Sunday 30th July 2017
Matthew chapter 13 verses 31 – 33 and 44 – 52
Have you ever tried to describe a difficult or abstract concept to someone, especially when you know that the person you are speaking to doesn’t know anything about what you are talking about? If you have, you know what Jesus is trying to do in these five parables from Matthew’s Gospel reading. Jesus is trying to describe the abstract concept of God’s Kingdom in terms that his audience could understand.
What we have just heard is a series of pictures that show what the Kingdom of God is like. The Kingdom is not easy to understand or explain, so Jesus has to use several different analogies to get his point across to different audiences. All of these parables are about transformation-specifically, how the Kingdom of God transforms believers.
What could be less significant than a baby in a manger—or little Israel or a Jew from Nazareth and a handful of not-very-promising disciples— or a cross? What could be less significant than a little village church - what could be less significant than the average preacher preaching the average sermon, what could be less significant than an anthem by a dozen untrained voices accompanied by a slightly out-of-tune piano? But these are all parts of the kingdom, and we can never tell what power is hidden in their midst.
We expect to find the kingdom in cathedrals and large-churches —in massed choirs and pipe organs—but these parables suggest that the real kingdom-power is to be found in the humblest places among the least likely people—a cup of cold water given to a beggar—a soup kitchen in a church basement—a nun walking the streets of Calcutta— but Jesus promises that there is power here.
And, over the past two millennia, we have seen the proof. Today, the Roman Empire appears only in history books and crumbling ruins, but people sing praise to Jesus all over the world. The Thousand-Year Reich lasted only a decade, but the church keeps marching on. Communism spent the better part of a century trying to kill the church, but then Communism collapsed—and Christians are building churches on its ruins.
Not that the church and the kingdom are synonymous—but the church is a manifestation of the kingdom.
The first parable Jesus uses is the parable of the mustard seed. The radical concept in this parable is the idea that God’s world is different from many aspects of the world we live in. It is an inclusive, merciful and a community based on practical, merciful, loving service to others.
For example the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has served God and man by bringing the Good News to millions of people around the world, and that ministry started in 1934 when God planted the seed of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Billy Graham. As a teenager I went to a Billy Graham evening in London – it was an amazing sight to see so many young people hanging on to his words. He certainly was a brilliant speaker
The parable shows that big things come in small packages. The Kingdom comes to us in small ways such as through the ordinary people we meet on our Christian walk of faith. Whenever we serve the poor, the elderly or the sick, we are serving God and His Kingdom. A good example is the work of Franklin Graham – Son of Billy Graham- and the Christian relief organization he is the president of which is, Samaritan’s Purse. It has spread the Good News of the hope of the Kingdom through its relief work in areas that have been affected by war, sickness or disaster. Here at St Greg’s we must have sent hundreds of boxes to these areas to help those in need.
Jesus intended to use this parable to encourage the early disciples as they faced overwhelming odds, and this parable continues to encourage disciples today. Most of the church’s work gets done in ordinary circumstances. Our mission seems overwhelming, and our resources seem too few, but Jesus promises that God’s power makes everything possible.
The Kingdom also comes in hidden and unexpected ways, as described in the parable of the yeast. Today, yeast comes in neat little packages, but Jesus was talking about leaven, which was a rotten, moldy lump of bread. The woman in the parable hid the leaven in good flour. This sounded unclean to the people of Jesus’ day because of the prevailing attitudes regarding cleanliness and women, but the point of this parable is that God’s Kingdom takes hold in hidden and unexpected ways.
The parables of the treasure and the pearl show us what our allegiances should be and where they should be. Was the treasure seeker behaving in an unethical manner? Maybe yes, maybe no, but that isn’t the point. The point is that both the treasure and the pearl can’t be kept secret. God’s Kingdom also can’t be kept secret, and it must not be kept secret. We are to spread the Good News about the Kingdom-just like the mustard seed grows and spreads out. When we do this, we have to pay a cost. We have to give up something of worldly value in order to gain something of even more value
There is an even greater cost that we must be prepared to pay. Following Jesus can lead to rejection by society and or our family, as many Christians in the Third World know all too well. There might be jail time, beatings or worse. There’s no way to follow Jesus without a cross, but
some people, just at Jesus’ warning, drop everything they are doing, leave their homes and their parents and follow Him. That’s what the Kingdom of God does to those who find it, says Jesus.
The Kingdom starts out small and grows into the Good News, a treasure worth giving up everything else to get. Why is that? It is because our old way relies on a false God who likes to punish people, a false God who justifies the ways in which we punish each other. In Jesus we meet a God of forgiveness and grace and love. We meet him in our daily lives as he hosts us in the meal of forgiveness and grace, the meal of peace for this world.
The parable of the net of fish means that God’s kingdom is available to everyone. It catches good and evil, and our job as Christians is to pull that net through the water of our communities and trawl whatever we can. This is God’s way. Some undesirables will grow into genuine Kingdom people, and some who seemed promising in the beginning will betray God in the end. We are not responsible for keeping out some. The evil is tossed back by tossing it into the fires of hell, and God’s Kingdom is accomplished in the end.
Jesus is encouraging us to live the kingdom in every aspect of our lives because the kingdom is the here and now on earth. It also promises and eternal reward. Between the minute beginning when the seed is planted in us and the grand culmination, there is continuity. God’s Kingdom is pervasive and priceless. Within God’s Kingdom, we get more than we bargain for. The seed and the yeast represent God’s pervasiveness in our lives. It is worth selling all that we have just to enjoy it. We have to make room for the Kingdom in our lives. We must allow it to take over our lives in a big way. When we allow God to be significant in our lives, we create a path for him to be significant in the lives of other people.
The Kingdom involves four things:
1. God’s kingship, rule or recognized sovereignty
2. The rule of heaven is spiritual in nature
3. It is visible today in the Lord’s church here at St Greg’s.
4. It is in both the present and the future.
The message of this portion of Mathew’s Gospel is that God’s Kingdom has come near. The kingdom is present when God’s sovereignty, actions and presence are felt. It is where and when God’s will is being done and God’s rule accepted and acted upon.
We must look at our lives. Do we realize what we have found in God’s reign? Has it deeply affected our lives, given us a sense of priorities, filled us with gratitude for having been “netted” for God? We must be patient, and we must exercise discernment. God does not see things as we see them. What is important to us is insignificant to God, and what is unimportant to us is important to God. Things aren’t always what they seem to be.
We do not live according to the prevalent standards around us. We choose honesty, even when it means not making extra profits on the job. We treat all people in a loving way even if others don’t think these people are worth it. We are faithful in marriage and friendship, even though the world treats promises casually. We help people who need us, even if we don’t owe them anything. We have hope as we look into the future, even though there is a lot that could make us despair. We forgive those who offend us, even though our world keeps a long memory of wrongs.
We are like the Pharisees, but only to the extent that we are responsible for studying the scriptures and teaching them to others. We are to be trained for life in God’s Kingdom through worship services, Bible Study and Christian fellowship. We need to engage in spiritual disciplines such as praying and reading the Bible.
When we feel alienated, separated and estranged, maybe by others or maybe by our own selves, when it feels like everyone and everything is against us, it’s easy to forget that God is unequivocally for us. Sometimes we get dirt in our eyes and the deep realities of divine love are hidden from us. When that happens, we must remember that the subtleties of God’s kingdom require a discerning heart in order to find them.
Finding the Kingdom of God within and between us, spread out before us, requires dying-dying to that God who hides in heaven or waits in the wings until we have pulled all the weeds- dying to such a far-away God of righteousness means coming alive to a God of compassion as well as goodness. If Jesus is right, and we know that he is right, God is waiting in the weeds of our lives to bind up our wounds and mend the disease that separates us from ourselves and one another and from all that is holy. Amen