Green Lake Church, June 8
[Pro 3:13-17 NLT] 13 Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. 14 For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. 15 Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. 16 She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. 17 She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying.
[Mat 13:10-16 NLT] 10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” 11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. 14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. 15 For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes–so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ 16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
These are words spoken by Jesus to his disciples.
You have been given access to a secret. They have not. You know because it was told to you. You did not discover this secret. You did not figure it out. It is not a code that you deciphered. The knowledge was given to you. The secret was revealed to you.
So count yourself blessed. Privileged.
What is this secret that belongs to the disciples of Jesus? What is the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Many of Jesus’ teachings are not unique.
“Tell the truth.” This is not an especially “Christian” idea. Buddhists, Muslims, many atheists, Hindus–people from all kinds of religious and philosophical backgrounds agree that we ought to tell the truth.
Jesus gave truth telling special prominence. He said we will be judged by every word that we speak. Words matter. Telling the truth matters. But even if Jesus hadn’t told us, we would still know that.
“Honor your parents.” Jesus highlighted the fact that this obligation takes precedence over religious acts. He pointedly challenged the hyper-religious people of his day: Don’t give money to the church if that money is needed to provide proper care for your parents. Still, it’s obvious that we don’t have to be Christian to know that we ought to care for our parents. Many cultures teach this. Many practice this.
What is the special Secret of the Kingdom? What is the insider knowledge that is available to the citizens of the kingdom of heaven? It’s important to note that this knowledge is not attained. It’s not acquired. Jesus told his disciples the Secret was given to them. It was a gift, not an accomplishment.
The secret is not a formula. It is not a theological treatise. Jesus told us the secret by telling stories.
The phrase the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven is found in Matthew chapter 13. but the collection of stories that I think best illustrates what the secret is, is found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15.
A collection of three stories.
For some of us these stories are deeply familiar. We imagine everyone knows the stories like we do, but I know that some among us here today are not so familiar with those stories. So I’d like to tell them again. If you know the stories well join me in your hearts and let’s rehearse them again. If you are not familiar with these stories please hear them as the very heart of the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, as the special Jewel that lies at the heart of the teachings of Jesus.
There was a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. At evening when he penned them up for the night, one was missing. He secured the 99 in the pen then headed back out into the dark to hunt for the lost sheep. He refused to come home until he found his sheep. And when he found his sheep he did not throw a temper tantrum about the stupid sheep that kept him up half the night. No. He woke up his neighbors so they could celebrate with him. “I found my sheep!” he said.
God is that kind of shepherd.
Some of Jesus’ critics complained that he hung out with unsavory people. Jesus did not pretend the people he was hanging out with were “all right.” Of course, they were messed up. They were sick. Sick in their souls. Sick in their minds. Sick in their social habits. But then, Jesus said, I’m a doctor. And where do you expect to find the doctor . . . with sick people, obviously.
God is that kind of doctor.
Jesus saw his city, his people, headed toward ruin. He could see that the Jewish people were going to self-destruct. He did not whip up anger. He did not encourage disgust or resentment. Instead, he offered this lament:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have called. I long to gather you to myself like a mother hen summoning her chicks.
God is a mother hen.
The sun shines on good people and bad people.
That is God smiling on all God’s children.
Birds find their dinners and that is God feeding them. Flowers are exquisitely perfumed and extravagantly dressed and that is evidence of the generosity and care of God.
This is the secret of the kingdom of heaven. God is generous.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who had ten coins–her entire wealth, her security. She lost one. When she didn’t immediately find it she emptied her house and swept it until she found it. God is the woman and we are the coin. When we are lost God searches and God finds. He does not quit searching until he finds.
Note that the woman’s well being was bound up with that coin. The queen was not dispensable. Her searching innocence was not voluntary. She had to have that coin. She could not let it go. So God is with us. We matter to God. God would be diminished to lose us. And to lose our neighbors. And to lose our enemies.
Refugees on our southern border are precious coins to God.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh fleeing ethnic cleansing in Burma are coins to God.
The homeless people here in our midst who create such a mess and are such a problem, they, too, are coins. They are precious to God. And thus, because we are part of the family of God, they are precious to us . . . even if we scratch our heads wondering how to manage them.
This week we have seen pictures of the American president and the English queen. Lots of glitter. Lots of evident wealth and power. This is how the world works. Comfort and money flows to the top.
We imagine God is like that. But the secret of the kingdom of heaven is that God is like a mother whose heart is owned by her child–whether that child is an accomplished scientist or brilliant musician or is in and out of jail with the problems associated with mental illness. Every human is a precious coin. Our distress distresses God. Our needs haunt the heart of God. The important story is not the state dinner with its important personages and silver and china. The story that holds the attention of God is the plight of his lost coins.
The last story is the story of two sons and a father. The title of the story is The Prodigal Son. A man’s younger son asked for his share of the father’s inheritance, a shocking, disgraceful request. Astonishingly, the father says yes. He gives the younger son his inheritance in cash. The son takes off for a far country to where he wastes his money on wine, women, and song. Of course, his money runs out. There is a recession and the son hires himself out to a farmer as a swineherd–a pig feeder. He is so hungry he’s envious of the pigs for their food.
Eventually, in his desperation, it occurs to him that the servants in his Father’s house are much better off than he is. I will go home and apply for a job as a servant. As he approaches home his father races out the door to greet him, wraps him in a rich embrace, calls for a servant to bring a robe and a ring for his finger. He orders the preparation of feast to celebrate his son’s return.
Meanwhile, his older brother has been out working on the farm. When he comes back to the house and finds party preparations underway he is outraged. This scoundrel who wasted your money and insulted you! You are throwing a party for him?
The father goes out to persuade the older son to come into the party.
He reassures his older son. Look the entire estate is yours. But my son was dead and now he is alive. How could I not throw a party?
What is God like? God loves even warring brothers. God loves the scoundrels. And God loves those who are annoyed by the scoundrels. God loves all his sons and all his daughters and the way a model parent does.
This is the secret of the Kingdom of heaven. You are precious. I am precious. And they are precious. Because we all are children of God.
This is the secret we have been given. Let’s pass it on.