About three months ago, a few weeks into lockdown, we ordered some edible flower seeds online. The package arrived with different flowers, marigold, viola, cornflower etc each in their individual packets. At the very bottom of the bag were two loose unidentified seeds. Not wanting to waste anything, we planted these in a seedling pot along with the others. After a couple of weeks little green shots started appearing in each of the seed trays. Within a month the tiny unidentified seed had already grown three times the size of the others, but we still had no idea what plant it was. A couple of weeks later we could identify it – a mustard plant and by then it was tallest plant in the greenhouse, far taller than the beans or the tomatoes which had been planted before it and it towered over all the edible flowers.
We’ve returned to church in that part of Trinity season where Jesus is teaching in parables. Our reading today is taken from Matthew 13.
‘He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
Now our mustard seedling will not grow into a tree, as it is a different variety of mustard – it is the black mustard that grows in the middle east that can become 20-30 feet in height.
Jesus’ parables are each only a couple of sentences long. In this section in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives several short parables in quick succession, Mustard See, Yeast, Weeds, Treasure, Pearl, Net and ends with a question to his disciples and hearers:
‘“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.’ Matthew 13:51
And then another challenging parabolic statement.
‘He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”’
Jesus is conveying to them the vastness, the majesty, the glory, the unimaginable worth, the bounteous unbounded gift of the kingdom of heaven. This truth is too great, more freely given and more wonderful than can be expressed with simple explanations and so Jesus uses these parables which go deeper and tell a richer story.
By the time we get to the parable of the treasure and the pearl, the analogy is getting quite ludicrous:
‘“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’ Matthew 13:44-46
This Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is taking about is worth so much that everything else pales into comparison with it. And once the Kingdom of Heaven is glimpsed, nothing else looks the same way again.
You may have seen online on Facebook, viral videos that show people wearing special glasses that correct for colour blindness which allow them to see truer colour for the first time in their life. I saw one of these videos the other day and it brought me to tears as I wept with the man on the video who could hardly believe what he was seeing after his family had joined together in love to buy him a pair of these expensive glasses for his birthday.
The world has changed during this lockdown. There has been a pause button pressed on life, but already many things have gone back towards normal. Masks may need to be worn in shops, but we can still go out. Earlier in lockdown people were taking about a reset button on globalisation and busyness and the fast pace of modern life, but the vapour trails are beginning once again to fill the skies.
The only reset button though is the one Jesus offers in the Kingdom of Heaven. He hands us a seed that will grow beyond its size, he shows us a field with richness beyond imagining and a pearl so beautiful, silky, smooth and captivating that we will happily give up everything for it…
‘One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.’ Psalm 27:4
We’ve come back to church today for the first time in five months, we’ve had to limit the seating due to the new norm of social distancing and so for the first time we can remember on a Sunday morning, we are full to overflowing and we have had to find extra seating!
I praise God that we can come back into this building to worship God together, but I hope that none of us confuses church with the Kingdom of God. No matter how wonderful our worship, whether we had Kings college choir of the Hillsong Worship band, whether the we had the preaching of Wesley or Billy Graham, our services only bring us together to worship God. To get close to God and to worship him fully and completely, require us as individuals to grasp the glory of his Kingdom, to be prepared to give up everything we have, everything we have ever known and held dear to buy the field, to purchase the pearl to sit and walk with Jesus.
During lockdown we have all had to look to our own spiritual growth, and I know that many people have found a deepening of their faith through these strange days. As Jesus said, anyone who wants to become a ‘disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old’
We all have new treasures to offer in this Kingdom of God as well as the old habits of church to give. I believe that Jesus wants each and every one of us to deepen our faith, to trust God more for the details in our lives, to rethink how we live our lives, how we worship Him and hear his voice, see his glory and His kingdom, to look at the world around us with fresh eyes, to live generously and with even more compassion. To listen to God and follow him will mean learning to move forwards not forgetting the past but not ignoring the new deeper truths and ways that He is revealing to us. This is not the time to restart what we used to do, but to reach out and receive what Jesus is offering us right now.
Revd Stuart Huntley