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Sermon for 30 July 2017


1 Kings 3:5-12, Matthew 13:31-33, 44 - 52

When it comes to understanding the world, and living well in it, Jesus has a serious advantage over us. We can only see what’s in front of us - he gets to see it all from a different perspective. He sees everything from the perspective of heaven. But being generous, he longs to share his perspective with us. Like a journalist reporting from a distant land, Jesus has come to tell us how things are in heaven, and to invite us to see what he can see.

And the parables are one of Jesus’ ways of reshaping our imagination to see things from the perspective he sees things from - from the perspective of heaven.

I want to explore what that means, and then I’m going to look at a couple of things that these parables tell us about how things look from the perspective of heaven.

At the very start of his ministry, Jesus says that his purpose is to proclaim that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.‘

Heaven is where God dwells and in heaven everything is as it should be. Heaven isn’t just a resting place for those who have died; heaven is what things are like when they’re how God wants them to be. Heaven is how things were designed when everything was created, and God looked and saw that it was all good. Heaven is where everything began, and it’s where everything is heading, and it’s how things already are - whenever things are the way God designed them to be. 

That is fully the case now in the realm where God dwells - in heaven - but things are still a bit messy here on earth. Clearly things here are not exactly how God designed them to be. Not yet.

But Jesus came to say that the gap between heaven - how things are when they’re how God designed them to be, and earth - how things are here, is now very small. ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’, he says. And everything Jesus goes on to say and to do makes it clear that the kingdom of heaven has come close because he is here. 

Jesus is how things are when they’re how God designed them to be. Jesus is heaven on earth in a human body.

And so everything he does brings heaven to earth. Every miracle, every parable, every interaction, every word - in everything he says and does, the kingdom of heaven is made real. In Jesus, heaven and earth become one.

Where Jesus goes, heaven arrives.

And Jesus makes it clear that this new rule of God that he is launching, this kingdom which comes wherever he goes, is where everything is heading. One day, what’s happening around him will happen everywhere. One day the individual healings and restorations that he brings will be for everyone who is suffering or struggling - and astonishingly, he says, we have a crucial part to play in that process. We are partners in building the kingdom of heaven. One day all things will be made new - and the more we learn to see with the eyes of heaven, the more that can be true right now. 

Jesus is the future brought into the middle of the present, and our task is to see where that future is at work right now, and to join in. 

The trouble is that the present - how things are here on earth - seems all embracing to us. It’s pretty difficult for us to see things other than how they are. This is normal. This is just what things are like. Isn’t it?

And so we come to accept things as they are, even when they’re desperately wrong. We think there is no alternative - this is just how things are.

But Jesus never accepts that this is just how things are. He wants us to see how things will be, and then to get to work bringing that ‘how things will be’ into the present. He wants to give us a taste of the future, so that we can start to live like that right now.

And so, when Jesus speaks to his listeners in parables, these stories are meant to give us heaven’s perspective on things. They are reshaping the present in the light of the future. They are showing us what heaven is like, so that in the power of the Spirit, we can work to make things ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’

And the 5 parables we just heard take us on that journey. The journey of seeing things from the perspective of heaven - and it’s an unexpected journey that they take us on.

The mustard seed and the yeast first - and these should grab our attention. In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel tells a very similar story, only his version isn’t about a mustard seed, it’s a great majestic cedar tree, which God cuts a sprig from and replants, and which becomes a ‘noble cedar’ and ‘under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind’. A mustard seed however is a weed. A farmer would never sow a mustard seed - it’s one of those plants that, once there, you can never get rid of. 

Jesus is saying - you think of God’s kingdom as a great, majestic cedar tree. Think again. It might well be much more subversive than that. Think of it instead like a weed - something you can’t control, something that will proliferate of its own accord, something that many people will want to pull up. It might not look great - it’s likely to be sprawling and shabby - but from its tiny, hidden beginnings, for those with the eyes of heaven, something beautiful will grow. God’s kingdom is unlikely to look sensible, well organised or noble. It will probably be messy and unpredictable - but it will always leave people feeling at home and safe.

And the yeast? Well, the Jews were much more into unleavened bread than the fluffy well risen stuff that we eat. Think pitta bread rather than Hovis. In fact yeast was viewed with suspicion - and for good reason. No nice little sachets to add to the flour for them. Yeast in the Middle East was introduced to flour by adding a bit of mouldy bread which was just as likely to ruin the flour as to help it rise. No wonder that elsewhere Jesus warns his disciples against ‘the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod’. 

This is another unlikely image for the glory of heaven. Jesus is warning again that God’s rule isn’t what we think it is. It won’t come through the things we think of as ’respectable and normal’. It may well come through contact with unlikely situations and people. The kind of contact that we try hard to avoid.  The kind of people we keep our distance from. Perhaps, Jesus says, perhaps you are going to need to take some risks for the kingdom to come. Perhaps you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

Where do you need to take a risk for the sake of the kingdom?

So now he’s got our attention, Jesus makes it clear what the stakes are - this strange, hidden, unexpected, risky kingdom is here; the future is arriving in the middle of the present -  and there is nothing at all that is more important. Nothing that is worth more.

And so he tells a story about a man finding a pearl which is so valuable that he sells everything he has to possess it, and a story about a man who stumbles across a great treasure in a field, and who keeps quiet while he gets the resources together to buy the field, to make it his own. 

Jesus says, the kingdom of heaven has come very close and it is of infinite value. To make it yours, to be part of this movement of love and restoration, you may well need to give things up; you may even need to give up some really good things. 

And isn’t that true? If heaven is right in front of us, if the reality of God is right there, just waiting for us to discover - isn’t that worth everything? Wouldn’t we be crazy not to get rid of anything that gets in the way in order to be part of it?

It’s like we’re small children whose hands are full of 1 and 2p coins that we have been picking up off the floor, and who are then offered a million pounds. We can hold on to the coins, and keep the pennies or we can drop the coins, open our hands and receive a fortune. 

What do you need to give up for the kingdom to grow?

And then a last image - a fisherman whose drag net brings up fish that’ll taste great, and some that really won’t. 

It’s complicated now, says Jesus. Everything is all muddled up and it’s really hard to separate the godly from the human, the heavenly from the earthly. That’s how things are and that’s how we will experience the kingdom at the moment - God’s rule is to be found in the midst of all sorts of bad stuff. But it won’t always be like that - one day heaven will come fully and all that is unjust, corrupt, unkind and oppressive; all sickness, all poverty, all suffering - these will be separated and set aside, and what will remain will be true and good and holy. Heaven is coming. The future is arriving. It will happen. So hold on, stay true, keep the faith.

Where is the kingdom at work in your life right now? How can you nurture it in the midst of a messy world?

Jesus knows what heaven is like, and he wants us to know it too - not just one day, when we die, but here today. Right now. So he tells these parables, in the hope that we might begin to see the world as he sees it - from the perspective of heaven, and then seeing, that we might start to seek it and then, perhaps, even to seek it above all else. 


Posted: 30-07-2017 at 15:51
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