“Therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matthew 13:52
Stories… Who doesn’t like a story? Today we have an abundance of stories. Some Jesus told to crowds of people, others to his small group of disciples, and through the Gospels, to us, too. When a good story is shared again and again, the depth of its meaning is revealed and renewed in every telling and in every time and place. A good story never dies, but is reborn anew each time it’s told.
Jesus tells the first two stories to a crowd. A tiny mustard seed, is planted in the ground, grows into a great shrub, becoming a tree, large enough to be a sanctuary for the birds of the air. A woman hides a bit of yeast, of leaven, in fifty pounds of flour, adds some water, shapes loaves, bakes them and there’s bread enough for a hundred. Both stories start with something really small, a seed, a bit of yeast, that’s transformed into abundance.
These two one-sentence stories remind me of another story I heard 23 years ago. It was told by some of the women of our church acting in a play presented on the 125th Anniversary of the founding of St. John’s. One filled the role of Eliza Miller, the wife of our founding Pastor, the Rev. Henry S. Miller. Together Pastor Miller and Eliza worked in the mission field of Phoenixville. For 8 years the fledging congregation shared space in other churches and organizations in town. With that background, here’s the story: The kingdom of heaven is like eggs gathered from the nest of chickens raised in the back yards of the Lutheran Ladies of Phoenixville. The eggs were sold and became $1,000 used to buy a plot of land on Church Street. A new church was built, paid for and dedicated, debt-free, on July 20, 1873. Something small, an egg, and another and another and another becomes a sanctuary.
Another story, more recent. It took place in our narthex on a Wednesday. A group of parents were waiting for their children who were at Choir practice. Someone asked if anyone had eaten at The Black Lab, a restaurant that recently moved from Whitehorse Road to Bridge Street. A few had and they began talking about what was happening downtown. Here’s the story: The Kingdom of heaven is like taking a chance on something new and then inviting others to join you, one by two by three by four by five, tables are filled, storefronts renewed, a community restored. We’re living that story.
When Jesus tells his next two stories, the crowd is gone and now his listeners are his disciples. The parables are similar. In each, someone discovers something of precious and compelling value. In the first it is hidden treasure that a man finds in a field. He sells all he has and buys the field. This man stumbles into good fortune and takes advantage of it. The second story is a little more complicated. A merchant sells everything he has in order to purchase a priceless pearl. Once he does, he’s no longer a merchant. He’s sacrifices who he is and for a whole new identity. Remember, Jesus tells these two parables to his disciples, including you and me. Jesus gets personal.
Perhaps you have a story to tell about what happened to you when Jesus got personal. How were you changed?
The Kingdom of Heaven is like Wednesday morning at Vacation Bible School. By then the children know the routine and for some the magic is gone. When that happens being a teenage guide or helping with a learning station can become more work than fun. That’s when faith, trusting God, grows and grows and grows becoming treasure discovered in the mission field of VBS.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grandfather showing up for his grand-daughter’s confirmation even though he doesn’t believe a word of it. He wasn’t baptized. He’s there because he loved his grand-daughter. That’s it. And that’s all it takes. Being there. Somewhere between the invocation and the benediction, God got hold of his heart, everything changed and God has never let him go.
Another story — the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pastor who hung her diplomas on her office wall so everyone would see her credentials. She discovered treasure in meetings, Bible Studies, during Confirmation Retreats, on Mission trips, but especially when bread and wine was shared, water poured, words sung and spoken. God everywhere!
Jesus tells two more stories. In the first the kingdom of heaven is like a fisherman’s net thrown into the sea that catches all kinds of fish – game fish, meat fish, tropical fish, trash fish – they are all gathered up in the net.[i] But he doesn’t worry about that – he casts his net wide and deep. The sorting will take place later. In the second, the kingdom of heaven is like a scribe, who collects both the old stories and the new. He, or perhaps, she loves to tell the story of Jesus and his love.
By now you know the pattern – two more stories from here in this place. The kingdom of heaven is like the children hearing the Christmas story and then drawing pictures that will be become invitations to new residents in the 19460 Zip Code. Over the years they’ve created lovely drawing of angels, shepherds and the holy family. Sometimes Santa shows up and Christmas trees too. My favorite was Mary perched on donkey. You could tell she was pregnant, because the artist drew a tiny baby Jesus in her belly. That Christmas Eve a woman showed me the invitation she received. She loved it — Jesus in utero. The net was cast far and wide.
One last story…the Kingdom of Heaven is like the 30-something woman who stopped the church and asked to visit the Sunday School Room for the 3, 4 & 5 years old. Perched on one of the tiny chairs, she told me about how much she loved coming to Sunday School and all the stories told and songs sung about Jesus and his love. Her teachers were scribes sharing the treasure new and old.
Now it’s your turn to tell a story…begin with the Kingdom of Heaven is like… Know, if you want to share your story, you are invited to do so on our St. John’s Family and Friends Facebook page or through an email to the Church office. Amen.
[i] Thomas Long, Matthew, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997, 158.