Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “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.” He told them another parable: “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. 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. 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, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “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 new and what is old.”
Matthew 13:31-33. 44-52
Today is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday, the day when we thought about God as being Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are still in the pandemic, although there are signs that things are getting better, as we cautiously ease out of lockdown. We have all experienced a time for which we were not prepared and certainly never expected. The norms of life have been overturned, and probably the hardest thing has been that we have not been able to gain direct physical support from friends and family; even the comfort we got through worshipping together in Church has been denied us. But Christianity and faith have not been dead and many of us have worshipped at home with Bible reading, pray and even hymn singing and services on the television or the internet. What do today’s readings say to us in these difficult times?
For the last three Sundays the Gospel readings have been taken from St Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is talking in parables about the Kingdom of heaven. The reason for this is that although the people were expecting God to deliver them, they had no idea how this would come about. In fact earlier in the Gospel Jesus’ disciples had asked Jesus why he was speaking in parables and he answered, “You have been given the gift of knowing the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they haven’t”. Last week the passage spoke of the wheat and the weeds growing up together, and it explained the mixture of good and bad in this life, and how it will be sorted out at the time of judgement.
Today we heard about the mustard-seed, and how from a very small seed it grows into a big shrub. In a similar way, although the kingdom of heaven started in a small way with just Jesus, here on earth it will grow and continue to grow. How from small beginnings, quietly and unnoticed, the kingdom will grow and continue to grow. The kingdom of heaven is also compared with hidden treasure, and the best pearl. So valuable is the kingdom, it is worth giving up all we have to make sure of it, and about the fisherman’s net, which again describes the sorting out of good and bad at the end of the present time.
One of the main points of Jesus’ message was his announcement that the ‘kingdom of God’ or the kingdom of heaven, had already arrived. The ‘kingdom of God’ meant the rule of God in people’s lives. That happens when people realize that God is the ruler of the world. It also meant the ‘realm’ or community of people where God’s rule is obeyed. The kingdom of God had, in fact, already arrived with the coming of Christ – for he was the first who fully obeyed the will of God. So he could say to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is among you”, as it was present in the words and works of Jesus.
Note that the kingdom is also a community of people, a body of Christians who meet together to worship and pray, to listen and learn, a place where we can support and be supported by other Christians, all of us seeking to follow and obey the teachings of Christ.
So yes it is important and necessary to meet, to come to Church, not necessarily here at Saint Oswald’s, but anywhere where Christ is recognised as Lord and king, because we are all one in the body of Christ. We all hope that we will soon be able to return to our own Church and together partake in our communion again.
Before the pandemic some were pointing to the so called decline of the Church as evidence that the Christianity has failed and that there is no point in coming to church anymore. Is the kingdom of God failing – never! While the numbers here in the British Isles have been down, there are vast increases in the numbers of Christians in other parts of the world. Jesus’ parables show God at work in the world, quietly, almost secretly. Yet ‘the kingdom’ goes on growing and spreading from small beginnings like the tiny mustard seed. When you think of the few who followed Christ just after his crucifixion and the vast numbers now of Christians all over the world, well the parable turned into a prophesy which we have seen fulfilled.
“The kingdom of God is near!” said Jesus. “Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!” Yes! We must all ‘repent’, and have a total change of heart if we are to accept the rule of God in our lives. We must believe the good news that Jesus came to bring. God offers new life to all who believe, – all who will leave their old way of life and follow him. And Jesus told us another thing about the kingdom, it is valuable. It is worth everything that anyone has. Finding it is like finding treasure hidden in a field – and selling everything to buy that field.
It means giving up all we have clung to for security, and trusting God alone. It also means being sorry for our sins and changing our ways. This is not something we can manage just on our own by trying hard. But in Paul’s letter to the Romans we read about The Holy Spirit – and God’s eternal purpose for us. The Holy Spirit of God is alive and actively at work in everyone who belongs to Christ. He helps us to keep God’s law. It is his presence that convinces us we really are God’s children; that we can call him Abba, our father. He is our foretaste, or the first instalment, of the glory to come, a living well of hope within us. And the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray, when we can’t find the words and don’t know what to say. It is God’s intention that every one of us should be like Christ. Like him in character now and like him in glory eventually. In other words, God is recreating us ‘in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27). And every little circumstance of life is worked into this great overall purpose. Nothing can shake it. No one can ever make him write us off no matter what we have done or how far we stray – we have Christ in heaven to plead our cause. You may remember the words from the Alternative Service Book, which said – ‘for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate’.
And Paul reminds us, “If God is for us, who can be against us”, and “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” There is no power in heaven or earth that can cut us off from his love.
So whatever life may bring, we can win through. These are the great certainties of the Christian faith and life. These are the treasures of the kingdom. Are they not worth any price, any sacrifice during the short time we have here on earth?
Heavenly Father, help us recognise your kingdom in the world and to keep your laws,
To love you with all our heart and soul, and to love our neighbours as we do ourselves.