Sermons from St Faith's     

Revd Denise McDougall, 27 July, 2014

Last Monday I was lucky enough to be at Celtic Park watching the dress rehearsal for the C. Games. The atmosphere was electric and the athletes, the Clydesiders and all the hundreds of officials involved in the organisation and delivery of the games were beaming with joy, hope and expectation as their various dreams begin to unfold. The athletes, the established names and new names of those embarking on their sporting journeys are all after the ultimate prize, the treasure found in a medal, treasure only achievable by listening and learning from a coach with far greater wisdom than the athlete, constant training and huge sacrifices! But the coaches can only do so much the rest comes from how their wisdom has been received and responded to. Eventually those who have listened intently and worked tirelessly towards their goal will be rewarded with the treasure of a medal.

Jesus was the coach in today’s gospel reading, he told parables which communicate meaning but both at that time and now need personal interpretation. A quotation from Anthony de Mello’s ‘The Song of the Bird’ says, A disciple once complained: “You tell us stories, but you never reveal their meaning to us.” Said the Master: “How would you like it if someone offered you fruit but had chewed it before giving it to you?”

And so today we heard five short parables. They are all very brief and don’t have a section of explicit interpretation. Some scholars believe that the parables with meanings aren’t from Jesus’ lips but interpretations of the early church.

Today we hear about the Kingdom of Heaven - the Kingdom of Heaven being the gathering of all who belong to and live for Christ in the name of the Father and today’s reading addresses how to establish ourselves in that Kingdom. Jesus likens it to a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, fine pearls and a net, all things that the Jewish peasant would be familiar with.

The first two parables are addressed to the crowds. The first story is about the microscopic seed which may look insignificant but is capable of growing into an enormous tree providing shelter and shade for the birds, it is a symbol of growth and hospitality within the kingdom and the birds symbolise the nations of the world. Jesus tells the crowds that the Kingdom is beyond the old confines of Judaism and extends to include a home for the Gentiles as well. The potential is there although initially it is hidden. Similarly with the yeast, it can transform the whole loaf. Yeast is a disturbing element in the dough, it makes it rise and become active. Aren’t we sometimes called to disturb situations that have become dull or when people who have become complacent? So yes, humans can be transformed and in turn they can with effort transform society.
Generations of people from Jesus’ day until now have questioned how there can possibly be a Kingdom when there are so many atrocities going on in the world.

But do let’s acknowledge that despite the appalling failures and sins of nations and individuals it is without doubt that Christians throughout the ages have made a difference and do have an amazing record in compassion, health care, education, justice, those whom society rejects and so on and although it seems hard to accept the dough does continue to rise and seeds that are sown today, despite their size can grow and spread into something huge and magnificent and we are led closer to our ultimate goal.

After these two parables Jesus leaves the crowds to think about his words and he moves on to  talk to the disciples with two more stories which stress the incalculable value of the Kingdom, both stress the cost of gaining it and the fact that it will cost all we have. He talks of surprises and treasures. First we hear about treasure found by accident by a poor man engaged in ploughing a field when his ploughshare suddenly hit on a box of treasure. He reburied it until he was able to buy the whole field. Although that does sound rather dubious ethically Jewish law states that’ if a man finds scattered money, it belongs to the finder.’ The point is clear that suddenly against all the odds we can discover Christ! I have heard many stories from people who have told me about one specific moment when they recognised Christ in their lives.

The treasure in the next parable was a perfect pearl which was not found by accident but by conscientious and patient searching. Despite other pearls of value on the market there were none to compare with this one. This is how some people come to know the Kingdom of God, they try many faiths, ideologies and philosophies but then there is one moment of great joy when the glory of God is revealed to them. The treasure was stumbled upon and the pearl was sought after yet both men were prepared to sell everything in order to keep their findings.  What a gamble; someone else may dig up the treasure or the pearl merchant may have got it wrong! Our paths towards the kingdom do involve taking drastic risks but those risks are worth it as we will ultimately be given the confidence of well-invested faith.

We then come to the final parable in the series which highlights judgement and separation and like the sports’ men and women at the games we need patience and above all else perseverance; then at the end of our risk taking journey we will be judged. The coming of Jesus began the process of the final judgement and as Jesus taught and lived the Kingdom the world was sharply divided in two, those who followed him and hung on his every word and those who rejected him and stuck blindly with the old ways. The kingdom of God captures both good and bad people and the message is given to both alike. It is still like that today and will probably stay that way until God remakes the whole world in justice and truth. We are all are given a chance to grow and be transformed. And eventually the time comes when judgement is made. God keeps the good. He loves all including the bad but he does not want them to stay bad. Those who have shaped and formed themselves around injustice, lies and corruption will find they are like the bad fish only to be discarded and the parables end with the rejection of some human souls by God.
The disciples claimed that they understood, I wonder do we fully take on board that our life choices will determine whether we are gathered into the Kingdom or rejected from it.  We have stark choices to make and need wisdom to recognise our deepest longing for the treasure still to be found.

So what holds the parables together? It is the scribe in verse 52, he is the disciples and he is us. He is the one to use these stories to plant small ideas which will feed family, friends and the world. He is the one who shows that the treasure is so beautiful that it is worth sacrificing all that we have to possess it. These parables although clear and familiar to us they need to be reread on a regular basis, then we realise they do set us challenges on two levels, our understanding and our actions. As Tom Wright says, understanding without action is sterile; action without understanding is exhausting and useless.

The parables seem to speak for themselves but like the competitors in Glasgow we need to hear the coaches’ words over and over again until they become second nature. And so we too need to constantly  think and reflect on Jesus’ words. In time perhaps we can be sure of our thinking, speaking and living, then confidently put into practice words and actions that are rooted in the old but also bear new, fresh fruit. It is through faith we enter the kingdom of God, through faithfulness we stay in the kingdom of God and through faith we bear fruit for the kingdom. And yes, although the cost is considerable the treasure will be priceless!

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