July 27, 2014

Pentecost – Proper 12

Genesis 25: 15-28; Psalm 105 1-11, 45b; Romans 8: 26 - 39; Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 - 52


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

I have always been drawn to the beauty of stained glass windows. When you look at these windows, they draw you into a different world, a world of bright colors – a world in which God’s presence is immediately felt. I did not see these windows before they were cleaned, but I understand that now they are much brighter! 

In many ways, I believe that parables – the stories that Jesus told in the Gospels - are a lot like stained glass windows. Like these windows, the parables Jesus told still today draw us into a world that is also colorful and vibrant, and very different from our own. Today we hear five of them, each parable a window showing us what the kingdom of heaven is like. The employ simple images like a mustard seed, or a fishing net, to talk about something far greater than any of us can really fully comprehend – the kingdom of Heaven.

What was Jesus talking about when he said such things? What is the Kingdom of heaven? The kingdom that these parables provide us glimpses of is a kingdom that is both here and now. The kingdom these parables describe is about us, it is about God’s entrance into our lives and world. But it is also a holy mystery, something we cannot fully explain.

And that is why each of the parables this morning begin with Jesus saying that “the kingdom of heaven is like...” rather than saying “the kingdom of heaven is...” And it is true, these parables suggest, that the kingdom of heaven is not something reserved for the pious, but rather is discovered often in the most unlikely places. And once we find it, it is far more valuable than anything we might possess.

I will never forget the day I realized I really wanted to be a priest. Many years ago, after finishing college I began an entry level job in an office building in downtown Houston. One day at work I found myself walking through one of the many underground tunnels that connect the buildings downtown to one another. While in one of these tunnels one day, I became aware of a feeling inside me that I couldn’t describe, but it was one I knew I had never felt before. It was a strange mixture of anxiety, adrenaline, fear, and hope. There was no bright light shining from above, no dramatic Charleton Heston-ish voice speaking to me, but in that moment, I believe I encountered God in a way that I still have difficulty explaining. And it was that encounter that served as the beginning to a wonderful journey. It was something I knew was worth giving up all I had at the time to pursue: security, comfort, predictability. In that moment, all of those things washed away, but in their place, I felt I had something of far greater value – a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

That experience was for me like stumbling upon the great treasure buried in the field, or finding the pearl of great value. I realized then that sometimes we discover the kingdom of heaven in the unlikeliest of places, sometimes we find it even in the tunnels of our lives. And while it is true we discover the Kingdom of Heaven during times of adversity and struggle, it is also true that the Kingdom is all around us, waiting for us to discover it.

I am reminded of a story of the newspaper entrepreneur, William Randolph Hearst, who was also a noted art collector. One day Hearst saw a picture of a painting that was so beautiful and moving to him, he wanted to buy it. So Hearst called up some people in the art market and had them find out who owned the painting, and after several weeks, the much sought after painting was found. “Where is it?” Hearst asked. “Well, Sir,” the voice said on the other end of the line, “we found it in one of your warehouses. You actually already own it.” The Kingdom of Heaven is already in our midst, we just have to open your eyes to really see it. 

From God’s perspective, you are the pearl that is worth giving up everything to have. You are the treasure in the field. You are the greatest miracle in the world. Do you know the great value you are to God? Do you know that the Kingdom of Heaven is in the very palm of your hand. How generous God is! All we need to do is open our hands, and discover the pearl of great price has always been there. AMEN.