Pentecost 11A, 2008
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

A LIturgy is also available


For James there was no indication
that this was the day his life would change.

The dawn for him was not the bright beginning of a new day,
but the end of a long fruitless night of fishing.
As he sat mending his nets in the boat
with his brother John and his father Zebedee,
was he shocked when he saw Simon and his brother Andrew
walk away from their trade at a word from Jesus?

As he watched Jesus walk toward him followed by Simon and Andrew,
did he feel curiosity, fear, hope, envy?

Yet when Jesus called James and his brother John
to do just what Simon and Andrew had done,
they too left behind their boat, their business and their family.

Four Galilean fisherman, and an itinerant preacher with a re-imagined world.
For the time being it was enough  (Adapted from Donald Burt & John Shea’s stories…).


Today is the closest Sunday to St James Day.
It has been a while since we celebrated our patron saint... James the Greater,
so let me re-introduce him again.

James is called the Greater to distinguish him
from another younger (and shorter?) apostle, also named James.

He was one of the sons of Zebedee and Salome,
brother of St John the Apostle, and together, James and John
were know by the nickname: “sons of thunder”.

Tradition says James was the first Apostle to be martyred,
stabbed with a sword by King Herod Agrippa,
in Jerusalem around the year 42-44 CE.

His memorial day was a couple of days ago - 25 July.

Legends have sprung up that James evangelised Spain.
After his death his body was taken to Spain and buried at Compostela
(a town the name of which is commonly thought to be derived from the word "apostle").

His supposed burial place there was a major site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.
And today… as some of you have trekked that way.

But many of these stories have little basis in historical fact
and that includes many of the imaginative biblical stories as well.

James is the patron saint of:
hat makers,
rheumatoid sufferers,
pharmacists, and pilgrims.

He is represented by the colours blue and gold/yellow, and the symbols:
a cockle shell,
a pilgrim's staff, or most fittingly,
an elderly, bearded man, wearing a hat with a scallop shell...


Tradition has it James was chosen by Jesus to be one of the 12 apostles.
One of the inner circle of intimates.

Tradition also tells us he and others did not always appreciate
what this itinerant sage was on about
with his invitation to re-imagine the world.

And this is where this mornings collection of mini parables come in.
Where ‘James’ and ‘parable’ meet.

Matthew’s Jesus says the reign of God is...
like a mustard seed 
like leaven
like finding treasure and hiding it in a field
like looking for fine pearls
like a dragnet cast into the sea.

But we know by now, I hope, that these are a special type of story called ‘parable’.
And parables as you will have heard from me on many occasions
turn our assumptions and conclusions upside down,

They specialise in revealing the unexpected,
offering hints only,
subverting the normal and traditional,
and casting out certainty to make room for hope.

So how is our common sense or traditional assumptions
turned up-side-down to invite the unexpected
in this collection of mini parables as offered by Matthew’s Jesus?

Let me again make some brief suggestions on just three of them.

The realm of God is like:
• a mustard seed  - a small but pungent weed that is such a nuisance it takes over everything in the garden! (parable)
You must be joking, Jesus.
What about a mighty, noble cedar tree? (tradition/myth)

The realm of God is like:
• leaven underhandedly mixed into bread making  - ordinary, common, everyday bread! (parable)
You must be joking, Jesus.
Surely it is like holy, unleaven, uncorrupted bread? (tradition/myth)

The realm of God is like:
• finding treasure - in someone else’s land, and hiding it.  And then persuading the owner to sell you the land! (parable)
You must be joking, Jesus.
It’s a blessing from God when good luck and fortune and wealth comes? (tradition/myth)

Here’s what I reckon is the common thread.
All these mini parables are ‘red flags’ waving at us:
don’t expect the realm of God will be what you reckon or want it to be.


The Jesus of Matthew was very astute.
Wherever he looked, he saw the world not in terms of its so-called brokenness.
(Others did and do that very successfully.  And call it ‘original sin’).

But in terms of the all embracing presentness of God or the sacred.

Preacher and storyteller Frederick Buechner puts it like this:
“It is not just that the Kingdom is like a pearl of great price, a mustard seed, leaven... but it is also within them, as it is also within us.  Pearls, seeds, fields, leaven, the human heart, all of them carry within them something of the holiness of their origin.  It is the wholest and realest part of their reality and of ours”  (Beuchner. Theology Today/1993).

But most times that presentness or wholeness could only be unpacked
when the hearer’s world view was reversed in a parable, and life and living re-imagined.
As a new way of being in the world.

A couple of years after I arrived here at St James I came across this comment
from a woman bishop in the Episcopal Church in America:
“faith (i)s an engagement in the wonders, mysteries, and questions of life, not its certainties”  (C. T. Irish).

Now I resonate with that.  Tho’ I guess for some folk that will be a bit unsettling.
Too much parable-like and uncertain and risky for comfort.

Because the power of the current myth about the world and life
- perpetuated by churches like Hillsong AOG and their false ‘wealth theology’;
- perpetuated by those called religious or fundamentalist terrorists
who believe you can ‘get into heaven by causing hell on earth’ -
seems otherwise, and at times, mighty indeed.

However, I believe faithfulness demands of me
that I live out of a new and different re-imagining of the world,
in all its wonder, mystery... and open-ended questioning.


Just in the last 24 hours The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought,
(an initiative of the Church of St James)
has had as a presenter, Professor Amy-Jill Levine,
a feminist, orthodox Jew, and professor of New Testament studies.

What a wonderful person to be in our midst,
as CPRT Canberra celebrated its 6th birthday!

So in the spirit of her visit let me tell you a rabbi story
about re-imagining the ordinary.

Usually the rabbis of Europe boasted distinguished rabbinical genealogies,
but Rabbi Yechiel was an exception.
He was the son of a simple baker
and he inherited some of the forthright qualities
of a man of the people.

Once, when a number of rabbis had gathered at some festivity,
each began to boast of his eminent rabbinical ancestors.

When Rabbi Yechiel's turn came, he replied gravely,
‘In my family, I'm the first eminent ancestor.’

His colleagues were shocked by this piece of impudence, but said nothing.

Immediately after, the rabbis began to expound Torah.
Each one was asked to hold forth on a text
culled from the sayings of one of his
distinguished rabbinical ancestors.

One after another they delivered their learned dissertations.

At last it came time for Rabbi Yechiel to say something.

He arose and said,
‘My masters, my father was a baker.
He taught me that only fresh bread was appetizing
and I must avoid the stale.

‘This can also apply to learning.’

And with that Rabbi Yechiel sat down.  (Ausubel. A Treasury of Jewish Folklore/51)