Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

Hidden Growth

26 Jul 2020, 1 a.m.

Jesus gives us five strange parables which he doesn’t explain to show us what the place where God rules is like. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, like yeast growing, like buried treasure, like a merchant searching for the pearl of greatest price and like a fishing net.

These illustrations remind us that growth is not always obvious. Jesus continues to work in lives through the power of his Holy Spirit even when we don’t know about it.

While we have been hidden away during the last four months and churches have only been able to meet on social media, it is good to know that God hasn’t taken a holiday. He is still with us, transforming lives and enabling us to grow.

The Holy Spirit is working in God’s world in ways that are hidden to us at the moment, bringing healing and salvation.

One day God’s Kingdom will fully come, here on earth as it is in heaven. Our hearts, particularly at the moment cry out for that day.

Until that day the Kingdom of heaven keeps on growing. It is subversive and invasive bringing justice and peace. It’s not destructive or oppressive to those who don’t want God’s rule in their lives. What is good and what is not grow together.

Our heavenly Father waits to the very last minute of time to separate the tares from the wheat and the fish in the net.

The Kingdom of heaven, is precious. It cost King Jesus everything he owned on earth, including his life.

Jesus is buried treasure. He led a life on earth unseen by most of the inhabitants on earth in a tiny nation during the time of the Roman Empire.

He was and is the pearl of greatest price for all who find him and get to know him.

In this time of economic downturn, we are rich if we have Jesus in our lives.

We, too as citizens of the Kingdom now and in the age to come are precious and loved. You are precious, buried treasure

Treasure and pearls are costly. Just as Jesus gave all to seek and find us, he calls us to give all of ourselves to share with him in the bringing in of his kingdom.

In the first illustration, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

It is comforting that big things can come from small beginnings. We link it to Jesus’ saying that we are to have faith like a mustard seed and it is tempting therefore to think that it is OK to only have a little bit of faith because that will be enough. We don’t need to work particularly hard at being a Christian. We don’t need to devote ourselves too much to the spiritual disciplines. But is that what Jesus was saying?

A farmer would have to be desperate and poverty stricken to sow a mustard seed in his field. It doesn’t turn into a tree but into a bush

It was an invasive plant, going deep into the soil. There is the danger that the mustard plant will grow and grow and invade the rest of the soil and take over making the soil unusable for any other form of vegetation.

That invasive property is what Jesus wants to highlight because his mustard seed becomes a place where the birds come to nest.

The Kingdom of God might look small and it may even be sown out of poverty - but it will grow and grow and will invade the land and eventually become a sanctuary for others to find rest in.

The Kingdom of God, therefore, comes as a threat to those who cling to the old world order.

The Kingdom of God was threatening, uncontainable and invasive to the Jewish scribes and Pharisees trying to hold onto traditional ways of keeping the law. It eventually led to them murdering Jesus, the King of the Kingdom.

It was the mustard seed bush, the tiny new, Christian community, the weed that grew to support the birds of the air, not orthodox Judaism.

We must be careful in this time of change that we recognize what God is doing and don’t pull out new roots which God has planted. The Church is changing and adapting rapidly.

The mustard seed bush reminds us that it not status, power or beauty which is important in God’s Kingdom. He wants us to be places of welcome where people from different backgrounds find a place of safety where they can grow and nurture their young. The function of the mustard tree was to be there for others.

Do we, as part of God’s church and members of his Kingdom see ourselves as supporters and nurturers of others?

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Three measures of flour would produce a massive amount of bread, enough to feed a 100 people

We think of the woman in her kitchen, kneeding the dough whilst her children play around her, whilst the lovely smell of freshly baking bread hangs in the air.

Yeast was to be avoided however by the first hearers of this parable at the most holy times of the year: Unleavened Bread ordered as yeast was a symbol of sin., Jesus used the symbol of yeast to describe the insidious, subversive behaviour of the Pharisees. For those people who lived in an agricultural, nomadic culture, yeast was hard to handle. It was unpredictable, it bubbled up, it oozed, it collapsed, it grew again.

Jesus uses an image in this illustration of a woman growing the Kingdom in an age when only men were allowed to be religious leaders. Women have always brought in God’s Kingdom through their baking and hospitality skills. They need recognition for all they give. How wonderful that women are now recognised as leaders and instigators, agents of change and transformation!

Again, Jesus is not giving a neat and comfortable image: the Kingdom of Heaven is unpredictable. It bubbles up from within and completely transforms the environment in which it grows.

Mustard seeds and Yeast are subversive. They cannot be contained or controlled. They grow in secret and then, all of a sudden, the host environment becomes transformed.

The Kingdom of heaven is subversive and we cannot control it.

It is important that, as we move forward in mission together, we don’t just focus on those areas and activities that we find comfortable but that we are prepared to play our part in the socially challenging agenda of God’s Kingdom.

The Kingdom of heaven is messy. There is a tendency for Christians to want church to be a beautiful place, where we sing beautiful hymns and use beautiful liturgy in the comfort of a beautiful building.

The Kingdom of heaven can be a messy, ugly place;

The next two parables are about what is precious “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

How strange! Who would find treasure and then bury it again? Who would sell all that they had for a single pearl, however exquisite?

Is Jesus saying that there is a cost to bringing in the Kingdom? Jesus is not just for us to enjoy. There is a mission field out there. The treasure is hidden from those who do not have eyes to see at the moment.

The treasure hunter sells all that he has to purchase the field so that others might enjoy and find the treasure too.

verse 47: “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, and sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.”

When the fishermen cast out their nets in the Sea of Galilee, they were wanted to catch three types of fish: sardines, barbels, and musht. These were the staple fish diet of the population. Of course, when the nets were drawn back to shore, they wouldn’t just have been full of sardines, barbels and musht. There were 23 species of fish in the Sea of Galilee at that time. So alongside the wanted fish, their nets would have been full of Cat-fish and Anchor, both considered unclean to the Jewish people, eels and shellfish and all sorts of other fish too. The trawl would bring together the clean and the unclean, the good and the bad, and the task of the fisherman was to separate them out ready for the market place. Fishing was a messy business.

Churches that are reaching out become messy places where mistakes are made, children will be noisy because they are having fun, and alcoholics and drug addicts will find a welcome.

It is God alone who decides who and what is in or out of his Kingdom. There will come a day when Jesus will reign and every eye will see him. The Kingdom of heaven will be seen not hidden.

Until that day we continue remembering that in Christ we have the pearl of great price and no one will separate us from him.

In what ways are we enabling the Kingdom of heaven to grow? Are we like a mustard seed providing safety and nurture for others, like yeast growing, like buried treasure, like a merchant searching for the pearl of greatest price so that others might see its beauty and like a fishing net bringing others in.

It’s seems more difficult because of the current restrictions over COVID 19 and social separation to be agents of growth. Most of the growth in the parables, however was hidden.

In times of suffering and weakness, such as the time we are in, Paul in Romans assures us that we can still be agents of growth for the “Holy Spirit helps us to pray with sighs too deep for words.” He prays through our emotion in words we do not understand for us and all the saints. He knows how to pray when we don’t, knowing the mind of God. He assures us that God loves us and nothing can separate us from him.

We are part of God’s large family, members of his Kingdom, called according to his purpose. Lord, “May your Kingdom come.”

Generous God,

you give us gifts and make them grow:

though our faith is small as mustard seed,

make it grow to your glory

and the flourishing of your kingdom;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN