Sunday, July 30, 2017

“The Parables of Potential” (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

It seems this morning that Jesus in a parable telling mood, as we have heard five to six parables: the mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, fine pearls, the net, and the storehouse.  Each parable is a “kingdom of heaven” lesson for the listener to consider.  As Jesus prefaces each parable with the phrase, “. . . the kingdom of heaven is like . . .”, it is easy to slip into the idea that he is referring to that cosmic, other-worldly place way up in the sky beyond the clouds--you know, heaven.  After all, he says “kingdom of heaven”, and most people believe in a heaven that is out of this world.

And, maybe that is what he is talking about in these parables . . . but, I’m not so sure.  Instead I find myself thinking along the lines of John A. Sanford.  John A. Sanford was a psychotherapist, Episcopalian priest, and author.  Two of his books had a major influence on my understanding of God, Jesus, and how all of us relate to God and one another.  The first was Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language; the second, The Kingdom Within: The Inner Meanings of Jesus’ Sayings.  It was this second book that made me look at the teachings and words of Jesus differently.

Sanford’s premise was simple . . . and, quite in line with Jesus’ teachings.  It begins with the individual.  The individual must discover who he or she is as created by God.  Remember that we are told that we have been created in the image of God; thus, in discovering ourselves we discover God in who God created us to be.  In that discovery we are called upon to love ourselves as God created us.  In loving ourselves we in turn love God . . . we, in turn, can love others.

With this idea Sanford believes that Jesus is not talking about some cosmic and other-worldly dimension out there when he is talking about heaven.  No, Sanford believes that Jesus is talking about something more real and immediate--something not seen as a reward or prize for making it through life.  The “kingdom of heaven” is something tangible . . . something real . . . something that is now in the present.  The trailhead for the “kingdom of heaven” is within each and every one of us.  The “kingdom of heaven” begins with us as individuals.

When Jesus addresses these parables to his listeners, he is telling them about that potential within them . . . potential that is there from the time that they were created by God . . . that spark of God created in their image just waiting to be fanned into a roaring fire.  Potential to be realized and lived.

Another writer that I admire, Joseph Campbell, has also helped me understand this better.  Campbell was a professor of mythology, a writer, and a popular lecturer best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.  The PBS documentary, “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” by Bill Moyers, threw Campbell into the spotlight sharing his thoughts for everyone in the world to consider.  If you have a chance to see the documentary or read the book, please do.

Campbell said, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.”  And, he also said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”  Here I believe he is affirming that it all begins within the individual--that the individual must discover who he or she is as created by God.  That self lies within the person.  It is a great and wonderful gift waiting to be discovered . . . a gift of infinite potential.  To find it and live it is the best thing in the world.

Jesus refers to this potential in the first two parables we heard this morning.  The mustard seed--the smallest of all seeds that becomes the largest plant in the garden “. . . so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”  Or it is like yeast . . . yeast that makes the flour into dough that explodes in size.

The “kingdom of heaven”--to paraphrase Jesus--is like this untapped potential that is within us . . . waiting to be discovered . . . waiting to be nurtured, cared for, and allowed to grow . . . to grow into this wonderful and limitless creation by God.  To find this gift is to realize one’s potential through God.

Which brings us to the next two parables Jesus told in this series . . . the hidden treasure and the fine pearl.  Who doesn’t want to get rich?  The “kingdom of heaven” is the jackpot at the end of the rainbow . . . hitting the lottery . . . finding the prize at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks.  So valuable and exquisite is the “kingdom of heaven” that one should be willing to exhaust all his or her resources to find it . . . to discover it . . . to own it.  So potent is this potential that we sell everything to have ti.

In the first four parables Jesus is telling the listener that the “kingdom of heaven” is this priceless treasure . . . this invaluable gift . . . that is filled with unlimited potential as it is who God created the listener to be.  It is the gift of God.  It is what brings the individual into relationship with God as he or she has been created in God’s image.  So valuable and desirable is this treasure that the urge becomes so powerful that the listener is willing to do anything . . . to give up everything . . . to have it.  But it doesn’t stop there.

Jesus concludes his parable teaching with a final parable and explanation that challenges the listener to become what I would call a “kingdom builder”.  The final parable is about the net.  The net is filled, and once back on the shore the work begins . . . the work of separating the good and useful from the bad and useless.  The good stays, the bad gets thrown away.  This is practical advice that Jesus is offering.  We are to keep that which is useful and helpful in realizing our potential as a creation of God.  We are to keep that which builds up, and we are to get rid of that which poisons, tears down, and destroys growth.  This is a lifelong process that reminds us that not everything that is shiny is gold.

Joseph Campbell writes: “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universal, to match your nature with Nature.”  It is to get in step with God’s plan for us . . . to walk in the footsteps of Christ.  In order to do that, the nets must be cleaned.

In the end, Jesus asks: “Have you understood all these things?”

That is the challenge.

It begins within each and every one of us as we discover that spark of God--that potential of who God created us to be.  It begins with us as we embrace and capture that potential with the desire to allow it to grow and bring us closer to God.  It begins with us as it overwhelms us with a desire so strong that we want--no, need to share it beyond ourselves with others so that they too can discover the holy within them.  In this way we discover the “kingdom of heaven” . . . in this way we become “kingdom builders” as called by Christ.

Joseph Campbell put it this way: “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves.  But in doing that you save the world.”

Such is the “kingdom of heaven”--the place of God.  To this potential Jesus directed his parables.  To this Jesus challenged his listeners.  He call for them to be as he spoke in his concluding parable that those who have “. . . become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out his storerooms new treasures as well as the old.”

The “kingdom of heaven” is within us all.  We are all the creations of God--in God’s own image--waiting to be discovered . . . waiting to release the potential . . . to fulfil God’s call through Jesus’ example.  Campbell states: “I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I have never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.”  Wouldn’t you agree . . . God makes no junk.

In these parables of potential Jesus invites . . . no, challenges us to discover God’s kingdom--the place of God.  As always we know the journey won’t be easy.  Jesus never said it would be.  The most difficult step is the first step.  Joseph Campbell knows this as he says: “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”  Amen.

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