Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
6th Sunday after Trinity
30.7.17 St Barbara’s
Bonjour, Guten Morgan, Buenos días (Spanish), bore da (Welsh), Buongiorno, Dzień dobry (Polish) and Dobre Utra ( Dough-bray-oo tra russian).
Over the last few weeks we have been looking at Paul’s missionary travels which amounted to 10,000 miles in all.
Today, I want to look at the various journeys we undertake- especially, at this time of year- because the holiday season is once again upon us. Whether we feel the urge to explore new places- or visit old familiar ones, or simply catch up with family and friends, most of us will end up on a journey.
My husband Paul and I tend to visit cities to explore the history and culture of new places and to do that we need two things- a map to get us there, and a Dorland Kingsley city guide book. Guide books are really useful because that way we do not miss out on anything we should have seen or experienced, because quite a few attractions are culturally embedded in that place.
When Paul and I started our honey-moon, we went to stay in the Yorkshire dales- where we ended up visiting the Wensleydale cheese factory. Much closer to home, anyone who visited Warwick or Kenilworth would feel they had missed out if they had not visited the castles there. If you visit Stratford- upon- Avon – you also feel you need to have engaged with the Shakespeare experience in some way.
One of our most memorable holidays was touring round Scotland and one of the “must see” places was the Isle of Iona. It is very much part of the heart of Celtic Spirituality- a spirituality I embrace wholeheartedly. Celtic spirituality not only focusses on finding God in the natural world but also is one of pilgrimages- whether outward using the feet or inward using the heart.
In words of Celtic Spirituality
We are people of the Way,
Searching for landmarks
For our hearts journey
Listening …to the voice of the Spirit
Listening…to the voice of the soul
Towards the pear of great price.
That “pearl of great price” features in our Gospel reading this morning from Matthew.
Matthew’s gospel was written primarily for converts from Judaism, although some of the readership would have been gentiles. It is very Jewish in nature and much of this gospel refers back to the OT- in Matthew’s own words “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet” reinforcing that, Jesus was the fulfilment of all that had gone before. It is a gospel designed for would be teachers of the Way- the future leaders of the new Christian church. These people were to lead the way in growing the kingdom that Jesus had inaugurated.
This gospel is very organised and our readings today come from slap bang in the middle- Chapter 13. It is a significant chapter because it acts as a hinge to the two halves of Matthew’s gospel. The 1st half focusses on Jesus’ teaching to the crowds but it is during this chapter that the focus turns to the disciples and the inevitable journey to Jerusalem. This whole chapter is full of parables about the kingdom of God (or in Matthew’s words- the kingdom of heaven). They seem to come in pairs- we have the mustard seed and the yeast, and the buried treasure and the pearl of great price.
The net of all fish echoes the teaching of the parable of the wheat and tares- which comes just before our reading today. They read like a Dorland Kingsley guide to the top 10 attractions – the things “not to be missed” in this place- in this kingdom. So what is it like?
The parable of the mustard seed talks about growth from incredibly small beginnings. This young fledgling Christian movement must have seen to be almost insignificant when compared to the great pagan religions of Rome and Greece and also small compared to the national religion of Judaism.
The mustard tree starts from a seed no bigger than a poppy seed and grows to a tree about 3-4km high- so big that we are told the birds come to roost in it. These birds signify the inclusion of the Gentiles into this new movement. However, the idea of small growing to large would not have been unknown to the Jews as their own Judaism had grown out of the faith of just one man, Abraham bringing to the faith numbers as numerous as the stars in the sky.
The parable of the yeast has similar meaning except in this one, the small organism of the yeast is hidden within the flour. The sizes quoted show just how effective the yeast was, permeating the dough to make enough bread to feed 100 people.
Choosing to use leaven in this parable was unusual because it was not thought of highly in Judaism. In fact all leaven has to be removed from a house before Passover. It has been suggested that perhaps the leaven represented the group of people Jesus was relying on to spread the gospel. These people were tax collectors, fishermen and women- not exactly the elite of Judaic society. But it was by God’s action through their transformed lives that society became transformed too.
The parable of the buried treasure and the pearl of great price were now specifically directed at the disciples and they are concerned with finding the kingdom.
The buried treasure is found by a poor man and having found it, he immediately buried it again until he could buy and claim the land for himself. In Jewish law it was very much “finders-keepers”. It cost him all he had but the treasure he found was beyond all earthly value. This parable is very much like someone who stumbles across the faith almost as if by accident.
The precious pearl on the other hand is found by a rich man- this man was searching and when he found this pearl he knew in this pearl he had found perfection like no other. He too sells everything to own this precious pearl for himself. This parable is for the searchers- those who are looking for the truth.
There are many philosophies and religions around and many people try them. But it is only in Jesus that the most precious pearl of truth and life is to be found.
These parables tell us that this kingdom of God started small but grew exponentially to include and welcome all. It doesn’t matter whether we are rich or poor, whether we stumble across our faith in Jesus, or go searching. Either way once we have found this kingdom, we are expected to give our all.
So now we know what the kingdom is like- but who is there?
Does it have any social strata like we do in our society- well yes it does- but this is a kingdom of reversal- an upside down one. Because here Jesus tells us that the last will be first and the humbled will be exalted. To get a more complete picture we have to look to the other gospels as well- especially Luke and John.
From the sermon on the mount in Matthew, Jesus said
“Blessed are the poor in spirit- for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
And from Luke’s Gospel chap 8 v 16-17
Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not try to stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it”
And from John’s Gospel John 3 v 5
Jesus said to Nicodemus “Very truly, I tell you, no-one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Even the rich struggle to get in unless they can give up all their worldly goods.
So, the kingdom of God is home to the vulnerable and powerless. It is home to those who humble themselves and give up all social and economic status and power in this world.
The ruling monarch is one of justice and righteousness and the kingdom’s boundaries are ever increasing through the transformative power of the king working through the lives of its citizens.
This kingdom is both personal and corporate. It is to be sought and explored and during that exploration, life will be changed forever.
As Thomas Merton says
“Our real journey in life is interior; it is a matter of growth deepening, and our ever-greater surrender, to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts.
The kingdom is also corporate. We too have been commissioned like the disciples to take the gospel to all nations. It is our job to let God transform societies through our own transformed lives. We not only need to bring in the kingdom, but we also need to be able to recognise it in the places where we are.
10 years ago- just after I had finished my training here as a Reader, I decided to ask Google 2 questions-
Where is the kingdom of God?
What is the kingdom of God?
Just looking at the number of answers it turned out that of all the people who knew where the kingdom was only ¼ knew what they were looking for.
10 years later and I ask the same question again. Now it is the reverse.
Of all the people who now know what the kingdom of God is, only 2/3 know where to find it. Although this last bit was really for fun- I do pray that you are all in the 2/3 bracket of not only knowing what the kingdom is… but also where you can find it- in your own heart and here in Earlsdon too.
So do you know where the kingdom of God has been shared in Earlsdon- is it recognisable? To quote a good friend here at St Barbaras, do you know where you can see practical faith in action, where the gospel of love, forgiveness, tolerance, care and kindness are in everyday life? It is not that difficult.
The Lawyer tried to test Jesus by asking “who is my neighbour?” The parable of the Good Samaritan is well known and we all know who the good neighbour was. 2,000 years later Jesus turns that question round and asks us “who is your neighbour?” Neighbours make up community and through the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we can be part of community transformation.
The Earlsdon Good Neighbour project is trying to transform this community- could you be a part of that? Could you help bring the kingdom in here… bit by bit?
Will you journey with Christ?
In this life finding the kingdom of God is all about the journey- we have a direct route, not always an easy one but in Christ and through Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And we have a guide book too- the Bible. It is not full of enticing photos but has many illustrations- albeit in the teaser of a parable.
This is my last Sunday with you and I have enjoyed every minute of journeying with you once again, but now our journeys must separate- albeit we are travelling to the same ultimate destination.
And so my fellow travellers in Christ- I wish you safe and blessed journeys and for you the most beautiful of Gaelic blessings
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen