August 6, 2017

Pentecost 9  August 6, 2017   Tobit 6:1b-6a, 8:1-3; Romans 8:26-30,

Matthew 13:44-53          Buy the field

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The book of Tobit features a very strange fish in a supporting-actor-role. Tobit’s one of the very fishiest books of the bible. And since all of Jesus’ top-four-first-round-draft-choice-disciples are fishermen, we can bet they knew the story of Tobias, son of Tobit, who’s been sent on a mission of redemption to marry Sarah, a lovely, virtuous woman of faith, whose family has suffered from a strange demon, that’s killed all seven previous husbands-to-be of this woman on their wedding night. Tobias’ mother is more than a little nervous about her son going on this perilous journey.

Tobias, however, has a huge advantage over all previous husbands-to-be, in that he is escorted on his mission by an angel named Raphael. And to greatly-over-simplify a marvelous story of true love and strange fishing… When Tobias goes to wash his feet in the river, a very big fish comes out of the water and tries to bite his foot off. Tobias shouts in fear. But the angel tells him, “pull that fish up on shore – cut it open, take out its gall, heart and liver. They’ll come in handy later…”

Tobias does as he’s told. They reach their destination. Wedding arrangements are finalized. Sarah’s parents are so afraid Tobias will die that night, as the other seven husbands have all died on their wedding night – that the parents secretly dig a grave, hoping to keep the expected-next-and-latest-death a secret from neighbors. (Who by now are thinking this is a very strange family we live next door to…) But Tobias follows the angel’s instructions carefully–and burns the liver and heart of the fish – and the demon flees far, far away – where he is then bound, hand-and-foot by the angel… And the couple lives happily ever after…

The book of Tobit is one of the so-called Apocryphal books of the bible included in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican bibles but not in most Protestant bibles. Tobit was part the Septuagint Greek-language translation of the Old Testament, the everyday bible of the early church.

And we’re reading from this story today mostly because (along with one of the parables Jesus is about to tell) – this is the only other bad-fish story in the bible.  And I like this story because… here even the baddest of fish in the bible… is working for the good, as a good-fish should… in the end…

(Listen again for the word of God as we read from Matthew’s gospel… 13:44-53– )

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The kingdom of heaven is like treasure we find hidden in a field. We may not even be looking for treasure.. But…suddenly here it is. Wow! Better hide that treasure again, and go! – calculate the cost of the field. Figure out what this treasure’s worth! Make haste, sell all we have! Buy the field!

We may need to put on an estate sale – or hold an-all-summer-long-yard- sale – or just take our stuff down to the pawn shop. Whether we have a little or a lot, once we know what we’ve found, we gladly do whatever it takes to pay the price and buy the field…

Again the kingdom of heaven is like the pearl of great price we’ve been searching for all our life, suddenly here it is. We’ve been seeking high and low for this pearl. We know, when we find it, it’s time to sell everything and buy the one great pearl beyond price.

And not to worry even if we’ve got no money. The price of this field – and this pearl – is the same for everyone: All we’ve got. Not a penny more or less. And mixing our parables just a little… One of the poets has said –

People get ready – There’s a train a comin’ – You don’t need no baggage,

You just get on board… All you need is faith, To hear the diesels hummin’–

You don’t need no ticket, You just thank the Lord...

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Jesus is sitting in a boat with disciples, teaching crowds gathered by the lakeshore. Since the opening verse of this chapter, he’s been sitting in a fishing boat, teaching in parables. Now we’re in our fourth and last week with the parables of Matthew 13… And probably we’ve noticed… how…

Every so often Matthew takes us aside with Jesus as he speaks in private with his inner circle of disciples, explaining some of the parables in a little more detail… But for all the people gathered by the lakeshore…Everything Jesus says is spoken in parables…

And all these parables are about the kingdom of heaven (the kingdom of God). And all these parables are a review of earlier Jesus teaching… Nothing’s really very new here… for those who’ve been listening…

We’ve all heard Jesus say many times – we need to give up everything for the sake of God’s kingdom. And when we seek first the kingdom of God… everything else we need will all be given unto us…

We’ve all heard Jesus tell us many times… not to store up treasure on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal… But store up for ourselves treasure in heaven, where rust and moth can’t destroy, thieves can’t break in and steal. We’ve heard Jesus say ‘where our treasure is, that’s where our hearts will be also.’ We’ve heard him say ‘how blessed are those who hear the message and build on the rock of my teaching.’

Jesus has been preaching and teaching in parables for two thousand years now. And Jesus is like the leader of a traveling band, who sings many of the same songs every night. Seldom exactly the same way, though… since every audience has its own unique mix of questions and issues… along with the universal questions and issues we all have…

And when Jesus is touring with his band of disciples I wouldn’t be surprised if he usually concludes by re-telling these parables we’re hearing today… as a reminder…

That even though the kingdom of heaven is a gift, given freely, given by grace, given in pure love… Still there’s been a high cost for Jesus – who bought the farm (so to speak) for us…

And since we’re learning to be more and more like Jesus… we too are expected to buy the field… Which is of course a parable.

It’s not about commerce. It’s not about cash. It’s definitely not about making a deal… But… I have been remembering…

A friend in Vermont whose family owned a car dealership… “Every year,” Bob told me, “we have our biggest sale, where we give a thousand dollars for whatever you bring in as trade-in.” (That would be over two thousand now with inflation.)  “Our radio ads say “pull it, push it, tow it… bring whatever you’ve got, we’ll give you a thousand bucks in trade-in…toward a brand new car or truck…” People would tow their oldest funky wrecks out of barns and fields…

And Jesus gives a far better offer – saying “bring me whatever life you’ve got left… I’ll give you a new life.” Like Lady Liberty on that statue next to Ellis Island, where our family’s just visited this past week, Jesus says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your broken-down old life…  Tow it, truck it, pull it, push it, get yourself hauled into me in a wheelbarrow. Do whatever it takes. But… Come to me. I’ll give you a brand new life that lasts forever… A life full of joy and peace… and love without end…”

No charge whatsoever… Except… bring your old self in trade-in…

And like the immigrants of old coming into the country at Ellis Island, whose stories we listened to on headphones last week… we all give up something of our old identity… to become new people in a new place… The new land of the kingdom… far greater, even than our beloved sweet land of liberty…

And there’s always people doing the trade-in thing with Jesus…Yet there also always seems to be even more people… just not getting it… Even when their old wreck won’t even start… wheels-falling-off… engine-blown… not a drop of gas in the leaky tank… Still, so many can’t seem to let go… of the old wreck of a life they’ve got… Even to receive new life from Jesus…

So Jesus often winds up teaching sessions with a parable like our last ones today.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown in the sea… which, when hauled in, holds all kinds of fish. When the fishermen drag it up on shore, they sort out all the fish – the good go into containers, the bad are thrown away… and… At the end of the age this is how it will be… when the angels gather us all in… sorting out all the mess… of good and evil, tossing evil in the fire.

(We know it’s a parable – since good fish usually go on the grill, and the by-catch…usually goes back in the water. And… )

“Do you get all this?” Jesus asks. “Yes,” disciples say. (And for now, let’s assume either they get-it – though their getting-it record elsewhere in this gospel isn’t so hot– or – at least they really think they get it. Either way – )

“Good, then.” Jesus says. “So now you’re all equipped to teach others about the kingdom. Every day. Teach the kingdom, in old ways, in new ways, in old and new ways together.” Teach the truth of the first testament – Genesis, Exodus –  the prophets and psalms – the fish story of Tobit… teach all the old truth in new ways.

And teach the all-new-story of the kingdom of God, revealed in Jesus… Teach his kingdom, here, among us, already… Teach his kingdom still hidden in deep mystery…Teach God’s truth, old and new, together…

Till all can hear the parable.

Find the treasure.

Sell all.

Buy the field.

Giving joyful thanks and praise to God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

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Tobit 6:1b-6a; 8:1-3

The young man went out and the angel went with him; and the dog came out with him and went along with them. So they both journeyed along, and when the first night overtook them they camped by the Tigris river. Then the young man went down to wash his feet in the Tigris river. Suddenly a large fish leapt up from the water and tried to swallow the young man’s foot, and he cried out. But the angel said to the young man, ‘Catch hold of the fish and hang on to it!’ So the young man grasped the fish and drew it up on the land. Then the angel said to him, ‘Cut open the fish and take out its gall, heart, and liver. Keep them with you, but throw away the intestines. For its gall, heart, and liver are useful as medicine.’ So after cutting open the fish the young man gathered together the gall, heart, and liver; then he roasted and ate some of the fish, and kept some to be salted….

When they had finished eating and drinking they wanted to retire; so they took the young man and brought him into the bedroom. Then Tobias remembered the words of Raphael, and he took the fish’s liver and heart out of the bag where he had them and put them on the embers of the incense. The odor of the fish so repelled the demon that he fled to the remotest parts of Egypt. But Raphael followed him, and at once bound him there hand and foot.

Romans 8:26-30

Likewise 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.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Matthew 13:44-53

‘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.

‘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.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.