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Today’s Sermon: The Expansion Of The Kingdom

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Matthew
13:31-33, 44-52

Introduction
I have vague recollections of learning something about the missionary
journeys of the apostles in Sunday School. I know that, because I have a clear
memory of drawing a picture showing Peter waiting for a train to take him on
the next stage of his journey.

But if you asked who the first missionary in the Bible was,
you’d be wrong to say Peter, still less Paul. And you’d be wrong to say Jesus.

You’d have to travel back into the Old Testament. Was it one
of the prophets? Well, Jonah was a reluctant missionary, although he went in
the end, even if he did so in poor grace. But it wasn’t him.

Any ideas? You have to go all the way back to Genesis
chapter three, where God comes looking in the Garden of Eden for Adam. ‘Where
are you, Adam?’ The first missionary in the Bible was God.

The books of the Bible are written under the inspiration of
God the missionary. The great story of Scripture reveals the missionary heart
of God. The plot of the story is about the mission of God to restore lost
humanity and heal broken creation.

And if that’s the case, then it wouldn’t be surprising if
many apparently smaller details were soaked in this theme of mission. The parables
we’ve heard from the Lectionary today certainly come under that description. The
parables of the mustard seed and of the yeast point us in one direction about
the mission of God. The parables of the treasure hidden in the field and of the
pearl give us another important picture for God’s mission. Finally, the parable
of the net thrown into the sea gives us a third image of God’s mission.

1. Mustard Seed and
Yeast

One of the areas where Debbie and I disagree about food is on the subject of
fast food. She has a fondness for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I think it’s
disgusting. Sometimes, for the sake of family peace, however, I have to relent
and I suffer one of these meals that everyone else loves. It’s just not British
fish and chips.

Moreover, when you go in to order your – ahem – ‘meal’, you
may be asked whether you want to ‘go large’. Going large in KFC parlance is
equivalent to McDonald’s ‘supersize’ option that was so discredited in the film
Super Size Me’.

Going large, or supersizing, is just want we want to happen
with the kingdom of God. We want its massive expansion. We want the world to
find faith in Christ. We want the sick healed. We want justice for all,
especially the poor. That’s the going large of God’s mission.

So we plan our big projects – our missions and festivals. We hype up our institutions. We
elevate to celebrity status some of our most deeply admired Christians. Then we
wait for the magic to happen.

And it doesn’t. God has a ‘going large’ plan for his mission
all right, but it doesn’t work like that. Laser light shows, massive budget
advertising – none of these seems to be on his agenda. God is not disadvantaged
by a lack of famous, powerful or wealthy people. God starts with mustard seeds
and yeast. He wants to see a large tree that will host the nests of many birds,
but he starts with the seed. He wants to give bread to the world, but knows it
starts with a small amount of yeast to ferment. God’s ‘going large’ starts
small.

What does that mean for us? Look around at our small
numbers. Consider the difficulty we have in keeping some things going. There are
vacancies in key church offices. There are tasks we struggle to cover. Should we
despair? No: we should laugh. God never called us to keep an institution going.
He called us to be what one author calls ‘The Mustard Seed Conspiracy’. In our
smallness as a church, in our weakness and insignificance as individuals, the
world may laugh but God says to us, ‘You are my mustard seeds. Plant the Gospel
in the world and let me grow it. You are my yeast. Let me cast you into the
dough that bread for the world may rise.’

None of this is an excuse not to grow. This isn’t some
reason to stay a small private religious club. I don’t mean that for a moment. But
it is to say this. We don’t have to be like the large churches around here
before God will use us. God’s plans are not limited to Christian Growth Centre,
Central Baptist Church or any of the other big names. He has plans for mustard
seeds and small quantities of yeast. Today is a day to believe that God has
kingdom plans for us in his ‘going large’ vision for his kingdom throughout
creation. It starts small, but if we trust him enough to take risks with him in
the world, then who knows what he might accomplish through us?

2. Treasure and Pearl

So God’s mission means a ‘go large’ vision for his kingdom. Yet to our surprise,
he starts with the small and the insignificant, rather than the big and the powerful.

Now, stay with that ‘go large’ idea a bit more. Wouldn’t you
think God would make it easy to enter the kingdom? Next surprise: he doesn’t.
The kingdom of God, says Jesus, is like treasure hidden in a field and like an
expensive pearl.

Hold on a minute: we are used to supermarkets enticing us
with that unlovely abbreviation BOGOF: ‘buy one, get one free’. We are used to
the idea that people who want to be noticed will give away something free. So
pop stars like Prince and McFly have given away copies of
their latest CDs with the Mail On
Sunday
. The newspaper gains heightened circulation; the musicians work a
deal that gets their music to many more people than usual.

And isn’t there a sense in which the Gospel too is a free
offer? Yes, there is. Christ died for the sins of the world while we were still
sinners and before we knew the love of God. His sacrificial love is
unconditional.

But – although the Gospel is offered free, it costs us
everything. The forgiveness of sins is free, but following Jesus costs
everything. The person who finds and hides the treasure in a field sells all he
has to buy that field. The merchant sells all he has to buy the valuable pearl.

We can be sure of this: the kingdom of God is not a
commodity to be given away. It is not something to be sold like groceries or
entertainment. When we treat it like that, we lose the overwhelming value of
it. God’s kingdom – seen in following Jesus – is so valuable it calls for a
radical decision about our lives. No bargains are to be found here. No price
reductions. No special deals.

So that might make the kingdom of God like luxury goods that
don’t reduce their high prices for anyone, and don’t like being sold through
shops the plebs frequent, like Tesco. And Jesus
does compare it here to treasure or a pearl.

But no, that thought doesn’t work, either. It’s not as
though God has set a particular high price that only the wealthy can pay. He has
set the same high price for all. The kingdom of God costs everything we have –
however much or little that may be.

Therefore, as we share in the mission of God, we aren’t helping
it ‘go large’ by inviting people to be consumers or to take up a hobby. On
Jesus’ behalf, we are only inviting the serious. It’s like those job
advertisements where the prospective employer says, ‘Time wasters need not
apply.’ The kingdom will spread through creation not by an army of couch
potatoes but by a dedicated group who will sacrifice selfish dreams and vain
ambitions as well as material wealth.

Does this make the kingdom a miserable place? Oh no. It is
with great joy that the man sells all he can to buy the field where he has
hidden the treasure, and it is with joy we sacrifice to be part of the kingdom.
Joy drives our sacrifice, because we have been captivated by the extraordinary
love of God in Christ.

3. Net
Let’s recap: God wants his kingdom to ‘go large’, but he works with the small
and insignificant rather than the rich and powerful, and he only opens it up to
those who will joyfully sacrifice for it, not merely those who want a cheap
deal on heaven. Now, here in the final parable – the parable of the dragnet –
God shatters our expectations again.

How so? Like this. Again, take our assumption that God wants
his kingdom to spread to everyone and throughout creation – what I’ve called ‘going
large’. Once more, he doesn’t set out to accomplish that aim in a manner we
might expect. Surely an all-powerful and all-loving God could just co-opt all
and sundry into the kingdom? The parable of the dragnet starts out like that:
it catches ‘fish of very kind [lit., ‘race’]
(verse 47). Job done, you’d think.

But no. The sorting process begins. Good fish are kept, bad
ones thrown away (verse 48). And Jesus says this image speaks of a sorting out
between evil and righteous people at the end of the age (verses 49-50).

Why is this essential to the spread of God’s kingdom? I
think it’s because the kingdom of God is a place of righteousness and justice. If
God’s kingdom is to spread, then it means that his reign is not only exercised but
also welcomed and accepted. It doesn’t mean that those who do are perfect
people, but they are the ones who are willing to live under the reign of God. Final
judgment, then, is both blessing and tragedy: it is the blessing that no more
will rebellion and evil oppose the purposes of God. It is also blessing in that
those who have followed the ways of God and becomes disciples of Jesus are
vindicated.

But it is also the tragedy that God sends those who oppose
him to the destiny they have effectively chosen for themselves. It may be
unpopular to speak about that aspect of judgment today, and I am not advocating
Victorian fire and brimstone preaching tactics. Indeed, I belong to that school
of thought that sees the images of a ‘furnace of fire, where there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (verse 50) and similar language as metaphors.
For me, the final victory of God’s justice means the abolition of evil, that is,
annihilation rather than conscious eternal torment. But how dreadful it will be
to meet the living God in all his holy love and realise our lives have been a
rejection of him.

What does this mean for us? I believe it is the serious and
sombre side of the joy I talked about earlier. It is a joyful thing to discover
God’s love and follow Jesus. But is also the only sane way to live, however
crazy the world thinks we are. It’s sane, because being a disciple of Jesus,
learning his ways and copying his life, is to go with the grain of the
universe, as God has designed it. The majority may dismiss our lifestyles as
silly, pointless or even dangerous, but they are the ones sawing against the
grain.

Conclusion
These parables have taken us across a lot of territory, but all are held
together by the vision of God’s kingdom and the implications for the mission of
God in which we share. God’s kingdom will embrace all creation, but just
because the vision is panoramic, does not mean he chooses the loudest and
flashiest of advocates. We are his mustard seeds, his yeast. We, the small,
weak and uninfluential are his primary human agents.

And the large vision comes at a price. God will not cut the
price to gain a sale. Somebody once said that if we encountered the rich young
ruler today, we’d offer him a deal on just selling a percentage of his
possessions. Not Jesus. Following him costs everything – whatever that means
for each one of us. We need to reflect that in our lifestyles and our message,
but it’s worth it.

And it’s all worth it, because following Jesus aligns us
with the destiny of all creation under the reign of God. What the world calls
foolishness is ultimate wisdom. And that is the goal to which we invite people.

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on July 27, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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