Think of a few questions that we have never been asked…
“What’s it like to win Wimbledon?’” “What’s it like to have walked on the moon?’” (Add your own questions here!)
We do know, however, how the answers might begin: “It’s like…” In order to answer questions about the strange or unusual, people start from the known and from ordinary experience. This provides us with a useful way into today’s reading: Matthew 13.31-33 & 44-52.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven “is like…”
He gives five comparisons: a mustard seed, yeast, buried treasure, a priceless pearl, then a fishing net. Growth, value, and a sorting process.
Let’s start with a topical comparison: yeast.
During lockdown we have sought it, bought it, and valued it afresh. Even I know now that you can get dried yeast and live yeast, and I, like others, have marvelled at the power of yeast to cause the dough to rise.
According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is like that, and that, and that…
Here we pause to use our imagination again before I come up with some possibilities.
What feature strikes you – the search, scarcity, valuing something we have rarely used ourselves, the hiddenness, the power?
The kingdom of heaven is like that. My way forward is to see mystery, to acknowledge my limitations in any attempt to explain beyond “It’s like.” Having said that, I want to encourage you to ponder which of these comparisons you find the most helpful in our present situation of cautiously emerging from lockdown.
Of the options Jesus offers I will choose to comment on hiddenness, as illustrated by the mustard seed in the soil, the yeast in the dough, the treasure in the field, that special pearl amongst all the others, and the net thrown into the sea. One of the great things about being a Christian minister is meeting people who superficially appear “ordinary” or “unimpressive”… (I’ll leave it at that – when in a hole, stop digging!). Yet as you get to know these people and their backstories, you often find that they are in reality “extraordinary” and “impressive.” Sometimes it’s in terms of their achievements, but often it’s in terms of what they have dealt and coped with.
This is an experience we have all had, especially at funerals, as we listen to the tributes, to the departed’s story.
“Who would have thought?”
We at KSBC have recently said our farewells to Madeleine. I only knew her for the last three years, and the Madeleine I knew was determined, courageous and perceptive, but limited physically. A few days after her funeral I caught a glimpse on TV of Ann Jones, the 1969 Wimbledon champion, defeating none other than Billie Jean King. Madeleine had defeated Ann Jones, the future champion, at tennis, whilst they were at school!
What’s it like this ‘Kingdom of Heaven’? Christians sometimes claim that the Church is the way in which this Kingdom is present among us. That is part of the answer, but at present our services are still suspended as are those of many others. This points us back to that hiddenness of the Kingdom in us, unremarkable as we seem outwardly, through our prayers, our phone calls, our keeping in touch, our continuing togetherness though separate. We are the church even when we cannot meet. It was Madeleine who gave me the phrase ‘separate but together’. That is also our conviction when it comes to what we call death. Yes ‘separate’ but still ‘together’ because the Kingdom in this Gospel is called ‘of heaven’, because we believe in the ‘communion of saints’. This kingdom is of eternal worth.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you kiss the lepers clean, and do such as this unseen?
Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
(John Bell and Graham Maule)