The Kingdom, the BIG Picture
Matthew 13: 31-33 & 44-52.
‘This means then, that every teacher of the Law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who takes new and old things out of his storeroom.’
Hands up all those that think they have any idea what that means?
Hands up all those that think this is the first time they have ever heard that saying?
So I am going to have a bash at explaining it, but you will have to stick with me on this one.
I have always had a problem in the way I look at things.
The first is that I am like my father. My father was a planner, an organiser. And when he saw things he saw big picture stuff.
He worked for Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and his job was to estimate the cost of how much it would cost to build their ships. With his estimates they would then put in a bid for building the ship.
They needed to get that cost right and they needed it to be as low as it could be, but not too low.
If the cost was too high then another shipbuilder would get the contract and thousands of people would be made redundant.
If the cost was too low then they wouldn’t make enough money to build the ship and pay the workers, they would make a loss on the ship, which would mean the company could go into receivership.
Building a ship could take years. You had to hire people at the right time, buy the material at the right time. Lay off people at the right time.
It needed big picture thinking.
And I have that kind of thinking.
I drive the Session nuts with telling them how I think things are going to be in the church in five, ten and fifteen years time.
But, and this is a big but, I love small details. Small details are really important to me. Was a microbiologist, you can’t get much smaller than that, looking at the tiniest types of organisms. I love doing intricate cross stitches. And when I am doing them I even work with a magnifying glass so I can get the tiniest of details right.
So what is more important...the big picture or the small picture?
Well I think both.
Like the wedding last Thursday.
There were great big things to organise. Making sure that everyone was as content and happy as they could be. Organising big meals and who was doing what.
But behind it all was the intimate, personal thoughts of two people, the bride and groom...and if they weren’t looked after then it would all end up a mess.
Often in weddings the needs of the congregation, the politics of families, the needs of all the extended friends and keeping them all happy...swamps the considerations of the couple.
So the smallest thoughts and the big picture are both important.
We have been looking over the last few weeks on these parables of Jesus of the Kingdom of God.
And we looked at two of those parables.
The parable of the farmer who sowed on his field and some seed grew and other seed didn’t.
And the parable of the farmer who grows good seed and some enemy then plants weeds.
And we looked at those parables individually.
But this week I want to do something different.
I am going to be quite academic here.
Normally I would write a sermon and the aim of the sermon would be to write it in such a way that you would be expected to work out the stuff the same way.
There are a few reasons for that.
The aim of sermons is not for the preacher to look clever, it is for the congregation to grow closer to God, and I feel that sermons that are too academic tend to make the preacher look clever rather than help the congregation understand what God may want to say to them.
Hopefully, if the sermon looks like you could have worked it out yourself, then it encourages you to try it. To read scripture for yourself and see that God can, and does, speak to you in the same way.
But this sermon is different.
Because there is a big picture vision thing going on here.
Jesus doesn’t say, ‘The kingdom of God is like...’ and tell a parable.
Jesus says, ‘The kingdom of God is like...’ and tells a series of parables.
In fact he tells seven parables. That isn't a coincidence; seven is a perfect number for Jews. Other perfect numbers are 3 and 12. That’s why there were 12 tribes of Israel, because they were meant to be the perfect community.
That’s why the number of the devil in the Book of Revelations is 666. 6 being just short of perfection, not reaching the mark, so being imperfect and it is mixed with the number 3 which is perfect. So the devil is perfect imperfection, evil...666.
And as I looked at these seven parables I noticed that they had patterns within the seven.
The parable of the sower, followed by an explanation...a big parable about how God works and thinks. There is a message of judgement at the end of the parable when some seed grows and others don’t.
Then the parables of the weeds and the parable of the seeds. Two short parables of how the work of the kingdom may be small, but its influence is great.
Then another big parable of a man who sows good seed and along comes a man who sows weeds, followed by an explanation. Another parable about how God thinks and works. There is a message of judgement at the end of that when the harvest comes and the good plants are harvested and the weeds are destroyed.
Then the parables about hidden treasure and finding the best pearl. Again another two short parables with a common theme, this time about how precious and valuable the kingdom is, worth more than anything else. Worth giving up everything else for.
Then another big parable about fishermen and it is all about how all the fish are caught in one net. But as all Jews would know, the fishermen would catch both kosher (clean) and unclean fish. Fish that could be eaten and fish that was forbidden to be eaten. At the end of the day the fishermen would go through the whole catch and select the good fish to be eaten, and fling away the unclean fish that would just lie at the side and be eaten by the seabirds or go rotten.
That gives us a very distinct pattern.
Parable 1...parable of judgement
Parables 2 & 3...kingdom may seem small but influence is great.
Parable 4...parable of judgement.
Parables 5 & 6...the kingdom is worth more than anything else
Parable 7...parable of judgement
So let’s go back to where we started.
‘This means, then, that every teacher of the Law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who takes new and old things out of his storeroom.’
I was listening to a discussion on the radio on end of life experience in the NHS. There is a huge debate going on just now in the NHS with how to deal with death. We have the capability to extend life way beyond what was possible in the past. But the question is, should we?
One hand we have baby Charlie Gard’s parents desperate to keep their child alive and fighting the hospital in court to try and get more and more treatment.
On the other hand we have people fighting in court to get permission for assisted suicide. That they have degenerative diseases that have no cure and they want to stop their lives but they don’t have the physical capabilities to end it themselves. They see no betterment for their lives, they see possibly years of loss of dignity, maybe lots of pain, unable to feed themselves, maybe incontinent, unable to communicate with their loved ones. A brain trapped in a body that won’t function.
And the conclusion this discussion panel came to was that we don’t talk about death.
We are all facing it one day, yet most people don’t talk about it.
Because the decisions that we make seem final.
And if that is the case with death...how much more is that the case when we talk about eternity. About life with God.
Doesn’t that seem overwhelming?
Look at our own wee church.
We are meant to be a light to the community.
We are meant to be a hope to those out there.
But what if we get it wrong?
What if our imperfections hide that message?
And people don't listen to us because of something small?
Maybe our front door is locked the day they come to church and they don't get in...and because of that they don't hear God cares for them and they go through life never knowing that.
Maybe we don’t welcome them at that part when the children go out...and they think we are stand-off-ish and if that’s what Christians are like then why bother with them....and because of that they never feel God close to them.
The responsibilities can be so great that it can paralyse us into inactivity, we are so scared of doing something wrong that we do nothing at all.
The teachers of the Law had a great truth. There is a moment of judgement. Because, as I said last week, our life matters. Athletes train and sacrifice and dedicate years into training because their prize matters to them. If everyone got a gold medal no matter where they finished in a race do you think they would bother training? There is a moment of judgement and they train for that moment.
To the teachers of the Law our life was training for the prize of being with God.
It wasn’t about training for an athletics meet, it was about training for life.
It wasn't about a four year sacrifice, it was about eternity.
To the teachers of the Law that training was a life lived by the ten commandments.
Do the ten commandments and you passed, if you decided not to do them then you failed.
That was it.
And Jesus was saying, ’You know, things are so much more than that. Yes there is judgement. Because life is finite. At some point we make a decision, are we with God or not? Do we trust God or not?
That’s the old, that is something we all know.
But there is something new...something you need to hear. The first is that the kingdom is worth it. It is special, precious, valuable. The most important thing you have. It is your hope and joy and peace. When life is dark it is your light. When life is overwhelming it is your strength. It doesn’t start when you die, it is what gives life meaning now. Let your life, and the way you live your life, be knowing the fellowship of God with you.
And if you do that, then your influence will be greater than we think. We may think our faith is small and our influence tiny, but small can make big difference.
Like yeast, a small amount of yeast can make enough bread for the whole village. Or a mustard seed, it is tiny but can create a tree so big it has its birds and squirrels and all sorts living in it.
So don’t think about the big responsibility, just get the small things right, like relationships...if you live a caring life, people will see you care. If you live a loving life, then people will see you love. Don’t try to convince people by fear, convince them with how you live with God, and live with them.’
So there you have it.
The disciples were facing conflict and doubt. They were unsure that they were up to the task God wanted them to do.
And in this complex world I think we too are facing conflict and doubt. I am sure we struggle to believe we are up to the task God wants us to do.
And Jesus message to them was that they would be OK.
For they had the traditions of the past and the inspiration of the new.
As do we.
We have living relationships with God, with those around us, with those we are yet to meet.
And these relationships are old, trustworthy, tested with time.
But they are also new, reaching out to the future, giving assurance and hope.
The kingdom is precious, the kingdom is worth it...and if we let it live within us, then that small light of hope within us will shine in the darkness and give others the chance of hope that they need.