Sunday, July 27, 2014

Risk is Our Business

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 27, 2014

Year A, Proper 12: The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Risk is Our Business
            So, do we have any Star Trek fans here today?
            I’ll admit to being a fan – not quite a dress up in a costume, put on a pair of pointy ears and go to a convention kind of fan – but still a fan, especially of the original series with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise – the original series that first aired all the way back in the late 1960s.
            I’m enough of a fan that I’ve seen most of the original episodes many times. And, as Sue can tell you, I can and do quote lines from the shows and movies all the time.
            She doesn’t find that annoying.
            Anyway, when I first started thinking about Jesus’ parables that we heard today I was reminded of a line said by Captain Kirk in one episode:
            “Risk is our business.”
            For the past few Sundays we’ve been making our way through the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew – a section of the gospel that contains a collection of Jesus’ parables.
            It’s a little hard to define what a parable is, exactly.
            This doesn’t quite capture it, but parables are very short stories with multiple meanings. In fact, the more we reflect on Jesus’ parables the more meaning – the more meanings – we’ll discover.
            Jesus uses parables to describe the kingdom of heaven – the kingdom of God which is not just heaven but the kingdom of God which is the transformed here and now – the earth as God has always meant for it to be.
            Jesus’ parables are drawn from everyday life back in the First Century. Two weeks ago we heard the Parable of the Sower – the everyday image of a farmer planting seeds on good and not so good soil. Last week we heard the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds – weeds and crops getting all mixed up in a field much as they did back then and still do even right here in our own church garden.
            Jesus used these everyday images – and, most likely, he used them over and over again - as he traveled around teaching and healing in one village after another. Jesus told these parables over and over so people remembered them until they eventually made it into the gospels where we’ve been reading them and puzzling over them ever since.
            In today’s gospel passage we heard a bunch of Jesus’ parables.
            “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…”
            “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…”
            Jesus says, the kingdom of heaven starts small – small as a mustard seed or yeast – and grows into something amazingly large and substantial.
            And then we get to the two parables that I’d like to talk about today.
            Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
            And then, along the same lines, Jesus says, “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.”
            Through these parables, Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God is so valuable that we should risk everything for it.
            Risk is our business.
            Most of us know all about risk, don’t’ we?
            Yesterday and today we’re especially celebrating the history and cultures of the Caribbean. We had an amazing time marching and dancing in the parade and the party is continuing today with great music and delicious food.
            So, I’ve been thinking about those of you who were born and grew up in the islands – in places that were maybe not wealthy but where there was the security of close-knit families and communities, places where everybody knew your name.
            And yet you – like countless others from so many other places, took the risk of leaving all that comfort and warmth behind and coming here – here where there’s winter! – You came here hoping for a better life for yourself and your family.
            And all of us take risks all the time.
            In our sometimes dangerous city we take calculated risks – what streets are safe and which aren’t – what time is too late to be on the street or to take the bus – the doorbell rings and we answer the door for someone we don’t know, taking the risk that they mean us no harm.
            Some of us have taken the risk of serving our country or serving our community – wearing a uniform that’s a symbol of sacrifice and honor but also serves as an attractive target for violent people.
            Others of us have taken the risk of starting our own business or leaving a job for something we hope will offer more opportunity.
            We’ve taken the risk of loving someone else knowing that sometimes our love is rejected and sometimes relationships that seemed so solid get bruised and broken.
            We know all about risk – it’s risk that has brought many of us here – it’s risk that has brought us together.
            People back in the First Century took a lot of the same kinds of risks but Jesus calls them – calls us - to even more than these everyday risks.
            Jesus himself faithfully risked everything for his mission – for the kingdom of God - and, of course, in the end, Jesus gave away his life on the Cross.           
            Jesus is clear: if we’re going to truly follow him then risk is our business.
            We’ve already found the treasure. Just look around. But are we really willing to risk something – to risk everything – for God?
            I don’t know.
            But, I do see signs that we are risking more and more for God’s kingdom.
            I see us risking our hard-earned and all too limited resources to invest in our future here at St. Paul’s, giving even when it means we have to cut in other areas of our lives.
            I see us risking mockery and scorn from people on the street when we took church to McGinley Square on Friday evening. Here in church we know that we’re safe and surrounded by people we know and who are more or less on the same page with us when it comes to faith. Out there who knows? And yet, we took the risk.
            We took the risk of the marching and dancing in the parade yesterday. I’m sure there were some people who thought it was weird and, I don’t know, maybe even inappropriate for a church to march in the parade. Yet, we took the risk of being out there with the people spreading the Good News with people who may have forgotten it – or who maybe have never even heard it.
            We’ve found the treasure here at St. Paul’s.
            My prayer is that we’ll continue to look for ways to leave our little safe and secure St. Paul’s island.
            My prayer is that we’ll boldly go out into the world, risking it all for God.
            My prayer is that we Christians will remember that, “Risk is our business.”