Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Trinity 4
July 14, 2014, 8:59 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday July 13th.

Jesus_boat3-smallSo why did our Lord talk to the people in parables? What was he up to in his public ministry, those two or three years before his crucifixion when he was travelling round Galilee and Judea telling stories? Why did he suggest that it was not so much to help them understand what was going on, but to hinder them?

There are plenty of people today who would like to picture Jesus as a gentle moral teacher, who went about saying that if only we could all be nicer to one another, the world would be a happier place. But if that were all, it is hard to see how he provoked such opposition that his enemies conspired to kill him. Also, it is hard to see any of the parables as simply illustrations of moral teaching. They are mostly illustrations of what Jesus and his first followers called “the kingdom of heaven.”

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is not what many often mean by “heaven”- somewhere we go when our life on earth is ended. It means, “What this earth should and will be like when God is truly its King.” John the Baptist and Jesus himself went round saying, “Repent! Change your ways! Turn away from sin and back to God” Because his kingdom is near, he is about to establish his reign now.

Today’s story is about a farmer sowing seed in his field. Some of it goes to waste, in various ways; some of it grows and becomes a good crop. As Jesus explains, he himself is the sower, as he goes round spreading the “word of the kingdom”. The call to repent, to be converted, falls on many deaf ears; but some hear it and take notice.

The Jews divided history into two “ages”. There is the present age, the here and now age, marked by human sinfulness and suffering. But there is an Age-to-come, when God will put right everything that is wrong, and be king for ever and ever. Jesus was announcing that the Age-to-come had, in him, now arrived. The old order of tyranny and oppression, of exploitation and suffering, was about to be replaced. This was the Jewish hope, the coming of the Messiah who would overthrow the kingdoms of the world and establish the kingdom of God.

There was a big problem about this. The Jews (mostly) expected a visible, military, political and economic overthrow of paganism, and the establishment of a visible and earthly kingdom in which the Jewish people would be rulers instead of ruled. Clearly, Jesus did not do this. He was put to death by the Romans. As a Messiah he was a failure in Jewish eyes.

As Christians, of course, we believe that it was precisely through being crucified that Jesus established his kingdom, and his status as Messiah was vindicated by God raising him from the dead. Jesus was not only the sower, he was the seed that has to fall into the ground and “die”, before coming to life triumphantly.

But we too have a problem. Jesus is King, we say; but the world seems to go on as it always did, with tyranny and oppression and exploitation. Just read the papers or watch the news to see. What has changed? And the temptation is to say that perhaps the kingdom of heaven isn’t meant to be on earth at all, it is somewhere up above the bright blue sky, when we die.

That is not the Gospel we preach. The kingdom comes in two stages: for those who hear and heed the message of Jesus, and who accept him as their Lord and King, the kingdom is already present; just as it was present in Jesus himself, in his public ministry. But just as Jesus had to experience opposition and rejection from the powers of the present world, so we his followers must be prepared for at least ridicule and unpopularity.

Listening to today’s parable, there are questions that each of us must answer for ourselves. First, are we going to be among those who hear but don’t understand, who see but have no insight? Are we going to be among those who hear Christ’s word, but have no roots, or who let the cares of this world choke its growth? Or are we prepared to say, first of all in the depths of our own hearts, “Jesus is Lord”? And are we prepared to stand by him in public, in the face of being thought stupid or superstitious or bigots or whatever?

The present age continues, but Jesus is already with us, whatever happens. We shall all die, but Jesus will continue to be with us as we make that journey; and he will raise us up in that Day when God completes his work of renewal, and the new world begins.

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