Sunday, 30 July 2017

Trinity 7:The Kingdom of Heaven is like....

Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52, Romans 8.26-39, 1 Kings 3.5-12

The Kingdom of Heaven is like, like what? When you dare to imagine what heaven may be like, do tiny seeds and yeast come to mind?

Perhaps treasure and jewels are there as symbols which are easier to relate to as things which are instantly desirable, discoveries which we want so much that we would sell everything, our house, our car even our mobile devices if it meant we could have these things. It might appear to the neighbours that such people had lost everything but if only they knew what they had found. Jesus was probably trying to get the crowds which had gathered by the lake to see that if they understood what the kingdom of heaven was like they would want this above everything else.
Put another way Jesus was teasing the minds of the crowd to consider the same question that God asked Solomon in our Old Testament reading’ Ask what I should give you’ which I take to mean what is it that you want right now above all else.
What would our answer be? When we are mourning and in pain and can see only a long dark road ahead what we are likely to want, is to know that God is going to be with us in our suffering, each step of the way. Paul reassures the church in Rome that the spirit interprets our deepest longings, the yearnings we may struggle to articulate to God. At these times we are reminded of the fact that no suffering or loss, no pain or worry sits outside the scope of God’s love for us. He never looks at a situation and thinks’ sorry but you are on your own this time’.
The last part of today’s reading from Paul’s letter reminds me of that feeling of security offered to children lucky enough to have loving parents. As a small boy it felt like my parents were superheroes and I couldn’t imagine coming to any harm as long as they were there. As I grew up I realised the limitations every parent faces and that most are just doing their best, muddling through at times.

The beautiful thing is that whether we were lucky enough or not to have had loving parents Paul reminds us that ‘God is for us’, he’s given his own Son for us and secured for us, everything we will ever need. Despite whatever suffering or ordeals we may have to face we cannot be separated from the love of God in Jesus.
So even if we are so down we cannot pray, even when we cannot feel God’s comfort or healing, he is there with us and always will be and the Kingdom of Heaven is no less real.

The fact that today’s readings are just one of several parables and illustrations suggesting what aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven are like makes me think that Jesus was trying to fire up imaginations, find examples that people could relate to in their everyday lives.
We are reminded that the Kingdom of heaven may often be found in places we don’t expect. We need to open our minds, overcome our prejudices and assumptions to have the greatest chance of catching a glimpse of God’s kingdom.

A young woman told me this week how she was shouted at by a homeless man in the street, he didn’t look very friendly so she sped up only for him to run and catch up with her. As she turned to ask what he wanted he presented her with her purse containing cash, cards and travel passes, ‘you dropped this back down the road’ he said as he handed it over.
In the last part of today’s gospel Jesus refers to the ‘master of a household who brings out of his treasure, what is old and what is new. To most of us today it’s not obvious what this is about but those hearing Jesus were meant to see that whilst there is great value in the wisdom accumulated by their ancestors over the centuries there are also new treasures to be discovered in the Kingdom of Heaven.

There’s no limit to these based upon past knowledge and experience, we have to trust in God and dare to imagine a future with him. Each one of us has potential to bear fruit in a new way, we often just need to find the courage to imagine and then pursue this.
Valuing both the old and new we have potential to achieve most when we come together drawing upon the wisdom and experience of older people but combining this with the energy and fresh ideas of the younger people.

It’s so easy to just accept injustices as the way of the world, particularly when we fail to imagine what something better might look like. When we look back to the greatest changes for the better we realise that they were achieved when people dared to imagine, describe and speak out about a better future even though there was no immediate prospect of it becoming real.
Here are the words of one man who could imagine a better future for all…

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, … one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’
Of course, excerpts from the speech of Martin Luther King made in Washington DC in 1963, the last part quoting the prophet Isaiah.

Daring to imagine something that doesn’t already exist isn’t easy for us. Maybe part of the problem is that imagination is often referred to in a negative way alongside delusion and untruth. We may grow up hearing ‘it’s a figment of her imagination’ and then it certainly doesn’t sound like it’s something to be encouraged. Yet Jesus is stimulating the senses of those listening to him, he wants them to fire up their imaginations as he refers to tiny things like mustard seeds which are easily missed altogether yet have potential to become something impressive and yeast which needs other ingredients to create a thing of beauty and sustenance, something that on its own appears to have little use turns out to have powers of transformation.
Surely we can dare to imagine what glimpses of the Kingdom of God might be like. Perhaps when something is so beautiful we cannot help but stare, when our mouth is overwhelmed with wonderful flavours, when the warmth of the sun makes us feel good in a way beyond words. When I asked some people what they thought the Kingdom of God is like they told me of peace, justice, forgiveness, love and freedom from suffering.

Easy things to imagine for all, except of course when they are things you have never known or experienced.
It’s worth celebrating the fact that we are all invited to discover our own images of what the kingdom of heaven is like. Listening to and pondering the clues Jesus gives is essential if we are to heighten our awareness, he’s certainly reminding us that we don’t need to be great theologians by the everyday subject matter used, this is accessible to everyone.

We’ve had many pointers towards the likelihood that we may be surprised when we feel we catch a glimpse of the Kingdom and with it a sense that there is a deeper reality to our existence than the superficiality of a consumer society where people are meant to fit in. Jesus implies that we may stumble across the Kingdom of Heaven when doing something else and in doing so find hope that extends beyond our earthly lives.
Ultimately I can’t tell you and you can’t tell me what the kingdom of heaven is like as we each have to discover this for ourselves. But when we do catch a glimpse, the new reality Jesus told of breaks in, and something is made wonderfully new.

Kevin Bright

30th July 2017

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