Harrowing Of Hell
July 27, 2014

A Parable Is an Earworm

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

Sometimes people wonder what is really inside a parable. Here is a parable that shows you. See, this is not a parable of Jesus. This is a different kind of parable. I wonder what is really inside a parable. All we have to do is take off the lid to find out. Be careful! You need to be really ready to do this.

What is this? Is it a box inside a box? Oh, no! It’s a parable inside a parable, like a box is inside a box. That is very interesting, but what we really want to know is what is inside a parable. Let’s look in this one to find out.

What is this, another box inside of a box? Okay. I understand. A parable is inside a parable, like a box is inside a box. I get it. We don’t need any more boxes inside of boxes. Let’s see now what is really inside a parable. Okay. So there are boxes inside of boxes, like parables are inside of parables. Look here’s another one. Here’s another one. Now, this must be the last one. People don’t make boxes smaller than this. Here’s a tiny, gold one. This must be the one we have been waiting for. This must be the last one. Now, we can see what is really inside of a parable. It’s hard to see, isn’t it? That is why people who loved parables very much put it in a box, so they can find it and even take it with them.

The next people who came along also loved parables very much, but the parable box the first people made wasn’t quite right for them, so they made their own. The next people who came along also loved parables very much, but the box the other people made didn’t agree with them very well. They wanted one that was just right for them, so they made their own. People kept doing this. Someone would come along and find the parable box someone else had made and like it, but it wasn’t just right for the new person, so one that was just right had to be made. Then the next people came along and did the same thing. This went on for hundreds of years.

Even after a thousand years this was still going on. Then, about the time America was discovered, it was still happening. Eventually, your grandmothers and grandfathers who loved parables very much, found the parable box the people who came before them had made. They liked it, but it was not just right for them, so they made their own. Finally, we come to the time of your mothers and fathers. They love parables very much too, but the box that their mothers and fathers made was not quite right for them. They had to make their own.

I wonder who is going to make the next parable box. I wonder what the box could really be. I wonder what the whole line of boxes makes. I wonder what kind of box is just right for you. I wonder if you have ever come close to the inside of a parable. Some of you may be wondering what on earth that was all about and others know exactly what I was doing. I just told you the Parable of Parables from our Sunday School’s Godly Play curriculum. That is an example of the type of story our children hear and wonder about together.

Today’s gospel feels like a riddle. In twenty short verses, we have six parables within parables. It is a nesting box of metaphors and similes for the kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a merchant, a net, and the master of a household. Take your pick; find an image that works for you. In his book The Parables of the Kingdom, C.H. Dodd wrote: “At its simplest, a parable is a metaphor or simile, drawn from nature or the common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” A parable is an earworm. A parable is an earworm. It is meant to sink into your psyche and set up shop until you spend some time dealing with it. So, which one resonates with you? Let’s take a look.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. The tiniest of seeds which grows into a large bush that takes over wherever it sets down roots. It is an invasive weed. Now, I’m no gardener, but a quick internet search tells me we could liken the Biblical mustard bush to Scotch Broom or the butterfly bush. Gardeners, is that right? These are all noxious weeds, invasive species that spread unceasingly. Likewise, in Biblical times, yeast was considered unclean. It didn’t come in a neat little paper packet at the store. It was made by allowing a small bit of bread to rot in a dark, damp place until it molded before being added to the next batch of dough.

These two examples demonstrate how God’s kingdom creeps in between the cracks; in the ugly, noxious, and undignified places of our lives. That is what these parables teach us. God’s kingdom doesn’t always present itself in a pretty gold box wrapped professionally with a bow on top. It slips in sideways like a weed or mold, like a rare treasure even when we aren’t on the lookout. Sometimes God’s kingdom is hard to see amongst the detritus and mire of life’s curveballs.

These past few weeks in particular have been full of tragedy in our world. The news is saturated with images and stories of the victims on Malaysian Air Flight #17 and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank. In our own backyard and impacting friends and relatives are the devastating wildfires in Eastern Washington and we must not forget the children coming across our southern border seeking refuge. With each image and story that I see or hear, my sadness deepens. My prayers overflow with the usual litany of the sick and grieving, friends and loved ones, and now these tragedies on a global scale. It makes me think about making my own parable box as a lens through which to view the suffering.

Several weeks ago, Doyt preached about suffering and how our experience of suffering is greatly shaped by the soundness of our souls at the time when suffering arrives. Last Sunday, Charissa developed that theme and wondered, “How do we promote soundness of soul so that when suffering comes it is not experienced as useless, but in fact becomes a period in which hope and faith increase?” It is in these moments of frustration and despair, when the suffering hits that we must accept its presence in our lives. As Charissa suggested, “I think that is when we take hold of the numerous promises of God that we are loved and met, where we are, as we are. I think we acknowledge the impatience, anger, fear, or resentment, and recognize that we are in the throes of labor. We are groaning and hoping, straining toward redemption. Something wants to be birthed in us, and God is eager to see it birthed.”
The parable within the parable is the lens through which we choose to see the kingdom of heaven and that has a great impact upon our experience of the sufferings of the world. Doyt talks about the nearness of the kingdom and how it is right here. In conversation with a parishioner the other day, she likened it to being a fish in water. She said, “The kingdom of heaven is like water to a fish who doesn’t even realize it is wet.”

So, I wonder, what kind of box is just right for you? I wonder if you have ever come close to the inside of a parable? And if you have, what did it look like?