The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus calls us here to meet him, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and My faith looks up to thee can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
If only I was taller, if only I was cleverer, if only I was younger, if only I was fitter…
If only people were nicer to each other, if only people told the truth, if only people did what was right,
If only governments did the right things, if only there was no plague of locusts in Africa, if only there were no wars and violence and coronavirus and terror and bad things happening.
If only, the kingdom of God was here on earth and if only I knew, really knew that God loved me.
Today’s readings help us to find the
answers to if only.
Here we have a promise… and a challenge.
The epistle this week contains Paul's famously debated comments about God's election, foreknowledge, calling, and predestination.
But instead of theological speculation about who is excluded by these mysteries, his focus is pastoral consolation about who is included in God's love.
Paul's message is uncompromising: "nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God".
He gives a shopping-list over twenty threats to our well-being
— suffering, weakness, frustration,
bondage to decay, ignorance, trouble, hardship, persecution,
famine, nakedness, danger, sword,
death, life, angels, demons, powers,
the present, the future, heights, depths,
and, as if he had overlooked something, he includes "anything else in all creation."
We can personalize our own lists: parents, children,
the boss, employees, colleagues,
bad choices, public failure, private disappointments,
dark dreams, anxieties,
school, a bad business deal, and on it goes.
Paul is adamant: nothing can separate us from God's love.
Paul knew what he was talking about. He spoke out of deep convictions forged in his personal experiences.
After his conversion, God promised Paul that he would suffer much for his kingdom, and that "prison and hardship" awaited him in every city. And so it did.
Brutal treatment, constant harassment, and strong opposition were his regular fare.
In the book of Acts, Luke records at least eight murder attempts on Paul's life.
Paul compared himself and the first apostles to sheep headed to a slaughter;
-people in last place; public spectacles; dishonoured fools;
vagrants who were hungry, thirsty, homeless, and in rags;
and in those memorable words, "the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world".
Is anyone weak without my being weak, he asked? Ultimately, he was martyred in Rome.
Through all of this, Paul remained insistent: nothing in all of creation can separate us from God's love.
When we feel alienated, separated and estranged,
-maybe by others or maybe by our own selves,
-when it feels like everyone and everything is against us, it's easy to forget that God is unequivocally for us.
Sometimes we don’t see or think clearly about events, and the deep realities of divine love are obscured by outward appearances.
Sometimes it is hard to find God’s kingdom here on earth.
In the gospel for this week Jesus describes the subtleties of God's kingdom that require a discerning heart.
He says that the presence of God's kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed — something insignificant rather than extravagant, fragile and not mighty, unlikely rather than obvious.
His kingdom can also be imperceptible, like yeast leavening a batch of dough. It's difficult to detect unless you look carefully.
It's not apparent, even though you know it's there somewhere.
But there is more to these parables than meets the eye.
When we read these diverse and troubling kingdom parables carefully, the objects described are inseparable from actions and actors:
Seed is sown by a sower,
yeast is hidden by a woman,
the treasure hunter and the merchant buy and sell,
the fishermen fish.
The kingdom is not about static symbols but about people engaged in action.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” is a familiar and comforting image—God will do something wonderful if we have a tiny bit of faith; something big and good comes from something small and insignificant.
We think this because we don’t know much about mustard and focus on the tiny seed, not the “great tree.”
A mustard bush is neither big nor wonderful; it is invasive, fast-growing, and impossible to get rid of (like darnel, another invasive weed).
The kingdom of God is like sticky Willy, like nasturtiums, like morning glories, like dandelions.
And birds of the air? The last place we want them is in our grain fields.
The mustard seed parable is paired with the one-verse parable of the yeast.
A nice domestic image, maybe even an instance of Jesus speaking directly to women.
Well, it would be if the central images didn’t all convey contamination, corruption, and subversion.
Yet in the parable, from this woman’s “hiding” the yeast comes incredible abundance—bread to feed more than 100 people.
In the parables of Matthew, the kingdom Jesus announces is subversive, unstoppable, invasive, a nuisance, urgent, shocking, abundant.
It requires action and commitment and inspires extreme behaviour.
God’s kingdom is a pearl of great value – something to be treasured and sought after before anything else.
So here is our challenge: God’s kingdom is a pearl of great value – something to be treasured and sought after:
are you ready to seek, really seek the kingdom of God?
And here is the promise:
The ultimate reality of God's kingdom is that his perfect love is unconditional.
Everything else is lesser.
And nothing can separate us from his love.