Jesus tells 5 small parables today to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. They each complement each other and also describe a different aspect of God’s Kingdom which we’re going to explore today.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed – 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.”
We look at the enormity of the problems that face us and the world – and we look at our resources – our members – our finances – and it is easy to give up. To switch from mission and ministry to maintenance. Instead of looking outward and how we can make an impact in the world we look at our assets and wonder how can we stay open another couple years.
We stop looking for ways to connect with our community and we look for ways to cut costs and look after ourselves. But Jesus shows us today that faith is about reaching out to others for the Kingdom of heaven with even the very little we might have. Size doesn’t matter. Jesus teaches us that faith is about reaching out – like a mustard tree –which doesn’t worry about how small its seed was but stretches out its branches to help other people. So that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. This is what we are here for. We are not a club that exists for our own interests but to share the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, he told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” What Jesus is highlighting here is that what we do can have amazing results for the Kingdom of Heaven. A few weeks ago Jesus said if anyone gives a cup of cold water that it has significant results.
Greeting someone with a smile. Welcoming a newcomer to church. Remembering someone’s name. Inviting someone over for meal. These are little gestures but just as only a small amount of yeast can have great results in making bread – the lack of yeast in making bread changes the complete outcome. But the opposite of that is also true. A harsh word to someone at church. Neglecting a visitor or even a regular who hasn’t been to church for a while can see that small unintended neglect work like yeast in their life.
“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. This is an interesting parable. A person finds a treasure – hides it – and then buys the field where he hid it. To me it sounds a little bit like my early days as a Christian. I grew up in a family that did not go to church.
When I began to search for the meaning of life and read my Gideon’s Bible that I received in High School, I rang the local Lutheran Churches. I chose Box Hill because they had evening services which meant I could go to a friend’s place in the afternoon and then straight to church without my parents wondering where I was. I was embarrassed and worried I would get teased so I hid my treasure that I had found. If I had gone out for a morning service they might have asked where I was going. I was a little bit afraid of telling them and my work colleagues about going to church. But when I discovered my relationship with God I wanted everyone to know. Even though I hid my treasure at first I then was prepared to give up everything for the faith I had discovered. I did lose friends – I grew distant from my family – and eventually I gave up my successful career to go back to study to become a Pastor. We also need to support those who are new to the faith because they might not be receiving the support from their family and friends and like the Parable of the Sower recently they could find themselves quickly being choked by the persecution and ridicule of those around them. A visitor or an enquirer who leaves our church without anyone welcoming them or talking to them – who finds our ways of worship strange and confusing – may depart and leave their treasure hidden. We may become their new family and friends and we need to ensure we provide them with that support.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. This parable is similar to the last parable but without the initial hiding of the treasure.
But note the subtle difference: This person didn’t find the treasure, he was looking for it. That difference is easy to miss.
This person is searching for answers in life, just like I was. We live in a society where more and more people are searching for spiritual awakening but sadly they are not coming through our church doors. So many people are saying “I am spiritual but I’m not religious”. Or, I know there’s more to life but I don’t know what it is. Somewhere along the timeline the church lost being the place people come to find spiritual answers and “rest in our braches”. Instead of spiritual awakening they have found religious dogma. Instead of finding spiritual freedom they have found religious traditions that have become rigid and even to a point uncaring. We need to again discover our spiritual treasure so that when people searching for spiritual awakenings come to us that they find what they are searching for. If they find a church that is more focused on getting its traditions and doctrine correct rather than caring and sharing the gospel they will move on. That is not to say doctrine isn’t important – it is. Paul said that to Timothy – watch your doctrine closely. But when it causes division and fighting in the church as we have seen in the past 20 years then how can we expect someone seeking spiritual truth to understand.
Let us become a place where like the mustard tree people can come to find rest for their souls in our branches.
And finally: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Here Jesus points out the stark reality of why we have mission – to reach out to people to bring them into the Kingdom of Heaven. I know that not everybody likes to think about death and judgment but here Jesus tells us what is at stake if we don’t seek to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom – that people may miss out. Nobody wants that – especially God. Every person is a person created in God’s image. Every person is a person for whom Jesus died. But what we must remember in this is that the churches task is to spread the Good News. Our task is not to judge evil Jesus says that the angels are tasked with coming and separating the evil from the righteous. And this is only at the end of time like the parable of the weeds – let the wheat and weeds grow together or you may pull out the good wheat with the evil weeds. And the reason is that we cannot search the heart in the same way God does.
We judge by what we see and by our own judgments. There are so many things that we disagree with in the world. There are so many things that I disagree with in the world. But judgment belongs to God. Prayer for salvation is what belongs to us. To pray for the world and all people that they may come to a knowledge of God. To pray for the unbeliever not judge them. To pray for repentance of the evil doer not judge them. I don’t know what’s in a person’s heart and what they are going through – the struggles of dealing with an addiction – the guilt and search for repentance from their evil. To judge them may in fact undo the work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing like the wheat and the weeds. Friends we have a priceless treasure that the world is looking for but do they know we have it? Most people don’t know what they are looking for but they know there’s something more to life. Let us value this treasure we have and let it shine so others start to see its glow in us and like a moth to a flame they come to check out what it is we have. As St Peter says – Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.