26 July 2020

St Dunstan's Anglican Church Camberwell

Pentecost 8A 20 Matt 13 44ff

 It never ceases to amaze me how the gospels, written somewhere around 2,000 years ago in a world very unlike our own, can still bring forth things that are so apt for our world.

These parables of the kingdom that we have been looking at over these last weeks are a very good example. In our current climate the idea of the tiny hidden things bringing forth a huge and unexpected response could not be more pertinent. I read a commentator who described these pictures of the kingdom as being about the ‘invincible invisible’, and that speaks very directly to a world overtaken by a viral pandemic. These parables of the kingdom have a lot to say about hidden things, and there are things hidden in our world that are being exposed, both good and bad.

Jesus speaking to his audience uses a number of common images, involving a diversity of ordinary people, a farmer sowing seed, a housewife baking bread, and indeed making enough bread to feed hundreds of people, a farmer ploughing a field, a merchant looking for pearls and some fishermen fishing. The thing that is common to most of the parables of the kingdom is an idea about abundance or wealth, this kingdom is one where the small beginnings are blessed with abundant riches, whether in fruit or fish or wealth. But the seed is hidden in the soil, or the yeast in the flour, the fish in the sea, the treasure in the field- we cannot anticipate the results of the spread of the kingdom. Jesus calls us repeatedly to see if we can and to hear and understand this potential that seems to be in the simplest things. If only the first responders had recognised the potential for the spread of Covid 19!

There is abundance to be had from very small beginnings. 

Jesus talks about kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, depending on which gospel you are reading. Jesus could have taken for his model the kingdom, or rather empire, that surrounded him and his listeners, a power structure based on might and fear, but rather his pictures of the kingdom are mostly of very humble things. I think this is one of our temptations in the church. We reject the humble and small in favour of the big structure, the program, the model that comes from our society but rather the kingdom is spread in an imperceptible way through the society rather than being imposed upon it. It is always much easier to see these things when we look at another society and we are seeing the problem with parts of the church in America that are too heavily invested in the model of their society. Rather, with Jesus, we need to understand that the Kingdom of heaven spreads through the everyday things of the world.

The other thing that these parables point up is that mixed in with the success- the fruitfulness, the abundance, is the potential for weeds or bad fish. I find it very interesting that all the fish will be scooped up together, that the weeds grow with the wheat, and that it is only at the end of things that a judgement is made. I think that when we look at those with us in the kingdom, we can often identify people that we see as bad fish, or at least ‘odd fish’, and the reminder comes twice in this section that it is the angels that will sort them out, not us. This is a kingdom of abundance, of riches but it isn’t all good. And as I reflected last week, that is because none of us, even though we are made in the image of God, is wholly good. 

And the idea of things being hidden  from us, that we are incapable of hearing and seeing is reflected in the reaction of the people of Jesus’ hometown who looked at Jesus, but didn’t see who he really was. And so it can be for us, that the church is sometimes not recognised by those around us as the kingdom of heaven. 

I think these parables are an invitation to us to think about modest things as having potential for the kingdom. One of the really interesting things that has happened over these last months is that very ordinary church services, when live streamed, are attracting a large audience. We saw the closure of our churches as a major stumbling block but hidden in this catastrophe of pandemic was a surprising good- it has been a treasure in the field that was unexpected and we have to, like the farmer, embrace it with both hands. And like the scribe, the trained professional religious person, we have to bring out both old and new from this experience. Jesus himself, of course, modelled that for us. All of Jesus’ teaching reflected the teaching that they had in the Old Testament, but at the same time he was able to bring out new aspects of it and surprise them with the way he taught and the things that he said. I pray that it will be like that for us, that we might , at this perilous moment, be able to bring out that which is old and that which is new for our world.

Another thing that has spread through the 1st world like yeast through the flour has been the Black Lives Matter campaign and that has been despite the pandemic, not because of it. The pandemic has brought it into focus, however, in a way that might not have happened at a different moment in time. The whole business of looking and seeing is vital to the debate about ‘the new normal’. The question for us in Australia but also all around the world is, ‘what is the lasting effect of the pandemic going to be on our society?’ and ‘can we leverage this occurrence to change things that need changing?’ We are seeing potential for abundance and joy that might be quite different to that which we had.

In the passage from 1Kings we have a young Solomon asking God for wisdom. This is what we need most at this moment, isn’t it? God’s wisdom in order that we might make good decisions. When God answers Solomon he tells him that he will give him what he asks for. Again our translation lets us down a little- the Hebrew says that he might ‘hear justice’. We have this translated as to discern what is right, but if we think of it as a king who can ‘hear justice’ that is very telling, isn’t it? And certainly what we need here in the Kingdom of God- we need to be able to hear justice in order to be God’s people for others. God promises Solomon riches and honour that he hasn’t asked for as a consequence. We have these promises of God’s abundance, of seeds that bring forth abundant fruit, of a woman who makes enough bread to feed a huge crowd, of fish spilling out of the net or a pearl worth so much that the merchant sells everything else to possess it. This is like the promise to Solomon, who asked for wisdom and received so much else, besides.

We must be like Solomon and pray that we might hear justice. We certainly need to be part of a network of perception- people who see and hear, the Kingdom working through our world like the leaven through the flour to produce an abundance of bread.

The church is facing such challenges at this moment and we must pray for wisdom and for expected fruit as well as unexpected fruit. And as we cast out the net of our presence in the world it is not for us to judge the worthiness of the fish that we gather, but rather to leave that to God.

The picture of the kingdom of God, or the eternal kingdom, that which will endure, is one of ordinary people bringing forth an abundance for those around them. This is a generous place where people are heard and seen, where wisdom is hearing justice for others, where new insights for the common good come out of the tradition that we hold dear. This is a place where the judgement is left to God and we value everybody, each one, as a pearl of great price. In this situation of the invincible invisible we must pray that the kingdom of God will come, and as it comes we might be part of its fruitfulness. 

Rev. Roberta Hamilton