Monday, 28 July 2014

The Treasure of the Kingdom

The following is a sermon given at St. James, Uplands on 27th July 27th 2014

In February this year the news ran an item about a couple from California who found rare coins to the value of 7 million pounds. For years they had walked the same path  and had passed by a piece of metal sticking up above the surface of the ground. They hadn't really noticed it before although they may have glanced in its direction. But this one day they did notice it and saw that it looked like the edge of a can. So they stopped and dug it up—and four other cans near it—and inside discovered what the news described as “a buried treasure of rare American coins”. There were five cans in all & the couple are now very rich & very happy people.

What struck me about the story is that the couple had gone hiking that route for years and never noticed the can. And if not for that one time when they looked down and decided to investigate, they could have gone on hiking and never ever made the discovery and the riches it offered. All that treasure so very close.

The kingdom of heaven is like that treasure. It’s so very close that you can get it, but also so hidden that you could miss it.

First, it’s very close because Jesus said that it is at hand. When he first started preaching that is what he told the crowds. “Repent—change your mind or your way of seeing/looking at things—for the kingdom of heaven it near/at hand.”  (Matt 4:17).

On another occasion he puts it even closer. In Luke 17:20-21 when the Pharisees asked when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.”

In other words each person has to discover the Kingdom for themselves. The Pharisees wanted to know what the signs of it was, as if it was something way off, or you could point towards it and say “there it is” or “X marks the spot”! No the kingdom of heaven is even closer—its within you. But unless you have an open attitude of mind, although its so close, you can miss it!

Which is what Jesus meant when he quoted the prophet Isaiah earlier in Matthew 13:14

“You will be ever hearing but never understanding, you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”

In other words the Kingdom of heaven is within seeing distance and hearing distance and is something that can be understood, but at the same time if your ears, your eyes and your mind is closed, it might as well be on Mars—you could miss it!

That’s why Jesus starts his wonderful sermon on the mount with the promise that the kingdom of heaven belongs not to the proud and sophisticated, but to the poor in spirit, those who mourn, who are meek and humble and those who hunger and thirst after God.

So the kingdom of heaven is near, and it is discoverable by everyone without exception.

The second thing to say it that the kingdom of heaven is precious, the most valuable and precious thing you or I will ever come across in our life. In both parables when the treasure and the pearl are found the two men went and sold everything they had in order to get it.

We are not saying that the Kingdom of heaven has a monetary value. You can’t buy it. The parables don’t mean that. But what they are saying is that it is precious. Why? Because to find the kingdom is to find life! When you find this life in all its fullness, then everything else drops in value alongside the most precious thing of all—life with God both here and now and with Him for eternity.

But no-one can persuade you about this. You will know when you find it. The parables DON’T mean you are expected to purchase the kingdom or give anything in exchange for it as both men find the treasure and the pearl—they don’t buy them. But what they DO mean is that when or if you find it then suddenly everything else is put into a new perspective.

Let me give you a very down to earth example. I love watching the Swans, so much so that when couples come to me and arrange a wedding and ask me to suggest a time I have to put my hand up and try and arrange 12.00 because then it gives me time to conduct the wedding, chat after AND get home in time to change and drive to the Liberty for the 3.00 kick off. Watching the Swans is Hazel and my down time when we can relax and enjoy something together and we try to arrange things around that.

Last year my first grandson was born. Early on in his little life my daughter needed us to go up to help her and the day she wanted us was a Saturday. We had to travel up the night before and travel back Saturday night for Sunday worship. The Swans were home against Arsenal—a big, big match. Did we hesitate? No. With Theo’s arrival what before was one of the highest priorities in our life dropped down the pecking
order. Theo was more precious to us than watching the Swans.

When the two men found their treasure their priorities in life changed and “things” and “possessions” etc meant much less than what they had discovered. When you find the Kingdom of heaven then you will find that your priorities and what matters most to you, and what you value most, will suddenly change.

And third, it will bring you joy! “in his joy the man went and sold all he had.”  

In the Beatitudes over and over again Jesus refers to those who have discovered the Kingdom of heaven as “blessed”. Some translate that word as “happy” but actually the word means something much deeper and richer than happiness, which can come and go. And in fact there is a connection between the Greek word for “blessed” and the word Jesus uses here for “joy” - they both have the same root “chara”. So what we find here is something deeply rewarding and fulfilling—summed up in the word “bliss”.  Somebody “blissfully happy” means someone who is at peace within themselves and is fully content, at rest within.

So to sum up:
The kingdom of heaven is close—within you—but beware you could miss it/overlook it. Need to look with open eyes, open ears and open hearts.
The kingdom of heaven is more precious than anything you could have or own. When you discover it you will see that.
The kingdom of heaven, when found, will bring you great joy, peace and contentment. Such that no material or earthly thing can ever bring.

But one final thing. Some commentators have said that there is another way of looking at these parables. Instead of the man being you and I, looking for the kingdom, the man is Jesus looking for us, His treasure. That is how he sees us! And so great is Jesus’ love for us that he was willing to give everything he had, dying on the cross to find us his “treasure” or his “pearl of great price”. And that is not a bad reading and a very biblical way of reading it too.

John 3:16 drives that home:
“For God so loved the world—it is so precious to him—that he gave his one and only son—gave him up to die on the cross, give up everything he had/was precious to him—so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life i.e. have the kingdom of heaven and all the fullness that brings with it.”

God loves you and I THAT much. How can we not seek and worship such a God. Amen.

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