Sunday 26th of July 2020,
Year A, 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 119: 129-36
Romans 8: 26-39
St Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Rev Dr John McCulloch
Grace and peace to you today on this, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost. I am John McCulloch the minister of St Andrews Jerusalem & Tiberias Church of Scotland.
Let us pray
Eternal God, our eyes cannot see you, and hands cannot touch you. You are beyond the understanding of our minds.
Yet you have breathed your Spirit into our spirits.
You have formed our minds to seek you, inclined our hearts to love you, called us to be heirs of your eternal kingdom.
Give us faith to lay hold of things unseen, to love as those who see the invisible God.
Bring us at the last to those things beyond our seeing, beyond our hearing, beyond our imagining, to the vision of your glory when we shall see you face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There are days and weeks when the weight of grief and loss shroud our world and horizon. This has been one such weeks with the passing of our dear friend and brother Peter.
As we begin the process of coming to terms with his tragic loss, we enfold his family and Rev Kate, his friends and colleagues at the Scots Hotel, in our compassion and our prayers.
Sometimes words fail us when we confront situations of grief and loss, both in our personal lives, in the lives of those we love, and living in a world beset by distress and suffering.
In our lectionary epistle reading from Romans 8, we read in verse 8 ‘And the Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray, nor how we should pray. But the Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words’.
I remember once being asked by my children why should we pray if God knows our minds anyway? Should God not just do what is right without our asking?
These are good and profound questions, but prayer is primarily about a relationship. Prayer connects us and opens our hearts to the source of life and love. Prayer changes us, and as we are changed and transformed, so too is our world.
Pope John Paul the II said ‘Prayer is in fact the recognition of our limits and our dependence: we come from God, we are of God, and to God we return’.
Contemplative prayer, which is when we sit in silence and open our hearts up to God, resonates with the words we have just read from Romans. As we set time aside to listen, we make room for for the Spirit of God, the comforter, who comes into our hearts, enabling us to see ourselves and our world through the eyes of hope, through the eyes of faith.
In our gospel reading from Matthew 13, Jesus says ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of the seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants and grows into a tree where birds can come and find shelter in its branches’, and in verse 33 ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which a woman hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened’.
The Kingdom of Heaven is unlike the kingdoms of our world. It doesn’t come through earthy power. It is not interested in empire or establishing itself through violence and a superior show of strength; but is described as a mustard seed, as leaven in bread. Mustard seeds are the smallest of seeds, but they grow, offering shelter for the birds of the fields. Leaven cannot be visibly seen in the dough, but without it the bread cannot rise.
Sometimes as we look out into our world, it is difficult to see the Kingdom of God at work. In our own lives, there are times when our prayers seem to reach the ceiling, and we struggle to sense God at work in our midst.
These parables remind us that however small we may feel, however wavering our faith, however uncertain the road ahead looks, God’s Kingdom is still at work, even when we cannot see it.
This is why we are called to live by faith. We are called to see ourselves, each other and our world through the eyes of faith.
Faith comes by hearing the word of God. In verse 130 of our lectionary Psalm, Psalm 119 it says
‘as your words are taught, they give light’.
The Word of life is among us today, purging, cleansing, restoring…breathing hope into our troubled hearts. And As that word takes root, our faltering faith begins to grow. Our hearts are united to the source of eternal love, which we are reminded of in our epistle reading, at the end of Romans 8:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May we, at the beginning of this new week, be transformed by the word of God. May faith grow in us, and may we go out into the world with healing grace and compassion; until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God’s Son.
And now, may the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, guard your hearts and your thoughts in Jesus Christ.
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you, now and for evermore.