Bible Reading: Mathew 13: 31-33; 44- 52
Have you thought much about what the Heaven will be like.
I remember discussing this as a 17 year old
on a Scripture Union camp tramping in the Rees Valley.
What will heaven be like?
One person who loved the mountains suggested
it would be like the vista around us,
we were under the shadow of Mount Clarke
and Mt Aspiring kept peaking us.
It will be like this, he said,
but the mountains will be 7 times higher.
I was less than enthusiastic with the image,
mostly because we were back from Climbing Mt Clarke
a mountain peak of 2,285m,
and my feet were covered in blisters and I limped dramatically.
However ever since I have been fascinated
by the way different people describe Heaven.
Some imagine the worship
Others relationships between people and with Jesus
A few are fascinated by images of ornate cathedrals
encrusted with precious metals and stones.
In today’s reading from Matthew,
Jesus is exploring what the Kingdom of Heaven is like
in the present.
One of the verses of Matthew 13 left out in our reading says;
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
So in Matthew 13 Jesus paints 7 pictures of what the kingdom of heaven is like
It is a farmer scattering seed
It is a mustard seed growing into a huge enormous tree
It is yeast added to the flour
It is finding hidden treasure
It is a trader discovering a pearl of great price
It is fishing and catching good and not so good fish
It is a homeowner bringing old and new treasures from their store room
Parables is quite a different way of communicating
than we are used to.
In our society we go to seminars
and the teacher explains things to you,
often with numbered points and action plans.
Or we debate things (Presbyterians love debating things)
and so we marshal augments for and against
different points of view
and then take votes.
But Jesus doesn’t communicate in either of those ways.
Instead he paints pictures and tells stories,
and invites everyone to understand these stories and pictures
in ways that are meaningful to them.
In today’s reading we have 6 mini parables
and to each one Jesus adds an intro
‘the kingdom of heaven is like’.
If it was a presentation in our society,
each would illustrate a point.
You would make the point,
give an illustration
and then make the point again.
In contrast Jesus lays it out there (a picture of life)
And then quickly overlays it with another
Which says something slightly different.
After the 5th mini parable Jesus asks the disciples
‘Have you understood these things?’
And what do they say
And ever since western Christians have responded
You got to be joking !
If the question is what is the kingdom of heaven like?
How do these parables help us understand?
I have come to see that Jesus is not answering a question
He is painting a picture through these parables
Each of the mini parables has a different setting,
and to some extent speaks to different types of people.
Let me illustrate in this way.
The first one about the mustard seed makes sense to gardeners.
Jesus recognises that gardeners understand the relationship
between seeds and the bushes that grow from them.
Non gardeners seems to understand the relationship
between seeds and weeds much more.
But the principle is that seeds germinate and plants grow.
The mustard tree grows from a small seed
And takes its time to grow.
The principle of growth is an intrinsic principle
of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus final words in Mathews gospel is given to 11 people.
After 33 years of living on earth – only 11 people.
Today the church of Jesus is strong in numbers and in faith.
It is based on this principle of seeds growing,
that we sow seeds of faith in word and action
in our families and networks,
praying God would enable those seeds to grow.
This is something that makes a lot of sends to gardeners.
But some of you are saying,
I’m not to keen on the garden, baking is my thing.
Good news – Jesus has a parable for you.
‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took
and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour
until it worked all through the dough.’
Finish – that is all he says!
But the bakers among us know how to finish the parable.
What happens when you add yeast to the flour
and work in through the dough? ……………….
This is a different picture of the kingdom of heaven.
It recognises that it is possible for something
to get so into you, so thoroughly worked through you,
that you become a transformed person.
You change from flour into bread, muffins and cakes
Bakers know about this – people of faith know about this
The yeast of God’s grace
is first mixed into your life
and then through pressures and rough experiences
pounded into your life,
so that you become bread of life for the world.
When I brought my parents from Christchurch after the earthquake
in their mid 80’s
The people of St David’s struggled to understand
how they could cope so well
with huge and challenging changes.
I was a little surprised myself – they were so resilient
The yeast in the flour is probably the best explanation.
They had significant experiences of the yeast of God’s grace
Pounded into their lives by huge challenges
In my Mum’s case
First grandmother dying when she was 20
Second grandmother dying when she was 21
Mother dying when she was 22
Father dying when she was 25
Two children who were intellectually disabled
The yeast of God’s grace pounded into her life through adversity.
That is the recipe by which God transforms our lives
The gift of God’s grace and the gift of suffering
Bakers understand this reality
The next two mini parables are like twins
Both relate to finding something of value and concealing it.
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.
When a man found it, he hid it again,
and then in his joy went and sold all he had
and bought that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like
a merchant looking for fine pearls.
When he found one of great value,
he went away and sold everything he had
and bought it.
These twin parables are intriguing to me.
My hunch is Jesus is addressing these
to people who have been in business.
The context of the first is not so clear,
but the second is of a merchant
who is in the business to trading in fine pearls.
But he does not own the pearls traded.
Yet one day he finds a pearl of extraordinary value
which he wants to buy himself.
So he sells everything to buy the pearl.
Aside: let’s step aside to a moment for this parable.
Because it raises a question of business place ethics.
How I read it is
The trader discovers the pearl has extraordinary value
Conceals its true value from the current owner
Raises the capital to purchase it
Buys it from the current owner below its true value.
I assume he would then take it to the bank
and use it to borrow for further business activity.
For some this is the cut throat world of business
and the activities I’ve described have little of ethical concern;
But for other this is not the way honest people trade
My grandad was a trader
– I assume he was more ethical than this pearl trader.
When Jesus told this parable,
he gained the attention of a number of people in the crowd
– particularly business people
because he was describing the ethical context
in which trade takes place.
So what do you make of this???
Possibly Jesus is reminding us
that living kingdom values is done in the real world
of our communities.
To live in faith in Christ does not mean to abandon the world.
In the early church Christians owned slaves, some practiced bigamy, they fought wars – there was an ethical context in which they lived
Today we live in a different context also riddled with ethical questions:
o we buy petrol when its production is harmful to the climate,
o we consume food produced by people in slavery or similar conditions,
o we consume more than our fair share of the worlds resources
So this parable touches a raw nerve –
how do we function as ethical people
living by principles of justice
in an environment that is riddled
with unresolved ethical questions.
The twin parables leaves the question sitting there for people,
It is a question every generation of Christians
needs to both live and wrestle with.
However in the twin parables,
there is a sense of commendation
for people prepared to sacrifice money and possessions
for a great treasure.
This is quite a theme in Jesus teaching.
The rich young ruler went away sad after talking with Jesus,
because he knew his money and possessions
were more valuable to him
than following Christ Jesus.
There are some fine examples in Christian history
of people who have given up everything to follow Christ
The Russian author Tolstoy a classic example.
These twin mini parables raise the uncomfortable issue of our incapacity to sacrifice security for the kingdom of heaven.
There are two more mini parables
The sorting of fish into good and bad, and
The homeowner bringing old and new treasurers from the garage.
The sorting of the fish, reads like this:
Once again, the kingdom of heaven
is like a net that was let down into the lake
and caught all kinds of fish.
When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.
Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets,
but threw the bad away.
This is how it will be at the end of the age.
Wisdom and spiritual discernment is a key theme here.
So there is a catch of fish, and some of those fish are not good to eat.
The fishers need to sort the catch,
and keep the fish they prefer.
The rest go back into the water.
There is an age old debate in terms of
who decides who belongs to the church.
Some leaders say you have to be of a certain character
to belong to our church;
everyone is welcome because God loves everyone.
A great church leader Augustine argued
that the New Testament leaves the dividing
between sheep and goats, wheat and weeds
to God at the harvest;
He taught that they church should accept everyone,
leave the discernment to God.
In contrast the churches of the reformation
were strong on church leadership disciplining its members
and also excommunicating those who were unwilling
to accept their discipline.
Most churches these days are somewhere in between.
I wonder what you think best?
The final mini parable is addressed to ‘the householder’
Therefore every teacher of the law
who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven
is like the owner of a house
who brings out of his storeroom
new treasures as well as old.’
So a good friend comes to visit
and over lunch tells you about a project
they are working on.
You pop out to the garage and grab some tools and a ladder.
“Would these be helpful – keep them for a few weeks if they are”.
A common enough conversation.
In the parable Jesus distinguishes between old treasures and new.
The context is our lives of faith.
Jesus says as we move on and grow in faith
we need to share some treasures.
Some will be old and precious and valued
Some will be new, fresh, innovative
The general principle Jesus offers us
is that each Christian needs both
The owner of a house – brings out of their storeroom
new treasures, as well as old
Some people naturally cling to the old
Others run enthusiastically with the new
Jesus says do both
We notice this in the songs we sing.
We want to sing the songs we know and are familiar with
But learning new worship songs offers freshness
In our mission we also need to combine
treasures old and treasures new.
Not just doing what we’ve always done,
adding something quite innovative
In our leadership we need the voices of experience
and the sharp minds and challenging questions
of our ‘new treasures’.
And in our own devotional lives – we get stale and repetitive
with the same patterns and content,
yet something familiar is also of great value.
What a fascinating set of parables we have been thinking on today
So different and teaching us so much
I hope there has been something here for each one of you
Keep thinking about,
what the kingdom of heaven is like
It is a mustard seed growing into a huge enormous tree
It is yeast added to the flour making bread
It is finding hidden treasure, and selling everything to buy the land
It is a trader discovering a pearl of great price and selling everything to buy it
It is fishing and catching good and not so good fish and
It is a homeowner bringing old and new treasures from the storehouse
Each of these parables are old treasures for us from the scriptures.
But you may have some new treasures,
lurking in the recesses of your mind.
Something that is an experience
that has become a parable for you.
An example of how the kingdom of heaven works
in your life.
Perhaps this afternoon you might write a new parable
– a fresh treasure from your storehouse
and offer it to those producing the church newsletter.
Perhaps begin ‘and the kingdom of heaven is like this ……..”
As we’ve seen Jesus parables are so different from each other
and often raise more issues than answer them.
Some are simple like the mustard seed
others pretty complex like the ethical questions
for the trader when trying to buy the pearl.
I’m just inviting you to let your thoughts run wild
and see what God is saying through your attempt
to bring a new treasure from your storehouse
Perhaps you might like to you a period of silence now
to think some more about a new parable
or to pray through one of the parables
we have talked about this morning.
We will take a minute of silence and then I will pray.
Now let’s sing As the deer pants for the water
which is another parable of grace
Hymn As the deer pants for the water