HEAVEN! … (a sneak preview)

Kenora                                  St. Alban’s

Proper / Ordinary / Lectionary 17 – Pentecost + 8

Year A

26 July 2020

1 Kings 3:5-12

Psalm 119:129-136

Romans 8:8:26-39

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Heavenly Father, you alone impart the gift of discernment: grant us understanding hearts, so that we may choose wisely between the treasures of your promised reign and this world’s counterfeits; through Jesus Christ, the pearl of true value. Amen.

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Today, Matthew gives us an overabundance of examples of Jesus describing the kingdom of heaven.

At the same time, since we need faith to understand these examples, to enlighten our systems of belief, and our trust that what we see in today’s gospel is true, then, we also see an overabundance of examples of how faith works, or what faith means to those who find the item described, or equated to having faith, and even an example of what can be anticipated at the end of times.

In many ways to understand all that Jesus tells us, we need to engage our imaginations to understand what it is that these examples are trying to relay to each one of us about the kingdom of heaven, about the growth capabilities of the common mustard plant, about the action of yeast.

At the same time, in all of these examples, what we find is Jesus attempting to describe what only he knows – heaven, aka the kingdom of heaven, but it’s the one place for which we all yearn. It’s what we strive to attain to, when our time on earth is done. (in the world but not of the world)

So, knowing our hearts desire – to be assured that the kingdom of heaven is there, that it’s real, and that it’s large enough to accommodate all of those who believe is what Jesus is addressing to each of our minds, our hearts, today.

And in this search for assurance, we have Jesus’ parables.

We have a variety of examples from which to find at least one with which each of us is able to identify, to give our lives and our hearts assurance; to give us hope as we move through this life, a life lived in and with faith, moving with the speed of the change of the seasons, as we gather family around us, and enjoy the laughter of children, at play.

And this then begs the question of what is faith?

I mean we’re usually pretty good on belief, right? We know what we believe in and what we don’t. at the same time, we often skip over the part belief plays in our lives of faith.

I mean, really, I can believe, on those dark and stormy nights, that there are “ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night”. But in the bright light of day then that’s not a part of my personal belief system, rather that’s just an unfortunate upshot of my imagination.

But my belief in the role that Jesus plays in teaching me, guiding me, and inspiring not only my belief but my faith, is an absolute fact of life, every day.

It takes faith to have belief, yet belief, trust and knowledge all feed into a life lived in faith.

So, knowing that this is a bit of a paradox in our lives and hearts, Jesus teaches us in and through the parables.

Jesus teaches us through the examples he gives us of his own life and his own experiences. After all he would know what the kingdom of heaven is like, because it is his, and it’s our home, we’ve just not been there, yet.

So, then another puzzle: if you’ve never seen home, how do you hold it, the faith and the reality of it, in our hearts? 

And as an interesting thought, as a somewhat mobile society, how do we call anything ‘home’ in more than the “home is where you hang your hat” sense without a life centred on faith, belief, hope and trust that there is something so much better waiting for us even if we can’t imagine it.

So, today, we have Jesus parables. We have Jesus telling us that the kingdom of heaven is like… well, it’s like a mustard seed and the plant that grows from that seed.

It’s like yeast working in dough, or like treasure in a field.

It’s like the joy of finding the rarest of pearls, or even the catch in a fisherman’s net.

And once we have trust, belief, and faith in this teaching, then we become the “scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven [who] is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”” (Mt 13:52)

We have the treasures found in Jesus’ parables and teachings, but we are also able to be inspired to find new ways to describe the kingdom of heaven for those who believe, but whose faith, trust, and hope may need to be strengthened. Especially in this time of pandemic when we’ve spent more time alone with our imaginations and thoughts, than previously.

We need to remember that this isn’t our permanent home, we only pass through, on our way to the kingdom of heaven, and we need to share this assurance, these parables with those whose hearts are searching for they know not what.

But this isn’t the first time such confusion is able to reign between our hearts and our minds. Paul tells us in his letters to the Corinthians: “As to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Cor 8:4-5, 7a, 8-9)

Food is just food, but for those whose faith is not as strong, we need to have compassion and abstain from such food to help others grow in their lives of faith.

And Paul tells us: “Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor 10:3-5a)

Everything we believe, have faith in, trust, and in which we hope rests in the teachings of Jesus, not just today, but absolutely every day, and we need to share that belief, faith, trust and hope with all around us.

Even looking back at the history of the Israelite people, one of the roles of the prophets was to keep the heart focused on home, even if generations are born in exile and like our concept of heaven, they’ve never seen ‘home’, the prophets would keep “home” alive for these generations, and we see this in Revelation, as well.  

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 21:1-4a)

And St. John goes on to describe the city and all those who will live there in great detail.

So, today we are able to carry on that legacy for other generations. We’re able to share our faith, and Jesus parables with those who haven’t yet heard the love of God found in the teachings of Jesus, and found through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Today, in his parables, Jesus gives us physical examples of what the kingdom of heaven is like. In the parables, Jesus attempts to describe for us the size, its dimensions, and the fact that it has room for everyone.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Mt 13:31-32)

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Mt 13:33)

He tells us that it is worth everything we currently find valuable, because this is worth so much more than we can imagine.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:44-45)

And lastly, Jesus tells us: “47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.” (Mt 13:47-48)

Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is there, and its real, and one day we will live there with God, and the Lamb, forever, and we need to do two things about this, in our lives, right now.

The first is to believe, to have faith, and to trust Jesus teachings in this regard, because this is our source of hope.

The second, is to tell others, because this knowledge is too great to be kept to oneself, and like all of Jesus teachings, leads us all to deeper relationships than we can ever imagine.

The cellist, Yo-yo Ma said, once “Culture – the way we express ourselves and understand each other – can bind us together as one world.”

The gospel asks us: “51 “Have you understood all this?” [And we] answered, “Yes.” 52 And [Jesus] said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”” (Mt 13:51-52)

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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