Rev'd Rory Redmayne
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN NOW AND FOR ETERNITY
I last preached here about a month ago.
I’m sure you will remember vividly that I spoke of Sin and Righteousness from the letter to the Romans chapter 6!
You may recall that I described being ‘in Sin’ as being separated from God; with its ultimate outcome being eternal existence as if in a black hole of self-focused isolation.
Righteousness, on the other hand, I suggested was life lived in eternal fellowship with God and neighbour.
Now we come to today’s gospel reading in which Jesus offers five parables which all begin, “The Kingdom of heaven is like …”, (Mt. 13: 31 et al.).
Is it divine serendipity that this series follows seamlessly on from Paul’s words about Sin and Righteousness?
Or perhaps it’s just that the Bible is consistent in its teaching!
I want us to focus on the last of today’s parables:
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 13:47-50).
Jesus had a lot to say about the Kingdom of Heaven, and nowhere does He suggest that the Kingdom is a place.
Rather, the Kingdom is any circumstance in which God is sovereign.
So the Kingdom of Heaven is not primarily defined by any place or even by the subjects of the King; but rather, the essential feature is the person of the king.
Another aspect of the the Kingdom of Heaven to note is that the subjects are part of the kingdom not by conquest, but by the invitation of the King and choice of the subjects themselves.
So, relating this to St Paul’s words on Sin and Righteousness, the subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven are those who choose the life or Righteousness - the life of fellowship with God and neighbour.
[Before going on, I want to point out one feature of the parable which is a feature of the time of its telling:
The parable finishes with words of dire warning: The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 13:47-50).
Jesus had no problem in spelling out in vivid terms the consequences of wrong choices.
In this case, those who chose the way of Sin would burn for eternity in a “furnace of fire” - fun, eh!
In our day such gloomy warnings are out of fashion.
We are slow to spell out the dreadful consequence of sinful choices.
In our day we prefer to leave such consequences unspoken, but rather point instead to wonderful outcomes of godly choices - Righteousness instead of Sin.
I do rather think that the modern preacher does his listeners no favours by focusing only on the wonderful benefits of Righteousness and ignoring the cost of Sin.]
Now back to the main theme - The Kingdom of Heaven.
It’s easy to think of the kingdom as existing only sometime in the future - at death or at the end of the age.
And the parable I am focusing on would encourage that idea.
However, the earlier parables read far more as if the Kingdom of Heaven is not only the glorious reality for the righteous at the end of the age, but also an at least embryonic reality in the here and now.
Furthermore, those other parables emphasise that it’s worth rejecting all other claims on your time and talents to become a subject of The King Of Heaven.
So, what might this mean for the way we live our life day by day.
It’s easy to think that I might be making a plea for each of us to do more for the Church - sit on more committees, make more jam for the fair, visit the sick more often.
It would be foolish to say that the life of the Church member won’t include some of that stuff, but that’s not the essence of the righteous life.
The righteous life is more about whom we are becoming than it is about what we do.
You might remember that in Romans chapter 6 St Paul wrote, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”, (Rom. 6:14).
Now we know from the letter to the Galatians that those who “live under grace”, to use St Paul’s words, grow in the fruits of the Spirit - “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”, (Gal. 5:22f).
So if you are interested in growing in righteousness, then don’t focus on how many committees you are on, but rather pray for and practice the fruits of the Spirit; it is people who exhibit such fruits in their lives who will experience the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now.
And just one little clarification here: these fruits don’t come by magic.
By all means pray for patience, for example. But don’t then expect it to appear from the ether next time you feel frustrated.
The Spirit will indeed help you to keep your cool, but you need to do your bit too by determined practice. Silence and breathing through the nose help!
So to conclude:
The Kingdom Of Heaven is wherever The King is present and honoured
The Kingdom Of Heaven finds its fulfilment at the end of the age, but is also present in the here and now
Life in the Kingdom is so exquisite that is worth setting aside any thoughts and deeds which don’t honour that King whose subjects we wish to be.
To finish I can do no better than repeat the challenge which Moses set the Hebrew people as they approached the promised land:
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live …”, (Deut. 30:19).
About 1020 words Saved as: Sermon 20aJuly
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