July 27th, 2014; Pentecost 7: Proper 12, Year A
The Rev. Rob Fisher
St. Dunstan’s, Carmel Valley
Gen 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matt 13:31-33, 44-52
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
When I arrived here at St. Dunstan’s not that many years ago, people found it surprisingly newsworthy that I was a pastor who surfed.
I think that because the water here is pretty cold, and that there are sharks and rogue waves and things like that on this part of the coast, people look at the ocean as something to wonder at, something to stand in awe of, something to fear. Surfing happens here, but it is not as widespread.
Where I grew up, in a beach town called Carpinteria, about 250 miles down the 101 from here, it was more notable if you did not surf than if you did.
Growing up in that town, I would not call myself a surfer. Rather, I was someone who surfed. There was a difference.
You can tell if someone is a surfer by the way that the sun bleaches his hair white. You can tell if someone is a surfer by the way the surfboard rack on her car is rusting from salt water. You can tell someone is a surfer by all the work or school he missed last week when the waves were great.
I was talking to a parishioner the other day who has overseen construction projects, and he says he’s learned to not hire the construction workers who have a surfboard lashed to the top of their trucks.
Even though I am not a surfer, but merely someone who loves to surf, I get that.
But when we moved up here, I fell away from the rhythm of surfing. Just recently I have been getting back into the habit, and most Monday mornings I have been going out, which for me is a wonderful way to spend my Sabbath. This past Monday I was out with a friend who is just learning, and we were at Asilomar. The water was blue like liquid turquoise, and the waves were sizeable enough to catch, but still gentle and forgiving, which were ideal learning conditions. We saw one seal, and no sharks. It was perfect.
A very important part of surfing is spotting the right waves to paddle for. That was my job. I told my friend when to go for it whenever a good wave was coming. The really good surfers are very in tune with the ocean, and they always know exactly where to be.
When you are out in the water with your board, and you find yourself in the right position with a sloping wall of water coming at you, something switches on in your body. You can feel every cell come alive and become ready. All this happens at such a deep place within you that it is hard to describe. You are just in it. You are purely in the moment. All that exists is the wave and the opportunity it presents. You become completely alert.
The next thing you do is of course to paddle like crazy. Actually, not like crazy, because you have to be smooth, even though you are exerting yourself at full effort. You do so with all your strength, but with control as the board needs to glide and not thrash as it moves over the surface of the water.
All your strength is actually not enough. You have to have that other mysterious component, which is total commitment. That is the true key ingredient to catching the wave.
When you are in this space, and you paddle with all you’ve got, and you see nothing but a blur of moving water under your board inches below your nose. Next comes the moment when the board actually rises up and slides over the water on its own and not by your paddling. The board moves in part by the power of gravity gravity and in part by the force of the rising slope of water behind you thrusting it forward. This is the moment when the board suddenly stabilizes and you feel something from the top of your head to the ends of your toes that tells you it’s time to leap to your feet.
And all of this happens in an instance.
On Monday I observed something funny that surfers do when they are out in the water with others. My friend and I were talking about surfing and about life, and then suddenly a wave would materialize. When that happens, it’s not at all rude to abandon your conversation completely in mid sentence and simply start paddling.
That is how it is. The wave perfectly forming and coming to you is the treasure. Nothing can stop you from giving everything you’ve got to catch it.
In the gospels, Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God. In Matthew, he uses the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven” because the writer of Matthew wants to reserve reverence for God’s name.
Jesus says many mysterious things about the Kingdom, and it shows a contrast to the way that God rules, as opposed to the way that the Roman Empire ruled. Heavenly power was based upon divine love, as opposed to worldly might.
One way to think of the Kingdom of God is that it is that state of being completely in sync with God. This is rare, but when it happens it is the greatest thing in the world. You know it when you experience it. Often we miss the mark, and when we do we suffer. But Jesus says over and over, the Kingdom of God is at hand, it is right before us, turn and enter it with all your being. You can experience the joy of being in sync with God both now and in the age to come, and it is a treasure worth more than anything you can imagine.
This series of parables gets at how valuable the Kingdom is, and what it is like when you perceive that and turn yourself towards it.
The pearl, the field with treasure, even the mustard seed and the yeast.
Seeking the Kingdom is something that takes place deep within our hearts, and not with the cold logic of our minds. Just like with a surfer about to catch a wave, it is something we get in the cells of our bodies when we just know, “Ah, this is it!”
The kingdom is this.
And it is full of wonder. It doesn’t add up, like how the small seed becomes the great mustard plant, or the way the yeast leavens the flour making it expand in ways you’d never believe.
It seems that when we encounter the Kingdom, we are in for great surprises.
Anne Lamott has a good word to say about being ready to be surprised by God in her recent little book on prayer, which is called Help, Thanks, Wow. She says:
“Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. This happens more often when we have as little expectation as possible…. Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.”
The way she speaks of it, God will bring surprises, and our part is to be ready to receive. It may be against our nature, but is good for us to embrace the unexpected.
The last parable is a little different.
This is the parable of the fisherman’s net which catches fish of all kinds.
The Bible historians say that this was not just a net like you would cast beside your boat, but a great dragnet that would be fastened between two large boats, or that might have one side fastened to a shore and the other to a boat. Imagine a net that catches everything! All sorts of fish and sea life.
And this phrase, “fish of every kind” expresses something that gets lost in translation. It refers to the fact that it caught both kosher and non-kosher sea life.
The disciples would have understood it, because they were Jewish and they were also fishermen.
However, I don’t think it was a common practice to burn fish that were not desired. This seems to be a refrain to the weeds and the wheat, which we heard about last week.
And the traditional way of reading it is that you and I better hope that we are going to be counted among the good fish! That way of reading it is like saying, “Be a good fish, or else!”
But be careful not to take this teaching to be all encompassing. We know that God’s hope is laid out for everysingle one of us.
To me it seems that we catch both good things and bad things in our nets. But the parable says that we are to cast our nets anyway. And when we get a mixture of bad in with the good, we are not to be passive about it. We are, I believe, more like the fishermen than the fish—we are to discern what is to be kept and what is to be discarded. Not everything is good for the soul, and the consequences are real.
This whole series of teachings taken all together points us to the fact that there is treasure hidden right before our eyes.
We are blessed when we can open ourselves to the surprises God has in store, bursting out of the least expected places.
We have to be ready to catch them. That is the point.
The Kingdom gets us to respond with our whole being. It is that wonderful.
Of course, a seed that holds great potential will be no good unless planted.
A bit of yeast is no good unless it is mixed in.
In a few moments at Eucharist, we will have a chance to live this out. We will take the bread and wine, and we will plant the gift of God’s presence within our very bodies.
These tiny elements—a bit of bread and a sip of wine—will help us to receive a bit of holiness, a bit of God’s own generous self, a taste of the Kingdom.
And we will nourish these seeds with our faith, to unlock their potential for growth. And I pray they will grow into something glorious, that will produce many more seeds which we may disperse and share with others.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.