Suspend your Disbelief
In the name of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus tells one short story after another about the Kingdom of God … or in other words, he gives many examples of what the reign of God is like: the uncorrupt world without our free choice and sin; everything according to the rule of God. Jesus tells those who can hear:
God’s kingdom is like a pine nut (or a mustard seed). It starts out small and grows into something big enough to support other lives.
God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years (or the unexplored good news of God in your heart) accidentally found. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything to buy that field (and proceeds to give up other things in life to walk with God).
You could say that what Jesus gives us is a list of testimonies, each of a different person. These are stories telling how God’s love gets into people and grows. All different stories making the same point: that the reign of God is NOT what we think it is going to be, and that God’s love is bigger than we can imagine.
As long as at least one source is Scriptural, this method of using more than one story to illustrate a point about God is called theological reflection. If you take Education for Ministry (EFM), for example, you learn how to do this.
You take a person or a situation you are currently dealing with (a present day circumstance) and you ask yourself: Are there any people in the Bible who have the same kind of feelings? Does this sound familiar? Has something similar to this been addressed in a Bible story? Can the two stories be seen as two ways to illustrate a general theological understanding we have about God?
Telling our stories is important, and telling them in the context of the Biblical narrative allows us to do theological reflection on our lives. Enroll in EFM if you want to learn more about doing this.
The conclusion of the gospel illustrates why it is good to have this skill. “Jesus said, “Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” His conclusion tells us that no matter the situation we face, there is a scriptural story of God to share in context. Traditional or brand new; intensely private, or publically shared; there is something you can say about God in the face of every moment. It is important to share your story.
Of course, Saint Paul has been one of the most powerful sharers of his own story. In his letter to the Romans, we have some of my favorite verses in Paul’s writing … at least as they appear in the NRSV. I’m attached to Romans 8:37-39 translated into these words:
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
One of the main theological points in Paul’s letter to the Romans is that God loves us to such an extent that it is beyond our imagination. Paul tries many ways: forward and back, up and down, trying to tell us that we are beloved children of God.
Do you believe that? Do you really believe that you are a beloved child of God? Well. Think about this:
Remember the first time someone fell in love with you. Imagine how you looked in their eyes: Smart. Good looking. Terrific sense of humor. Wonderful at absolutely everything.
You know … God looks at us the same way … but amplified a thousand-fold … with deeper love. God is in love with each one of God’s children. God looks at you and lovingly says, “You are doing that so well! No one else can do that the way you do it.”
When you understand how beloved you are, you can’t help but overflow with love, to be absolutely in love with everyone you meet, everyone here in this church, actively wishing God’s favor be upon them.
Look again at what Paul said to those who were following him: “‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
What does this mean? This means that because Paul so well understood his beloved-of-God status, Paul’s love is pouring out for those around him in the shape of public teaching about the rule (or reign) of God, which is love. This will probably threaten the Roman rulers and get Paul killed. ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
Here is the secret Paul knows: even if he and his companions are killed for spreading the news about Jesus and the Kingdom of God, he is confident they are more than conquerors. They know the truth about the love of God. He knows, even if their mortal bodies perish, the good news of Jesus and the love of God cannot be destroyed. God’s love never dies.
God’s love is all powerful. Yet, if believing that you are God’s beloved child seems hard to do, then I have a practical faith exercise to suggest for you.
For the next week, no matter how far you are from believing it, just pretend that you know yourself to be the beloved child of God. Act like you understand your wholesale forgiveness. Imagine that you really can do nothing to make God quit looking at you with those “in-love-with-you” eyes. For a whole seven days, when you feel yourself slip out of this mindset, catch yourself and believe in your belovedness again. Set yourself straight.
When I was a child, I had a dollhouse and I pretended to “play house” with dolls and toys. As I grew and began reading books, it was my imagination which was being developed. Today, some people call pretending and imagining “thought experiments.” Whatever you call it, try it.
Thinking about the impossible is actually makes it possible! How would we have had humans in flight? Internal medical cameras, diagnosing and treating disease, Hubble telescopes, space travel and satellites orbiting Jupiter? We would not have had these things if someone had not first imagined them.
You have to go through the step of imagining something before it becomes real.
If you can’t take a whole leap of faith this week, take a short jump that will last a handful of days.
Suspend your disbelief and see what might be possible.
It might be more than you can ask or imagine.