November 17, 2019
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Canon Richard Lindley using Matthew 13. 44-52 at Evensong on Sunday 17th November 2019, the Second Sunday before Advent.
Four times in this afternoon’s reading from St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus used the expression, ‘the kingdom of heaven’. Is it a place or space, or where we hope to go when we die? A closer look is called for.
Only Matthew attributes this expression to Jesus. Mark and Luke in their gospels prefer ‘kingdom of God’. The usual theory is that Matthew was substituting ‘heaven’ for the particularly holy word ‘God’. On that basis, the two expressions mean roughly the same.
‘Kingdom’ does seem to imply an area of territory. But the original Greek word has a more original meaning of a king’s reign or kingship or sovereignty or jurisdiction. This is probably what Jesus is referring to, and I want to dwell on the first two of his examples from this afternoon’s reading.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a treasure buried in a field. If you’ll allow an anachronism, a man comes along with a metal detector and finds treasure. Rather than risking a declaration of treasure trove or having to share the proceeds with the land-owner, he slopes quietly off, makes an offer for the field, and soon owns both field and treasure. Expensive, but profitable.
Jesus also said the kingdom of God is like a dealer looking out for fine pearls. When he finds a unique one, he drops everything and sells his whole stock of pearls to buy this one. For him, the most valuable thing in the world.
We can understand God’s kingdom on three levels.
First: Jesus was fond of saying, ‘The kingdom of God is among you’. Humbly, Jesus was saying that he actually personified the reality and the potential of God’s kingdom, the most valuable thing in the world, as he lived out God’s principles of justice, mercy and love for all humankind.
Second: the kingdom comes whenever people ally themselves to God by following the way of Jesus. Remember, rather than being a place to get to, the Kingdom is a matter of coming into God’s sphere of influence and organisation. An immigrant entering Britain, can apply for citizenship. It’s not just about living within Britain’s borders: it’s about accepting the benefits and responsibilities that flow from being part of the nation. We, the community of Christians, know the benefits: God’s love and forgiveness. And we know the responsibilities: doing our best to follow his principles of love and care and forgiveness for others.
And so to the third level: God’s aim is for the whole world to come within his influence and organisation. So our aim is to extend the Kingdom, and for God’s principles and influence to become the way the whole world is governed and organised and the way all the peoples on earth treat each other.
Someone put a poster up in a public hall about this time of the year. It read, in large letters, ‘Peace and goodwill to all’, but then, in smaller letters underneath, ‘with the exception of, colon’ with a large blank space below and a pencil on a string . . . .
But that’s not the way with God’s kingdom. It’s challenging, because there are no exceptions. It’s for every person and every country in the world. Remember, God’s reign is the most precious thing imaginable. It’s the hidden treasure or the pearl of enormous value, and it’s worth sacrificing everything else to make it possible.
There’s an election coming up, and the canvassers are out. Of course Brexit has caused the election, and will be much in our minds as we vote. And there are all the other issues to consider too – the economy, migration, the environment, relations with other countries, health, education and so on. And, of course, where the money is to come from. So what economic philosophy will extend God’s Kingdom? What Brexit outcome will contribute to the welfare of the national community and the world community, to the environment and to positive international relations? What domestic policies will encourage community, rebuild family life, and provide for the needy? These are distinguishing marks of God’s regime, and these are the qualities to aspire to as we read the manifestos and fill in our voting slips.
And there’s one more prominent quality that marks the kingdom of God. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus prayed for unity among his followers:
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
We, the body of Christians, are the nucleus of the Kingdom, and the Kingdom is intended to embrace the whole world. So unity and commonality of humanity have to be our aim. In the short term, in defence policy, when totalitarianism is threatening, turning the other cheek may not be realistic. The UN may not always seem effective. But, amid the inevitable compromises of politics, we must forever hold on to the divine vision of unity, as did Isaiah, some hundreds of years before Jesus. He wrote:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, and leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
There are models of co-operation even in nature. Trees secretly talk to each other, using underground fungal systems to organise the sharing of resources for themselves and their vulnerable saplings. Sunflowers do similarly, sending out fewer roots when other sunflowers are close by, so as to share nutrient resources fairly.
So plants seem to shame us more rational beings. And, as we prepare to cast our votes, it is the qualities of co-operation and care that are among the qualities of the God’s reign to look for. Remember, ‘The kingdom of God is among you’. The potential for the Christian community and for the world is here, the treasure and the pearl of inestimable value, ever to be sought, ever to be grasped.