Sunday Worship July 26th 2020
‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you’
O God, mere words cannot convey what a privilege it is to be heirs to your kingdom.
As we explore your word, help us to learn about new treasures as well as old.
May we see the amazing things you can do in our lives.
We are part of your kingdom, and we come to you in awe and wonder.
Lord God, as we gather in your house, we thank you for your presence, here with us. Thank you, Lord, that each one of us is unique, yet we share a common bond in you. We come together as one body, but we all learn and experience things in different ways. We thank you for your amazing word that gives us so many pictures of your kingdom. Something for everyone, something to feed our hearts and minds. Be with us, Lord, and bless us richly as we call upon your name. Amen.
1 Kings 3.5-12; Psalm 119.129-136; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33,44-52
Julie’ Comments on the Bible Readings:
Today’s reading presents several different ways to think about the kingdom of heaven. The images would have been familiar to the original audience, many of them being drawn from everyday life. Together they build an understanding of God’s kingdom. Wonderful pictures of the world that we can identify with.
Seeds: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.’
Yeast: ‘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.'
Metal detector: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, that someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’
Pearls: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.’
Net: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.’
These five parables (images) about the kingdom in this week’s reading are not explained further. We are to make of them what we can. Remember that these stories were originally told to be heard, not to be read. So, Jesus uses images that people were meant to remember and go on thinking about. So picture the words above in your mind as you read the rest of this comment. The kingdom (or reign) of heaven (or God) is absolutely central to Jesus’ teaching. Yet it is in many ways a puzzling as well as a secret kingdom. Some think it may be heaven others that the Kingdom lives in the lives of those filled with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps both are right, for on earth it is indeed true that the Kingdom lives in Christians. When we move into eternal life then we will fully see and understand the Kingdom of God. So what do the five images or pictures or stories of Jesus tell us about the Kingdom of God?
The first two images are of very small items: mustard seed, showing that what flourishes from the seed is what is important; and yeast, used to demonstrate again the way the kingdom starts small but has a mighty and wide ranging effect. A Mustard seed is tiny but grows into a big shrub, even a tree that protects and houses birds of the air. Yeast works away unseen until the bread rises. The surprise in these stories is not what the seed and the yeast do, for they are both familiar. The surprise is in the parallel which Jesus draws with the kingdom of heaven. Do these stories challenge us not to discount small and apparently inconspicuous things – for God’s kingdom also has such small beginnings? Think about 12 men chosen by God – one betrays and so that leaves 11. These 11 men are too afraid to leave the upper room. Is this really the start of the Kingdom? Yet what we have today started with those men (and women) who after Pentecost were so filled with the Holy Spirit (God’s Kingdom living in them) that they shouted the message of Jesus from the rooftops! From small beginnings has grown the Kingdom. Yeast works undetected and so sometimes we are not called to shout from the rooftops but to work in our daily lives and show God’s love in the ordinary everyday. It is small acts of kindness done in His name that will extend the Kingdom. We work gently through the world to bring about His Kingdom.
The next two are examples of expense and worth, used not as a morality tale but as a teaching point, to direct the reader to consider the huge value of the kingdom in comparison with anything else life might offer. Those seeking pearls and treasure do not seem to want them for what they can buy. Indeed, it seems that they already have enough of the world’s resources, for they sell things in order to possess the pearls/treasure. For both the treasure in the field and the pearl of great value, someone gives everything to acquire them; the kingdom is worth more than anything else. It is the intrinsic value of having them which attracts. Do these stories challenge us to seek the kingdom of heaven for its own sake, and not for what it will bring for us – or even for others?
Describing the kingdom as treasure buried in a field suggests that the kingdom needs seeking out. Someone once told me when I was a teenager that the Bible was an open secret. I wondered what she meant at the time, but once I became a Christian, I knew what she meant. Jesus does not hide, it is people who cannot see.
God told Isaiah as He sent him out to preach to the people of Israel that the people would be:
‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
I always felt sorry for Isaiah who was to go and tell, but to people who would not understand, see or hear. Is that how Jesus felt, the Israelites had been waiting for Him for so long and then when He came they failed to recognise Him. God is there, He has always been there, He will always be there, but we need to open our eyes, our ears, our minds and our hearts to really see, hear, feel and love Him. Like the Prodigal son we need to acknowledge that we need Him and then turn to Him. He will be waiting, He has always been waiting, He is not hidden we just need to open our eyes to see Him.
What does this image of hiddenness mean in practice? Even after you have bought the field, how will you find the treasure? Can you see signs of the kingdom where you are? What are they? How do we uncover the kingdom of heaven?
And finally, the image of a net that scoops up everyone. It speaks of the separation of good from evil that will happen at the end of the age, and of the persistence of evil until then. This is the hard one and follows on from the theme last week, when good and bad exist side by side, once again in this parable the good will be saved. Those who belong to the Kingdom will be saved, those who have called on the name of Jesus will be saved, those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Saviour will be saved. John 3:16 sums it up brilliantly -
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, these are the good in the net. The Kingdom of Heaven will be full of the followers of Jesus. I wonder if in a crowded room you would find the person who like you is a Christian, I have found this so many times when I attend networking events, it is almost like we are drawn to each other by an invisible force.
Both Old Testament readings express a longing to know God’s will. Jesus speaks of the kingdom, rule, or will of God being accessible to those who seek it. The kingdom of God is on offer to people of all genders, classes, cultures, ages and levels of faith; this the message we proclaim in our church communities. Solomon sought not riches but wisdom to discern and not only was this given to him, but that which he did not ask for too, riches beyond measure.
The passage from Romans which is beautiful talks about our life lived in the spirit of God. The spirit helps us to pray, but also assures us of His presence at all times, nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Nothing. Nothing. Jesus has conquered it all, We are in His kingdom, we are held in His arms, protected by His love. We are His and He is ours forever and forever. Amen.
Lord, you took so much care to describe your kingdom in ways everyone could understand, including us.
Your kingdom come, O Lord, your will be done.
We pray today that you will pass on to us that gift of making ourselves accessible.
Keep us from being a stumbling block to those who would seek you; from using language that puzzles; from actions that confuse; from anything that keeps us apart from your people around us. Your kingdom come, O Lord, your will be done. Amen.
A personal prayer