8th Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon Title: 8th Sunday after Pentecost 2017
Date: 30th July 2017
Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers
Church Calendar Date: 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28, Psalm 105:1-11 (or Psalm 128), Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:44-58

Many years ago I read a novel called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. “It’s an enchanting novel about a shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried near the pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest.  No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles in his path.  But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.”

It’s a book I have given to Callum and Nick to read as they venture forth into adulthood and go on life adventures.

There are many stories of people going on pilgrimages, journeys, wanting to find some ‘treasure’ which maybe that ‘something’ missing in their lives… whether it be their purpose in life, who they are and who’s they are. We travel to visit countries of our ancestors and we know there is a great interest in DNA testing which for all sorts of reasons besides medical, is to find connections with our past.  In our world of countries securing their boarders, individualism and a ‘them and us’ mentality, it seems we have become more and more fearful and have lost our way as human beings made for relationships.

As I wrote this, the wind was blowing a gale and there were bits of branches flying around, the huge oak tree swaying in the wind gusts and the garbage bins have moved from their neat places beside the church wall!

Are we like this?  Easily swayed by what the media tells us? By what the government tells us?  Gillian Triggs has used the last week of her tenure as human rights commissioner to say human rights in Australia were going backwards for almost all relevant groups. “Whether it’s women, Indigenous, homeless and most of course asylum seekers and refugees,” she told ABC Radio National on Wednesday morning.  Gillian has been maligned by the media and by the government and yet still held her ground on human rights.

As I looked out the window, that big oak tree has deep roots which holds it firm. It still sways… knocked around by the wind or the rain… but remains grounded.

Our spiritual roots are grounded in God who centres us or grounds us when the winds of fear sweep around and in us.  God is the treasure, the pearl of great value and we often hold ourselves back from going after this treasure or even to recognize its worth.

In the Gospel of Thomas it suggests “the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it” (GT113).

The kingdom of heaven can be allusive. Jesus gave numerous parables of what the kingdom of heaven is like… the sower and the seed, the weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, the yeast, or like treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl or a fishing net. And in Luke’s gospel, it says the kingdom of heaven is within us… what does that look like?!

Not one image can define the kingdom of heaven…much like, not one image can define God…and we find lots of images of God in the Bible such as ‘rock, eagle, mother and hen or what God is called: Yahweh, Allah and Adonai.

Jesus asked the disciples after telling them the parables of the kingdom of heaven:   “Have you understood all this?” they answered ‘Yes”.  Like us, they might have an initial understanding of what the kingdom of heaven is about but to understand it even more, they have to go deeper…they have to be transformed by what they have heard. They have to take a step of faith.

And this is not easy. What Jesus is asking us to do is to re-evaluate our lives…how we see God, how we see our neighbours and how we see ourselves.

It’s the Ten Commandments in a nutshell!

Kingdom living is when we not only consent with our minds but when we are challenged to break open closed doors of our hearts and minds.  It’s a letting go of maybe some old beliefs, or choices we have made or behaviours we have come to think are ok.  If we want the treasure it’s like selling things to buy it. It’s the letting go and making room in our minds and hearts to have space and freedom to pursue the new find!

The cost of letting go is huge.  As we reflect on our lives, we realise how often we have given over our identity and security to many ideas, and people and activities that are no longer serving us. When we realise this, there is an emptiness for a while because we have given up the security of who we thought we were…how we defined ourselves. Not all our ideas etc we need to give up but only those things that have held us back from living full lives.

I think this is what verse 52 refers to: “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.”

It takes courage, wisdom and maturity to pursue the treasure within.

Yesterday morning at the Canterbury Council of Churches annual breakfast, Kevin Toomey the Prior of St Dominic’s Priory, spoke about ‘Dialogue as Mission’.

There are so many issues that we need to address: fundamentalism and fear are just two.  We need to find new ways of how we relate to one another, how we interact with our Muslim sisters and brothers for example, and how we can learn from each other.

I told the gathering yesterday, that I have kept myself in a ‘comfort zone’. I have said ‘yes’ just like the disciples…yes, Jesus, I understand what the kingdom of heaven is about… I got it! But do I have Muslim friends? No.  Do I know any? Well, I have recently met a woman who was one of the chaplains on the team I was on at the Burke St incident some months ago now.  She is Muslim and we are having coffee together this coming week. I have initiated this.  Why? Mixed really.  I want to show my support for Muslims and also to understand more of her way of living in the kingdom. I am not into converting her but maybe I will be converted from any prejudice, fear etc I may have.

At the fish and chip shop last night, I picked up a magazine while I was waiting and read a brief article of a woman who became a Muslim.  One of the things that attracted her was the way they cared for the poor and also that they pray five times a day and this centres her and she is more at peace with herself and therefore sees the world with love not hate.

So much to learn from each other rather than being fearful of someone who is different.

I’m looking forward to my conversation with my new friend.

When I look up at the sky and see the stars at night, I have to look slightly away from a star I am looking at to see it.  If I look directly at it, I don’t see it so clearly, but it is there. Amazing what the eye can see if we just adjust our vision!

And I think this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s adjusting our vision to see what God sees. God made the world through love and with love and is love.

Maybe that’s why the parables of Jesus about the kingdom of heaven are so diverse! It’s not something we can have control or have power over or make it in our image.

God, kingdom of heaven is all around us if we adjust our vision.

Santiago was off on a search for treasure hidden somewhere near the pyramids. It was a long way from his home.  He met many people along the way and was in danger and nearly cost him his life.  He found out that the treasure was with him all the time.

To seek the kingdom of heaven will take us to unknown places maybe geographically but especially spiritually, emotionally and socially.

It is costly but it is also life giving as we come back to our roots… to where we are grounded… and in whom we find our identity as children of God.

The Lord be with you.