Readings: Responsive Psalm 128, Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
A friend shared a childhood memory of Sunday School – of all those questions you were asked by the teacher and not being very sure of what the right answer was. Was it a trick question, or testing your bible knowledge or how you should behave. But the children over time realised something – if they answered Jesus for every question they would almost always gain a look of approval or at least of ‘you’re on the right track here’.
Do you remember that service here some time ago when Graeme was talking to the children and asking them what heaven was like and I think it was Sophia immediately said ‘heaven!’ and Graeme’s response was – well there goes the children’s talk done and dusted.
The kingdom of heaven is like: Jesus!
Sermon done and dusted! No more need be said.
Or does there?
These parables continue the teachings by Jesus about the world to come and our place in it as Christ followers. And they encourage us to look beyond our limited vision to see the immensity of God’s hope for the world. In the first two, that of the mustard seed and the yeast, Jesus tells us that the difference between our living out the teachings of Jesus in our everyday life, in all its ordinariness and sometimes ugliness, and this extravagant image of a world made right with God is this spectacular growth explosion that love creates, that God speaks into. And, amazing things can happen from the most unlikely sources. Because, at the time, the yeast and the mustard seed were seen as unpleasant things, associated with death and scraggly choking weeds.
With the next two kingdom parables, Jesus is talking of the value of the Gospel being such that people will give up all they have to possess it. At the same time, to us there is a hint of subterfuge and happenstance with the treasure and the pearl and we can struggle to relate to the imagery.
And then we happily read that the kingdom of God is like a full net of fish – abundance and sustenance – only to falter on the words that follow – some of the fish will turn out to be bad.
We do realise that the symbols used in Jesus’ parable were specifically tied to that time and have a different application to our world now. The mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure in the field, the pearl, the fishing by hand with a net will all have their equivalents in our world today. Trees that are considered to be weeds - maybe in Dunedin instead of the mustard, the sycamore? So here are the questions – we will take some time to think about each one and if you come up with a suggestion by all means share it with us.
What produces today the abundance of the mustard seed but is commonly seen as something to be rooted out?
What is like leaven, disdained as corrupt, but actually an agent of God’s transforming power?
Like the person ploughing the field or the merchant searching for the pearl, what would we give up everything to possess?
For us what might we want to say the kingdom of heaven is?
We should look at the other words used here too – kingdom and heaven.
Heaven – what does that mean for us today? Not, I suspect, I hope, a little realm in the sky where we will all hopefully end our days in peace. I remember our asking the children in Amberley to paint or decorate the ceiling of our Sunday School room with what they thought heaven would look like. Not that we ever got that far with it but there were dogs and toys and probably no parents….as you can imagine.
Nor is heaven a hope for the future with no meaning for us in the present. A futuristic reward, a rest, having survived the ravages of this world. I am pretty sure Jesus is not going down that track either.
In our secular culture it commonly means something that is perfect – often of the moment. Oh, pure heaven – as we sip that first cup of tea or coffee in the morning.
Here is a thought: heaven is where justice and shalom and compassion exist, where the Jesus way is followed and love is extravagantly increased.
Then there is kingdom – fantasy stories have kingdoms these days but not much else. Simon introduced me to an alternative word that I have been considering a lot and I like it – commonwealth. Just thing about it – common wealth. A place for the common good. For the people, of the people.
And it is a word that helps us think about what it is that Jesus is telling us here – not about a distant hope but a reality that is here and now. How we strive for this …fantastic place of living where there is justice and peace and compassion – where the Jesus, who is the answer to the question, is living fully and completely in everyone we meet.
And we immediately strike a brick wall. Not possible, human nature is too strong, we can’t make even a dent in the horror of this world.
And this parable, these words and teachings of Jesus is telling us, actually yes we can. That in faith we should be prepared to be amazed at what can grow and provide sanctuary, sustenance, treasure beyond belief. He is telling us that the ordinary and indeed often slightly dodgy, occasionally smelly things of this world can, with faith and the grace of God, be beautiful and impactful for the kingdom.
But we still drag our feet, uncertain, unsure of our role in this, finding excuses for keeping heaven that safe distant future/place in the sky.
One of the ordinary things we believe really isn’t enough is our faith – not confident, not enough, not effective.
No excuses: listen to this poem from Tom Gordon:
It’s so small, this faith of mine,
too frail, too basic to be called a ‘faith’;
too unformed, too inadequate to make a difference;
but here it is; it’s all I have – even though it still looks so small, this faith of mine.
It’s so small, this commitment of mine,
too gentle, too diffident to have the name of ‘commitment’;
too uncertain, too incomplete to make a difference;
but here it is; it’s all I have – even if it sounds so small, this commitment of mine.
It’s so small, this passion of mine,
too weak, too tentative to have the label ‘passion’;
too unglamorous; too unsure to make a difference;
but here it is; it’s all I have – even if it feels so small, this passion of mine.
Ok, but doesn’t the mustard seed grow into a fruitful bush?
And your tiny faith…..
And can’t the smallest shoot develop into a blossoming shrub?
And your smallness of commitment….?
And can’t the tiny bud burst into a glorious bloom?
And your little passion….?
So bring your little faith and see it bear fruit;
bring your little commitment and see it blossom;
bring your little passion and see it bloom.
Remember the mustard seed?
Even such smallness has potential.
The kingdom of heaven is like this – Jesus, us, love and faith! Amen.