Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 30 July 2023.
• First Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28 (Jacob marries Leah, then Rachel)
• Epistle: Romans 8: 26-39 (If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His Son – how will He not graciously give us all things?)
• Gospel: Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52 (Parables: Mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, pearls. The net)
It’s so unfair.’ The complaint of every child who thinks that he or she has been badly done by. It may be the preferred treatment given to another child, or the denial of some favour.
It is said less when the same child is bullying another, whether directly or by implication, the snide remark, the deliberate exclusion of another child from some special game or activity. Or just plain exclusion from social life.
And our own more adult pursuit of ‘Justice’ as we make our claims against others reflects the same instinct – even when we are more interested in revenge than justice as such.
But then having complained about some kind or reverse, how do we deal with it? A retreat into sullen sulking, a smouldering resentment, a planned revenge of our own?
These questions must have been with Jacob when he was tricked by his uncle into working for a second term of 7 years in order to marry Rachel. He had been ready enough to trick Esau into selling his birthright and had also tricked his father Isaac into giving him his final blessing.
Now the tables were turned and there was nothing he could do – except work his time all over again.
At least he had the consolation of Rachel’s continuing love, and he was not parted from her, even if he could not be intimate with her.
And yes, he still had the promise of God within him, as he remembered the heavenly ladder and the promises of God that has been made to him at Bethel.
So he persisted. All was not lost – only delayed. As we learn of the innocent man condemned to prison, and ending up serving 17 years, the 7 years that Jacob has to serve Laban was not too great a penalty in being tricked.
But the question still lingers. When we are taken with disappointment and reverses, how will we respond? Where will we invest our faith and confidence?
Is it easier to retreat into conspiracy theories which only corrode us from within – or to look again. Surely there is a purpose within it all? Surely life is not all random, even when we do not have all the answers laid out in front of us?
If life were totally random how do we account for the regularity of the atomic structures of things around us and the cells of our own bodies? If it is all totally random, then how can there be any kind of society, human speech, human design and engineering?
What Paul said to the Christians in Rome was that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.
We may not have all the answers, but we can still abide in the love and purposes of God. We can still endure the rough justice of crude social prejudice and abuse. Even when exploited and excluded, we can still hold to that sense in which God is still with us and grants us, not so much what we want but what we need.
But God is far more than the provider of our needs. If while we were still separated – even alienated from Him in our own sins and moral corruption – God was already moving to save and release us in Jesus Christ, then how much more are we favoured and blessed in Him now that we are drawn to faith in Him and to new life in His salvation.
If God was moving in our best interest when we were His enemies then how much more is He moving for us now that we are reconciled in Jesus’ death and resurrection?
So no, there are absolutely no adverse circumstances that can reduce us to permanent and eternal despair, once we have placed our trust in Him and have received His life. Even death holds no fears for us.
In His parables, Jesus makes several points.
First, the mystery of the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed: it starts in the smallest possible way, but once planted it grows and gathers strength, putting forth fruit and even offering a haven to those still alienated from the Kingdom of God so that they also may hear and learn and receive.
It starts hidden and unnoticed but as it spreads is changes us from within to become people with new focus and purpose and strength.
Second, like a hidden treasure or priceless pearls, we find that its value is beyond price. We are willing to make it the first of our hopes and intentions, the centre of our plans and purposes. We surprise ourselves to find that its value is far greater than all the shallow and corruptible pleasures and satisfactions that the rat race can offer.
Third, there is always that sense of mystery. There are things that we do not see let alone understand and for which we will have to wait for the end of our days. The net hidden in the waters is revealed and so are its contents. The good fish kept and the poorer findings rejected and discarded.
That is true of ourselves and it is true of society and of human history as a whole.
Fairness? Well, life was not fair to Jesus. Indeed, He came to confront and conquer that very unfairness. He paid not just the ultimate price – He paid an utterly hideous price for it. Willingly.