My dear St. Matthias friends, as our time together comes to a close this day, I want to say thank you for the time together we have shared. I am so grateful for you sharing your lives with me and for allowing me to do the same with you. It has been a privilege and an honor to be your priest. Coming to the end of anything in life is always very difficult, but doing so during a pandemic – with all the normal ways of socially marking time – is especially challenging. Although I have spoken to most of you on the phone, to not be able to see you in person to say goodbye, well, it has cast this priest into the grip of sadness, of loss, of an aloneness that isn’t remedied by social contact. It must simply be borne.
And yet, my friends, and yet, that deep sadness, though not a good in itself, tells me something. It tells me what I value: sharing in the Lord’s life and witness, with you. It tells me that this is core to me. And why is that? Augustine puts this so well when he says that we are often unknowingly, but naturally inclined to seek our maker – God our Father, in his Son Jesus Christ, through his Spirit. And even more than that, the reason we seek this one God is because he is, says Augustine, more inward to us than we are to ourselves. In other words, if you want to get modern and psychological about it, if we want to seek our core self, what we’ll find when we do that, is an inner longing to go to, to be with, to rest in God. God in Jesus Christ is the fullness of who we are; so also the one in whom we have all of our distinction from him as created things; so also though, the one who raises us from mere creation to life with the uncreated God who made us, who loves us, who desires us, who holds us, who never leaves us.
Paul puts this in the strongest, most powerful terms when he says in his letter to the struggling little Roman church: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Read those lines over again, slowly, thinking over your whole life: all the good things, all the bad things, all the frightening things, all the lost things, all the hoped for things, all the joy filled things. Not one of these things happens outside the scope of God’s grace, for nothing can exist apart from his grace.
I cannot read these lines, ever, without tears coming to my eyes. Just briefly, but so powerfully, a whole body movement in and by the Holy Spirit, that I am rendered paralyzed for a moment. It is for me, a moment of Transfiguration where I see, breathe, eat, and know – just for a moment – I am in Christ and he is in me. And I am not a person who cries.
Our lives can often become so busy that multiple things become our immanent concern and we do indeed have to attend to them: meetings, appointments, relationships, duties, etc. Even when it comes to ‘church,’ our focus on God is often marred by politics that raise emotional responses of anger, frustration, doubt, even hatred and shock. And the fact that we have to live not just a moment but a whole life in these circumstances, has the tendency to make us forget those moments with God that transcend, that raise us up that is, to see him even for a glimmer of a moment, before we, like the disciples, have to go back down the mountain to do the work of witnessing to God in a world not yet reconciled to him.
God knows this, my friends. He knows that we are often consumed by the questions, concerns and worries in front of us. He knows that although we are naturally inclined to him as our creator, that the things of this world tempt us away from him. His own Son, Jesus, faced just these temptations in the wilderness. This is what makes our relationship to God so incredible. You see, there is talk, in the Scriptures, of a final end when everything will be gathered to God. And in popular culture, this has often been depicted as a ‘place’ to which we go called, ‘heaven.’
Interestingly enough though, that’s not actually a particularly biblical picture of what being reconciled to God means. Reconciliation isn’t a place according to Scripture; that is, the Kingdom of God isn’t a place, but a perfection of relationship between every single person and every single thing that God created. That’s one of the reasons why living now isn’t meaningless; it isn’t just a sort of waiting room where, when we die, we finally go up into the sky to see God. The Kingdom of God is the reconciliation of the here and now to the intended perfection for which God made it. So the here and now matters because it’s what God made and so is ‘working with,’ and it matters because through it, God has already shown us not only what we should expect to see of the reconciled world – but because we get a foreshadowing glimpse of that – so also what we as his people are called to strive for if we want to find him not just at the end of our lives, but in our daily lives.
Of course it is impossible for us limited people to see the fullness of what that Kingdom will look like. So God gives us glimpses of it through the Scriptures, particularly in his parables. Today Jesus gives us 6 glimpses of what a reconciled world should look like. Six times Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” As I read & re-read them I could see how each could be a sermon on its own & I wondered why Jesus chose to run them all together. It then occurred to me that, as I said above, God is well aware of our own anxieties, our fears, our limitations. He doesn’t stand far off from us allowing everything to tick along without him. He knows that we need him. He knows that we need those transfigured moments or glimpses into what the reconciled world should look like so that we can go back into this world now, as it is, and seek to live in a way that fits with where God intends us to go and do.
I’ve talked to so many folks who have been wondering, these days, about the meaning of life and death or if life had purpose. Others wonder why God hasn’t stopped this pandemic, & if there was anything to this faith stuff. Some said they’d never really thought about it deeply before because life just has a way of moving on: we get busy, other things seem more immanently pressing. Crises – whether personal, local, or in our case global – have a way of forcing us to ask of all these things we spend so much time on usually: “Is that all there is?” Is that all there is to life? All of this could be gone in a second? Of what value are these possessions I have? Is there no purpose, could I be wiped out so easily?
And people have begun to ask the same questions asked though time: Once you die, are you just dead? What if there’s something more? How could I prove it? Must I in order to have faith? Is there anything worth living for, something worth dying for? One person said he left the church over a disagreement and has never returned. After all these years he is questioning his decision and wonders why we can’t model the behaviour Jesus demonstrates and how we might overcome the barriers of guilt, hurt feelings, and anger that prevent so many people from even considering the Church a place to seek answers to some of these questions.
But this is precisely the reality of life that Jesus steps into. As he explains the Kingdom of heaven to his disciples, so he speaks directly to us. He tells us ‘the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure in a field, a rare pearl, good fish, or a person’s treasures.
The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like a very small mustard seed that grows like crazy. From something so small it can grow into a huge bush that can be home for all kinds of birds ... including you and me. The kingdom of heaven begins with one man: Jesus Christ, but in him, by the Holy Spirit uniting his followers, it can, like the mustard seed, grow into something large and substantial. It may even be something that we would normally throw away or dread, like listening to my sermon every week, but eventually something can grow out of it.
Nothing is as small and insignificant as a single mustard seed, one man who was executed on a Cross – but it can grow into something significant. And my friends, in that one man, that one seed, you were baptized and raised up so you can share your faith and extend the Kingdom to others. So never doubt your purpose, for you are made in the image of God and made to share it with others in love with hope drawn from the reality that you are held in an eternal relationship with him.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast.” It only takes a little leaven, or yeast, to make the dough rise. It only takes a small spark of the Holy Spirit to awaken people to their creator, the one who loves them holds, who made them for a purpose. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It only takes a little, a little yeast, a little seed, sometimes hidden where we don’t even know it exists to make a huge transformation. One person, one follower, one person who has found their creator, knows him, knows his love, who shares this with others.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field or a merchant looking for fine pearls.” In both of these parables someone finds something of great value and then they joyfully sell everything they have to get it. Both of these parables sound like horrible business practices. But it challenges us to ask ourselves what you are willing to give up to obtain eternal life. Yes, this might refer to material wealth. It might also refer to power. It often refers to these things because of something else though: giving up the fear that one must have money, power, possessions, control of things and people, control of ideas, control of events, if one is going to survive. But control through any means is always limited, and at the end of your life, that control is gone.
To what end is your life ordered? Control through money and power, control through emotional manipulation, control through demonizing others – all things that can so easily inhibit the humility necessary to receive grace? The kingdom of heaven is worth a treasure so profound, so great, that we are called to repent and choose a new life in Jesus, & be willing to give everything else away to follow him and in our life, to point not to ourselves and our control, but to him and to his love for all. What would your life have to look like to communicate that to others: friends and enemies alike?
“The kingdom of heaven is like a net.” Every type of fish is always going to be caught. The kingdom of heaven is like that. A net full of good fish and bad fish. And in the end, the angels will come & separate them, just like they will separate the wheat from the weeds in last week’s gospel reading. We don’t need to be concerned with sorting the fish. That’s God’s work. We need to be concerned with HOW we witness, the care with which we go about our fishing mission.
All of these parables have something in common. They are examples of everyday life. The reality is right in front of us, but sometimes we can’t see it because our view is limited. So Jesus uses examples from everyday life, the hidden, the common, the normal; the stuff that is right around us & within our grasp so we catch a glimpse of God and his ways. For what we are living in now is not useless, it is not a waiting room for the Kingdom to arrive. “The kingdom of God is near.” For the Kingdom is God who came in Jesus Christ, who gives us his Spirit, and in whom we are to actively work right here and now, as part of his mission to reconcile or draw all things to him. This parable reminds us that although God is other than us because he’s not created, and although he will bring about the extraordinary reconciliation of all things, he is fundamentally present in us and with us. So we can seek and find him at work in the most ordinary of things.
May our eyes be opened so we can see & experience the kingdom of heaven all around as we learn to mingle the Word of God into life everlasting. Amen