Why did Jesus speak in parables?

We have spent the last few Sundays reading in Matthew the parables that have begun the process of discovering what the Kingdom of God is like. I think it is interesting that the disciples would ask Jesus why he spoke in parables. But even more interesting is Jesus' response for he refers back to Isaiah: "You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes. Literally, the Hebrew says their heart has grown fat and their eyes are glued shut.)"

And, so it would seem that parables were not meant to clarify but to confound our intellect by introducing ideas that normally don't work together in our observation of the natural world. For example, in the parable of the sower from two Sundays ago, we (today) would say that it was obvious that the various seeds falling on rocky or thorny soil would have such an unproductive fate. After the explanation, we would be quick to pray - "yes, let me be good soil." But Jesus was using this parable to make way for the kingdom parables.

You see the people on shore listening would have been scratching their heads wondering who was crazy enough to dropping precious seed so liberally. In their poverty economy, each and every seed would have been placed carefully in its own hole in the ground for the greatest yield. And, then the disciples would have realized: God would be so generous! Only God would risk sowing even in the worst of places. Why? because one seed that finds a nook or cranny leading to soil and water can powerfully break up rocks and reintroduce life.

Now let's take the parable of the wheat and the weeds from last week. Certainly we are grateful for the time and opportunity to distinguish and recognize right from wrong - sin. But the disciples knew quite well that by harvest time a garden left untended becomes an unmanageable mass of stems and leaves. And only God would be able to determine the good from the bad.

In today's reading we find that when it comes to God's kingdom, even the minutest particle, the smallest bit of life can grow and grow into something vast. One tiny mustard seed sown in a field becomes a great bush capable of housing the birds of the air. A few granules of yeast mixed into over 50 lbs of flour will yield 150 loaves of bread. Enough for a feast. But folks would not have expected God to work in such subtle ways. Instead they expected a warrior king to come in power.

Next - one man recognizing the value of God's kingdom was willing to sell everything he had to obtain the treasure. Then the very next image- the kingdom is compared to a merchant who found a pearl and gave everything he had to gain that pearl. God was willing to give it all away to secure one. You. Let me ask you a question, what is the worth of one human life in God's eyes?

I'd like to digress for a moment from our text because last Sunday Pastor John offered us an invitation - actually a plea to get into the Word of God. We are faced with a great many tough issues in our society today that tend to divide us. We come at them with heartfelt opinions based on verses heard in sermons, our logic and reason, our life experience and we are ready to debate. Some of us believe we stand on unshakeable ground and others will succumb to a good argument. But I would say that is insufficient when it comes to matters of God's will. What is sufficient, however is the actual Bible that tells the stories of those who also struggled with what God would have us be or do. I too believe it to be critical that we find out what God our creator and redeemer expects of us as we approach each issue knowing that whatever the outcome it affects lives. So, I challenge you to study, not just your favorite verses and the popular proof texts, but all scripture.

One particular issue at hand is the three year study regarding the ELCA's position on homosexuality. Because of the great variety of proposals laid upon the table, there is great concern that the church will ignore Biblical authority and lessen the power of its voice. Not to mention divide our church over the outcome. I readdress this issue because I believe that the structure and pattern of deliberation will be useful for discussing all issues of our lives.

I'm going to go out on a limb because I feel some of us may be hesitant if we stand at variance to those in leadership positions, so I will attempt to offer an example. I believe that without meaningful and purposeful dialogue we have a harder time understanding what is at stake . Instead our hearts grow fat and our eyes become glued shut and we might miss what God's kingdom is truly about. I believe God will surprise us in the transformation of lives. I also believe the Gospel, if it is indeed good news, is about bringing life to those in bondage to sin.

Sin. A great deal of importance has been placed upon determining what is sin and what is not. And then if sin, how and where does it originate? And, can an issue be resolved and dismissed by the conclusion. "Well, the Bible says that's wrong. . . so. . . .you're sinning and you need to stop." Ok. How? And what is sin exactly? Many would say it is anything that separates us from God. Then more questions arise, is the cause of sin our nature, our nurture, or poor stewardship of the gift of life?

Well, can you tell me which one of us is without sin? If we read through Matthew 5 beginning with verse 21 we find Jesus being quite specific. Murder, anger, insults, harboring grievances, adultery and a vivid imagination, lying. It's not a matter of an act of transgression, but its conception as well. We are asked to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for our enemies. Pastor John mentioned how difficult the issues of war, abortion, and capital punishment are. The Commandments make it clear: Do Not Kill. No qualifications or exceptions, just simply Do Not Kill. And, yet, there are plenty of instances in the OT where Israel did battle and claimed the victory for and because of God. And we continue to train and send troops out to kill and be killed to defend our nation and our families. Why do so many find excitement in horror movies and gruesome video games. What is it about the idea of cutting off Goliath's head that evokes an "Awesome!" response of "Hey, yeah, that's cool" from the lips of our kids during VBS? So, have we deluded ourselves into believing that taking another life is okay when it has a utilitarian purpose? Have we rationalized away the value of a life so that we are protected from experiencing the depth of sinfulness in this world. Or are there times that God grants exceptions or perhaps it is after all part of God's plan? Is violence part of our nature, our nurture or our poor stewardship of the gift of life?

I will ask again, what value does a human life hold in God's eyes? Even Goliath was once a beloved infant in some mother's arms who played happily in front of their tent. What went wrong? What turned him into a violent man? When did we lose the sense of tragedy of a life gone astray. Should we not mourn everytime we hear of someone being killed? Is our lack of caring not a sin?

Jesus says in Matthew 5:20 Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. and in 48 - Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. You know what? I can't do it. I know I can't be perfect and I know I can't even be better than the Pharisees. Those guys knew the letter of the law. There is no way I can get myself right with God. The Apostle Paul knew that. In Romans 7:18 he says, For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

You know this argument sounds familiar. Martin Luther wrote, "It is false to state that human inclination is free to choose between either of two opposites. Indeed the inclination is not free, but captive. The main and real sin is unfaith, despising God, which is what takes place when people do not fear, love, and trust in God as they certainly should.

So you may ask, what am I trying to say about homosexuality? Well, I would not say that it is "A" sin, but rather a case in point that demonstrates the pervasive and absolute sinfulness of all humanity. Such a state of being is not what God's original intention was for humankind. Yet, neither is the treatment they receive by those who don't happen to experience life that way. We speak of welcoming them as we do all sinners. I would hope that would include sharing the life promised by the Gospel. I speak passionately for I am a close relative to three individuals who experience such sexual and gender issues. I have known two since they were born and have spent long hours into the night and early morning hearing their pain as they discover they were not born right, the way scripture and society would have them be. And, as they discover how cruel "normal" people can be. They ask why their bodies have betrayed them into such tragedy. I have watched and debated with them as all three fell away from church, losing faith in God because of the way they had not yet experienced Christ in the welcome of the church. I know how their mothers question what she has done to bring forth into the world a child with such a burden. Whose sin is it? Mine, my child's, or the evil of this world?

This is what the church could be about in this study: To discover how God would want us to offer grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation to everyone. Can we learn how to make known the hope of the gospel, the promise of life in Christ while they await the redemption of their bodies - just as we do. For we too bear the mark of sin - we all die. They cry out to God like Job, not understanding why such calamity has befallen them.

Currently, the expectation is that of celibacy. Some recommend counseling to alter the person's inclination. And, some may actually conform their body's behavior. But the nature of their being remains and so does the sin unless God intervenes. I am fearful because of the high rate of depression and suicide. Most would say they would not have chosen this life. Luther recognized a distinct difference between willing and choosing. He said the will is always active, whether it is despising or loving God, but it cannot choose of its own accord to move from one stance to the other. The will is like a horse, always alive and active, but unguided unless a rider sets the direction. That rider, said Luther, is either God or Satan, guiding the will toward God or spurring the will away.

But so it is with all sin and all sinners. We can hold up scripture as God's ruler and discover quite clearly where we do not measure up. And, yes, God would have us change. But I believe the New Testament tells us plainly it is God's action that makes it happen, not ours. For God's will is not so much about behavior modification, but change of heart. Our hope is built only on Jesus Christ and the Kingdom that he ushered in. We discovered from the parables that in the end only God will decide right from wrong. We can rejoice that God sows seeds of the kingdom on all people for the power lies in God's hands, not with us. God's kingdom works in subtle ways. Once it is planted in the heart of one who has been born into this sinful world, it grows until it overtakes sin and pushes it out.

Luther wrote, that if God works in us, the will is changed, and being gently breathed upon by the Spirit of God, it again wills and acts of its own accord and not from compulsion, so that it cannot be turned away by any opposition, nor be overcome or compelled by the gates of hell; but it goes on willing and delighting in and loving the good, just as before it willed and delighted in and loved evil." (LW25:65)

Scripture is invaluable. It holds not only God's judgment and God's condemnation, but God's mercy and grace. It is both law and gospel. I pray you will seek not only the judgment call, but the mercy as well. The Kingdom is God's gift to a fallen humanity and it can be experienced in both subtle and powerful ways here and now. Pray that God will enter your hearts. For the value of a human life in God's eyes is the immeasurable love demonstrated in the agony of Christ on the cross. It is not God's will that anyone be left behind or forgotten.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan