tells the story about Josh who was actually a gifted surgeon. Josh struggled to get out of bed everyday because he wrestled with significant depression. He had become disillusioned and cynical and was thinking of retiring. Rachel’s insight was that for Josh to be helped he didn’t need to have a new life what he needed was new eyes to see what was hidden in the world he was already living in. She suggested that every evening for 15 minutes he review his day by keeping a journal and write the answers to three questions: What surprised me today? What moved or touched me today? What inspired me today? It wasn’t about writing a lot, just a shift in perspective. Josh didn’t want to do it. He was cynical and you can imagine he saw a lot of bad stuff each and every day. But he did it for a few days and came up with these answers. What surprised me? Nothing, What moved me? Nothing. What inspired me? Nothing. Rachel tried to expand how he was seeing this exercise “Try looking at people around you as if you were a novelist, a journalist, or maybe a poet. Look for stories” “Right” he said and hung up. They met together regularly. They talked about his stress but he didn’t mention the journal at all for another 6 weeks but then he brought it in. Slowly he began to find some answers to the questions. At first he was inspired by things like a new experimental drug, or what surprised him was that someone’s tumor had shrunk by a couple of millimeters. But eventually he began to see people, people who had found ways to triumph over pain and suffering. At first he would notice the answers to the questions several hours after they happened, when he was at home. It was if he saw life looking backwards over his shoulder. But gradually he saw things as they happened and his attitude began to change in the present moment. As that happened he noticed a shift in how people responded to him. And he began to talk more to the people he was treating. For example one of his patients was a mother who had two little girls obviously well taken cared for and well loved He told her what a good mom she was. Even though she had been through a lot there was still something very strong within her. She smiled and said, “Thank you, that means a lot to me.” He realized he’d never seen her smile before. It gave him the motivation to ask his patients things he hadn’t been taught in Med school like, “What has sustained you?” “Where do you find your strength?” He began to hear stories and as he did he began to see the commonality of their struggles. During one of their sessions together Josh took out of his pocket a beautiful stethoscope with his name engraved on it. “A patient gave this to me,” he said obviously moved. Rachel asked, “What do you do with it Josh?” “I listen to hearts,” he said “I listen to hearts.”
Finding what’s hidden, finding the kingdom in the mix of life with all its messiness, unresolved issues and even tragedy does not mean running from the present conflict or waiting for God to appear in a spectacular way. It’s more about God waiting for us to see the picture Jesus is painting for us in the gospel. God waiting for us to really be and act where we are, to see ordinary things with new eyes. It’s about finding the hidden kingdom all wrapped up in the real stuff of life. So we might ask ourselves as we go along, What surprises us, What moves or touches us? What inspires us? We may begin to see that the Kingdom of God is here.
sermon written by: the Rev. Joy A. Daley
July 27, 2014 | Proper 12A
1 Kings 3: 5-12 | Psalm 119: 129-136 | Romans 8: 26-39 | Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52