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Pentecost 8 Proper 12A July 26, 2020

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In our first reading today, we continue the story of Jacob. He has gone to the home of his uncle, Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Jacob generously offers to work seven years in order to marry Rachel, whom he loves. The seven years pass, and, when Jacob asks for the hand of Rachel in marriage, Laban substitutes Leah for her sister.

When morning comes, it is clear that Laban, like Jacob, is a trickster and he has outsmarted Jacob. When Jacob questions this deception, Laban tells him that the local custom is to marry off the older daughter first. Jacob agrees to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

Why is Jacob, the trickster who usually wins, so agreeable about this arrangement? For one thing, he probably is not that eager to go home. After all, Esau has threatened to kill him. For another thing, he loves Rachel very much. If we look at this situation in its ancient context, he has been very fortunate. He has married within his mother’s family, as she had wished. As biblical scholar James Newsome puts it, “Not just any bedouin showing up at the oasis could hope to labor for the sheik’s daughter.” (Newsome Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 418.) 

Because of the family connections, Jacob will be able to marry the woman he loves. In his earlier years, we can imagine him trying to outsmart Laban in some way as he always did at home, but now, he quietly accepts and carries out the additional seven years of work. He is changing. He has been called by God, and he is beginning a process of transformation. One of the signs of this is that he will be persistent. He will complete those seven years.

In our gospel for today, we have several descriptions of the kingdom of heaven, It is like a mustard seed, the very smallest of seeds, You would think it would produce a tiny plant, but it grows into a large shrub where birds can nest. God’s kingdom can start small and grow into great power and beauty, Small is beautiful. This is a wonderful message for us here in Vermont. 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed in with her flour and made delicious bread. The kingdom of heaven is often invisible, but it produces amazing results, like warm bread coming from the oven. The yeast transforms the flour and other ingredients.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. You find it and it is so precious that you give everything you have in order to gain it.  Life in the shalom of God is so precious that we are willing to devote ourselves fully to being a part of it.

The shalom of God is a pearl of great price, something of great value, something to be cherished. It is like a net full of fish. It is a kingdom of abundance.

These are all glimpses into life in the shalom of God. It is a way of life that starts small and grows and grows. It is a life of transformation as we grow more and more into the likeness of our Lord. The shalom of God is something to which we can devote all our energies, helping our Lord to bring in his kingdom of peace and harmony, sharing his love and life with everyone. It is a life of abundance. God gives us all the gifts we need to  carry out our ministries and help to build God’s shalom if peace and love.

In our epistle for today, Paul tells us some wonderful things that can strengthen our faith. He reminds us that the Spirit prays for us when we cannot find the words to pray or cannot even formulate the thoughts to pray. God knows us so well and loves us so much that God prays on our behalf. As Paul writes, “The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” What a comforting thought. God prays for us when we cannot, And they are deep prayers, “sighs too deep for words.” God is praying for us. 

Then, in the final portion of this reading, we have a passage of Scripture that rings down through the ages. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,  nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As we look out on our world, we see many people suffering and dying in this pandemic. We see people waiting in line for food. Waiting in line to be tested. We see a great deal of suffering.

And we may wonder, Where is God in all of this? Wherever love is being shown in this world, God is there. God is present in the skilled and loving service of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other medical professionals who are risking their lives to help others. God is with the transport workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers, child care workers, and so many others who are on the front lines every day helping all of us. God is present in the many acts of love and caring that we see every day. 

Nothing can stop the love of God. In the midst of everything that is going on, God is at work. Usually God works very quietly. No fanfare, no fuss. Just love at work. God is rooting for us, God is praying for us. And, if we listen for God’s still small voice in all the turmoil, God is leading us. If we listen carefully for the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, he is guiding us. Amen.

May we always move in the direction of love. May we love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and may we love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

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