Sermons 2005
"The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Proper 12A 2005 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a

We have spent the last two Sundays with the 13th chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. It marks the point at which Jesus’ use of parables for teaching has become fully developed. It begins with the parable of the seed and the sower and moves through the wheat and the tares. And concludes today with those cryptic parables about the kingdom of heaven: the mustard seed, the yeast and the bread, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price, and the fish of every kind.

I use the English word “cryptic” to describe these parables. Cryptic means in English having a hidden or ambiguous meaning, something that is a characteristic of parables: mysterious and hidden. So it is with these parables for today. In fact two of these parables use the Greek verb “kroopto”, meaning to hide or conceal, from which our word cryptic is ultimately derived.

The parables in this section of Matthew also constitute what is called a catena, from the Latin for chain. Catenae are chains of multiple images interconnected to, or associated with, each other in some fashion or another. The association or interconnection in this part of Saint Matthew’s gospel is the kingdom of heaven and what the kingdom of heaven is like. A catena of metaphors is strung together to make a cumulative point about something unfamiliar – the kingdom of heaven – by this chain of familiar images. Each succeeding image corrects the oversimplifications of the ones before – for no one image is sufficient to explain something so complex and vast as the kingdom of heaven.

In the early rabbinical literature, the writing of a catena was called “stringing pearls. In a necklace, each pearl is unique. But when they’re strung together they become a necklace even more beautiful than the individual pearls themselves.

Catenae are like the kaleidoscope that still can fascinate children both young and old. In a kaleidoscope, the same pieces are used over and over again, but even the slightest change in the position of the pieces relative to each other will create a new pattern which in turn provides the observer with a new moment of perception.

So it is with the catena in today’s gospel. The chain or string of parables moves in rapid succession through the metaphors of a mustard seed, yeast in the dough, treasure hidden in a field, the pearl of great value, and the catch in a fishing net. Our listening and perceptions are intensified as the images pile rapidly on top of each other.

In each parable we are not told the kingdom of heaven IS something or the other. Rather we are told that the kingdom is LIKE something or the other. The rapidly cascading chain of parables suggests several conclusions to us.

One is that the kingdom of heaven has to do with the most ordinary of daily activities. In ancient Palestine fishing and bread baking and farming and buying and selling were daily activities except on the Sabbath – for those who observed the Sabbath anyway. Brother Lawrence understood this very well when he said that everything he did he did for the glory of God – whether washing dishes in the monastery scullery or traveling across France to buy wine for the monks.

Another conclusion we can draw is that certain aspects of the kingdom seem as obvious as the growing mustard tree and the rising bread and the pearl of great price and the fish in the net. But are they?

And sometimes the kingdom seems to behave according to some natural law: seeds growing, bread rising, fish swimming. At other times human industry seems to be involved: kneading and baking the bread, planting the seed, digging up the hidden buried treasure, sacrificing everything for the pearl of great price, casting nets into the waters. The kingdom seems to behave that way – but does it?

The most striking thing about all of the parables is their essential hiddeness – their crypticness. The mustard seed is hidden in the ground, the yeast is hidden in the rising dough, the treasure is hidden in the field, the pearl hidden among all the other pearls, the net and fish hidden in the depths of the sea.

If the kingdom is like these, then the kingdom is something not readily apparent to our eyes, even though it may be all around us and very near to us – even within us. The kingdom is something that must be searched for, something just below the surface of things, something just waiting there to be discovered and claimed, something we must train our eyes and hearts and minds and souls to see. In short, we must look for it if we are to see it.

Concepts and information like this have always attracted our imaginations. It’s the stuff legends and great stories are made of: the treasure sewn into the old mattress at the dump, the secret formula found on an old envelope, the long lost masterpiece suddenly discovered collecting dust in the attic, suddenly found and claimed and enjoyed amidst much celebration.

That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus tells us. Whether it begins as a seed hidden in the ground or a treasure hidden in a field, the kingdom comes when it is no longer buried and hidden, but revealed, when the tree is full grown, when the treasure chest is opened, when what was lost was found, when the fish are caught, and what was secret is known and what was hidden away is finally seen for what it really is and brought forth for everyone to see.

But where do we start looking for the hidden kingdom of heaven? This business of catenae and metaphor and image is fine, all of these parables about seed and yeast and treasure and pearls and nets and fish are interesting and intriguing, but where do we look?

Do we look in holy places like monasteries and cathedrals and ancient churches? Do we look in the slums of Calcutta, where the sisters of Mother Theresa labor, bathing the sick and the dying? Do we look in the Holy Land or at Canterbury?

Of course, it may not matter where we are – what is necessary is to look for the extraordinary wherever we are. Because if the kingdom of heaven is hidden in this world, it is hidden really well.

Unless, of course, God has played the oldest trick in the book and hidden the kingdom in plain sight, in the last place any of us would think to look – in the ordinary things and events and circumstances of our daily lives: a diamond pull on a glass lamp, Mikimoto pearl necklaces in with the costume ones, the extraordinary hidden among the ordinary, the kingdom of heaven all mixed in with the routine and ho hum and humdrum of our days, as easy to find as the amaryllis bulb in the dark basement that suddenly sends forth a shoot, or the waking smile of a child or grand child or great grand child, or the first good rain after a long drought, or the coolness of morning or evening in hot summer – all signs of the kingdom of heaven, all clues to the holiness hidden in the dullest of our days.

Jesus knew it all along. That’s why he talked about heaven in terms of farmers and fields and women baking bread and merchants buying and selling and fisherman hauling in fish in nets – to tell us somehow that the kingdom of heaven has to do with all these things, not exotic things in exotic places but right here right now in all the ordinary people and places and activities of our lives.

This catena of cryptic parables surprises us with both its mystery and its simplicity. It cautions us to pay attention. Whatever else we may learn from this chain of stories, we learn to pay great attention for, indeed, the kingdom may already be among us and we will miss it if we don’t look deeply at what is around us. That’s why we had to be told that it is “like” things we have become used to in our every day lives. If we want to describe something that is vast beyond all words, we must begin with words we know: man, woman, field, seed, yeast, bird, air, bread; words such as pearl, net, sea, fish, joy.

The kingdom is like these things, the kingdom is found in these things, the kingdom is all around. These are the places to begin looking for the kingdom of heaven, for this is where the God who loves us sowed the seeds. And if we stop and look and listen, we can see the seeds of the kingdom growing slowly and quietly everywhere we turn on earth.

If we cannot find them here we will never find them anywhere else, for earth is where the seeds of heaven are sown.


Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579