Sermon for Proper 12, Year A, July 26, 2020

1 Kings 3:5-12, Psalm 119:129-136, Matthew 13:31-33. 44-52

          Our reading from 1st Kings today seems particularly fitting for us.  The newly crowned king, King Solomon goes to Gideon to make a sacrifice to the Lord.  While there, the Lord comes to him in a dream and says, “Ask what I should give you.”  After hearing Solomon’s request for wisdom, the Lord is pleased and says, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.”

          What we need, more than anything today, is for people to have wisdom.  I’m not just talking about our leaders; I’m talking about every one of us.  We need a discerning mind that will help us make good decisions in the face of this pandemic. 

Many of us have found safe ways to connect with others – but with the number of known active cases in our county climbing, the stakes are higher. We must be more vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing – and we need to work harder to support one another.  Coping with this health crisis is not just about the spread of the virus, we all need some human contact.  We were created to live in community and so, despite our better sense, we sometimes do the things which we ought not to do. 

Doing things, we ought not to do, is part of what we confess, but so is not doing the things we ought to do.  We need the wisdom to discern what we should do for our mental health and the mental health of others – as well as minimizing the risk of spreading this disease.  Some of us are in daily contact with others, but many are still sheltering in place and can benefit from regular interactions with family and friends. 

          There is a difference between being alone and being isolated.  Truth be told, we are never alone.  God is with us.  Yet, we were created to live in community with other human beings and there is a feeling of isolation that comes upon us when we cease to interact with others.  Even those of us who are introverts, need to spend some time with people.  A discerning mind understands we should not wait for someone to call us, we need to pick up the phone and make that call. Doing so helps us and others.  We can get through this together.

          My brother and I celebrated a couple’s wedding earlier in this pandemic.  There were only eight of us present, plus a photographer.  I jokingly told the bride and groom they weren’t social distancing, to which the bride quickly replied, “his is my isolation buddy.”

          I don’t know how you have approached social isolation, but I do know that many of us have created a circle of isolation buddies.  We limit our exposure by interacting with a small group of family or friends who also limit their exposure.  We tried this with our church family by inviting people inside our church for worship – but we needed to make our circle a bit smaller after Independence County began experience the surge of infections.  Our number of active cases has more than doubled in one week.  Friday, Lyon College decided to conduct its Fall Semester online. 

          A discerning mind needs to consider the risk factors – our own and those we might be in close contact with, as well as our mental health.  Social distancing seems especially difficult for our young children and that is one of the reasons many of families are praying that in-person school will resume in the fall.  A discerning heart and mind must make choices – when there is no obvious right answer.  What seems to be a right or wrong decision is not.  It is simply our the best option based on what we believe to be true at the time we make our decision.

          To read our lesson from Matthew, when Jesus says heaven is like the fish of every kind being pulled out of the sea where the good and bad will be separated, you might think such a dichotomy exists.  There is right and wrong.  At the end of the ages, Jesus says, “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Off the top of my head, though, I can’t think of a parable seldom that acknowledges the continuum that exists in life.  We are not all good (righteous) or all bad (sinful).  To be faithful is to strive to do what is right.  Solomon asks for wisdom because he was aware of his own limitations.  He knows he doesn’t always know what is right and what is wrong – and neither do we. 

          When Jesus first speaks of what heaven is like in today’s lesson, he speaks of the mustard seed, “it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  Just a little bit of faith can grow and help us become a blessing to others.

My prayer for us today is that our faith will grow and enable us, like Solomon, to have a discerning mind that, with careful thought, we will make the best decisions we can as we work our way through the coming days, weeks, and months.   I know from talking with parents and families and from my own experience, there are no easy, clearly discernable answers to the questions we face today.    

Yet, I also know that whether you are isolating, quarantined, or leaving your home for work, for groceries, or another purpose, you can put your faith into action by reaching out to others.  When our faith becomes action, it grows like the mustard seed into the greatest of scrubs and becomes a tree where the birds can build their nests and live.  We need each other to get through this pandemic.  We are blessed and we are a blessing when we do reach out to others.

Let us pray.

          Loving God, we ask for a discerning mind and a loving heart that we might support one another in this crisis.  Help us to be a blessing to one another, that our faith might grow and we might have the strength to endure the days, weeks, and months ahead.   We ask these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.