john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    Matthew 13 -
    The kingdom of heaven is here

    St Cuthbert's, Croxteth Park - Sunday Eucharists 27/7/2008


    Romans 8.26-end, Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52



    It's like a mustard seed; it's like yeast; it's like treasure hidden in a field.
    It's like a very valuable pearl; it's like a full fishing net; it's like a man sorting out the things he treasures.

    It's the kingdom of heaven. Its the central idea of the teaching of Jesus, it's at the core of what the Christian life is about.

    The kingdom of heaven - the term Jesus uses to describe the way God is in the world, the way our world can be if we care to see it God's way, the way our lives can be when liberated by God.

    And Jesus wants us to understand the kingdom of heaven in terms of the ordinary things of life: seeds, yeast, the household objects which we value.

    This, I think, is good news for us as we try to search for God in our busy lives, in a complicated world. Jesus wants us to know that God is not very far away at all. Jesus wants us to know that the kingdom of heaven is something that you find in the ordinary things of life.

    And this, I think, is liberating for us who are bombarded with extraordinary things much of the time, and who feel the pressure that comes with them - adverts on TV, newsprint and billboards telling us that we need certain products so that we can be extraordinarily beautiful or comfortable or successful; news items which never talk about the things which are close to us, the everyday subjects which most concern us, but take us places we either don't understand or don't feel able to influence or change.

    In our search for the extraordinary we lose sight of the revelation that the true riches in life are right here in front of us already if we would only open the eyes of our hearts to see them.

    I think it's crucially important to us as Christians in this day and age tempted, as everyone is, to be adding more and more new experiences and things to our lives, doing more and more things which do enrich us - but do they really satisfy us? Do they really bring us closer to God?

    Perhaps we'd be happier if we stopped looking for more and more new and extraordinary experiences and things and stood still and found that real satisfaction was here all the time, that God is standing waiting attentively, patiently, lovingly, here all the time.

    It's like Jesus says in today's gospel, 'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid' - it's there in front of us all the time, if we could only see it.

    This is a rich theme, I think. I think that once you start believing that you can find the kingdom of heaven in ordinary, everyday life then you'll start looking for it everywhere, and you'll potentially find it anywhere.

    A friend of mine, Peter Barrett, a while ago sent me these words:
    Where's God?:
    She just walked past you, actually,
    Smiling at the kids,
    Remarking to their Dads how well behaved they are.
    He was wiping tables at the cafe,
    Asking after you, funnily enough.
    She was taking her younger brother to the park
    So Mum could have a break.
    He was opening a door
    For an old couple to enter Boots.

    Where's God?
    In the grit, in the grime
    In the mundane joy
    Of washing dishes,
    Hoovering the house, wiping baby's bottoms,
    Visiting the sick, listening to the lonely.
    Often out of sight
    Infamously working with a kind word
    Whispered in passing.
    An understood look between friends;
    An arched eyebrow between lovers.

    As we scratch beneath the make-up
    Of our raw lives,
    Tenderness and compassion
    Are available
    If we look hard enough
    Into the magic and mystery
    Of the routine and humdrum.
    The kingdom of heaven is here, he seems to be saying. Of course scripture - particularly the Old Testament - is also very clear that heaven is a transcendent 'other' place where God lives. Jesus himself affirms this when he tells his friends that he is going to prepare a place for them 'In my Father's house [where there are] many rooms'.

    But his chief concern is to break down any supposed divisions between a heavenly, spiritual kingdom and an earthly, physical kingdom. That's why he came to earth of course. To bring heaven and earth together. To completely and intimately connect the spiritual and the physical.

    And, though we hold to the hope of a final wondrous home where we will live with God, Jesus teaches us that our foretaste of that heaven, and our preparation for it, are to be found in the here and now, and in the closest, tiniest things which are so familiar to us that we generally neglect or undervalue them. And not 'within us' or 'in our hearts', but in the tangible stuff of ordinary life, the seed, the yeast, the household object which we value.

    The Kingdom of Heaven is 'in your midst', Jesus says in Luke 17.21, or translated another way, The Kingdom of Heaven is 'within your grasp'.

    This is a time of year when many of us try to get away to other places, perhaps if you like for a bit of a taste of heaven, somewhere different, somewhere special. I think that's a good thing and a human need - for refreshment and renewal, and I hope that if that's what you're looking for this summer you will find it.

    Whether or not you go away, you may like to think on this: that when looking for the kingdom of heaven our search always takes us to particular places.

    Heaven itself is a place, we are led to believe. Jerusalem, like Mt Sinai and the Temple, were always regarded as special places, of course, easily associated with heaven.

    But scripture also introduces us to places which weren't special at all, until something happened there which made them significant: Mount Moriah, where Abraham and Isaac met their maker; Bethel, an ordinary place until God appeared to Jacob there in a dream, and Jacob, sounding surprised, said, 'Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it...' and found himself exclaiming, 'How awesome is this place! [It is] the house of God, [It is] the gate of heaven...'

    In the gospels we hear another voice of surprise, or is it cynicism, asking, 'Can anything good come from Nazareth?' Well, yes it can, the same good which turned an ordinary well into a heavenly place when Jesus transformed the outlook of the woman he met there, the same good which turned an ordinary tree into something Zacchaeus would always afterwards remember as the one he climbed the day that Jesus turned his life around.

    We don't even know the name or address of the Upper Room where Jesus had that simple supper with his friends the night before his arrest, but its significance to generations of believers has turned that ordinary place into the Christian world's most celebrated venue, one which we reproduce here at this table every week.

    We have our special places where we expect glimpses, at least, of heaven: our Holy Islands, our Lourdes, our Ionas. Or that beautiful place we most enjoy going to on holiday. These are to be highly valued; but the trick in searching for the kingdom of heaven, is to expect that any place can be the platform for a transforming, awe-inspiring, affirming, joyful, encounter with the divine. Even the places where we spend most of our ordinary, everyday lives. Especially the places where we spend most of our ordinary, everyday lives.

    So when we're back from our break in a place of beauty and refreshment maybe God will then help us find beauty and refreshment in the familiar things of home. Or if we're not having the pleasure of a holiday this year - all the more so for us.

    In his epistle to the Romans Paul says that 'the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought'. If the Spirit helps us to see the kingdom of heaven in the places and things which are familiar to us, then that will be a great help in our prayers.

    Paul also writes that 'all things work together for good for those who love God'. All things - that's all the things about us in our ordinary everyday lives.

    So this summer may God open our eyes and hearts to encounter the kingdom of heaven in all sorts of ways - a child's question, a youngsters' giggle, a glance, a surprise, a kind deed.

    The kingdom of heaven: may we discover it in the things about our home and garden; the contact we have with friends and nighbours.

    The kingdom of heaven: may we find it in the routine, or let's call it the ritual of our waking, working days.

    The kingdom of heaven: may we find that it's there all the time as God helps us attune ourselves to be open to it.


    Notes
    [1] Sermon based on my Heaven in Ordinary material from 2007