Gospel Reading Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
People of any age can have a dream which may then develop into an ambition – and ambitions vary enormously. Some people have an ambition to win the lottery or, somehow or other, become a millionaire. Others have the ambition to reach the top of their chosen field. It’s this burning ambition which keeps sportsmen and women constantly training and constantly pitting themselves against tougher and tougher opposition.
Other people have less elevated ambitions, but those ambitions may be all encompassing nonetheless; perhaps the ambition to own a beautiful house, or a certain type of car, or maybe simply the ambition to be happy.
Other people are thrown into unexpected ambition through life’s events. Many people who experience personal tragedy find themselves devoting their lives to trying to prevent similar tragedies happening to others. So the families of those who have died, for example, from leukaemia or cancer are often at the forefront of organisations raising money for research into those illnesses.
People with a really burning ambition of whatever sort and for whatever reason, might give everything to realise it. Some have been known to die for their ambition – look at the steady stream of people climbing Everest – such a dangerous ambition to fulfil and where some never make it back.
It’s in these all-encompassing and ultimate terms that Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven. He says that anyone who really understands what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, would give everything for it. They’d sell all they possess for the Kingdom.
But Jesus doesn’t only describe the Kingdom of Heaven as some paradise to be experienced after death. His pictures of the Kingdom are down to earth and immediate. And he repeats over again that the Kingdom of Heaven can be realised from tiny beginnings – like a plant growing from a tiny seed.
We often think that the Kingdom of Heaven is in the future – maybe it is the same as heaven – something for the next world. But if you look at Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom he never says ‘it will be like’ but rather ‘it is like’. God’s Kingdom is here, now. The only thing is that we have to look for it – our eyes have to be open to it – our hearts also.
We can see it wherever there is goodness – where the hungry are fed, the sick healed, where new life springs up out death. If you think about the sorts of things Jesus spent his time doing, then you are thinking about God’s Kingdom. Wherever these things happen today, that’s where God’s Kingdom is.
There is a richness and variety in Jesus’ images of the Kingdom of Heaven. He talks of everyday things – seeds for growing, yeast for making bread. From this we know that we needn’t look far for God’s Kingdom – if we look, we will find it right under our noses. Jesus talks about finding the Kingdom in beautiful things too – like treasure hidden in the soil or like the shiny pearls of a necklace.
I once went to an exhibition of paintings by the artist Stanley Spencer. He is well known for having painted scenes from the gospels but set in his own village of Cookham. There is a striking picture of Jesus, carrying his cross through the local streets, the people leaning out of their windows mysteriously transformed into angels.
Stanley Spencer’s paintings are lit by a mysterious light which gives them a sense of being about things sacred. Even a picture of a garage, with a great stack of tyres, is painted as reverently as one would paint a picture of Mary, or of the crucifixion. Spencer experienced God’s Kingdom all around him, and somehow this gift remained with him even though his life was marred experiences of the First World War.
Somehow we have to learn to see like that – to see God in all things, to recognise His Kingdom each day. We have to learn to see God in the plain, the ordinary and the insignificant. We have to learn to see God in things of beauty – things made by God and things made by us. We have to see our own places as the backdrop to our faith – the setting in which God’s Kingdom is growing. We have to have the humility to know that the Kingdom of Heaven is there even without us. It is our job to recognise it, to thank God for it, and to help it to grow.
The poet Rev’d R. S. Thomas wrote a poem called The Bright Field which speaks of these things.
Rev’d Dr. Anne Morris
Vicar St. Oswald’s, Knuzden, Blackburn