Sunday 26 July, 2020
St Andrew’s Church of Indooroopilly
Recalibrating desire ©Suzanne Grimmett
A person who is not at home with inward things does not know what God is. It is just like a man who has wine in his cellar and, having neither drunk nor even tried it, does not know that it is good. 1
So says Meister Eckhart, reflecting on the hiddenness of God’s kingdom within each of us. Hiddenness is a theme of many of the parables we have been hearing in past weeks, and even moreso today with this talk of hidden treasure in a field, a wondrous pearl found among many others, teaming varieties of fish just under the ocean’s surface and household treasures, old and new, brought out with joy.
It is important to note that this description of the kingdom is about what it is like- not what it is going to be like when we arrive there. Jesus was always pointing to the nearness of the kingdom, even going so far as to say the kingdom of heaven is within you. This kingdom is the movement of God within us and amongst us in the world. It is the move that creates a new and large family, the kind St Paul spoke about in Romans, that transcends the traditional boundaries of family to create a fellowship founded on love where all separations between us are overcome.
The kingdom of heaven is discovered amongst those living God’s way, and finding great joy in the living. Far from the wowserish reputation of Christianity where the morality police are lurking around every corner demanding that we not have any fun, at the heart of discipleship is desire and a love of life. The way of Jesus the Christ, however, calls us to a recalibration of desire to a place where our goodness and our joy meet. The joy of discovery is a theme in Matthew’s gospel- whether that be the joy of the magi in finding the Christ child in Bethlehem, or the joy of the women running from the empty tomb that first Easter morning. The hidden surprises of God may be found wherever we seek Christ and surrender our will so that our desire and the desires of God are the same, our joy and God’s joy aligned.
Earlier in the Gospel Jesus spoke about being careful not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth where “moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal”, but to instead “store up treasures in heaven.” Why does Jesus use such metaphors of hidden wealth and material goods? It seems that in order to speak of heavenly things, we need to begin by speaking of earthly things and the desires we do understand- desires for security, love and companionship, for wealth to see us through life, for clothes and shelter to keep us warm and good wine in the cellar to make us glad. These are good things in themselves, but their acquisition does not bring us the kind of treasure that lasts. But the earth is the place where the seeds of the kingdom are sown, and there are clues scattered everywhere to help us recognise ‘the will and rule and presence of God’ that brings lasting joy. 2
And never doubt that we need to look. It is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom, but the Gospels reiterate that we need to seek, to ask, and to knock if the spiritual things hidden in plain sight are to be revealed to us.
The parables we have been hearing across these weeks themselves testify that that we cannot be plainly taught exactly how to live our life and what to do- parables are a gateway through which we enter to experience revelation. They defy a single meaning and are instead like a jewel that needs to be turned and turned again to receive all the interpretations possible, reflected in each of our lives. How do I seek after God’s kingdom and find the the goodness of following Jesus’ way? Or, in the earthly symbolism of the parables, what do I need to sell off in my life if I am going to buy this field or claim this pearl?
We are told that when we find this treasure, it will transform the desires of our hearts, enabling us to release our clinging attachment to our small earthly desires and joyfully align our will to the desires of God. And in these stories there is an abundance of joy- joy in the acquisition of a priceless treasure, joy in the beauty of an exquisite pearl, joy in the ridiculous abundance of a net which indiscriminately has gathered fish of all kinds.
Of course, not all of the images of this parable are joyful. We also hear words about judgement similar to that found in last week’s parable of the weeds and the wheat, and a return to that favourite Matthean expression “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is what, we are told, will await those who do not hear or see or accept the gift of God’s kingdom. This little morsel is extremely tempting in those moments when we would like to fancy ourselves as the righteous and those ones over there, whoever they may be, as the condemned. Once again we need to be reminded that the separation of evil from good is not our task- here it is the role of the angels. But I think we also need to remember that the trajectory of all of these parables is the abundance of goodness and the movement towards gathering everyone in. It is those who separate themselves from this abundance, those who set themselves up to judge and condemn, who are in danger of the sort of hell found in the severing of connection and the absence of God.
You cannot play God and surrender to God at the same time.
Here is where our human understanding fails us. We look at the intractable conflicts and human heartache in the world and struggle to imagine a future that does not involve us cutting loose those whose agendas seem to hold us back, or creating a future, whether that be for the world or for the Church, where we are not in some way separating ourselves from others. But perhaps we are just all like that man with a cellar in his house full of fine vintage wine, who declares that it can’t be that good, despite never having sampled it. G.K Chesterton once said that “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
Perhaps we all underestimate the power of forgiveness to create a world where human desires are transformed and aligned with the unbounded grace of a God who longs to gather everyone in. A kingdom where there are no more divisions between enemies and friends, worthy and unworthy, clean and unclean; no death, but only more life. We have only our experience on this earth after all, and maybe we cannot fathom the mystery of a God who invites us into a place where there is no separation.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38)
These are words which are often spoken at funerals and to comfort those who are dying. But they are also words which can help us find the treasure that is hidden in the field, or the richness of life teeming just beneath the surface in the here and now. In Christ we are forgiven, and we can be like a rich gift of fine wine for others in need of that same outpouring of grace. To believe in the power of love and the transformative hope of forgiveness is to leave cynicism behind and imagine the world brand new each day. To live in this way is worth seeking with all our heart and giving all we have, knowing that where we find our goodness, there also will be fullness of joy.
1 Meister Eckhart, Sermon 10 in Bernard McGinn, ed. Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher (New York City, NY: Paulist Press, 1986), 262
Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY: 2 Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 42.