Sermon on Matthew Chapter 13
By The Reverend Charles Royden 24 July 2005
The parable of the yeast, pearl, mustard seed and net
People will give up almost anything to get what they want,
They give up major things in the pursuit of career. How many times have you heard somebody regretfully say, ‘I wished I had spent more time with the kids.’
There are some dreadful examples of men and women giving up their families, leaving their children, because they have found a lover.
People will give up everything if they find something which they want, really want.
So today in our parables Jesus asks a question,
1. What will you give up?
2. What do you consider to be most important ?
3. Have you got your priorities right?
Most people have not recognised the treasure which is the Christian gospel. The vast majority of people have not got their priorities right. Most people have great excuses not to come to church. They tell me that you do not have to go to church to be a Christian, but they are not at home on a Sunday morning doing bible study by themselves. They are not involved in serving God, they have chosen that other things are more important. Usually they have made a choice that other things, not spiritual things, are more important to them.
They make a choice for themselves, sadly they also make a choice for their families too. The choice has an effect which rebounds down the generations. When you stop church and you stop taking your children to church, you have effectively stopped your grandchildren and great grandchildren going to church as well. So that today we have several decades of people who have no had any contact with Christians teaching whatsoever, and that means no spiritual grounding in their lives at all. And that is where we are as a country, with people largely adrift in terms of a spiritual anchor to inform their ethical, moral and life decisions. A university chaplain was speaking to a group of us the other day and saying that the students he deals with have absolutely no Christian background whatsoever. They know nothing of the Bible or the Christian stories.
Some of you will know a lot about that Joan has been doing trying to get us going on making contacts with children and families. As a church we are thankful to Joan and the team of volunteers who have supported this work with Storybox. Liz Spavins and her team have also been doing great things at Putnoe with Storyboxplus the older group. I was delighted that the Church Council at St Mark’s last week supported the Leadership Team in wanting to get work going with the appointment of Liz as a children’s worker in our churches. I was away preaching at Priory when St Mark’s Church Council met informally so I was not able to support that decision but I had the confidence to know that right decision would be taken and that will be ratified by the Church Council in due course.
As a church we have to do our bit to encourage and welcome to church those who feel that it is not for them. Some of them might have a good reason to think we don’t want them. They might have had a contact with a bad vicar or a bad churchgoer, who put them off and they thought well if that is what being a Christians is like I don’t want to know.
They might have wanted a baptism for their child and the vicar said no, or they might have had a breakdown in the marriage and instead of compassion the church pointed the finger and they thought well me and my family are not welcome. Whatever reasons we have to do our bit and lets pray that God will bless that work with children and that Christians will feel able to volunteer to support that work.
What we can do as a church might seem small. It may seem insignificant but of course the message of the parables which we have heard this morning is that it might seem small, you might not even notice the effect, but this is how the kingdom is grown.
Mustard seed and leaven
Hiddenness and smallness, these are words which summarise the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast. There is an important lesson to be learned here. Jesus took an example of smallness, the mustard seed, and made the point that it would grow hugely. But it does not grow into anything ostentatious. It did not produce the mighty cedars of Lebanon which the Jews so liked to speak of. The mustard seed grew into a large shrub, about 10 feet tall.
Jesus did not choose something which spoke of grandeur in human terms. This surely challenges our expectations of greatness. I wonder if you have visited the Vatican, and walked around St Peter’s in Rome. It is huge, the columns and domes are vast and magnificent. Strangely it did nothing to communicate the kingdom to me. It spoke of a gospel which I found difficult to relate to the carpenter from Nazareth. I see Jesus speaking of something which judged by the worlds standards is much more humble.
We might want to think of the Kingdom as being great in human terms but Jesus is cautioning against that. If we think of the Kingdom as a car we would want it to be a Rolls Royce, Jesus tells us it would be more like a Mondeo. Because the kingdom is not imposing. It’s like buried treasure -
People used to bury treasure in fields all the time. Remember this was before metal detectors were invented. If you wanted to keep something safe you would be unwise to keep it in your house, locked doors and safes were not invented. So you buried it in a field and it was safe. It was a bit like your pin number, as long as you didn’t tell somebody and only you knew it was unlikely to be discovered.
Of course sometimes this meant that buried treasure was left. A person could be killed or die And their buried treasure was undiscovered.
And the point is that somebody could walk over the field, they could be right next to the treasure and not know it was there. Something of enormous life changing value can be under your feet and you have not a got a clue. The kingdom can be present and be unperceived.
The Kingdom is not overwhelming to everybody. Some people are given the gift to recognise the kingdom for what it is and for them, for those who see the treasure, any price is not a sacrifice, it is a price worth paying for something of infinitely more value.
Like the most magnificent pearl it is out of this world and the merchant will gladly give up everything to possess it.
Jesus is reassuring us that the kingdom is absolutely worth everything. Jesus is not calling upon us to make sacrifices, he is saying that those who have truly recognised the kingdom will not feel a sense of duty or of sacrifice, they will feel only joy and a recognition that they are the lucky ones. They will not need to have a heart hearted approach.
That is why Christians realise the futility of not getting our priorities right. No matter what we achieve in our earthly lives we cannot take our wealth with us when we die. Who was it who when asked of the deceased at a funeral ‘What did he leave’ said, ‘he left it all.’ All of our materials wealth dies with us, but our spiritual wealth increases.
The man who buys the field does not need to keep a little money back in case the treasure turns out to be of less value than he thought. The treasure and the pearl are of such overwhelming value to them that they do not need to take precautions. Some people are lucky enough to see the kingdom for what it is and for them the joy of the kingdom is already something which they have begun to experience.
So it is true that by seeking first the kingdom of God, by putting all else aside, we discover that the kingdom is all that we really need.
God’s kingdom is the greatest of treasures, worth more than any one of us can ever fully understand and far more than earthly considerations. Jesus is making the point that full and unreserved commitment, an unrestrained response is that which comes from an appreciation of God’s kingdom.
Jesus concludes his telling of the parables with a warning message. He tells the parable of the fish in the net. Jesus speaks of a seine-net which had floats on the top and weight on the bottom. It was thrown on the water and indiscriminately encircled the fish in that area. Then it was dragged up on the shore with all the different kinds of fish in that area.
The conclusion is that righteous and unrighteous are mixed up and it is not until the end of time that God will judge. There is an important lesson for our prayers here. What do we pray when we are faced with situations where we want God to judge people and punish them? The disciples believed that Jesus would overturn his opponents and establish his rule on earth. Jesus was a massive disappointment, so much so that they left him. They wanted Jesus to give them power to go out an uproot the weeds and sort them out now. Jesus said wait.
The net will be sorted but not yet. The timetable for God’s judgement is not ours, and be careful, the measure of God’s judgement is not ours.
So today we are asked to consider ourselves and where our treasure lies. Have we devoted our time to the right things, have we invested in a field which holds lasting treasure. Jesus encourages us to put everything else aside, no half measures.
The Christian life is often thought of as a sacrifice, a cross to be carried, and that is right. Yet this message has to be balanced as well by the parables today which remind us that Jesus considers the kingdom of heaven to be a treasure so wonderful that we can joyfully sacrifice everything to possess it and not end up being disappointed.