HC CW St James Matthew 13.31-33,44-52
Where your treasure is, there is your heart.
As I sit in my new study, the gentle hum of lawn mowers and strimmer’s intertwine with new age music floating from a neighbours window which sings praises to Gaia the Greek Mother Goddess, creator of the Earth. The summer heat has brought everyone outside into what seems to be a great celebration of life. And yet, does all this busyness of work, this drive towards an immaculate, beautiful garden in fact hide a deeper yearning to return to Eden. To return to God’s presence and live in His Kingdom? The harvest is ripening but the workers are few.
It’s interesting that Jesus uses no less than five ways to explain what the kingdom is. He likens it to a mustard seed, to yeast, hidden treasure, a fine pearl, and a full net of fish. Each parable refers to something from nature. The extra-ordinary found in the ordinariness of everyday life. Why does he use so many examples?
One answer could be that the Kingdom of God is so vast an idea that a simple explanation is not enough. Yet I for one am left wondering just what does Jesus mean when he refers to the Kingdom of God?
All Jesus’s parables have a sense of the Kingdom being something that is rare and precious or something that spreads out into enormous quantities despite only a little being used. Jesus is, of course, referring to the saving rule of God. A God that despite having great power chooses to work slowly and patiently through seemingly vulnerable things. Indeed God chooses to work through the things of the world; he chooses to work through us.
But what would a world look like under the sovereign rule of God? One thing it is certainly not about is having a full church of people. That is only part of the story. Perhaps it would help if I introduce another Greek word, that of Koinonia which means a fellowship with a shared goal. Koinonia is about community including the church community and beyond. This is where we come in. By the gift of God’s grace all people are connected into a friendship beyond normal human ties. This sense of friendliness is more than being nice to each other. More than seeking companionship and enjoying a good time although that is part of it. No, the main point of being in God’s fellowship is about transformation. Transformed into the mind of Christ. To, in fact, die to self and resurrecting with Him.
All these parables have this notion of death and resurrection, dying to the old and living a new life. The mustard seed dies for a tree to come forth, the yeast transforms the flour to make bread, the person who sells everything they have and so puts to death their old way of life so they can buy the treasure field or the finest pearl of all.
The old ways must die to make space for the new. But what are these old ways? The old ways are things that hold us back from being in true relationship with God and each other. They are the things that are polluted and in need of being transformed.
In these parables each one shows that Gods kingdom is to be found in, by human standards, the unclean. The treasure is found amongst the dirt of the field. The yeast is not out of a nice little packet from waitrose but from big lumps of mold. Each story shows that God’s kingdom is to be found in the unexpected places. The polluted places both within and around us that induce feelings of disgust. So we turn our faces and hearts away. Yet this is where the true fellowship of Christ, Koinonia of heart is to be found. To seek each other in the mire of life, to offer a hand to those we would rather not touch and show God’s mercy in a weakened, neglected world.
One of my favourite speakers and authors is the Lutheran nadia bolz-weber who writes “We mistakenly may think that the kingdom of God should follow our value system and also be powerful or impressive and shiny. But that’s not what Jesus brings. He brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one – populated by the unclean, and suffused with mercy rather than power. And it’s always found in the unexpected.”
Nadia’s background is a life marred by drug and alcohol abuse despite being raised in a Christian family. Her call to ministry began when she asked to lead the funeral of her fellow drug abuser PJ. What happened after PJs death gave Nadia an insight into the Kingdom of God parables.
Nadia writes that “PJ grew up in a nice Catholic family from a small farming town in Iowa. Not really sure how they got a darkly sardonic, filthy minded comic genius for a son but that’s another story for another time. See, 2 days after PJ’s death a group of my friends, comics and depressives and recovering alcoholics – undertook a mission of compassion. They entered the home of our dead friend and they cleared out all the adult material. Every Playboy and VHS tape. All of it. They wanted to spare these good folks any more pain then they were already dealing with. That to me is the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God on earth, that we might clear out the adult material from our dead friends’ homes before their nice small town parents come to settle their son’s affairs. It’s small, it’s surprising and it’s a little profane but it’s the real thing”.
Nadia speaks of Gods kingdom being the real thing, free from our human expectations of what is right or respectable or nice. It’s about accountability to God and each other. The treasure, in the case of her friends PJ, was that his friends forget their own troubles for a little while to come together in order to alleviate further pain from the family.
But what does such a kingdom of God’s look like? The parable of the net filled with fish gives some idea for it is a filled with all kinds of fish. The kingdom of God is for all people. All ages, race, sexuality, gender and employment status working together to transform their community where people can flourish and grow through living in the grace and love of God. A community that prays together, worships together eats and lives together where no one is excluded for who they are or what they believe.
However, such a community of mutual love comes with a warning for at the end of the parable, Jesus speaks of the angels separating the evil from the righteous. Yet here too is death and resurrection. Could it be that evil is finally put to death and we are all resurrected and so transformed into true human being God wanted us to be in the first place? We will just have to wait and see.
One thing is for certain that the kingdom of God is something wonderful and, more importantly, it is here now if you look for it amongst the small and the unassuming and perhaps even in the profane. Perhaps each day we can ask God to show us a little glimpse of His kingdom. For like Solomon in Kings, all we need do is to ask God for a wise and discerning mind to see as He sees, think as He thinks and act as He acts. Perhaps then our communities, our little Edens, our relationships would show would show something of God’s Kingdom, his hidden treasure in a murky world.
Jesus, the God man who sat, ate and talked with sinners, is hoping you will sit with Him in fellowship.