26 July, 2020 Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
All Saints Parish, Brookline, MA (via livestream)
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
In the words of Paul, when we can’t find the words to pray as we ought, Loving God, hear our sighs that are too deep for words. Amen.
Good Morning, All Saints! It is a pleasure to be here with you all this morning. You may have noticed my presence in our Sunday morning services for the last few weeks, but this is my first opportunity to speak with you from the “pulpit,” such as it is these days. My name is Tammy Hobbs Miracky, and as of about two weeks ago, I am the new Family Minister here at All Saints.
As many of you likely know, on Sunday mornings before this service we have a Family check-in. Children join us via zoom, often with parents in the background. Before we close our time together, we join in prayer, giving each young person a chance to name the things they are thankful for or to ask for God’s help with the things they may be worried about. Last week, when it was my turn to offer my contribution to our collective prayer, I paused. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t have the words for all the ways in which I yearn to see our world redeemed.
I felt the same way as I sat with today’s readings. In our Gospel selection, the author of Matthew offers no fewer than five parables. We have mustard seeds, yeast, pearls, buried treasure, and good fish and bad fish. The author of Matthew pulls out all the parables in his bag to try to offer to these early followers of Jesus an image of how even the tiniest hope, in God’s world, might grow into a treasure, into a refuge. And this he offered to a community whose stories were being recorded in the years following the destruction of their temple, the razing of their holy city, the displacement of their people. In this glimpse into the Kingdom of God, to use Matthew’s phrase, he was offering hope, a contrast to the Roman Empire under which this community suffered.
In Matthew’s Gospel, after Jesus reels off five different parables – and more, because there is a section that’s been excerpted here – he pauses and asks in a very straightforward way, “Okay, guys, so you got all that? That all make sense?” To be more precise, Matthew has Jesus say, “Have you understood all this?” to which the apostles quickly and simply reply, “Yes.” “Sure.” “We got it.”
People are sick and dying; and the toll of this novel virus is falling disproportionately on the poor, people of color, those on the margins of our society;
People’s livelihoods and material well-being are being pulled out from under them;
People of color of all ages continue to draw our attention to the heartbreaking and enraging condition of racism in our country;
We are entering another election season and the cacophony that invariably brings has started already;
And, underlying all of this, our country seems to be torn apart. We can’t locate a shared understanding, a common truth from which to address our multiple crises, a foundation on which we can stand together to help realize healing and justice in our world.
The words Matthew has Jesus speak, these images to give the community a sense of the vast, awesome potential of the Kingdom of Heaven…this week, at least, that vision wasn’t able to penetrate the turmoil inside me.
No, I don’t get it, Jesus. I “haven’t understood all this.” How did that merchant find the pearl of great value? Where do we find our mustard tree, one where all the birds of the air can come and build a shelter? How do we know where the fish are, and by the way, how do we know whether we’re being one of the good fish or the bad fish? No, I “haven’t understood all this.” Right now, often, it feels like I don’t even know where to start.
But you know what? Despite the chaos, in the chaos, God is. And as I sat with today’s texts, as is often the case, scripture began to do its work, offering a glimpse of God’s presence and God’s purpose. Somehow, the Word of God manages to reach us. And today, God’s Word reached me by reminding me that sometimes what I need is to set aside words. I don’t have to know where to start, I don’t have to be able to intellectualize how Matthew’s Kingdom of God might break through into our time and our place. God’s Word, ironically, reminded me that sometimes words don’t work.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul expresses this experience. He reminds us that sometimes we “don’t know how to pray.” Sometimes the sadness, the grief, the anger, the chaos may be too much for us to wade through into words. When this is our state, Paul suggests that “the Spirit intercedes…with sighs too deep for words.”
Paul had just described this world as one in which “the whole creation has been groaning” and “not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly while we wait for…redemption” (Romans 8:22-23). Sighs. Groans. Wordless, physical manifestations of our yearning for justice and mercy and peace.
In Paul’s description, the Spirit can join us in our groaning, join our longing that defies verbal boundaries. The Spirit joins our groaning together with the groaning of all creation and, borrowing the image of one biblical scholar, “translates our longing into the very language of God.”
So how do we open ourselves up? How do we calm the chaos? Is there a way to glimpse how the tiniest seed of hope can give rise to this Kingdom of God? How do we move beyond the turmoil and begin to see a place of God’s wholeness?
When a walk outside, a hike in the woods, time spent with silence, or listening to music – when our typical tricks for soothing our spirit and healing our world fall short and we find ourselves not knowing where to start – maybe, for a spell, we just sit and sigh and remember that this, too, is the very language of God.