The Kingdom of Heaven is like…. among you
Sermon for Trinity 7 – Sunday 30 July 2017 – St John the Baptist Felixstowe
Text: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a pearl of great value, a net, a storehouse. (Matthew 13:31-33,44-52)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
The Church of England is very often split into two opposite camps: the catholic or ‘High Church’ and the evangelical or ‘Low Church’. Their differences are not as superficial or, ultimately irrelevant, as the petty concerns over to vest or not to vest, wine or grape juice, wafers or bread, but rather they differ in the much more important area of how to speak the Gospel in the public sphere.
Originally the High Church party – so called because of their ‘high view’ of the place of church in public society – started out as agitators. Insisting that the voice of the church be heard they set themselves up as the moral compass of our nation.
The Low Church party saw more influence in the witness of the individual Christian and focussed on personal piety (for example in areas such a temperance and the keeping of strict morals for church goers) rather than public proclamation against those who were not part of the church; choosing rather to separate themselves from amongst them.
It is rather interesting in current times that these roles have been somewhat reversed and it is often High Church Anglicans who major on personal acts of piety whilst those of the Low Church persuasion seem to be most often demanding attention from at least the tabloid press, if not our nation.
Which is right? Well of course both. Christians are called to make the Gospel an indwelling presence and a guide for their own lives as well as proclaim God’s Word to all people.
Both are also wrong. Generations of Christians have often presumed that God loves and is concerned only with the church. We can mishear John 3v16 and read it as ‘God so loved the CHURCH that he sent his only begotten son’ and not ‘God so loved the WORLD’. In fact some would say Jesus has nothing to do with or say to ‘the Church’.
The word ‘church’ is only mentioned four times in the Gospels (all in Matthew) and then three times in one paragraph. Some biblical scholars, recognising that Matthew is writing his words for the newly named ‘Christians’ at Antioch, argue that he even puts the word ‘Church’ into the mouth of Jesus.
In fact Jesus had a very awkward relationship with religious communities and their places of worship; the roof was destroyed in Capernaum, the synagogue wanted to kill him in Nazareth, and he made a real mess of the tables at the back of the temple in Jerusalem. My advice to modern day churchwardens is to ensure the parish insurance is up to date; if Jesus arrives on a Sunday morning at 10am we may very quickly have a demonstration of what it truly means to be ‘messy’ church.
But if Jesus did not come to build the church what did he come to do? Jesus came to reveal and proclaim the Kingdom and calls the church to witness to the presence of the Kingdom everywhere in God’s good creation!
Jesus tells his followers what the Kingdom is like and where it may be found. The Kingdom of Heaven is not in a building but is found in sowing seed, baking bread and buying a field, going to market, on the waters of Lake Galilee and in the storehouses of our towns
The Kingdom is found in the ordinariness of the everyday; for wherever God’s people and creation are, there God is. Later this year we will discover more about the King of this Kingdom who refuses to be found in church or temple, synagogue or mosque, but is instead wrapped up in the lives of the hungry, the thirsty and the naked, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned.
What does this mean for us his followers, his church? Yes, we must be people of a pure heart – tending to our piety and always ready to repent of our wrongs. Yes, we must be ready to speak God’s word to the world. But all this is worth nothing if we do not ‘seek first the kingdom’. A Kingdom found in the everyday commonplace of sowing and baking, farming and selling, fishing and storing. A church stood apart and separated from the world has no gospel to proclaim because she is blind to the Kingdom all around her.
Elizabeth Barrett-Browning spoke of our dilemma;
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Jesus knew where the Kingdom of Heaven was, which is why he spent so much time with all the ‘wrong’ people. They were the truly righteous, the beloved of God. It remains a great sadness that the people who were most welcomed by Jesus (and who welcomed him into their homes) are often numbered amongst the least welcome in the Church which confesses his Name.
In the Kingdom of Heaven there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, there is only one world beloved, cherishes and redeemed by God. The task of the Church is to proclaim and reveal the presence of the Kingdom and rejoice in what George Herbert called, ‘heaven in ordinarie’.
This means we will be an active church, sowing good seed.
This means we will be a sharing church, spreading ourselves like leaven in the loaf.
This means we will be a generous church, willing to sell all to recover the treasure found in the fields of our land and the pearls in the market stalls of our town.
This means we will be a gathering church, making sure that even the most dubious looking of fish are gathered within the net of God’s love.
This means we will be a welcoming church, cherishing all of God’s treasures be they ancient or modern, old or young, normal or different.
But most of all this means we will be a searching church, seeking to find our King in the sunken eyes of the hungry and the thirsty, comforting him by our welcome of the naked and the stranger, offering wholeness to the one who makes us whole by our visiting of the sick and the imprisoned.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven like? A meme on Facebook gives what I think is the best answer
‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like tearing apart your entire house looking for your keys while you’re running late for work only to realise they were in your pocket all along’.
Or in other words, the Kingdom of Heaven is a bit like Felixstowe.
Let’s make sure in the week ahead we discover this Kingdom, proclaim it to be what it is, and meet our King in our every-day lives each of which is ‘crammed with heaven’.
Copyright: Andrew Dotchin © 2017