Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 12A

Track 1:  Keeping Covenant

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
or Psalm 128
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Agreements between two people can be made on the basis of a handshake. The handshake alone might be enough to seal the deal, but that is assuming that the parties involved are honorable. Their word is the their bond, so to speak. Jacob and Laban made a deal. Jacob would work for Laban seven years for the hand of Racheal, Laban’s youngest daughter.

We know the story. Jacob, who had tricked his own brother out of his birthright, met his match with Laban. When Jacob completed his seven year of labor, he went to his uncle Laban and asked:

“Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.   (Genesis 29:?-28)

Laban had  ulterior motives. He did not lay all his cards on the table. Perhaps we have experienced people like that in our lives. If they were blood relatives the experience would have been all the more painful.

Now let us look at another agreement, this one between God and Abraham:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.   (Genesis 17:1-?)

This agreement was a covenant between God and the family of Abraham which would pass down through the ages. The psalmist wrote about the character of God concerning his honoring this covenant:

Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

O offspring of Abraham his servant,
O children of Jacob his chosen.

He is the Lord our God;
his judgments prevail in all the world.

He has always been mindful of his covenant,
the promise he made for a thousand generations:

The covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath that he swore to Isaac,

Which he established as a statute for Jacob,
an everlasting covenant for Israel,   (Psalm 105:5-10)

God has kept this covenant with the nation of Israel even though Israel failed many times in walking blameless with God. Through Moses, God established a sacrificial system that would remove the burden of guilt from Israel for their failure to follow God’s commandments.

God takes human disobedience very seriously. The purpose behind to covenant requirements was to prepare humankind to join the holy community of God. Yet the sacrificial system under Moses was only temporary. It could not permanently deal with sin once and for all.

The writer of Hebrews tells us how God extended and expanded his covenant:

For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.   (Hebrews 9:13-15)

Unlike Laban and the rest of us, God is faithful and God is true. He keeps his covenant with Israel and with all of humankind down to this day. But we must also keep covenant with him. How do we enter into this covenant agreement? God has made that part easy. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 19:5-10)

Our part of the covenant is to acknowledge before God and the people the great gift he has given us. This covenant is not some short time agreement. The covenant is forever, therefore, our commitment to God must be forever with his help. We cannot be a Laban and consider only what is in it for me.

If we begin this covenant with God and take it seriously, we will grow in righteousness and holiness over time because God will do his part if we do ours.

In today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 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.”   (Matthew 13:31-33)

God  requires only that we trust him and the provision he has made for us through his Son Jesus Christ. He has given us his Holy Spirit to aid us in our walk with him so that we might be blameless. Though our life does not appear to be blameless right now, if we continue in our walk with him, God will bring us to completion. He has sewn his kingdom within us and it is advancing. The Apostle Paul writes:

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,   (2 Corinthians 4:15-17)



Track 2:  The Pearl of Great Price

1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

When Solomon was preparing to assume the throne of his father David, God appeared to him in a dream. God asked him what gift he could give Solomon. Solomon asked God to give him “an understanding mind to govern your people.” God answered Solomon’s prayer:

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.”   (1 Kings 3:?-12)

God gave Solomon a great gift of wisdom and discernment. It was unmerited. Solomon had not earned it. The gift was a gift of grace which w2s a type and shadow of the kingdom of heaven. The children of Israel were provided a just society under the reign of Solomon through God’s gift. What Solomon desired from God, nonetheless, was something for the people and not himself. His request was selfless. He could have asked for long life and riches instead, but Solomon was willing to give up something of himself in appreciation for what God could do to bless his subjects.

The kingdom of heaven in some ways is like the gift God gave Solomon. Both are given without any merit on our part are that of Solomon. And both are beyond price. Jesus described the kingdom as a pearl of great value:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.   (Matthew 13:?)

The kingdom of heaven, does not cost us anything, at least not monetarily. Nor does it require us to work for it. It is free since it has been paid for by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ our Lord. Why, then, does Jesus say that the merchant in the parable would be willing to sell everything for it?

Perhaps Jesus is saying how we, who are the recipients of the gift of the kingdom, should value what God has done on our behalf. We should realize that there is nothing on this earth and in our present life that can compare to the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of God is an unmerited gift for us. The blood of Jesus provides that gift. To receive that gift and hold on to it, however, we must be willing to value it above all else. In Philippians we read that Jesus valued us above his throne in heaven:

Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

How much do we value him? More that anything in this world? Solomon put the needs of his subjects over his own needs. How much are we willing to subjugate our immediate worldly needs to the advancing of God’s kingdom? The answer lies in how much we value our Lord Jesus Christ and his atonement for our sins.


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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

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