Original post at http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1357
In a world where bigger is better, and louder gets more attention, the Gospel reading in this week’s Lectionary is very challenging. It offers a series of parables that describe what God’s Reign is like: the tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree big enough to provide a home for birds; the yeast which works its way through an entire bushel of wheat flour; the hidden treasure for which the finder is willing to give everything; the rare pearl for which the merchant sells all his (or her) wealth. All of these parables highlight the radically subversive and hidden Reign of God. Where human systems of power, wealth and personal gratification are obsessed with more, bigger, better and louder, God’s Reign works through less, smaller, more ordinary, and quieter. Yet, the impact of God’s Reign is far more creative and healing than anything our human politics, economics, or religion can muster.
These parables are then followed up by two others that seem a little out of place. The first is the parable of the fishing net, which uses another very ordinary activity to describe the workings of God’s Reign. As the soil in the parable of the sower from a couple of weeks back “captures” the seed, so the net captures the fish. Similarly God’s Reign seeks to capture us. But, we are still required to choose a response. The soil does not always provide a place for the seed to grow, and not all the fish are good. Similarly, we will need to choose whether we will live as those who are captured by God’s Reign, or who allow ourselves to be consumed by the fires of our own greed, addiction, and ego-driven need for applause.
Finally, Jesus gives us one last parable – the mysterious chest from which both old and new treasures are drawn. Here, it seems, Jesus is challenging his hearers to recognise that God’s Reign is both ancient – an expression of the dream of the prophets and the law-givers of times past – and brand new – a radically different way of being from that which human society has embraced since, at least, the dawn of agriculture. This is not change for the sake of change, and nor is it a reactionary clinging to the past for fear of change. God’s Reign brings radical and sweeping changes to our world, but it is not a trend or a fashion. It is a whole new order which can lead the world into vibrant and abundant life.
In the light of this the Story of this week’s worship is the story of God’s Reign – God’s dream for our world. It’s a dream in which we release our need to be “special”, our obsession with celebrity and with more, and discover the life, the abundance and the joy in the simple, the ordinary, the small. If we can enter worship this week with some memory of an ordinary moment that was filled with joy, healing and/or God’s presence, we will be connecting with the story Jesus is trying to tell.
Out of this story (or stories) we are offered a different Language from that which fills the conversations in our society. Instead of the language of power, or of wealth, or of fame, or of size, we are offered words of smallness, quiet, and hiddenness. Yet, we are also given the language of joy, of finding what we long for, of dreams fulfilled and life made meaningful. There is also the language of choice, and the language of joining an ancient movement that is new in every generation. Whatever words we choose, we will do well to speak simply and gently in our worship this week, and to avoid the language of extravagance and excess.
The Symbols of this week’s worship are very clear – the parables are full of wonderful images, metaphors and symbols that could all become icons for our meditation. We will probably need to be careful not to try and use too many, or become too complex in our imagery. However any symbol that speaks of the small (like the seed or the yeast), the hidden (like the treasure or the pearl), or the ordinary (like the net or the chest) could be helpful this week.
Finally, as we seek to engage with the message of the Scriptures through Ritual, there are also a number of wonderful opportunities.
- If you have children in your service, you may want to include a game of hide-and-seek (don’t forget to include the grown-ups!) as a way to experience and explain God’s Reign for ourselves.
- We could receive a seed which we can either take home and place on display to remind us of the small, hidden Reign of God, or we could plant it and watch it grow, even as God’s Reign is doing throughout the world.
- If our facility allows it – or as a response to the worship when we get home – we could bake brad, remembering the work of the yeast which causes it to rise.
- Or we could have chests on display in our worship spaces and place our gifts into them as a sign of offering ourselves to be signs of God’s Reign – God’s treasure – to the world.
- Alternatively, we could place Scriptures or other small “treasures” in the chests and invite people to receive them and take them home as a reminder of the ancient-future Reign of God.
There is certainly no reason for our worship to lack creativity and richness this week! For further reflection this blog post - The Hidden Kingdom (which is based on Mark’s version of some of the same parables) – may stimulate further thinking. In addition, this week’s Lectionary Worship Resources blog post has additional reflections, prayers, hymns, liturgy, and video suggestions.
What other ideas do you have for worship this week? Are you planning to focus on one of the other readings than the Gospel? Please add any thoughts or ideas to the comments. And let’s have fun as we prepare, facilitate and participate in worship this week.