|Pentecost 20, Year A||October 18, 2020||Pentecost 20, Proper 24, Year A||I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Psalm 96|
|Pentecost 19, Year A||October 11, 2020||Pentecost 19, Proper 23, Year A||Philippians 4:1-9|
|Pentecost 18, Year A||October 4, 2020||Pentecost 18, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46|
|Pentecost 17, Year A – Elizabeth Heimbach||September 27, 2020||Pentecost 17, Proper 21 Year A||Matthew 21:23-32|
|Pentecost 16, Year A||September 20, 2020||Pentecost 16, Proper 20, Year A 2020 The Season of Creation||Matthew 20:1-16|
|Pentecost 15, Year A||September 13, 2020||Pentecost 15, Proper 19||Genesis 50:15-21, Matthew 18:21-35|
|Pentecost 14, Year A||September 6, 2020||Pentecost 14, Proper 18, Year A||Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20|
|Pentecost 13, Year A||August 30, 2020||Pentecost, 13, Proper 17, Year A||Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28|
|Pentecost 12, Year A||August 23, 2020||Pentecost 12, , Proper 16, Year A||Isaiah 51:1-6, Ps 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20|
|Pentecost 11, Year A||August 16, 2020||Pentecost 11, Proper 15, Year A||Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Matthew 15:10-28|
|Pentecost 10, Year A||August 9, 2020||Pentecost 10, Proper 14, Year A||I Kings 19:9-18, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33|
|Pentecost 9, Year A||August 2, 2020||Pentecost 9, Proper 13, Year A||Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22; Matthew 14:13-21|
|➤Pentecost 8, Year A||July 26, 2020||Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, 2020||Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52|
|Pentecost 7, Year A||July 19, 2020||Pentecost 7, Proper 11, Year A||Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30,36-43|
|Pentecost 6, Year A – Evening||July 12, 2020||Pentecost 6, Proper 10, Year A||Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23|
Pentecost 8, Year A
Sermon Date:July 26, 2020
Scripture: Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Liturgy Calendar: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, 2020
Today’s sermon is about prayer—specifically, praying expectantly into the future, with all its unknowns and uncertainties—praying into God’s Big Future.
Last week, in his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about praying to Abba God, the One who brings the possibilities of new life to birth in us, and is constantly renewing these possibilities of new life.
Possibilities are by their very nature mysterious, anything but certain. What could or might happen or will happen is only a possibility until we live the next second, minute, day or year of the lives that we’re granted.
We all pray into the unknown future.
One way to pray into the future is to present God with a wish list of certainties, to ask for what we need and want from God, to ask for the things that we believe would make the future better. That kind of prayer is fine!
But we all know that fervent and certain prayers that we pray don’t always get answered the way we’d asked for or desired. The cancer comes back in spite of our best efforts and our pleading prayers.
Someone we love dies.
A bad situation doesn’t seem to end or have any resolution.
The seed we planted doesn’t come up, or it grows for a little while and then dies.
We can get discouraged in prayer and wonder if God is listening.
We can wonder whether or not God is even there, or if there is even a god at all.
We can start to think that maybe our lives are just one big random chance and that we are completely on our own, left only to our own devices.
We get stumped in prayer, so confused or upset or puzzled or angry or depressed or discouraged that we don’t even know what to pray for anymore.
The temptation is to give up in prayer because we can’t see what difference prayer is making at all. Our prayers haven’t been answered, so why bother?
But the Apostle Paul has something to say in response to this temptation to just throw in the towel in prayer.
Paul exhorts us to pray expectantly, even if we feel that we don’t have any idea how to do that.
“Hold on, y’all!”
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Paul is talking about the ultimate prayer of expectation and possibilities—offering up our uncertainties, doubts and confusions, our unrealized dreams, and praying now into the possibilities of the unknown future, not just our own little futures, but into God’s Big Future, the kingdom of God realized here on earth.
In this kind of prayer, in which God’s Spirit prays through us, we find that God is opening our eyes and hearts and minds to God’s presence with us and in us.
As the Spirit prays through us, the future may not become clearer at all, and our prayers for certain things may still go unanswered, but we will find that faith, hope and love start to grow in us, so that we can see that not only is the Spirit interceding for us, but Jesus, who is at the right hand of God, also intercedes for us.
And so, we come to know that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, no things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul’s words are captivating and hopeful. I’m glad he wrote them down for us to be reading all these years later.
Jesus never wrote down a word of teaching in his lifetime. He simply told stories, the stories that were so captivating then and now that we still tell them to one another today.
The stories that Jesus tells in the gospel reading today are illustrations from our Lord about expectant prayer, praying into the possibilities whose future we cannot see. These parables about the kingdom of heaven represent visually the future we hope God has in store—a future that is full of growth and completion, God’s kingdom being realized here on this earth, God’s Big Future.
The thing I like about these stories is that they are not only expectant, but they are very intentional, with action required in order for the future to be realized, a great reminder of the importance of being intentional in prayer.
Someone takes a tiny mustard seed and sows it in his field. Imagine someone with a handful of tiny seeds. This person picks one of those seeds, finds a good spot for it and plants it. Very intentional.
What a great way to pray. It’s as if we hold all these seeds in our hand. These seeds will not grow unless they are planted. Choose one to plant in prayer. Plant it. Wait.
In the story the one mustard seed that got planted grows into a tree in which the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
When we plant our tiny mustard seed of prayer in the vast intercession of the Holy Spirit, we find that a great tree of the shelter of God’s almighty love takes root and grows in our hearts. We can rest there. And this great sheltering tree of God’s love that grows in us has branches great enough to shelter those who God sends to us in need of love and shelter. Another way to describe this great sheltering tree is God holding us in those almighty hands of love, as Bishop Curry likes to say.
Imagine a woman with a handful of yeast. By itself, the yeast will do nothing. But the woman intentionally mixes it into flour. And Jesus doesn’t go into the rest, but she also adds some water and kneads the mixture and waits.
Prayer is like yeast. Our lives can just seem like a pile of flour that would blow away in the breeze. But add the yeast of prayer, and the flour can be molded into shape and start to grow with the help of the yeast. Prayer can turn the potential that our lives hold into nourishing food. In John’s gospel Jesus describes himself as the bread of life. When we add the yeast of prayer to our lives, God can also mold and grow us into the bread of life broken open for others.
Jesus also points out in his stories that intentional expectant prayer can help the one praying to be able to discern what is of true worth—that is, the kingdom of heaven, God’s will being done here on earth. When we discern in prayer what is of the most value, we will let everything else go for that one pearl of God’s kingdom coming here on earth. We will let everything else go for that treasure hidden in a field that we have stumbled across in prayer and then made sure to hold onto—a glimpse of God’s Big Future. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these other things shall be added unto you,” says Jesus elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel.
As we learned last week in the story Jesus told about the wheat and the tares growing together in the field until the harvest, God does the sorting at the end of the age and bundles up the evil and has it burned so that only the good is left.
Today’s story about fishing is similar. When we pray and are intentional about throwing out our prayer nets, because we are human, all sorts of things will come into the net. Yes, we can be misled in prayer, just as in anything else we do in life. But Jesus reminds us to pray about everything. Be intentional about pulling in the net, offer up everything in the net in prayer, and trust in God to sort the good parts of the prayer for us to keep, and to throw out the bad.
The Spirit praying through us will keep the good in our prayers and throw out the bad.
Jesus reminds us to add some new treasure to our old prayers, like the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven.
May we continue to pray with certainty, our old familiar treasured way of praying.
And when our old certainties inevitably disappoint us, and we realize that we no longer know how to pray, Jesus reminds us that we have been trained for the kingdom of heaven, so now is the time to bring out of our treasure what is new,
To pray with intentional and hopeful expectation into God’s Big Future, the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, trusting that the very Spirit of God intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words.