Wednesday, November 16, 2005
St. Margaret of Scotland
Wednesday, November 16, 2005 · Matt. 13: 44-52
I grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, a coastal town, and so I loved to go to the beach as a boy. I loved to play in the sand and build sand castles. And I loved to get on my boogie board and ride the waves, such as they were in Florida before this massive cycle of hurricanes anyway. Whenever I would go to the beach I would always see a particular kind of person. This kind of person came in all shapes and sizes, young and old, male and female. But, they always had one particular feature about them – they always wore a head set connected to long metal pole at the end of which was a metal disk. They would sweep this disk back and forth across the sand as they walked. Treasure hunters. Metal detectors. I would always get excited when I would see them for the prospect of finding buried treasure really excited me. I would get even more excited when the treasure hunters would stop near me, take off their headset, get out their trowel (which inevitably hung from their belt) and begin to dig in the sand. They would dig, and dig, getting more excited as they went (or maybe that was just me). Then they would reach into the hole and proudly pull out…a bottle cap. How disappointing! I had visions of gold doubloons and great piles of gems, but what they always found was a bottle cap. I would go back to playing in the sand or riding the waves and soon forget about the treasure hunter.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hunter who stops sweeping their metal detector across the sand, takes off their headset, and sees the sun rise for the first time.
Margaret of Scotland, whom we commemorate today, died in 1093. Hers was an extraordinary life and she was an incredible woman. We know of her husband, Malcolm, thanks to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but it is Margaret the church remembers. She took the Gospel to heart and stood up to the clergy of her day, insisting that the Lord’s Day be used solely for prayer and for doing good works. She was adamant in her resolve to get the clergy to begin Lent actually on Ash Wednesday instead of the following Monday, which, for unknown reasons, seemed more convenient to them. She used her influence as the Queen, and more importantly, she influenced her husband by her resolve to put the Gospel to work! She founded schools, hospitals, and shelters for those who needed them. She tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to get the clansmen of the highlands to stop their bitter wars. For a woman in the 11th century, these were remarkable accomplishments, and they all stemmed from her love of and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Queen, who defies the conventions of her day to accomplish wonderful things in the name of the Lord.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is Scripture and how we read it, how we interpret it, and if we believe it. Yes, it’s true, a seminarian sometimes has trouble believing the Bible. I heard a quote the other week by Dr. Edward Pusey, a famous high churchman of the 19th century, that went something like this: “In order to call yourself a Catholic, you have to believe Jonah was spat out by the whale.” Oh, come on! The ole Jonah and the Whale story?! That’s pretty far fetched, don’t you think. I mean, really, a man gets swallowed by a whale for three days, get spit out, and is not only alive but in good enough shape to be disgruntled about it?! Pretty far fetched indeed! Well, is it any more far fetched than the story of a religious zealot who gets crucified for stirring up too much trouble, only to rise three days later, as He foretold, and to ascend into Heaven on high thereby redeeming us from our sin and saving us from everlasting damnation? That’s pretty far fetched too, but we believe it. We believe it and we celebrate it today and every Sunday, some 2,000 years after the fact. So, what grounds, on the basis of faith, do I have for disbelieving the Jonah story if I believe the Jesus story? I’m having a hard time coming up with any. Oh, you can talk to me about historical criticism, form criticism, and satirical writing till you’re blue in the face. But, I’m talking about the grounds of faith.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a third year seminarian who spends thousands of dollars and countless hours learning how to disbelieve the Bible, only to realize late in the game that he had inadvertently forgotten the premise: that it is the Word of God and that it is true!
I imagine, if we could have watched Jesus teaching his disciples these parables of the Kingdom, we would have heard Jesus ask them, “Have you understood all this,” and we would have heard the disciples saying, “yes,” but we would have seen them shaking their heads, “no.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a disciple who is trying hard to get it, but doesn’t, only to realize later that he really did, but was afraid of the answer.
I'm glad you did commit it to paper. I grew up in Chicago, and I remember those guys with the metal detectors there, too. You took me back to my childhood with that image.
I like how you used the repetition of "the kingdom of God" parables--it really strengthened the sermon and connected it to the Gospel.
That's a powerful conclusion to a powerful sermon, man. I think that, in this case, you've packed the written word with so much gusto that, if I were to hear your sermon actually delivered it would blow some gasket in my soul and make me want to be a better man than I am. That was what you were aiming for, right?
In the powerful words of the movie Babe: "That'll do, pig. That'll do."