“Parables–Invitations Into Mystery” (June 14, 2015: The Third Sunday after Pentecost–Proper 6B; The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

“The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.” –Mark 4.26-27[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This past Sunday, here at the Church of the Ascension and for the majority of Episcopalians, it was the Second Sunday after Pentecost. But for many in our Church affiliated with the Anglo-Catholic tradition, it was the Feast of Corpus Christi[2], a Western Christian solemnity commemorating Christ’s institution of and Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, first observed on Maundy Thursday, but away from the dismal atmosphere brought on by our Lord’s forthcoming crucifixion and death on Good Friday. And while sitting in the nave of Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue) in New York City during its festal observance of this day, this particular line from the appointed Psalm caught my attention: “O taste, and see, how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”[3] At that moment, the thought of grace as being something that can not only be felt, but also tasted and seen turned the wheels of my imagination, opening my mind to concepts of God’s grace and the Holy Eucharist never before thought of. It was an invitation that brought me into deep wonder. Yet, in the midst of my wondering, in the words of John Wesley, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that [H]e had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” As mysterious as the Eucharist is, because of the emotion of the moment, I could not help being drawn deeper into the mystery, not only feeling, but also tasting God’s grace, seeing that it is, indeed, good.

We have just heard Jesus speak two parables, together known as the Parables of the Kingdom. “…With what can we compare the kingdom of God…?” Jesus has compared it to two types of seed: a growing seed, scattered on the ground, sprouted and growing night and day, and a mustard seed, one that starts off very small, but “grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs…” But, as Jesus points out, “[we know] not how” of the Kingdom’s unlimited breadth, depth, and height. That is because the Kingdom of God is itself such a mystery so beyond our comprehension that no matter what you compare it to, it can never come close to the actual truth of what it actually is. Hence, the parables that Jesus speaks throughout the canonical Gospels are, for us, only mere glimpses into the nature of the Kingdom of God. They are offered as invitations to wonder into the greater mystery of who God is, what He is like, and of His love said to be unlike any other ever known. Although we do not know the absolute fullness of the nature of the Kingdom of God, because of Jesus and what He has done, we are continually drawn in, wanting to know more than what we had before known. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be one willing to learn, which makes the purpose of His parables become clearer—stories that are simple, yet convey a deeper meaning, only more fully gained through constant learning from and dependence on the living Christ.

I am convinced that God’s holding back of humanity from the fullness of knowledge of Himself—apart from the fact that our minds are incapable of comprehending God on such a level—has to do with relationship, in that while He is present to us, at the same time, He keeps hidden aspects of Himself by which our curiosity attracts us to Him. This is what I believe Jesus’ modus operandi to be in using parables—to give us lessons that, at their heart, reflect the truth about Himself and of the Kingdom, but their full meaning veiled in such a way that the only way to get the full meaning is to go back to Christ for the full meaning. All that we saw, heard, and experienced during the first half of the liturgical year—Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday—have directed our attention to Christ and His Kingdom. Jesus’ parables help bring us closer to the heart of what it all means, which, like the growing seed, over time, through the moving of the Holy Ghost, causes us to feel Christ’s presence more within us and notice the Kingdom of God’s extension around us. The more we lean into Christ, the more He becomes part of us, thus the better our lives become. Furthermore, like the mustard seed, the more we lean into Christ, the more grafted we become into God’s Kingdom, which, in turn, over time, opens our eyes to the sight of God’s Kingdom as “the greatest of all shrubs…put[ting] forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Here on Earth, we sing, “Thy kingdom comes and grows for ever, till all thy people own thy sway.” Jesus says that the fullness of the Kingdom will be brought to us in God’s time. But until that time comes, as long as we do the things that Jesus has told us to do, living in His abiding presence, the seed will be planted and will bring forth its increase.[4]

What we do know for certain is that at the heart of these Kingdom parables, as well as at all the other of our Lord’s parables, is Jesus Himself. The growing seed and the mustard seed are both the Word of God, and the Word of God is Jesus. And with Jesus at the heart of these parables, we know them to be different from fables and legends, in that they all communicate the truth. As Pilate asked Jesus during His Passion, “What is truth?”[5] It is this very question that the Gospel parables guide us in figuring out. They help bring us closer to the Person of Jesus, realizing that He, in His very Self, is the Truth. The parables help awaken the realization of Jesus’ offering of grace to us, that “in Christ shall all be made alive.”[6] Yet, the pivotal key in our quest for better understanding of these parables is a willingness to surrender our own will in favor of Jesus’ will for us. “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Here is another way of looking at it from Saint Paul: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[7] In order for us to know more about Jesus and for our certainty in His Word to grow and become firm, we must first and foremost be His disciples.

“…With what can we compare the kingdom of God…?” The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot, for our comparisons, no matter how big, how small, or how well presented, will ever be adequate enough to get to the very essence of what the Kingdom of God is. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” Saint Paul says, “but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”[8] The veiling of the fullness of God’s Kingdom is not meant by Jesus to shield us away, but rather to draw us in. By doing so, not revealing everything to us all at once, Jesus conveys His desire to be in constant relationship with us. By embracing the mystery, pulling back its many layers and committing to Jesus for the long-term, the Word becomes more meaningful to us, our relationship with Jesus becomes more precious and important, and our foretaste of the Kingdom of God becomes more real. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[9] Let us not resist the mystery; let us, instead, embrace it. “O taste, and see, how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Ignatius Edition, Copyright © 2006 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Pope Urban IV first instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi as a Latin Rite solemnity in 1264 in his papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. For the Roman Catholic Church, this observance is presently known as “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ” and, in places where it is a holy day of obligation, is observed on the Thursday immediately following Trinity Sunday or, in places where it is not a holy day of obligation, on the Sunday that follows Trinity Sunday. Within the Anglican tradition, the Feast of Corpus Christi is included in the calendar of the Church of England as “The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion,” as well as in those of a few other Anglican Communion provinces, but not in that of The Episcopal Church. Even though it is not an official observance within The Episcopal Church, many Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parishes still observe Corpus Christi as a major holy day.

[3] Psalm 34.8 (Coverdale Psalter)

[4] “Plant the Seed,” The Living Church (http://www.livingchurch.org/plant-seed; accessed on June 13, 2015).

[5] John 18.38

[6] I Corinthians 15.23

[7] I Corinthians 1.18

[8] I Corinthians 13.12

[9] Matthew 6.10

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