Reverend Philip Stringer
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
LET US PRAY: O merciful Father in Heaven: You give the knowledge of your saving help -- a comfort to your people. Feed our hearts with your Holy Word, and make our hearts instruments of your glory, today and all days. AMEN.
Carolina Wrens — perpetually curious. Always exploring, seeking out the best opportunity for a nest — Garage, tool shed, shelf in my barn, pocket in the dashboard of the ATV, under the sink on the garden bench, inside the hood of my bee suit... I don’t know what it is that “checks the boxes” for them that a spot is good — but they seem to know just what they are looking for. They look everywhere until they find it -- relentless!
Career, wealth, money, fame, the admiration of others, power, beauty. People look many places for meaning and satisfaction in their lives. Like Carolina Wrens, we are driven to explore and seek out what will give our lives meaning and fulfillment. A wren thinks the dashboard of my ATV looks like everything they are looking for — until I move it. Or a cabinet in my garage is perfect — until I close the door. And like them, people often think they have found what they are looking for but have not.
The scriptures teach us that “our souls are restless” until they find their rest in God. The fullness of life is found nowhere except within the kingdom of God — And yet even knowing this, it can be elusive; hard for us to find.
Do you long for the peace and the joy and the satisfaction in life that are found in the kingdom of God?
Today, God speaks to us through the parables of Jesus and assures us that God’s kingdom is found in the most unlikely of places — within us and through us — and it is growing for the good of all.
It seems to me that we often look for ourselves to be the center of attention in Jesus’ parables ... but what would happen if we thought about these parables as describing Jesus’ place in the world and in our lives? ... Consider what it would mean if Jesus were the object of value in each of these parables, and the Holy Spirit the one who acts to reveal him?
So, by the work of the Spirit, Jesus becomes a place of safety and rest for us, our daily bread and the treasure that provides for us and gives us security. What would the parables say to us if they were not about us at all — or at best, we are the soil, or the mixing bowl or the field where the treasure is hidden? If that were the case, then your life and my life become the stage upon which the glory of God unfolds so that others may have rest and be fed and find joy through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Hear and remember these words of hope and promise: The kingdom of God is breaking forth all around us today -- and in your life. And even though it may be hard to believe at times, God is giving us everything we need right now. That is God’s promise -- but we will only see the kingdom and hear those promises when we believe and have faith.
We have a hard time seeing the kingdom because the way it comes doesn’t make any sense to the world. That has always been the way it is in the world. The world has never valued the things that God values. Jesus himself is the love of God at work in the flesh -- but the world condemned him as useless.
Jesus Christ crucified is a joke to the world -- a ridiculous failure -- foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews, in Paul’s words. And the world continues to think that way today.
As an example, look at the church — and look at this congregation in particular. Like everyone else, all we want is to be satisfied — at peace and happy. So what do you do?
In a world where there never seems to be enough time— you have spent several precious hours of it coming here. Rather than sleeping in, you got up, got dressed and came here — to sing, to listen, to ponder and pray, to receive a small piece of bread and tiny cup of wine.
But it’s more than this, isn’t it? Here is a gathering of people that would otherwise be strangers — but you are not.
We never seem to have enough as individuals to buy everything we want — and sometime not enough to buy everything we need. And yet food is brought here to be taken to food pantries so that it may be given to others.
Prayer shawls are knit to be given to people who face times of fear, loneliness or grief.
Offerings are given to provide a building to gather for these activities, and to keep it running and to reach beyond these walls to the ministries carried out as part of a larger church in the world.
As part of a larger Christian community, we pour our time and resources into working for peace and justice in the world. We go to offer to relief to people suffering from war and famine and from disaster.
We fund schools of higher learning to equip people to build up society. We fund programs to serve the disabled, to minister to thieves and murderers, to give addicts a fresh start, to welcome refugees and help them begin new lives.
We confront those who abuse their power and advocate for the poor and the powerless.
Why do we do these things? If all we want is to be at peace, why are we so busy? Why are we working so hard? Why are we continually stepping into harm’s way. Why are we giving our time and money and energy away?
It’s hard to see anything great about the church if you’re looking for ways to avoid hardship and make your life easy.
To the world, Christ crucified still doesn’t make any sense.
“The kingdom of heaven, said Jesus, “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.”
What if you — together — are like a field, and God’s Spirit has planted the presence of Jesus among you. What if we are like soil wrapped around a rail — and at its center is a tiny seed in the form of bread and wine? Can you see it?
Life is hard — and we carry the hardship of life with us: We grieve the loss of loved ones. We bear the scars that resulted from the harm others have done to us, the harm we have done to ourselves, the harm we have done to others. We face uncertain futures — of ourselves, our loved ones, our planet. But now God has taken the soil of our lives and made of it a field of God’s own.
Jesus said, “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.” Can you see it?
God sees in you — in us — in the people of the world and creation itself — God sees the greatest of treasures — and for us God has given everything — the Father has given his only begotten son to die ... for us; so that we may be his. Can you see it?
It’s a funny thing about the kingdom of heaven that it is so easily overlooked. As with the presence of Jesus himself, the kingdom is already here -- but so often we don’t realize its greatness.
Like a mustard seed before it germinates or yeast before it is mixed in with water or buried treasure or a net in the bottom of a boat.
The kingdom is already here, but we don’t see its effects until there is action. We don’t see it among us until the Holy Spirit comes and gives us faith.
See -- that is the challenge for you and for me -- to believe that in weakness is strength -- that in dying we will live and by becoming poor we will be rich. The challenge for us is to believe that Jesus himself -- the Word through whom all things were made, actually stands before us as a stranger who cannot buy groceries for her children.
Or a refugee who has lost everything except the beating of their own heart.
Or a person sitting next to you on a Sunday morning whom you would otherwise have no reason to know — except that you have both come here.
The challenge for you and me is to believe that the kingdom of heaven in all of its glory is breaking forth in your life -- when you dare to believe it is true.
I am reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis who reflected on the commandment of Jesus that we love our enemies.
“Don’t worry about if you really DO love your enemy or not. ACT as if you do, and soon you will FIND that you do.”
So it is with the kingdom of heaven, that when we act as if God’s love is transforming our lives -- we will come to find that it is.
And when we expect to meet Jesus in the person next to us, we find that, indeed he does.
Today, through the parables of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, and telling you,
Through Jesus, I am giving you shelter and a home.
Through Jesus I am feeding you with the bread of life.
Through Jesus, I have bought you as my own.
God’s grace is poured out for you. And through faith in God’s grace, you will discover God’s love transforming your life. The Kingdom of God is like ... you.