The Rev. Hannah Hooker’s sermon for Year A, Proper 12
I love pop culture references to the Christian story of salvation. And I don’t just mean when blockbuster movies quote the Bible. I mean when our culture’s search for meaning lands right on top of the Christian story. Obviously this means that I love Star Wars and the Matrix and Harry Potter – stories that get at essential truths that I believe in. There is a force out there bigger than us, the status quo does get turned upside down, and one man can save the world
Perhaps my favorite piece of pop culture theology comes from the British Sci-fi TV show, Dr. Who. And fear not, you only need the briefest introduction to the show in order to understand what I mean. Dr. Who is an alien. He’s from the planet Gallifrey. He has two hearts, and he travels through time and space in a very special spaceship called the TARDIS. Now, from the outside, the TARDIS looks like an old fashioned police call box. But, as you might have guessed, it’s bigger on the inside. Huge, in fact. And this is one of the most crucial premises of the entire show. Time and again when brute force and human logic and even science and technology fail to save the day, the Doctor and his companions depend on TARDIS logic: which is that things, people, places, even whole worlds, can be bigger on the inside than they appear on the outside.
“Bigger on the inside” is the BBC version of an essential Christian truth: things are more than they appear. If this seems far fetched, I’ll give you a whole handful of examples, all from today’s lectionary. In his own way this morning, Jacob learns about TARDIS logic and this essential Christian truth long before either of them even began. Here is what Jacob has been up to. While on the run from his brother, Jacob fell madly in love with a woman named Rachel. And it seems like the love might be real because Jacob is very patient. He works and waits for seven years to earn the right to marry her, and he didn’t mind it one bit. But, in a biblical moment of pure dramatic irony, Jacob the birthright trickster is tricked by a birthright, and he has married Rachel’s sister Leah instead. To make Jacob a little more relatable, I’ll explain it like this, Jacob woke up after years of hard work only to realize that the reward what not at all what he’d expected. Sound familiar? It happens to all of us. Jacob’s uncle, perhaps the master trickster, has some sage words of advice for Jacob: be patient a little longer and you’ll have Leah AND Rachel. So he does. And we all know what happens afterwards. Their family is prosperous and between the sisters Jacob fathers an entire nation.
Now granted, the circumstances – one man marrying two sisters – are outdated. But I think the message is not. Jacob learned what all of us must learn. Every relationship we ever have is with is a Rachel AND a Leah, someone incredible and amazing that we know intimately and is everything we want them to be, AND simultaneously a stranger who doesn’t live up to our expectations. One might say Jacob learned that relationships are bigger on the inside, and marriage is more than it appears. As ever, Jacob, in his Old Testament way, is showing us something about the Kingdom of God that Jesus later comes to usher in.
In fact, on today’s episode of parable greatest hits, we have the mustard seed, the yeast, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value, and the net that was thrown into the sea. And what do they all have in common? Why are they all bunched together? It seems complicated, but when Jesus asked the disciples if they understood, they all said yes. So what do they know that we don’t? For one they knew about mustard plants. Mustard plants are native to Europe and Asia, and we don’t see as much of it around here, so this parable might go right over some our heads. It seems like we’re being given a lesson about a tiny seed that becomes a giant tree, that maybe the Kingdom of God is something that starts out small but gets massive with age. Wrong. Mustard plants aren’t trees, they’re vines, and if left unchecked, they take over everything. If we were rewriting this parable for 21st century Arkansas, we’d say the kingdom of heaven is like kudzu.
These parables are telling us that the kingdom of heaven is a slow and steady in-breaking, which, over time takes over everything around it. there’s nothing God’s love doesn’t touch and nothing it can’t overcome. Like the TARDIS, like marriage, like a mustard seed, there is much more to it than first appears.
People will surprise you with the ways that they show you the face of Christ. Places will surprise you with the joy and love they hold. We will not always know at first quite what to do with the piece of the Kingdom we’ve been given. But like Jacob, we must be patient. This week, let’s be open to the idea that God is doing more in our lives, in this church, in this town, than we saw and understood last week. Let’s not count anything out. Because there is not a single facet of our lives that God will not use. The kingdom of God will take over everything, and it is much bigger on the inside.