Published by Michael Bigg on Mon, 31 Jul 2017 14:23

The text of my sermon preached on Sunday 30th July 2017

(Based on the readings Genesis 29.15-28, Romans 8.26-39, Matthew 13.31-33,44-52)

I wonder what you do to recharge. I wonder how you recuperate after a long week. I wonder what you do to get yourself back together after a difficult day. Perhaps you take a few hours on the golf course, or in the garden. Maybe a glass of wine and a good drama series on the TV. Some of you might go for a good, long walk. Perhaps you turn to prayer and the Bible. I’m told (although I struggle to understand it) that some people recharge their batteries by going to the gym!

 

We live in a world that’s characterised by break-down. Common metaphors for our times of rest include “recharging the batteries” or “refilling the tank”. Our experience of the world is normally that doing anything takes energy and we normally need to replace that energy physically, mentally and spiritually.

This experience isn’t only true of the things we might expect. Even a job that we love may well still leave us drained at the end of the week. Cherished relationships with spouses, children, friends and family still take energy and effort to maintain and grow.

 

The physicists among us will tell us that we shouldn’t be surprised at this somewhat bleak account of our human condition. The second law of thermodynamics suggests that disorder is that natural scheme of things. Left to its own devices, the world does not, by itself, tend towards an orderly state. (*Note: I'm aware that in the realm of botany and ecology the world often tends to pleasant order and balance, but I hope the broader point is clear!) The trajectory of the universe is towards cold disorder, we have to work hard to bring order to the world. It’s estimated that if all human beings were to disappear tomorrow then within about 500 years most of our cities would be completely overgrown with vegetation and within 10,00 years there would be little evidence of all our grand schemes and plans having ever been here at all!

 

 

That’s a rather grim picture. But! But! Jesus tells a very different story about the way life is within the Kingdom of God in the parables we heard today. Firstly, we heard that the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed. But that tiny seed, that looks so unpromising to the untrained eye, becomes a great shrub! The kingdom of God is portrayed as a mode of being characterised by abundant life and growth; so much so that this abundance becomes a shelter for others. Then we heard that the kingdom of God is like yeast that leavens some dough. There’s an image here of spreading out and touching every corner of the dough; the kingdom stretches into every corner of our lives. But what does yeast do? It doesn’t spread out throughout the dough only to leave it dead and lifeless, the yeast brings life and growth to the rest of the dough; it’s another parable of abundance.

 

Then we skip a bit that we actually heard last week before coming to two parables about the value of the kingdom. Both the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price tell us of someone who discovers something of surpassing value.

It’s not entirely clear as to whether the person who finds the treasure hidden in a field was deliberately out searching for treasure or whether this treasure is just fortuitously stumbled upon. I think it’s probably the latter, and Jesus is drawing out that sometimes we just happen discover the kingdom before us totally unexpectedly, and at other times we are actively seeking the kingdom. Either way, when we find it, it is worth giving up everything for.

But these parables are also about life and abundance. Why do we invest our money in a new car, or invest our time in cultivating a garden? Because we think it will bring us a better, fuller, more abundant life. Why did Jacob agree to work 7 years (and then another 7 years!) for Rachel? Because the love he has for her is life-giving and fruitful. All of those examples may enhance our lives to some degree, but Jesus tells these two parables to point to the kingdom of God as the investment in life par excellence.

 

You see – while our earthly life is characterised by death and by the constant need to recharge, the life of the kingdom is characterised by life into further life. We’ve been reading Romans 8 for the last few weeks and heard today the climax of Paul’s argument regarding “life in the Spirit”, (which is Paul’s language of “life as citizens of the Kingdom of God”).  Those of you here last week will have heard Ken speak about this, but I don’t think he went far enough.

We seem to have adopted the idea that heaven is a perfect, but static existence where everything is as good as it can be. I’m not sure Paul or Jesus see it that way. This earthly life is characterised by death leading to death. The life of the kingdom is characterised by life leading to further life. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talks about our resurrection bodies. The contrast given is usually translated in English that our mortal bodies are “perishable”, but our resurrection bodies are “imperishable”. Paula Gooder says that this implies that these new bodies will be preserved like a tin of peaches and kept static and unchanging, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. What we experience now is a body and life that know decay and perishing but this will be transformed into a body and life whose direction of travel is from life to life (or from glory to glory as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians). We aren’t just raised to life again, but are raised to LIFE – capital L I F E –life that becomes more and more alive.

 

That’s good news for everyone who will receive it. But do you want to hear the great news? This glorious resurrection into LIFE isn’t just a post-mortem reward, it begins here, in this life, today. Life in the kingdom of God isn’t a “pie in the sky when you die” proposition, the kingdom of God is here and now. Steak on your plate while you wait. The technical term is inaugurated eschatology – the end is yet to come but is in some way already begun.

This shouldn’t be a surprise! We catch glimpses of it in praise and worship. We get a taste of it as we gather around the Lord’s table for communion. We look at it when we see acts of self-giving love and compassion. We show it to the world when we commit ourselves to justice and forgiveness, and when we love one another. As Christians, we are citizens of the world and are already citizens of the kingdom of God.

 

 

But here’s the rub. Here’s the great paradox at the heart of the Christian faith. Let’s return to our parables from Matthew 13. What do the seed, the yeast and the two people discovering things of great value have in common? The seed, once planted, never comes back and never enjoys its own fruit. The yeast leavens the whole dough and gives it life, but gives itself completely in the process. The person finding treasure in the field and the pearl merchant both have to give all they have to obtain the thing of surpassing value.

The great paradox, that Jesus alludes to many times, is that those who lose their life, find it. Those who pour themselves out are filled. Those who give everything, receive everything. Ouch. That’s hard.

Do I think that all of us should go out tomorrow, sell all we have, give it to those in need and then rely on God for our daily bread quite literally? Yes, I do. I honestly think that if any of you did that in faith and trust then you would not regret it. Jesus did it, though he was rich he became poor and sacrificed himself to bring about this new kingdom. What better model for us!

Will I be doing selling everything tomorrow? No. I can’t. I can’t. Do I expect any of you to give up everything? No, of course I don’t. I’d be gobsmacked if any of you did it.

 

But – and thanks be to God who is gracious and merciful and knows our frailty – it is possible to travel more gently. We have dual citizenship, but can grow further into our citizenship of heaven step by step as we daily take up our cross, however partially, and follow Jesus. It isn’t easy, but we are promised life. My own personal experience has always been that whenever I’ve taken a step towards denying myself and going further into God’s kingdom I have found more of that life.

 

And so, my challenge to you is this: how can you be like that mustard seed this week? How can you be like the yeast that leavens the dough? How can you give yourself away and find yourself receiving in the process? Perhaps this is the week for you to take the first step in forgiving someone who has hurt you, or making a move to start healing a broken relationship. Maybe this week it’s time to sit down and look at your finances to see whether you can commit to giving more of your money to good causes. Is this the week for you to get out of your comfort zone and join a home group? Is tomorrow morning your time to take a risk by offering to pray with someone you know is having a difficult time?

The pearl is of great price indeed.

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