A God who is untamably extravagant
Liz Stuart, 26 July 2020
1 Kings 3: 5–12; Romans 8: 26–39; Matthew 13: 31–33, 44–52
Where do you tuck God away in your life?
Some years ago now, I had a lovely little holiday going to see Monet’s garden in France. After we’d seen the water lilies and the magnificent nasturtium in the garden we were taken to a garden centre, where I purchased some beautiful purple wallflowers. I came home and I planted them in my garden in Southampton where I then lived, where they proceeded to run rampant. So I spent the next few years pulling them out to make space for anything else to live or to be able to plant anything else.
In our gospel reading today Jesus first tells two parables to illustrate what God is like, using images of small things growing bigger: a mustard seed and yeast. But we don’t get the whole point unless we understand that both these things are uncontrollable and untamed. Mustard was notorious for its spread, and yeast too caused a certain discomfort because of its bubbling, uncontainable, volatile qualities (it’s often used as a metaphor for sin in the Bible).
You can’t tuck God into a corner of your life. We try to minimise God to make him small and controllable precisely so we can fold him into a convenient part of our lives; but that is not how God rolls. God rampages through every aspect of our lives, expanding into every crevice, every corner, every crack. Once God gets in, there is no remainder. We waste a lot of time and we cause ourselves a lot of pain trying to create spaces in our lives where God is not, whether that be in our wallets, our politics, our shopping or whatever. But God just keeps springing back up into those areas, demanding our attention.
We then hear two more parables, one about hidden treasure and one about a fine pearl, which are worth selling all that a person has to own. Now, these parables can be read as demanding of us. God’s kingdom requires everything from us, our complete focus, and it’s more than worth the sacrifice. But these parables can also be read as telling us something about God. God is willing to pay any price to love us, because to him we are a pearl beyond price, riches beyond compare. We are dealing with a God who is untamably extravagant.
The final parable we hear conjures up the image of a dragnet thrown into the sea to catch every fish. God wants us all.
The final parable we hear conjures up the image of a dragnet thrown into the sea to catch every fish. God wants us all. And if your focus is on the sifting angels, note that the gospels are clear that if you think you are righteous, you probably aren’t, and vice versa. And St Paul reminds us today that not even angels can separate us from the love of God. The point is not the sifting; it is the net that captures all.
So how do we respond to this God who invades our lives like Japanese knotweed and fills every cranny of our beings like one of those expanding foam fillers? How do we respond to a God who sees past all the superficiality and muck and mess of our lives to the treasure, the pearl which he wants with all his heart? How do we respond to a God who wants us all in his net?
How do we respond to this God who invades our lives like Japanese knotweed and fills every cranny of our beings like one of those expanding foam fillers?
A few weeks ago the bishop very generously sent all curates a book, On Priesthood by Bishop Stephen Cottrell, the new Archbishop of York. The archbishop recommends that clergy make only one prayer. I wonder what you think that might be for. Holiness, wisdom, patience? He says, pray for nothing else than that your heart is daily enlarged. He says, the Church needs people whose love is expanding. I sometimes wonder if original sin is meanness, contraction, a shutting of the heart down – and that’s a constant temptation, because an open heart is vulnerable.
But the parables of the kingdom we heard today are about the outrageously open heart of God, who longs to break open our hearts so that he can invade them and fill every corner, every fissure. The Holy Spirit within us is praying this prayer: ‘Enlarge my heart, fill it with your presence that overflows, so that I can never feel or do anything but love’. We just have to say, amen.