United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“In a Boat on the Beach in Front of Jesus’ House”

Rev. Dr. Ralph G. Clingan
July 30, 2017


Matthew 13:31-33, 44-53


Let us pray. O God of boats, beaches, houses, and seas, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasures, pearls, dragnets, books and schools and study: Transform us by your Word and Spirit, so we become effective instruments of your peace, like Jesus of Capernaum, our loving savior. Amen. 


Dearly beloved!


According to Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus lived in a house in Capernaum, a small town on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The town’s people earned their living from fishing, farming, sheep ranching, and other enterprises to supply their needs, and the needs of the large Roman Colony of Caesarea located close to them. The third part of Matthew’s glorified biography of Jesus is the longest, 11:2-13:53. The yelammadenu (Hebrew for Let Our Master Teach Us) homily is 13:1-53, The Messianic Secret Mission of the Disciples of Jesus, which Matthew thought Jesus delivered from a boat because the people crowded him off the beach. The cartoon is not accurate for the historic situation. Rabbis sat to teach, and if you stand in a boat, you may capsize it. So, let’s imagine Jesus sat in the boat while the crowd on the beach stood!

Our Gospel today has the 6 concluding parables of this longest of all Matthew sermons:


1. The Mustard Seed, God and the Church among us is like this herb, weed-like!



2. The Woman Yeasting Dough, God among us is like hidden yeast growing in us!


3. The Land Merchant Finding Hidden Treasure, God’s and the Church’s value exceeds that of treasure filled land!


4. The Pearl Merchant Finding a Valuable Pearl, God’s value exceeds that of pearls!


5. The Dragnet , God’s judgment is merciful, loving welcome of all sinners!    And


6. The Teacher Who Became a Student, our existence as students open to new study and

    learning matters more than what we think we know.. 



    The boat is an important item in the Gospels’ depictions of Jesus. The use of the Capernaum fishing boat as a pulpitum, or raised platform Greeks and Romans used to make their edicts and proclamations in Matthew 13 evolved through church history to symbolize Protestant missionaries bringing the Gospel of the God and Savior of Love to the world. I saw such boat symbols in India a few years ago. The women in one church created a folk dance celebrating the boat born missionaries who brought God’s Love and Salvation to transform their lives as Dalits, the lowest of the Hindu castes!


    The late 19th century missionaries knew Jesus was all about people and parties. The Secret sermon started by differentiating Jesus from his cousin, John the Baptizer. Remember? Jesus was a glutton and wino! No ascetic spirituality for Jesus! He enjoyed the company of sinners. His association with sinners manifested the wisdom of God. Love for and with sinners characterized the God of the Prophets of Israel, and the prophets of Matthew’s EKKLESIA!


    The focus text in Seasons of the Spirit concerns King Solomon’s prayer for God to grant him wisdom. In place of that text, I chose a text from Ecclesiastes, also known as The Wisdom of King Solomon. Of course it was not written by Solomon. Ecclesiastes was written by the head of a Rabbinic Academy during the oppressive regime of the Greek Seleucids during the last Greek epoch before the Romans conquered and displaced them.


    From my continuing study of Matthew, I think Jesus saw the oppressed without anyone to comfort them, like Ecclesiastes. Jesus saw that power was on the side of the oppressor. They recognized the vanity of economic systems of competition, and the desirability of being poor but wise as opposed to being rich and corrupt.


     Presbyterian missionaries in late 19th century Korea preached from boats they rode up the Han River. They preached to butchers and their families, whom Koreans judged harshly. Those missionaries knew the Gospel of the God and Savior of Love whose Messiah Jesus and his secret nation obediently loved sinners and outcasts, too.


     Jesus challenged Capernaum for the same reason God challenged Sodom and Gomorrah: They ignored the poor, and refused to feed the hungry! They condemned sinners instead of loving them. That’s what the Bible says, but, as we know all too well, that’s not what Xn fundamentalists say. They claimed it was because of homosexual rape. To them we have said, and continue to say no! The basis for rejecting religious people is their rationalizing of condemning others, the barriers they place in the way of loving people, and meeting their needs for food, agriculture, and health care, just like the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Sister and brother Presbyterians and other faithful people carried out a 23 hour Fast for Universal Health Care in Washington, D.C. because Jesus commands us to have a heart for the sick.


    Protestant missionaries faced several judgmental forces in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine in the late 19th century. Our persistence and resistance paid off in a big way as the World Communion of Reformed Churches met in Germany this last week.


   Rev. Najla Kassab, the first woman Pastor in the Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon became President of the Communion. Rev. Mitri Raheb delivered a sermon about peace making from his unique perspective as a Protestant Pastor in Palestine.  


    Jesus fed hungry and healed sick people, breaking the Sabbath Law by enacting the more important law of loving and forgiving and healing people. Sinful, hungry, and sick people matter more than laws and religion to Jesus. The true family of Jesus consists of

active doers of God’s limitless, eternal love. God’s love extends beyond religious, cultural, social and other condemning forces. We rejoice that many of our churches and Presbyterian institutions provided safe places and advocacy for our GLBTQT members for decades, and that Pastor Becca and AnnMarie have received God’s gift of marriage. The struggle is far from over, but mustard still grows, bread still rises, inclusive love and forgiveness matter more than land and pearls, and the Gospel Net still catches all sorts and conditions of us, and not just some! 


    Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and other Protestants evolved as a force for multifaith, ecumenical social activism from the late 19th century onward. The Mennonites just acted in agreement with our boycott of corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation. Our Presbyterian Social Justice Office calls on all of us to support the Innocence Project and other allies to replace penal justice with restorative justice. There are at last count 3,200 persons serving life without parole sentences for minor crimes, as is the case of such a woman serving such a sentence for stealing a $159 jacket.


How much do we value the mission of God’s Saving Love? As little as a mustard seed? It is enough: Allow it to grow


    As little as a pinch of yeast in a loaf of bread? It is enough: Give it time to transform


  As valuable as hidden treasure is to a land merchant? I hope so. We live in a wasteful economic system and must seek higher moral values than wasteful greedy war and other enterprises.


As precious as a valuable pearl to a pearl merchant?


I hope so: The fruit of life long study and learning matter far more than what, at any time, we already think we know! 


    As important as filling this net of the Gospel with all sorts and conditions of sinners through our outreaching, inclusive, saving love as filling nets is to fishers? We see the oppressed and the powerful forces that oppress them; will we continue to do so? I hope so: As branches of mustard bushes always spread out to welcome more birds, and dragnets always catch more fish, so shall the Church continue as the Messianic presence of heaven on earth. This is the preaching of the Word of God for the 30th day of July in 2017.


    Let us all say Alleluia! Amen!