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.
Amen. Please sit.
According to Paul – we don’t know how to do much – as we ought…it’s not just that we don’t know how to pray.
We’ve been talking a lot about the Gospel these last few weeks – and we will this morning, too. But you may have noticed that Paul has been on a bit of a tear.
Talking about the weakness of the flesh.
The ways in which our humanity often leads us astray – to do things that God wouldn’t actually want us to do.
We have to remember that when Paul writes these things – he’s in a very different place than we are.
He and his disciples were, in fact- being tortured and killed.
It is life and death for him in a very real way.
The life and death of his flesh – true – but more importantly, the other side of that is that he wants to live in the Spirit – because he knows his flesh will die-
And it is only the Spirit of God that can give us everlasting life.
So he feels this struggle to live a faithful, godly life – and it’s very real for him as he prepares to die himself.
Paul understands Jesus’ message today. And he uses more words to try and get at it – but this whole section of Paul in Romans is getting at the same thing that Jesus is saying to us today.
In the Gospel today – Jesus uses a number of images to tell us a few important things about the kingdom of heaven – all of which are related to the choices we make – whether they’re in the flesh – or in the Spirit.
Keep in mind that in the last two weeks we heard two parables – one about the sower and the seeds – in which we learned that God chooses to sow seed everywhere – all the time – no matter what. Even if the soil and growing conditions aren’t ideal.
God sows the seed – that being the Word of God – everywhere. So that everyone has a choice.
Then – we heard Jesus say that God refuses to pull up the weeds because it might endanger the growth of the wheat. Of where the Word has been sown.
And now – here we are with a few other images. But these aren’t about what God does – or what God chooses.
These images are all about us – and about what we choose.
And about what comes of our choices – either in the flesh – or in the Spirit.
The mustard seed is perhaps fairly obvious – the Word is sown in us. It is small at first – but the potential is great.
And we have the opportunity – if we so choose – with God’s help – and the encouragement of our fellow travelers on the road of faith – to grow into a great shrub.
Isn’t that what you always wanted to be? A great shrub? J
No – but seriously. We have the opportunity to grow into something – which has a meaningful life.
So meaningful in fact – that our life – our actions – can give shelter and safe haven to others.
We have the potential to live lives so meaningful that they actually sustain others.
These shrubs were veritable cities for the birds – places where they ate, slept, socialized – and felt safe – away from predators and away from the afternoon sun.
These shrubs were important, life-giving shrubs.
And this is what the kingdom of heaven is – a safe haven – of care – and of support – and of sustenance.
We have the opportunity to grow into that – and to help build right here – right now – that kingdom.
That place of shelter and safe haven and of sustenance for the city around us.
We have the opportunity to be that place – that kingdom for the people around us. Right now.
By offering care and support and protection.
If we choose – if we choose to live in the Spirit – and not in the flesh.
Then, the yeast – and the flour – that turns into a whole lot of bread. That feeds people. That sustains life.
But that also offers the opportunity for fellowship and community around the table.
And in Jewish culture – becomes a part of a meal – a ritual – that both offers and re-enacts God’s blessing of God’s people.
A proof, if you will, of God’s care and love for God’s chosen people.
So – in this new image – we come across the same theme.
We – as part of the process of building – and becoming the kingdom – have the opportunity to offer food and life-giving support – and also God’s blessing – in both emotional and concrete ways – to the people around us.
God will make us into food for the world if we will only submit to being mixed – and kneaded – and baked.
Now we take a turn. From desire – from choice – to action.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.
Someone finds the treasure – and sells everything they have to buy the field.
This person chooses to give up everything – in order to buy the right to the treasure that they found.
Jesus tells us again here – as in so many other places in the Gospel – that there is nothing more valuable than God’s love for us – than relationship with God – than Christ’s sacrifice for us and the life we can live in the Spirit because of Jesus Christ.
That Christ’s sacrifice – that a relationship with God – is the only thing to be prized above all else.
This choice is different – choosing to live in the Spirit in this image – is about giving up anything that stands in our way.
Anything that is not grounded in or centered on God.
So now we have two levels of choice. The first is to change – and grow – and follow.
And the second – having done all that – is to be brave enough – and tough enough to choose to give everything else up.
This is hard.
Because it touches every part of what we do.
It has concrete effects on how we live out each day – the words we use to talk to one another – the ways in which we choose to spend the money we earn as individuals – the ways in which we spend money given to the glory of God in this community – the ways in which we set time aside on Sunday – and throughout the rest of the week to pray and to worship…everything.
From the moment you get up – to the moment you lay down at night.
The next image has the same message – this merchant finds a pearl of great value – and gives up everything to buy it.
These two images are about total submission.
About knowing where the real treasure – where the real glory – where the real joy in life actually is.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a life-giving, life-changing place.
And when Jesus came to this earth – he brought it near to us – to tell us about it – to show it to us.
The Kingdom of Heaven is visible in the actions of Jesus Christ.
And we get there – Paul is saying – by doing our best in every moment – whether small or large – by trying to be like him.
By doing what he did. By putting God first. And the by putting each other before ourselves – not only the people sitting around you right now – but the poor and the sick and the lonely outside these walls who Jesus calls you to serve.
Jesus told everyone he met the truth – that God loved them – and had a purpose for them – and that there was work for them to do.
Speaking of work. Then we arrive at the last image in the Gospel. And it presents a similar challenge to last week.
First – the kingdom of heaven is like a net full of fish – brought ashore to be sorted.
The fish come from everywhere. And they’re all different.
But what is the same is that the good go in one pile – and the not good – the fish not fit to provide food – and sustenance – the fish not fit to play their God-given role – the fish who choose NOT to play their part – the fish who can’t hear – or choose not to hear Jesus when he assures them of God’s love for them – and then calls them to work.
Those fish go in a different pile. And it’s not a good one.
Now…the good news – well Paul writes about it in Romans.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor 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.
So again – we have these two contradicting images to hold together. And both are important.
As we saw last week – Jesus talks about evil too much – for us to just cast it aside and pretend it isn’t there.
We may not know exactly what it means – or what it looks like – but we do know it’s real – and it’s important to pay attention to.
That’s the message of these fish, I think, too.
We have choices.
And those choices have real consequences.
And they are present in every moment of our lives – big and small.
None of us gets them right all the time.
None of us.
But we have the responsibility to keep trying to choose right – to keep trying to choose the Spirit – instead of the flesh – which leads us only to what we want – only to be concerned with what makes us comfortable.
We have a whole host of choices.
Some that lead us to be good neighbors – good stewards – good partners in ministry – good witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ.
And some that lead us away from God – to a place where we don’t reflect on how we act – and what we do – and how we use the resources that God has so freely given us.
And each one of these choices have very real consequences. Not only for us – but when we make choices for the flesh – there are consequences also for the people we could be serving, the people we could be feeding, the people we could be introducing to the love of Jesus Christ.
These are very high stakes.
The good news – is that there is nothing that can separate us – not ever – from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Jesus’ sacrifice was once – and for all.
And yet – there is something to how we choose to live this life.
And how intentional we choose to be in our choices. Whether the mustard seed chooses to live up to its potential to grow into a great shrub – or not.
We have the opportunity each day – to grow a bit more into that shrub. Or to allow God to firm us up – kneading us and baking us – into bread for the world.
We have the opportunity to grow into something – with God’s help – and with the help of Christian community – that offers strength and sustenance and witness to the world.
But we must choose to do that.
And the only way to really make that choice – is to practice – to be intentional – to be self-aware – and to notice the moments when we choose to live in the flesh rather than the Spirit.
To notice when we choose ourselves over God – or over others – to notice when we are not our best – when we are not good neighbors, good stewards, and good witnesses.
And then to choose – to try again.
Choose to let God help you grow into something that gives life to others. And choose this by choosing God first.
Above all things.
Know that nothing you do can ever separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
But know too that actions have real consequences – sometimes long-term consequences – not only on our lives – but on those of others.
Let us pray. Gracious God: Take and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will – all that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me; and to you, O God, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. For that is enough for me. Amen.