Kelly Moody’s sermon preached on Sep. 17, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Sep 17, 2023 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost

Sep. 17, 2023

It is good to see you all, and be here among you again! I’m in my second year of seminary, and I
pray for you all each day. I spent this past summer in Atlanta, where I was serving as a hospital
chaplain as part of my preparation for ordination. One of my great extra-curricular discoveries
while living there was the DeKalb Farmer’s Market; an international grocery hub a little bit like
Pike Place Market, where shoppers can find every kind of Asian melon, any form of halal meat, and
every Latin American pepper. But beyond the abundance of internationally-sourced foods, I was
captivated by the gathered community of strangers there, and the grace with which they navigated
their business together. The market hires those who speak English as a second language, and on
their name tags it lists all of the other languages they speak. It was not uncommon to see someone
with six languages on their name tag. My childhood friend in Nashville, whose parents are from
Uganda and Pakistan, grew up driving the four hours from Nashville to Atlanta once a month just to
get what they needed to make meals in Tennessee that tasted like home. So, for decades, the DeKalb
farmer’s market has been a merciful place of connection and relationships that are both familiar
and wide-reaching, especially for the many refugee communities who settle in the Southeast. It is a
beautiful thing to behold.

A fellow seminary student who lives in Atlanta stood beside me as I took it all in. He had taken a
homiletics class recently, and written parables about the kingdom of heaven in public spaces. So as
we stood there together, he said, “the kingdom of heaven is like a child at the Dekalb farmer’s
market whom strangers help to see into the lobster tank while her mother selects fresh goat meat
for dinner.”

I love the idea of seeing glimpses of the kingdom of heaven in our daily lives. It makes sense that
we would. Because heaven, of course, is not a place somewhere else far away that we go when we die.
Jesus taught us that the kingdom of heaven is here, among us, and he taught us how to see it. Based
on the gospel today, I think there’s something significant about how we are accountable to one
another in the kingdom of heaven that is worth our attention. Let’s explore this

An accountable person has surrendered something of their independence and agency in order to be
more transparent in their behavior, and answerable to the need of another. We make agreements to be
financially accountable to companies all the time in exchange for cell phone service, or
subscription goods, or some other material thing. But what about communal or environmental
accountability? Who are you accountable to for the motivations that direct and inspire your choices
in life, and the impacts they have on others? Who are you accountable to at the grocery store? Or on the internet?

To follow Jesus is to commit to answering the question of who we are accountable to differently
than we might otherwise. Because the kingdom of heaven, the alternate reality Jesus preached that
we seek to live into here and now as Christians, is one of high accountability to God and one

Today we hear in both the Gospel and the Epistle about what it means to be accountable in the
kingdom of heaven. The key is revealed in the parable we heard from Matthew. The key is mercy.
Mercy. Remember that. This kind of accountability is not underscored by threat, intimidation or
superiority of any kind. Rather than being a heavy burden of responsibility, accountability in the
kingdom of heaven is a relationship that results in liberation and grace.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he advises new Christians in Rome not to be accountable to Torah
alone, but to the merciful Spirit of Christ living within them. Paul’s advice here is personally
hard-won, having been a gloriously successful follower of Torah for most of his life. He, too, had
a personal story to tell about accountability and mercy. If he wrote it like a parable, maybe it
would go something like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like a meticulous rule-follower who judges himself and others to the point
of persecution… until he is blinded by the grace and mercy of the risen Lord. Then spends his
life sharing the good news of life in Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike.

Scholars think that when Paul wrote Romans, he was in Corinth, preparing for a missionary journey
to Jerusalem and Spain. He hadn’t met those he was writing to in Rome yet, but he knew a few things
about them. First of all, he knew they were Gentiles who had converted to Christianity and Judaism
somewhat simultaneously. Early on, the apostles were undecided about whether Gentiles who followed
Jesus should also adopt Jesus’s Jewishness and follow Torah, too. Many early Christian communities
gathered in synagogues and were not fully differentiated from judaism. In his letter, Paul
addressed this nuance.

While allotting some grace for those (including himself) who felt compelled to continue following
the law, he also made it clear that following the law does not make a person righteous. Rather,
walking in the Spirit of Christ is what makes them righteous before God. Second of all, Paul knew
that he was the equivalent of a backwater hillbilly to the urban citizens of Rome. As a religiously
and culturally marginalized person, he doubted they would take him seriously when they saw him. So
in his letter, he iterated and reiterated the theology of the cross of Christ: what is humiliating
becomes victory in the kingdom of heaven. Those who are foolish are made wise. The last become

Paul’s working out of the gospel through his own life story is a parable unto itself:

The kingdom of heaven is like a marginalized, provincial greek-speaking Jew in the Roman Empire
with a mediocre education writing the first and most critical synthesis of Christianity to learned
citizens in the most important city in the world; words which will continue to inspire the faith of
church mothers and fathers for millennia…

We are so accustomed to Paul as a dominant voice in our tradition that I think it’s worth pausing
to acknowledge how he saw himself, and how incredible it is that his words to the Romans have

After all, by worldly standards, Paul failed to deliver. He never made it to Jerusalem or Spain. He
likely arrived in Rome in chains, was imprisoned, and executed, before the gospels were even
written down.

And yet, Paul knew himself to be highly accountable to God and to others– for he wrote to people
before he even knew them; he held them in prayer with an earnest desire to share the good news of
the cross with them.. And so, the Church in Rome and beyond continued to gather and grow around the
memory and mercy of Jesus.

About fifteen hundred years later, a prayer appeared in English liturgies of Holy Communion. It is
known as the prayer of humble access, and it dates back to 1548. We still use it in some versions
of the liturgy.

What I want to highlight is what we acknowledge about God in that prayer: “Thou art the same Lord
whose property is always to have mercy.” In other words, our Christian ancestors found it
absolutely central to name the defining attribute of God before receiving communion as infinite
mercy. Remember that.

Today, nearly 500 years later, we remember and celebrate the Spirit of Christ among us now, and
hold each other accountable to following the way of Jesus here, in Issaquah. By virtue of our
baptism into his death and resurrection, we also have the capacity to walk in the Spirit of Christ,
just as Paul urged of those he wrote to in Rome….to live into the pattern of the kingdom of heaven
right here, in the midst of the world as it is. It’s not an easy thing to pattern ourselves to the
kingdom of heaven while living in the midst of the world as it is. So our call as Christians
remains one of high accountability, and the key to living it out well is God’s mercy.

Mercy is a divine gift. We cannot earn it; we can only open our hands to receive it and share it.
Mercy is a way of saying “God has been so gracious to me, and I want others to know that grace by
the way I live.” It is a habit practiced among us here…. and enacted out there… to demonstrate the
difference that God’s accountability makes in our lives and the lives of those around us.

It might sound like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like a neighborhood church in Issaquah who knows who they are called to be
and joyfully becomes a visible sign of the mercy of God in this community as they steward their
minds, money and time for the glory of God.

The kingdom of heaven is like an AA meeting where a newly sober person finds hope and grace instead
of judgment and condemnation.

The kingdom of heaven is like a moment at Eucharist when we lock eyes with another person, know we
are beheld in love by God, and commit to becoming what we receive.

I encourage you this week to look for signs of God’s mercy in your life, and report back to someone
here at St. Michael’s. Let yourself be accountable to God and one another in this way, as you seek
to join God in showing mercy. May this practice be a source of liberation and abundant grace as you
live into the kingdom of heaven here and now.


© 2023 Kelly Moody. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Wed., Sep. 17, 2025.