Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sermon: Matthew 13: 31-35, 41-58 Kingdom Parables

Did you see the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games the other week? After most of the entertainment of the Queen skydiving, Mr Bean in the orchestra, and all the musical numbers, came what might have been the most boring bit - the part where you might have switched over to another channel for a while. It was when all the teams from each of the 205 countries paraded into the stadium. Were there any of the nations you’d never heard of before?

Imagine you wanted to go on holiday to some of those small islands in the Caribbean. What would you need to know before you went? You’d want to make sure the weather would be good; you might need to know what currency they use; you could find out something about the country. Now if that was the case when you’re going on holiday for a short while, what if you were moving there permanently?

For those coming from outside the UK wanting to settle here, there are the UK Citizenship Tests, where your knowledge of the country is tested [I took a practice test while writing the sermon, and failed! 67%] In our reading today, Jesus is describing what his kingdom looks like - not a country with land and borders, but the kingdom of heaven, made up of all those who name Jesus as king, who follow and obey him.

All the way through this month of August we’ve been listening in as Jesus tells parables. They’re stories to make you think - what’s it really about, all this talk of seeds and yeast, treasure and pearls, and fish. This morning, in those five stories, Jesus tells us that his kingdom is growing; his kingdom is precious; and his kingdom is pure.

First up, there’s the picture of the mustard seed. It’s so small, it would be hard to be seen. It doesn’t look very impressive. But plant the seed and it will grow into a tree. The end result is bigger and better than you would ever have imagined. The growth is amazing.

As we come to baptise Amy and Madison today, they seem so small - a bit like that mustard seed. Right now we can’t tell how they will grow up, what they will become and achieve. But our prayer is that they will grow up to call on the Lord, to love him and serve him in his kingdom. As we give thanks for these babies, so we pray that God will use them in his kingdom.

The kingdom is like a mustard seed - from such small beginnings it has grown so big. There was just Jesus, then his twelve disciples - now there are around 2 billion Christians in the world. Nothing is impossible with God. The same point is being made in the yeast - if you were watching the Great British Bakeoff on Tuesday night, it was bread week. A little yeast is worked through a large amount of flour so that the whole mix is affected by the leaven.

God’s kingdom is growing - are you within the kingdom? Are you a part of this movement? Are you obeying the king?

The next two stories point to the value of the kingdom, how precious the kingdom is. In one, a man finds treasure in a field - he knows it’s worth it to get rid of all that he has in order to buy that field and get the treasure - he has joy because he has discovered something valuable.

In the other story, a merchant gives his life to finding pearls. He has many pearls already, but then he finds a pearl of great value, and the others look poor in comparison. He’s willing to give up everything else he has in order to have the precious pearl.

Jesus is saying that being part of his kingdom, knowing Jesus as our king, is the most precious thing that we can have. Nothing else we could think of comes close to the joy of having Jesus. Have you discovered this? Or are you still caught up with the sights that dazzle, the other things that seem to promise so much but don’t satisfy.

Our prayer for these girls is that, as they are taught the Christian faith, that they will know the joy of having Jesus as their king. That they will follow up, no matter what the cost; that they will give up those things that hold them back. But it’s also my prayer for each one of us - that you also will know the joy of having Jesus as your king.

God’s kingdom is growing - are you within the kingdom? God’s kingdom is precious - have you discovered this joy?

The last of the stories might be the one that brings us up short. It could be the shocking one - but let’s look at it to see what Jesus is saying to us. He says that the kingdom of heaven is like a net - a drag net that is pulled along and catches all sorts of fish. Once it’s full, then it’s pulled ashore, and the fish are sorted and separated. The good fish are kept, the bad are thrown out.

Now in the rest of the stories, there wasn’t an explanation. You just have the story, and you’re left to work it out. But in this last one, we’re given the meaning. We’re told what it’s all about - it’s a warning about the future, what will one day happen in God’s kingdom.

‘So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Jesus says that there are just two categories of people - we’re either one or the other. Those categories are evil or righteous. When we think of the evil, we can all think of people who fit in that box - really bad people like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden. But we don’t think that we’re in the same category. We like to imagine that we’re good, or at least good enough.

The thing is, though, that we’re talking about the kingdom of heaven - Jesus is the king, but we have all turned away. We’re all rebels, we fight against God, we say no to God. We’re all evil. Deep down, we know that we don’t meet God’s standards. That picture of hell as fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth comes from the lips of Jesus. It’s what we deserve for our sin, our rebellion.

Yet Jesus tells us that there will be two categories of people on the last day - the evil and the righteous. If we’re all in the first box, how can anyone be righteous? The righteous aren’t perfect, but they are forgiven. You see, Jesus, the king, died for sinners, to take their sin, to endure their punishment, to enable all those who trust in him to go free and be counted as righteous - right with God.

Our prayer is that these girls will grow up to trust in Jesus and have their sins forgiven, so that they will be with the Lord in his kingdom forever. That same offer is open for you today. You’ll be changed, turned from an enemy to a friend, because the king offers his peace.

God’s kingdom is growing as more and more people across the world hear this good news and join his kingdom. It’s the best news you’ll ever hear, it’s the only true and lasting source of joy. But you must come in - don’t stay outside the kingdom. Whoever has ear to hear, listen!

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 26th August 2012.

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