Sermon July 26 2020
We have just heard several short pictures of what the kingdom of heaven is like. A seed, yeast, treasure, a pearl, a net.
These ideas are small but rich in content.
The first two have something in common. A seed is a tiny thing, but it grows large and gives a lot of return. Yeast too doesn’t take up much space, but it expands to make something more. If you make bread and leave out the yeast, or use some that has expired, you get a very heavy, stodgy, inedible dough. There is no lightness, no ease of eating it.
What can Jesus be telling us here about the kingdom of heaven? Well, it starts from small beginnings. It starts small with a smile, a kind word, a gesture of friendship, a prayer. Every time someone treats another person with the love that God has for all of us, the kingdom starts to grow, to bubble up a bit.
A seed and yeast need the right conditions to grow – warmth, moisture and food. If we want to see the kingdom of heaven grow around us, we too need to provide warmth – the warmth of God’s love. And moisture – the watering with the Word. That is, the reason behind what we do. Christians derive that reason from our belief in the words of God that we find in the Bible. Lastly, food – the food of fellowship, both with one another, and by sharing in Holy Communion, which is a powerful symbol of taking Jesus’ substance within us.
Today we are going to baptise little Quintin. His family, friends and all of us will come together to declare our faith in the God who made us. That is how we can re-imagine the kingdom of heaven – a seed growing in the right conditions, and it is our prayer that as Quintin grows up he will be nurtured in this environment so that the kingdom of heaven will grow in his life.
What else do our parables compare the kingdom of heaven with? A pearl, and a treasure. Notice again how they are paired, just like the seed and the yeast.
The kingdom is something precious but not obvious. It is hidden away, and gives great joy when it is found. Where do we find pearls? Inside an oyster, or a mussel, or a paua. In the middle of a sea creature, which by the way was seen as unclean in the Jewish religion. And this animal too is hidden away under water. It takes a lot to find a precious gem like a pearl, lots of hard work and looking. That says a lot about the kingdom of heaven in our day and age too – it is not obvious, breaking out all around us. There is so much distress and suffering in the world that at times we can wonder if the kingdom of heaven is just a story made up to keep us happy.
But we can trust scripture here – as Paul says in the reading that we heard earlier,
‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Isn’t that powerful? Anything we can think of, that might get in the way of God’s love shining upon us, Paul has already shot down. Whatever the conditions of our world, of our life, of our circumstances, God’s love is right there in the midst of it. There is absolutely nothing that can keep God from loving us.
But, you may say, you don’t know how bad I’ve been. How could God love a person like me? We are all attacked by feelings of guilt from time to time, and we can bring them to the crucified Christ to ask for forgiveness. Be reassured that if we ask, we receive, and Jesus’ death and resurrection has taken all, let me say it again, all our guilt away. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Now, this isn’t a free pass to do whatever we want. As the kingdom of heaven grows in us, as the seed takes root, as the pearl starts to glimmer from the darkness, we start to see other people with the same love that we know God has for us. And how can we treat folk badly if we know that God loves them too?
This is where it starts to get difficult, because for most of us I suspect, there will be people who have mistreated us in our past, and maybe still are, or are just plain annoying. Luckily, we are not asked to sort out the bad from the good, just to love them. We are like a tap – there might be water in the pipe, but you don’t know until you turn it on. When you have been doing plumbing work, there is always that slight trepidation when you start to remove the tap handle to replace the washer – did I really turn off the toby properly? If you didn’t you know that there will be a mess! But God’s supply of love for us is never turned off. It’s not like the dripping tap that you needed to fix. When we turn it on, by letting love flow out from us, we start to notice that the flow just increases more and more. There is no limit to how much love there is.
Well, do our parables about the kingdom of heaven have anything to help us about the ones who are hard to love? The people who have wronged us, hurt us, abused us? Yes!
Remember the picture of the net:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This tells us that everyone will be caught up in the net of the kingdom of heaven. It doesn’t mean that evil people will get away with it though – they are sorted out. It’s up to God and the angels to judge who is good and who is bad. It’s not up to us. We don’t need to worry about evil doers getting away scot-free. God will judge them and sort them out in the fullness of time. That’s tremendously free-ing, not having to hold that burden of hurt, unforgivingness and resentment against others.
Let God take that burden from you, and deal with it. And let the yeast of the kingdom of heaven bubble up within you, spilling out as love.