The kingdom of heaven is like YOU!
Slowly say the Lord’s prayer, pausing after each line then Read:
Matthew 13: 31- 46 with a pause to reflect on how you see yourself in each parable:
I am sure we all miss the physical meeting of each other in one place, but Zoom services offer us an opportunity we haven’t had before because we can look into the eyes of so many people all at the same time. Look at the faces in front of you now and give a smile of welcome and a wave…. Amazing! We’ve just said hello to the kingdom of heaven.
The gospel readings today sit in the context of the prayer that is shared more often, in more places and in more languages than any other words. It’s better known than MacDonalds, but, unlike the famous burger is left on more plates than any other meal.
The prayer is, as Jeremiah says, like words delivered to our table and if we eat them they bring joy and delight to our hearts (15: 16) and “they taste sweeter than honey in our mouths,” (Psalm 119: 103). That sounds better than a Big Mac to me. How about you? Yes, but the grandchildren might need more convincing!
In the gospel readings Jesus tells his listeners what the kingdom of heaven is like and week after week we pray for it to come, but we leave the Daily Bread on the plate after no more than a bite. What a waste!
The prayer is like an untouched meal on our table. It’s words we hear. Words we read. Words we say and even words we sing, but in the prayer is the burger for our bun. If you want to know what the kingdom of heaven is like take a bite, eat the words and don’t leave anything on your plate.
God gives us our Daily Bread and when we eat we find inside our joy and delight that is the kingdom we so eagerly seek. If you are looking for a picture of heaven after earth though don’t look in these parables because Jesus is telling us what the kingdom of heaven is like on earth in the here and now. That’s different to the place we call heaven.
A friend of mine who isn’t yet convinced about the faith I share with him says: “I see people reciting the Lords Prayer without thought and when done, they reach for their coat and head for the church door,………duty done!. Is that all that is required of us?” No, I have told my friend, that’s not what is required of us because for the kingdom to come we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”
The kingdom will come when heaven touches earth through people who live the will of God, not through people who leave earth for heaven after death. We bring heaven to earth and we can’t take earth to heaven so Jesus is talking earthly stuff here with an active ministry rooted in everyday experience. The kingdom of heaven is like you and the things that you do!
Jesus is talking our language. He is talking the language of farmer and gardener; merchant banker and treasure hunter; bread makers and fishermen and if you understand all the things he talks about you will bring out new treasure from your spiritual cupboard that can turn the words into honey!
We so often say that Church is not a building, but that people are Church. Let me put this to you today as we consider our mission and ministry in our communities: “The kingdom of heaven isn’t a place we travel to, but a people we travel with who reveal the kingdom wherever we go!” The Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17: 20-21) so let’s do the job and bring heaven to earth!
Let’s do the will of God because it is LIKE YOU, like someone who sows seed or LIKE a merchant looking for pearls so it is people centred rather than a place. The kingdom of heaven is like a seed that grows; yeast that is mixed into flour; hidden treasure of great value or a net that catches fish all being used by people in the process of our ministry. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s people at work doing the will of God.
Each parable in this chapter from Matthew’s gospel has a message expressing the will of God, but when Jesus asks us if we have understood can we really reply, “yes” or are there things still hidden from us? If you are anything like me I am always seeing something new in scripture. It’s as if God is taking a text and delivering a personal message for me. I am challenged and disturbed by some of what I see and hear this week that I hadn’t understood before. Maybe I’m just dawdling in my theological travels and everyone else has seen it long ago, but not said so.
I can relate to the kingdom of heaven being like a treasure or fine pearls more valuable than anything else we could ever want. The kingdom of heaven is like the great pot of gold at the end of a rainbow with a wealth that nothing else compares to. I get that! I want that!
I can see that the kingdom of heaven is worth more than anything I can ever possess and it’s a bargain if I can sell all I’ve got to keep it. A question that disturbs me though is whether I am like the merchant who gave up everything AFTER finding it or will I give up everything to find it? Sounds a bit like a rich young man story, with all the right words, but a reluctance to do the right thing and sell everything he has and give to the poor to have treasure in heaven. (Luke 18: 22) Words are easy until we have to put them into practice. I wonder if Jesus is hiding a little treasure in the undergrowth of this parable that reminds us that faith is about giving everything up before you have found what you are looking for…! Faith is not believing in what you see, but when you believe without seeing then you will be blessed. (John 20: 29)
I also find the man and the hidden treasure and the merchant with the pearls selfish individuals because they wanted to hide what they had and keep it for themselves. I hope I don’t do the same, but do I? The timeless value of hidden treasures that we find in the parable reminding us not to keep the kingdom of heaven to ourselves because it’s a seed that has been put within us to share. Remember, you’re not saved so you can go from earth to heaven; you’re saved so you can bring heaven to earth.
The parable of the net just reminds me how Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him and learn how to catch people rather than fish. Some that are caught will be good and ready to serve in the kingdom of heaven, but others will be thrown back into the water to grow bigger and stronger. Don’t judge people before they have had a chance to grow up to be who God wants them to be. It’s like allowing weeds and wheat to grow together and not judging people before the harvest is ready. Throw the small fish back into the water so they can grow bigger because the kingdom of heaven is a heart of healing and nurture, grace and forgiveness with opportunities for everyone to achieve their full potential. This is a wonderful ministry of discernment giving everyone an opportunity to become who God wants them to be. You can help it happen. You can be its happening. The kingdom of heaven is like YOU.
The smallest of us can become the biggest, the weakest the strongest and we can all become a sanctuary of God’s love to which people can fly for shelter. You are, or have been, the mustard seed and someone took you and planted you in God’s field. Today there are people feeling so insignificant, so small, that they say nothing and do nothing, but our ministry is to find that seed within them and nurture it.
As Marianne Williamson wrote and Nelson Mandela spoke: “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.”
That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like because it is a work in progress as we seek that tiny seed within each other and help it grow. All of us are ingredients in the great loaf of bread being baked and it takes someone to recognise how people are important ingredients in the mix. Without you there is no growth. Either you ARE the yeast or you have a ministry to find it and mix it with the flour.
My friend argued that: ‘The Lords Prayer’ is easily learnt but it is abstract in that it talks of a place called heaven and presumes we know what that heaven is and that it is a destiny we should all aspire to reach…….. I have been blessed with a very vivid imagination but to imagine heaven is totally beyond me, even Thomas needed more convincing than mere words could offer and he spent time in the man’s company.”
I wonder how many people are like my friend and are trying to imagine what heaven might look like when they get there rather than realising it is our mission to bring it to earth before we get there? The kingdom of heaven is a vision for our life, not a place after death. Live it and be it and trust it will come. because the kingdom of heaven is like YOU.
Do you believe that YOU are a mustard seed that can grow into a giant tree? Can you believe you are yeast being mixed with flour to make our Daily Bread? Do you believe YOU are a hidden treasure of great value waiting to be found? Can you see this great value in other people and give up everything to encourage it to grow?
Look at the faces in front of you. Look in the eyes. Look at the smiles. You’re looking at the kingdom of heaven.
Yes, I know, it’s easier to see how special other people are, but Jesus does say to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” because the kingdom of heaven is within you. So look again at the faces in front of you. Look in the eyes. Look at the smiles and wave goodbye, but you can’t wave goodbye to the kingdom of heaven: It goes with you because it is LIKE YOU! Amen.