“The coming of the Kingdom starts, not with a grand spectacle, but a hidden presence.” Thus says Dale Allison in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel.
These past weeks we have been hearing a lot about growth and seeds and things seen and unseen. The Sunday lectionary has jumped around a bit, because Matthew uses a structure for his writing which is not easy to follow if you are not reading very large chunks at once. So he starts one story, interjects another, wanders around a bit and comes back to what he was saying. It is actually the way most of us have conversations, but you have to jump of you want a few concise verses to read in Church!
So the Gospel has a lot of snippets of the Kingdom – a mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a pearl of great price and the allegory of a net of fish. From this we may draw comparisons with small beginnings, growth, unseen action, worth, sacrifice and final judgement. In fact, each of these snippets is a sermon in itself – Matthew is rich with imagery, much of which takes a lot of unpacking and none of which does well with over-simplistic interpretation.
So let’s go back to this idea of the Kingdom of Heaven starting with a hidden presence. That seems to bring us to the heart of some of the things which we have been talking about here at San Pablo over the past few months.
We have talked a lot about Outreach, about the mission which we share to the community in which we are placed. We have thought about what God might be doing in those around us, in a hidden and unnamed way which people might refer to as “spirituality” or “higher being”. We have thought about how important it is to acknowledge that presence and still small voice as something real and important in every human being – whoever they are. Something which is in the essence of creation, which God gives to God’s people, every single one of us.
Then we have talked about that inner life of each person here – that life which seeps out into the world around us. We have talked about being so transformed by that life hidden in God with Christ that we simply overflow with God’s love, even when we are not being deliberately evangelistic. We have remember how we are each growing to that place where our actions are transformed and governed by our life in Christ to the point where we become living examples of Christ and how even through reconciliation after reconciliation, communion after communion, turning after turning we will always be journeying towards that time when that hidden life is our whole life.
We have talked about the inner life of this community, how we must live towards and recognize Christ in each other – even when that is challenging. How we must look at the other as one in whom God is working, but also be aware that sometimes we are called to be agents of change and betterment of relationships between people.
The kingdom starts in a hundred thousand inconspicuous moments of encounter with God and we are asked simply to notice those first shoots, to believe that the bread will rise, to be willing to hand all that we are over to this most precious of stories and make it one with our own.
Remember how a couple of weeks ago I said that Paul keeps getting excited in Romans 8 – it is almost as if he is bubbling over inside with excitement and it gets the better of his formal rabbinic style. He says in our reading today,
“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.”
This to me is the climax of Romans, and perhaps of Paul’s writings. Nothing, nothing, nothing will be able to pull us away, gnaw us away or even apathy us away from the love of God – whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not and whether we want it or not.
That reality should come as an immense relief to us – because it is not just true today it has been true and it will be true for us. Even in your darkest moment, somehow, God was there. Whatever is to come, you are surrounded by the love of God. And that is true not only for you but for everyone else who you encounter – even those who are kicking and screaming their way through this life – everyone has the potential to be able to receive this love, to know this love.
But not to understand this love. We cannot understand because when we try to understand, when we try to own God’s love in clever formulas, or long words we make it less than it is. This is why this one sentence jumps out in Romans – it is simply poetic – it does not try to explain why or how – it just is. This love is hidden and real – yes it jumps out and dances and catches us in its fire but in essence it is mystery because this love is God.
At the end of the Gospel passage today Matthew uses the phrase “scribes for the kingdom”. It is entirely possible that he was talking about himself, but it is also possible he was saying that those who participate willingly in the Good News of Jesus are themselves scribes for the Kingdom. The scribes are those who hold the story of the people, those who have the ability to write for good of for evil. Those whose words give life to the work of God with God’s people.
Knowing that nothing will separate us from love, knowing that God always hangs on – what story are we going to tell. Where are we going to notice the hidden presence of God in our world and how might that be written into the great narrative of which we are all a part.
The Church has a bad reputation for shouting – telling others what they should do, how they should be, who they should love – but what if we are in the business of gathering up lives and stories into this great fabric of love, weaving together the world around us, carefully, gently, slowly , piece by precious piece bringing those whom God will never let go of to a knowledge of that love.
Nothing will separate us from the love of God, let’s commit to listening and discovering what that really might mean – if we dare to believe it.