Pentecost 8 1 Kings 3:5-12 Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Let us pray: Lord, give us a vision of your kingdom and show us the part you would have us play in bringing it closer. When we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” teach us to mean it so we may bring your kingdom closer here on earth. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives his followers and us a series of short parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Each could be the subject of a sermon however they all have a very similar theme.
Many of the parables that Jesus tells begin, "the kingdom of Heaven is like…" So the question we might ask is “What is the kingdom?” Is it something you’ve wondered about? It is one of the deep questions about existence. We look around us at the world and see hunger and poverty. We see disease, violence and hatred. We wonder if God is in control, if God cares at all about creation. We may even question the existence of God. We all ask those burning questions about what lies beyond this life.
"The kingdom of heaven is like ..." With these words Jesus offers a variety of images. The kingdom of heaven is like a small mustard seed that becomes a very large shrub where birds come and find a home.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that spreads through and through until it involves all the flour in a process of chemical reaction making the bread rise.
The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure within the ground making that parcel of land valuable enough that one would sell all their possessions to buy the field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a perfect pearl whose value entices someone to sell all to acquire it.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net tossed into the depths to bring forth a great catch, the net filled with fish both edible and others not worth the time of scaling and filleting. The good are gathered; the others are tossed away with the garbage. And, in such a kingdom a time will be when the angels of God will in a like way separate the evil and the righteous. The evil will be thrown into a hot, burning furnace of weeping and pain so great that teeth will gnash, one against the other.
Then, without further figure of speech, Jesus asks "Do you understand these teachings?" And, they answered "Yes!"
All of us here today are most likely familiar with a variety of stories regarding people who are granted three wishes by a genie whom they have let out of a bottle — or by a leprechaun they have either caught or rescued in the woods and have discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These stories are not only familiar to us from legends and fairy tales from our childhood. Adults sometimes play a form of three wishes when they purchase lottery tickets.
Have you noticed how, as the size of a lottery jackpot grows, the number of tickets sold jumps higher and higher? When the prize becomes large, more and more people feel the tug. They want that money. But the fact is still this: only a fool would spend more than a few dollars on this. The people who use their entire paycheck - money that should go for food and rent - almost always find their life in shambles. Why? Because the lottery makes no promise. No guarantee. At best, it's probably entertainment.
But, if you want the genuine excitement of putting your life on the line, only with Jesus Christ is it worth the cost. You give your life over to him; he returns it to you new and fresh. Not bankrupt. Not with a rotten taste in your mouth and a hollow feeling in your heart. He returns your life to you with a center, purpose, and joy.
Finding buried treasure is a dream that many have had. There is a series on TV about Oak Island in Nova Scotia. It is thought to be the site of a great treasure. No one knows exactly who buried treasure there. Over the years it has been conjectured that it must be the hiding place of some famous pirate like Captain Kidd. Now the most plausible explanation seems to be that, centuries ago, the Knights Templar used it as a storage place. There is even the thought that the Holy Grail may be hidden there. At any rate, millions of dollars have been spent fruitlessly trying to find the treasure that everyone is certain is there. All efforts have met with failure, but it doesn't stop one from feeling a great excitement and anticipation that perhaps this time the treasure will be found – that the great puzzle of how to get at a treasure so carefully and deviously hidden will suddenly be clear.
In the end ... Well, the surprise of today's Gospel is that we really don't know what will be "in the end" except the end will be in God's hands. This will be true, as Jesus said, "at the end of the age" in the final judgment. Yet, there is another ending at stake here which is no less in the hands of God. It is "our end" in the sense of what we shall become – or more accurately, what God is making of us.
I have read of people who keep trying to win millions of dollars in contests, drawings, and lotteries. I have read also how they say, "If I win, I'm not going to change a bit." Who are they kidding!? If they don't want their lives to be different, why are they entering in the first place? I suppose they really mean that they will continue to be the "same wonderful, lovable human being" that they are right now.
Something in us is not so content and God knows it. We feel the treasure's tug and we know it holds out the promise of more, or better, or different. This is what we need to look forward to as we sense the drawing power of the love of Christ and we can anticipate coming away changed if we allow ourselves to be touched. There are no lottery tickets to this future, but something far more certain. It's called "faith." It's that "letting go and letting God" when we are touched by "the impulse of his love." It's a pearl that will cost us, but it's worth it.
If you have learned to ride a bicycle, you had to face that moment when the person holding you up let go. The moment. Maybe you crashed and had to begin again and again. Eventually, however, there came the time when you could shout, "Hey, Mom, look here!" and you zoomed around the block with the breeze in your face. In that moment, a joy filled you so full that your heart pounded and you were truly alive. The cost was worth it. The Christian discovers such moments are little parables for the way God upholds us and gives us an amazing and exhilarating joy when we assume the costs and travel by faith.
Most of us would like our faith to make a difference – but not too much. We may have had a wonderful mountain top experience in our lives, a retreat, a Cursillo weekend or a moment in our lives when everything came together for us. We perceived God in a different light. But over time the experience fades. We think about it once in a while. But there are problems in our lives. We have to earn a living and raise our family. There are the stresses and conflicts of life to deal with. We may go to church on Sunday. But to make a commitment to the faith, to work at it, to read our Bibles, to pray – those things we put aside. We want to be committed Christians, but on our own terms.
What is it that you desire the most? What do you want? What do you wish for?
There is treasure buried in the fields all around us. There is a pearl of great value to be had. Just as there is mustard seed to be planted so that it might grow and spread everywhere.
Just as there is yeast to be worked into the dough of our lives – so that we and those near to us may be leavened with righteousness and joy and be raised to a glorious and eternal destiny.
It is here for the seeking – and for the receiving for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
What is the treasure – what is the pearl? It is nothing less than our awareness of the presence of God. I say our awareness – because God is always present – just as that treasure is in the field waiting to be found – just as that pearl is on the market – waiting for us to give ourselves for it.
In reality that is the gospel in the parables we’ve heard today.
That God is here – waiting for us to give up lesser things so that we can embrace him. That God is here – casting his net to catch us – to have us come into his kingdom – his presence.God is here – looking to sow his seed and work his leaven into our lives.
Today, may we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the treasure God has prepared for us: the treasure of God's love and care – his forgiveness and mercy – his power and his wonder, the treasure that wells up to eternal life and eternal joy. And may we be resolved to live by him and in him and through him until the completeness of the Kingdom of God arrives.
Let us pray: Lord, we give you thanks for the word that you hide like a treasure in our heart, for the leaven which is able to penetrate to every area of our life – for the seed that is able to grow into a mighty plant... Help us, we pray, to value all you have given us – to make following Christ the most important thing in our daily lives – to concentrate above all upon doing your will and sharing your love and the good news you have proclaimed through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.