Prayer of the Day
Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b
1Give thanks to the LORD and call upon God’s name; make known the deeds of the LORD among the peoples. 2Sing to the LORD, sing praises, and speak of all God’s marvelous works. 3Glory in God’s holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. 4Search for the strength of the LORD; continually seek God’s face. 5Remember the marvels God has done, the wonders and the judgments of God’s mouth, 6 O offspring of Abraham, God’s servant, O children of Jacob, God’s chosen ones. 7The LORD is our God, whose judgments prevail in all the world, 8who has always been mindful of the covenant, the promise made for a thousand generations: 9the covenant made with Abraham, the oath sworn to Isaac, 10which God established as a statute for Jacob, an everlasting covenant for Israel, 11saying, “To you will I give the land of Canaan to be your allotted inheritance.” 45bHallelujah!
26 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. 27 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. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
44 “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. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 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.”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
The smile on my face went big and wide earlier this week when I scanned the page in my Bible containing our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will the coronavirus? Will physical distancing? Will facemasks? Will handwashing? No. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. How we need to hear this good news right now, and how good it is to hear from Paul, who we know did suffer and came through on the other side trusting in the love of God in Christ Jesus.
I do not know how he could muster it after all he had been through, but I am ever thankful he could pen these words, “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.” They have been incorporated into our funeral liturgy. They are often read at bedsides when people are ill. People experiencing depression turn to these verses. These words remind us now, in the midst of all we are grieving, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
At the same time, these verses do not mean that we have somehow arrived, that the work of discipleship is over, that the reign of God is here in plain sight. Paul’s words do, for me at least, give strength and encouragement to keep going.
In our gospel text from Matthew today we have a whole banquet of parables Jesus tells to portray the reign of God. The two I kept returning to are found in verses 44-46, “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 find pearls; on finding one pearl or great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
One scholar wrote that these two parables make clear that much is required if we are possessed by the joy of the kingdom. For it seems that the discovery of the kingdom requires the selling of all we have in order to buy the field that contains the treasure of the kingdom or the pearl of great value. The former life must be given up. But what a gift the reign of God is! For me, right now, as our country reckons with personal, structural, and systemic racism, the reign of God, the treasure, and the pearl look like truth and liberation. What does that mean exactly?
Bryan Stevenson, who started the Equal Justice Initiative, speaks often of how important truth-telling is. Stevenson often says that telling the truth is intricately connected to our liberation, not just for people of color but for white people. Stevenson said earlier this week (Ezra Klein Show), “I want to talk about this history of enslavement, and native genocide, and lynching and segregation, not because I’m interested in punishing America, but because I want to liberate us. I really do believe that there is something better waiting for us. And the promise of that better thing feels more like freedom, feels more like equality, feels more like justice than anything we have yet to experience in this country. And if we are committed to this idea of America then we ought to figure out how we are going to get to that promise that we have been denied because we have been unwilling to acknowledge the past.”
Do you hear Stevenson talking about the reign of God there? Because I do. He said, “I really do believe there is something better waiting for us. It feels like freedom, more like equality, more like justice.” That’s the treasure in the field. That’s the pearl. But we, like the characters in Jesus’ parables, are going to have to give something up for that treasure and that pearl.
For several years, we at Trinity have been talking about storytelling in general and faith storytelling specifically. It has become all too clear to me that we need to call on those storytelling muscles now. We need to learn to tell our own stories, the stories of the church, the stories of our country in a new way. We can still celebrate all of the amazing parts of our histories. But, as Stevenson says, we have got to start telling the truth. We are going to have to give up the story of pioneers settling the land, of everything being fine for people of color after 1970, for something much more nuanced and truthful. Telling the truth has the potential for transformation, for liberation, for getting us that much closer to the reign of God.
Stevenson told this story of truth telling in the same interview. His organization invites people to go to lynching sites and collect soil. Give them a jar with the lynching victim’s name on it and an implement to dig the soil. A middle-aged woman got her memo, jar, and tool. She was scared to go by herself. She drove to her location in West Alabama, a very scary place on a dirt road but she resolved that she would dig soil where the lynching took place. She got down on her knees to dig the soil, when a truck drove by and there was this white guy in the truck, and he stared at her as he slowed down. Then the man parked the truck and started walking toward her. And as he walked toward her, she was afraid. They tell people when they are doing the collections that they don’t have to tell anybody what they are doing. If they want to say they are getting dirt for their garden, they’re allowed to say that. And that’s what she was going to do, and this man walked up to her and asked, “what are you doing?” She looked the man in the eye and said, “I’m digging soil because this is where a black man was lynched in 1937 and I’m going to honor his life today.” And she started digging really fast and the man just stood there. And eventually the man asked, “Does that paper talk about the lynching?’ and she said, “it does” and he said, “can I read it.” And she gave the man the paper and the man read while she was digging. And the man shocked her when he asked, “would it be okay if I helped you?” And she said “of course.” The man started throwing his hands into the soil and putting it in the jar. She said he did it with such conviction and commitment. And before she knew it, she had tears. And the man stopped and said, “I’m sorry I’m upsetting you.” And she said, “No, no, no. You’re blessing me.” And they kept digging. The jar was almost filled. She looked at him and could see his shoulders shaking and tears were coming down his face. And she put her hand on his shoulder and asked, “are you okay?” And he looked at her and said, “No, no, I’m not okay. I’m just so worried that my grandfather might have been one of the people who lynched that man.” They took pictures of one another with the jar and she brought him back to the museum in Montgomery where they put the jar in the exhibit.
Stevenson says beautiful things like that story do not always happen when we tell the truth. “But until we tell the truth, we deny ourselves the opportunity for beauty. Justice can be beautiful. Reconciliation can be beautiful. Repair can be beautiful…. We deny ourselves redemption when we insist on denying our broken past.”
We may think, that’s all well and good. We don’t have those problems in Idaho; they are just in the South. But let’s remember that part of the reason we have never had a large Black population in Idaho is because we were part of the Oregon Territory, which had Black Exclusion Laws in place for a number of years.
More recently, Idaho gained notoriety when white supremacists settled in north Idaho in the 1970s and 1980s. They established the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. It is true that then Catholic priest Bill Wassmuth built coalitions to battle the Aryan Nations, but the church has not always had such a noble past in the case of slavery, genocide of indigenous peoples, or lynching. Often the church found ways to interpret scripture to justify the abuse of people of color.
Another author wrote, “Sadly, too many of us in the church don’t live like we believe the truth will set us free. We live as if we are afraid acknowledging the past will tighten the chains of injustice rather than break them. We live as if the ghosts of the past will snatch us if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. So instead we walk around the valley, talk around the valley….Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort….But is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation?” (Austin Channing Brown)
Redemption and repair and reconciliation are all available to us. How in the world can we mere mortals do this work? Not on our own. That’s for sure. We return to the message found explicitly in Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37).
Paul’s choice of the term, “more than conquerors” is interesting. Victory, in the context of Romans 8 is not defined militaristically. It’s not about conquering people, nations, or territory. Instead, we “conquer” because we are unbreakably attached to Jesus Christ. No force, circumstance, or event can sever this attachment. We absolutely can do this work of truth telling, the work of relearning and retelling our stories. Liberation and freedom are treasures accessible to us. There is absolutely no way we can do this work without God’s strength and through Jesus Christ, that strength is always available to us.
Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)
Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.
A brief silence.
Merciful God, your reign is revealed to us in common things: a mustard shrub, a woman baking bread, a fishing net. Help your church witness to the surprising yet common ways you encounter us in daily life. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
When your word is opened, it gives light and understanding. Increase our understanding and awe of your creation; guide the work of scientists and researchers. Treasuring the earth, may we live as grateful and healing caretakers of our home. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
As the birds of the air nest in branches of trees, gather the nations of the world into the welcoming shade of your merciful reign. Direct leaders of nations to build trust with each other and walk in the way of peace. (Here a particular world struggle may be named.) Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Your Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for the saints according to your will. Help us when we do not know how to pray. Give comfort to the dying, refuge to the weary, justice to those who are oppressed, and healing to the sick (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You show steadfast love and direct us to ask of you what we need. Help this congregation ask boldly for what is most needed. Refresh us with new dreams of being your people in this place and time. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
In you our lives are never lost. Strengthen us by the inspiring witness of your people in all times and places. Embolden our witness now and one day gather us with all your saints in light. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.