Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hidden in You: sermon preached this morning

St. Matthew's was called Trinity
when I was growing up here
sermon preached at
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Rupert, ID
by Josh Hosler
Proper 12A/ July 24, 2011

Good morning. A little background for those of you who don’t know me: My name is Josh Hosler. My dad, Sam Hosler, was the rector of this church from 1976 to 1986. My mom, Carol Hosler, was a journalist and columnist for the now-defunct Minidoka County News. The years we spent here were, for me, ages 4 to 13. After living in Rupert, I spent eight years in Michigan and seventeen years in Seattle. Today, my wife Christy, my daughter Sarah and I are on a cross-country road trip, moving to Alexandria, Virginia, where I will begin seminary in a couple weeks, on track to become a priest myself. That’s the quick version of my story.

Now, from that story, even if you knew me as a boy, you might assume that I’m simply going into the family business. But this isn’t really what has happened. My path toward priesthood has unfolded very slowly in my 38 years, like something hidden under the surface, just waiting to be discovered and allowed to grow to its full potential.

I think we all have hidden talents, and luckily, today’s Gospel reading has a lot to say about things that are hidden. We just heard a series of rapid-fire parables from Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … it’s like yeast … it’s like hidden treasure … it’s like a merchant in search of fine pearls … it’s like a net catching fish of every kind. Maybe Jesus really laid them all out in quick succession like this—I don’t know. But when they are collected and presented this way, they can teach us something.

Now, many of us have spent a lifetime in church. If that’s as true for you as it is for me, maybe you, too, have gotten used to Jesus’ words. They’re comfort food—meat and potatoes. They feel good because they’re familiar. If we could get into the heads of Jesus’ disciples and hear them again for the first time, we might not find the stories quite so comfortable. But we might also find them a lot more exciting and full of possibility.

So instead of starting with the parables themselves, let’s start with their common focus: the kingdom of heaven. What do we hear about the kingdom of heaven from the culture all around us? What are the popular notions of heaven? Even growing up here at what was then Trinity Church, I came away with the impression that heaven is a place—a place where good people—good people—go when they die—a place where no bad people will ever trouble us again. Now, this was a child’s perspective on heaven. And those of you who knew me as a short, geeky kid might well imagine that I figured all sorts of bad people on the playground were probably out to get me. I loved the idea of escaping to someplace better. In fact, when my family prepared to move to Michigan, I saw it as an ideal opportunity to make a fresh start, and to do it better this time. Maybe we as Christians feel this way on a more adult level, especially when we turn on the news: the world is falling apart. When will Jesus come back and sweep us into the kingdom of heaven so we can start all over again and do it right this time?

Of course, there are lots of problems with this image of the kingdom of heaven, not the least of which is that it slices the world cleanly into good people and bad people. You may cry foul and point out that the parable of the catch of fish seems, at first glance, to do exactly the same thing. Well, please put that on hold for a moment, because I’d like to go back to the mustard seed and do a little paraphrasing.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It’s tiny. It’s almost unnoticeable. But when the soil, rain and sun discover it, it changes. It realizes its full potential, sprouting, growing and spreading toward the sky.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. It’s tiny. It’s a fungal micro-organism! But when the flour discovers it, it changes. It realizes its full potential, and it becomes delicious and nourishing.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Nobody knows it’s there at all, so for a time, it has no value. But when the man discovers it, it changes. The man sells everything he has to possess it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he finally discovers the best pearl of all, he sells his chair, his table, his bed, and his house just to have the pearl. Once he has the pearl, what will he do without his chair, table, bed and house? I wonder if that even matters.

The kingdom of heaven is like a net catching fish of every kind. The fish are hidden in the deep. But when the catch is hauled in, all shall be revealed. Some will be kept, and some will be thrown back.

St. Matthew's - sanctuary
And so, Jesus explains to us what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is hidden: it is not immediately noticeable, but it is full of potential. In the kingdom, everything good will be kept, and everything evil will be thrown out. Well, what about you? What is hidden inside you? Are you good, or are you evil? Have you lain awake at night wondering the same thing yourself?

So here we are, again crashing into that popular notion of heaven as a place where good people go and bad people are not allowed. But please allow me to reframe the question: are there good things in you? They will be kept. Are there bad things in you? They will be burned. It might hurt: judgment often does hurt. Separating the good from the bad might well feel like an amputation.

But are you in danger of being destroyed by God? How could you be, when God made you and loves you and treasures you? How could you be destroyed when good seeds in you are sprouting, and good yeast is making holy dough rise? And so I want to say that nothing in these parables speaks of escaping the pressures and worries of this world in order to have done with certain people once and for all. First of all, nobody is disposable. And second, as Jesus says in another place, “Look! The kingdom of heaven is all around you.”

As much as I loved my childhood in Rupert, at the age of 13, I was ready to escape. I was not popular among my peers, and I thought that if only I could get a fresh start, I could set up quite a nice life for myself. Sure, I would miss my best friend, some really great teachers, a wonderful church community, and so on. But it would be worth it to have another chance—to do it right this time! Maybe I would even have a girlfriend within a couple weeks.

Well, you can imagine that things didn’t go according to my grand plan. I was called unkind names on my very first day of school, and things didn’t improve for a long time. The move from Idaho to Michigan didn’t kill me, but it destroyed much of my fragile confidence. Over the next few years, as I grew older and wiser and stronger, I figured out that I had never had a hope of “getting it right.” Nor was that ever a problem, because God doesn’t expect us to “get it right.” God expects and yearns for a relationship with us, a relationship marked by love, forgiveness, and growth. When we show the slightest improvement in these areas, God rejoices. But God even rejoices when all the improvement we show was actually work done not by us, but by God! When we’re living life with God, we can’t help but grow, because the kingdom of heaven is hidden in us.

St. Matthew's parishioners we ate lunch with today
Are you living in the kingdom? You have a choice, you know. You can live in Rupert or Seattle or Alexandria. You can stay in one place all your life, or you can move around the world many times. And you can try to escape the kingdom, but you won’t be able to go very far away—only into your own head, cut off from others. Because not only is the kingdom of heaven in you, but it’s also in everyone you meet. The kingdom is wherever God is, and that’s everywhere. Will you be a citizen of that kingdom today?

I know this church has a history of taking in people that other people might like to forget or do away with altogether. One true sign of the kingdom of heaven is this very work—welcoming the rejected and scorned, building up people’s dignity, showing them the spark of God inside them. God made us good, and while we’re not good enough or big enough or strong enough to do God’s work on our own, that doesn’t make a lick of difference, because God is working with us and in us. God never gives up on us! So we have no right to give up on each other … ever. And God is at work here at St. Matthew’s. And God is at work among the Catholics and the Methodists and the Baptists and the Mormons. God is at work in our farms and our schools, in our newspapers and on our websites, among police and migrant workers and politicians and grocery clerks. The Holy Spirit is breaking out everywhere, sometimes in the most surprising places.

St. Matthew's - nave
I do feel a little odd dropping in on you after 25 years away and saying all this. You don’t really know me anymore. But deep inside of me are memories of this red carpet, of the smell of these pews, of my years spent as an acolyte, of dressing up as a shepherd at the Mollers’ farm for the Christmas pageant slide show. All three of Doug Reincke’s girls used to babysit me. I’ll never forget St. James, Burley, where the other kids and I used to roll down the hill on the grassy lawn. I’ll never forget the church picnics or the time at the egg toss when my brother Seth got egg all over his shoe. And my summertime weeks at Paradise Point were, for me, a first inkling of what the kingdom of heaven is actually like: a place where we sing in harmony, where nobody is rejected or left out or burned. I believe God cannot and will not fail to draw all to himself—in fact, God has already done so through Jesus. Nothing separates us from the love of God!

The kingdom of heaven is hidden in you, waiting to be discovered and given room to grow into its full potential. It is the only thing in life worth possessing. And when you discover it, own it, live in it, and allow God to work through you, amazing things begin to happen. Amen.

1 comment: