Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 30, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
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Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Another parable he put to them saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a person took and sowed in his field, which is the smallest of all seeds, but when it might grow is the greatest of plants and becomes a tree, in which the birds of the heavens come and roost in its branches.”
Another parable he spoke to them: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until it might leaven the whole.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure which has been hidden in the field, which, when found, a man hides and because of his joy, he goes and sells everything which he has and buys that field.
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man, a merchant who seeks fine pearls, but when he finds one of great price, he went and sold everything which he had and brought it.
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net which has been cast into the sea and gathers fish of every kind, which, when full, people brought upon the shore and they sat and gathered the good into a container but the bad they cast out. Thus it is at the completion of the age. The angels will come down and will separate the evil from the midst of the righteous, and they throw them into the furnace of fire. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Are You Ready to Move?
Are you ready to move? Now, you’ve got to understand, that’s something I heard almost on a daily basis during the entire month of July about nine years ago. You see, back at the end of May, 2008, Debbie and I bought a house up on Marland Heights in Weirton. And since the manse was about three blocks away, we really didn’t have to move far. But I’ll tell you, even though it was really close, it still took us quite a while to move from one to the other. But you know, that’s really not all that surprising. Although I think I’ve probably relocated at least twenty times in my life, moving is always challenging, even if it’s only three blocks. My goodness, with all the sorting and the packing and the boxing, it’s a wonder that anyone moves at all. And even with help, and I’ll tell you we had a lot of help, and even though all three of us had a genuine desire to finally get in our new home, it still took us a while to get there. Moving is really tough.
And you know, as I was looking at these five parables, you know the ones we read this morning, well, I think moving into the Kingdom of Heaven is also pretty challenging. And even if we recognize that we have all kinds of help, and I’m including help in both this world and the next, and even though I hope we all have a burning desire finally to be under God’s rule, you know, living the kind of lives
that reflect his will for us all, getting there is frankly pretty demanding. In fact, it may be so demanding, so challenging that even though it sounds down-right un-Christian some of us just might not be ready to move. But I’ll tell you, the benefits of entering and living in the Kingdom of Heaven, well, in my opinion, those benefits far outweigh the cost.
And you know, I really think that’s something we need to keep in mind as we deal with the three very real challenges that we find in these parables, challenges that we’re just going to have to face if we want to change our spiritual address. And let me tell you what I’m talking about.
First, according to what Jesus said in the passage we just read, I believe the Kingdom of Heaven challenges our expectations and I’m talking about the stuff we anticipate happening in both the future and the present. You see, I think most of us believe the universe is governed certain laws that just don’t change; therefore, life is at least relatively predicable. I mean, the odds are in your favor if you bet that the sun is going to rise in the morning or that Kings is going to be crowded in a couple of hours or that someone here is already planning to take a nap sometime this afternoon. You see what I’m talking about? Most of life is predictable. And although there are certainly surprises, good and bad, that knock our socks off, most of life sort of follows a familiar pattern. It kind of fits inside this neat little box defined by what we consider possible or right or acceptable. Now, I think that’s the way it is for most of us; therefore, we tend to expect things to happen in a certain way and if they don’t we can really get thrown for a loop and then we have to scramble around, doing what we’ve got to do, to get things back on track, you know, to restore a little stability, a little predictability into our lives. I’ll telling you something else, that what most of us like and so that’s what we both want and seek. And why do we like it? In a word, it’s really comfortable.
And yet, it’s this comfortable expectation that’s challenged by the Kingdom of Heaven, in other words, by the rule of God. I mean, think about, if you’re looking at the tiniest of all seeds, the mustard seed, you’d expect it to grow into maybe a dwarf plant, right? But that’s not the way it is in the Kingdom; instead it grows into a tree big enough for birds to roost in it’s branches. Now that’s one big mustard plant, one that’s totally unexpected. And think about the leaven, not the clean, cultivated yeast that comes in the little packets, you know the stuff we use, but leaven, which is a piece of bread that you put in a dark, dank place to rot and ferment. Simply put, leaven is disgusting, so disgusting it’s hidden in the dough. I mean, that’s why, in the Bible, leaven is almost always used as a negative image, and unleaven bread is seen as pretty good. And yet, surprise, the Kingdom of Heaven is like that nasty moldy mess, because it does something you’d never expect it do. When hidden in three measures of flour, it leads to enough nice, warm bread to feed at least one hundred people. You see what I mean, the Kingdom of Heaven challenges our expectations. It challenges what’s comfortable. It challenges what’s we think should happen.
And I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing that it does, because if we’re not able to move away from the predictable, we’ll never be able to see beyond ourselves. I mean, unless we can get to the point
where we can expect the unexpected, we’ll never be able to envision how God is moving us into a future, which I’m telling you, is better than anything we can even imagine on our best day. But more than that, if all we’re able to see is what we’ve already seen, we’ll never be able to appreciate the miraculous all around and how God can use situations that we may see as disgusting and people we dismiss as worthless to do remarkable things. Praise God, our expectations are challenged and that’s the first thing the Kingdom of Heaven does.
And second, it also changes our values, you know, the things in life that we consider most important. I mean, let’s face it, most people put their highest value on things they have or want. I know that applies to me. I value my wife and daughter. And I value my health and security. And I certainly value the opportunity I have to stand up here and preach the gospel and be paid for it. You see, those are the things that I value. And even though the details may be a little different, I’ve got a gut feeling that my list isn’t all that different from your’s, right? I’m telling you, we value what we know, what we can see, what we can feel.
And yet, those neatly packed sets of values are really challenged by the kind of Kingdom described in the parables of the treasure and the pearl. You see, in both cases, the Kingdom, and I’m talking about the rule of God, is seen as so important, so crucial, so drop-dead incredible that both the plowman and the merchant were willing to sacrifice what...everything, everything they have to get that field and to buy that pearl. And you know, it didn’t matter that one stumbled on it by accident and the other sought it, the overwhelming value was the same.
And you know, when we’re able to feel at least a little bit of that desire, that hunger for the kingdom
my goodness, I think we’re going to feel a sense of joy and excitement we may never have experienced before: a joy that comes from simply knowing that we are loved by God and saved by Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit and an excitement that we can feel as we roll up our sleeves and get to work, all because we want to thank our Father for what he’s already done for us. You see,
the coming of God’s rule challenges our values, and that’s the second thing the Kingdom does.
And third, that same kingdom challenges our assumptions, and I’m talking about the assumptions we make about ourselves and role we’re supposed to play. Do you remember, and this was years ago, on Saturday Night Live there was a character called the Church Lady who would say, “well, isn’t that special”? Man, she used to condemn everything, as though God had made her both judge and executor. Do you remember that? Well, I’m kind of a shamed to admit it, but a lot of times we sort of make the same assumptions about ourselves, don’t we; you know, that God has kind of set us apart to be his spokesmen and women. I mean, often we assume that the way we worship God and understand Jesus Christ and respond to the Holy Spirit is the only correct way to do it; therefore, everyone else is wrong, right? And we assume that the folks we like, God must also like but the ones that we don’t, well they’re going to be in big trouble, right? In fact, sometimes we seem to assume that when the church conveys to the rest of world that it has to be either our way or the highway, we’re doing exactly what God wants us to do, right? Well, isn’t that just special.
Maybe, but I’ll tell you, it’s also pretty hard to jive with the parable of the net that collects all kinds of fish, both the good and the rotten, and that the final judgment is made not by the fish, but the folks on the shore. I mean, if we assume that we are anything greater than fish in a net, I think the Kingdom challenges those assumptions.
And you know, I’m glad it does. Because the minute I stop assuming and recognize that I’m probably not as smart or as important as I think I am, I’m going to feel real peace and hope. My goodness, just think about it, I’ll feel peace with everyone around me, because all of a sudden my job isn’t to judge them, but rather to listen to what they have to say and to share with them the love that I know. And I’ll tell you something else, I’m also going to feel genuine hope, because my ultimate destiny is determined by God and not the carp or dogfish next to me in the net. You see, God’s rule challenges our assumptions, and that’s the third thing the Kingdom does.
Now, even though it took longer than it should have, we finally moved into our new house. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but we finally moved. And as it relates to the Kingdom of Heaven, even though the rule of God certainly challenges our expectations and values and assumptions, changing our address and moving into his kingdom well, I think it’s worth the effort. And so with that in mind, let me ask you: are you ready to move?