TRINITY 7 YEAR A, 26th July 2020
What is the kingdom of heaven? Where is the kingdom of heaven? Who will enter the kingdom of heaven and when will it be accomplished?
Those are very tricky questions which we all have to examine during our Christian journey, and I am going to make the bold assertion that for every one of us there are slightly different answers. The reason for that is perhaps more to do with our individual life journey than our scholarly interpretation of the Bible.
Our starting point when we consider our goal is something which affects us dramatically. All of you taking part in this service this morning have a past which is secret to yourself, and I include myself in that, a past which moulds us into what we are and how we see the world and how we see God. If you were to write an autobiography would you tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I wonder. But God really knows you, he knows all your failings, and all your good points, and gifts, and he wants to use you to build his kingdom,
The kingdom of heaven is from my viewpoint being in the presence of God. This was accomplished by the presence of Jesus in his incarnation and remains with us if we allow the Holy Spirit to direct our lives. So the kingdom can be with us now and we can help to build it and we will be eternally in God's presence if we are judged at our death to love him as he loves us.
Every day we say the Lord's Prayer and pray “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. God's kingdom of heaven is secure and certain, but we all have a job to do to try to make our world more heavenly, by fighting evil wherever it is, starting with ourselves.
Today's Gospel reading is a succession of parables that St. Matthew has linked together to try to give Jesus' proclamations concerning the kingdom of heaven.
The first two signify how the kingdom will grow. The fruitfulness of the Church is dramatically emphasised by Matthew, where a mustard seed grows into a tree where the birds can make their nests. This transformation from a shrub as depicted in St. Mark's Gospel is perhaps just an exaggeration (a mustard seed might make 8 - 10 feet in really good conditions), but as in all good story telling a bit of hyperbole helps. The spread of the Gospel is then stressed by the parable of the yeast, with the emphasis on the small amount of yeast required. During the lock-down, I like some of you I am sure, have resorted to making bread. I know lots of you have been making bread, because for several weeks it was almost impossible to buy bread flour, and even harder to get yeast. Making a loaf this week it took only 2 level teaspoons of died yeast to make a loaf, and some of you oldies like me might also remember having a Ginger Beer Plant that went on for months with the original mixture of yeast and bacteria. So these tiny seeds or fungi bring about mighty produce, they are examples to us all about, however insignificant or unconfident we might feel, we can spread the Gospel, to build the Kingdom of Heaven.
The second two short parables describe how the kingdom of heaven is so valuable that it is worth exchanging all the other thing we treasure to obtain it. In New Testament times where there were no banks, only the super-rich had treasuries which had to be guarded at all times, so ordinary people if they had any wealth would bury it in their land and sometimes if they died the whereabouts of their treasure would go with them to the grave. This still happened in our country until two or three hundred years ago when the banking industry became reasonably secure, as we occasionally see hoards of coins or jewellery being discovered by metal detectorists. On this occasion a man found treasure in a field, but knowing that he would get found out, sells everything to buy the field and then everything in it was legally his. He must have been a poor man to have to sell everything he had to buy a field, but he hit the jackpot. The second parable is obviously about a more wealthy man, a dealer in pearls, but a man who was seeking the best and when he found it was prepared to sell everything he had to obtain it. So we have two different men, one a poor man who hits the jackpot by accident and then through ways of this world secures it, and then a wealthy man who was searching and then found what he wanted and was prepared to give up everything for it.
The final parable goes back to judgement with the story of the net, which would have been very familiar to most people in Jesus' day and we still see today where trawlers catch everything and then throw back all they are not fishing for, or they are not allowed to catch. So judgement will come to us all, but the God that we know as Christians, is merciful and loving and if we approach him in love and humility we will be taken to him.
Jesus finally addresses the disciples and says basically “have you understood that”. They say “yes” which considering how they messed up at the time of the passion gives us all hope. Then Jesus finishes with a final sort of parable or slightly obscure sentence “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is old and new”. This may have been added by Matthew to point out that he was a scribe, but much more than the Jewish scribes; although he was writing more for a Jewish readership. He knew the treasures came from both the Jews and their traditions and the gentiles who were searching for the kingdom of heaven.
Just one final thing – when you say the Lord's Prayer – don't just say it – pray it.
Jesus told us it was OK to be worldly at times and you know I like to include a joke or funny story so here goes.
Before going to America on business, a man drove his Rolls-Royce to the City of London and went into the Bank of England to ask for an immediate loan of £5,000. The loan officer was quite taken aback, and requested collateral. “Well, then, here are the keys to my Rolls-Royce”, the man said. The loan officer promptly had the car driven into the underground parking for safekeeping. Two weeks later, the man walked through the bank's doors, and asked to settle up his loan and get his car back. The loan officer checked the records and told him, “That will be £5,000 in principle, and £15.40 in interest”. The man wrote out a cheque, thanked the loan officer, and started to walk away. “Wait sir”, the loan officer said, “while you were gone, I found out that you are a multi-millionaire, why in the world would you need to borrow?” The man smiled. “Where else could I securely park my Rolls-Royce in the City of London for two weeks and only pay £15.40?”
Pray for the Kingdom. Amen