Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
It is the best of the best of the best. I could be speaking of our Commonwealth Games, in which many compete but only one wins. There may be prizes for coming second and third, but it is the winner who is remembered. Did that win beat the world record? Did it excel in any other way?
In a world where elites are almost universally despised, the sporting elites are indeed honoured: even if it is only for striking a ball in one way or another, running on tracks or performing some other feat of athletics which may be difficult to comprehend outside a battlefield.
But excellence – the demand for the best – the fear of coming second or of not being placed at all – these are all powerful drivers in sport, or commerce or indeed politics.
Jesus however presented the Kingdom of God through His parables, and some are not always what they seem.
One shows the growth of the kingdom as being like the smallest of seeds to be planted. So small as to be dismissed as of no account, and yet one which can grow into a mighty tree. But a seed that yields fruit rather than foliage alone, which indeed responds to the breezes, and affords shelter and refreshment is indeed a welcome relief.
But when it becomes rigid, woody, and accommodates scavenging birds and birds of prey, this it is less wholesome. Where its life is put forth in fruits to nourish and enrich: that is fine but when the only value of the tree is its timber, then that suggests that it is better cut down.
In a similar way, yeast in the Old Testament is seen as a symbol, not of growth but of compromise. The feast of unleavened bread was to be observed so scrupulously that no yeast was to be in the house and certainly none was to be consumed in bread during the period. In the same way, false or distorted teaching in the basics of faith could indeed affect the whole body of doctrine, undermining the faith as a whole.
On the other hand, the pearl of great price, the buried treasure were both pointers to the unbelievable value of that which was hidden but had suddenly been found. The treasure was indeed priceless and if the treasure hunter was to benefit then all else would have to be set aside before it in order to buy the field and claim the treasure.
The treasure would take precedence over all else and likewise the pearl of great price. Having seen the concealed treasure the finder would have no peace until he had made it his own.
The point in these parables is that if this is the response of earth-bound traders or treasure hunters, then how much more valuable is the kingdom of God to those who have already glimpsed it and now pursue it with all that they have and all that they are.
On the other hand it demands a whole-hearted response, rather than a brief immersion. A small grain of yeast may do more to inoculate than to promote growth let alone maturity. We can never be nominal or half-hearted in these things.
It would be easy to be intimidated by these parables which show us something of the scale and the all-embracing character of the Kingdom of God. It would be easy to approach these things purely from our own point of view, and to meditate on them purely in terms of our own understanding.
There is no question that the demands of the Kingdom of God reflect its nature and that we cannot approach it on the basis of our own understanding and still less, our own convenience.
It is God who sets the standards and indeed who initiates the conversation. Yet in the reading of Solomon’s prayer upon the death of King David he places his attention on the smallness of his understanding rather than the magnificence of King David’s realm.
Faced with the scale of the task before him, Solomon has a wholly realistic view of himself and so asks for wisdom rather than might or wealth.
And The Lord honoured Solomon for that humility with a promise that his wisdom and understanding would be legendary.
In this sense it was the smallness of what Solomon had to offer that raised him up in the sight of God and not its grandeur.
And Paul makes a similar point. Writing to people who may indeed be social outcasts and rejects, in peril of the Roman Emperor, he assures them that their standing before God was indeed blessed.
They were supported in all their trials by the presence and indeed the prayers of the Holy Spirit. Even when times were against them, they could be sure that whatever their needs or circumstances all things would work for them so long as they abided in His will and purposes.
Indeed, they were predestined to the Kingdom, and being so they were indeed called and being called they were justified by the blood of Christ. And being justified they were also glorified in the Kingdom, even if that was the last thing that they felt.
Small wonder then that nothing could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Certainly not death or life, nor hardship or distress or nakedness or peril or even the sword. Jesus had already faced these things – and had personally overcome them in their reality and their fear and their might.