Sunday 1 October 2023

Sermon on the love of St Paul - 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

 "But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent
Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."

Good Morning everyone,

When it comes to preach a sermon on a passage like this, I feel there is a special challenge, ironically because it is already so straightforward. If you have a passage with some complex theological ideas, or obscure language, or complicated parable, then that is challenging in a way, but it can give you something to get into, to take apart and explain. 

I don't think that's the case here, you don't need me to start talking about the original Greek and the subtle nuances of words. Sometimes things really are as simple as they appear. But still, I will try to add something of value, since in its simplicity, this passage reflects the heart of the Gospel, the simple virtues that give life to everything else. 

Sometimes people get the impression that Paul was a cold, theological figure; well not here. More than anything this passage spills over with his warm, affectionate love and concern for the Thessalonians. He writes like a proud parent, sometimes afraid for his spiritual children out on their own in the world, in other lines bursting with pride and happiness when he finds out they are well and persevering in their faith. 

In the previous chapter, Paul describes himself as a nursing mother caring for his children, a tender, intimate, feminine picture; reflecting our Lord Jesus himself, who described himself as a mother hen, eager to gather her chicks under her wings, if only they would let her.

Paul fusses, he fusses, as every parent has done at one time or another, especially when their children are far off. In the end, he fusses so badly he has to send Timothy to check that the Thessalonians are alright, and when Timothy returns with good news, Paul cannot contain himself, and so he has to write back to them, this very letter we are working through, to tell them how pleased he is, to encourage them further, to make sure they know of his longing to be with them, to share their troubles, to give them the benefit of his experience. 

But there are too many cities, and to each of them Paul wants to bring the good news of Jesus Christ. He's like a parent with children scattered all over the country and the world: does he go to Corinth to see a son, or to Philippi to catch up with a daughter, or to Galatia to spend time with the grandchildren, spiritually speaking. At at all the time he wants to carry on his ministry, spreading the good seed of the gospel in new ground. 

Paul wants to be honest with his spiritual children, he paints no dishonestly rosy pictures, but bears straight with them about the persecution and opposition he himself suffers, and they will suffer because they have turned from their formerly pagan or Jewish beliefs to cling to Christ. Paul knows that suffering; like Jesus, and the other Apostles, Paul doesn't know how to lead except from the front. He makes himself the most obvious and noisy target, and has suffered abuse, threats, imprisonment, beatings, and he counts it a price well paid, to bring people the good news of our Lord Jesus. 

Paul continues to work for his own living as well, in between preaching, teaching, travelling and suffering these persecutions. He does this to avoid being a burden on those communities he stays with, so also nobody can accuse him of preaching the Lord Jesus because he gets a living from it, so also that he is not dependant on anyone but is free to preach as his conscience and God directs him. But in other places in his letters he makes clear that he would be within his rights to ask for his food and lodging in return for his teaching. 

I believe he does this because he doesn't want to limit the ministry only to those able to carry on another job, if people are going to consistently dedicate themselves to preaching and pastoral care, then they deserve a living the same as anyone else. But I believe he makes this clear because he doesn't want people to get the impression what he's teaching and preaching about is worthless. The Good News of our Lord Jesus is supremely valuable, worth far more than food and board; worth more than everything we own. At times it calls on our time, at times our money, at times our very lives; Paul knows this, and he doesn't want anyone to think differently.

We often think of Paul as a theological figure, rather than a pastoral one, and that is in part because we often concentrate on the jewels of theology that Paul's letters contain. Remarkable passage in letters like Romans, Corinthians, Phillipians that are foundational to two thousand years or Christian thought and philosophy that have defined the Western World in so many ways, all based on grappling with the astonishing figure of Jesus, who changed Paul's life, and has changed my life, and countless other people today and in every century since. 

But when I sat down and read Paul's letters, not in fragments, but all the way through, like you would a book, one whole letter then another, then it struck me was just how pastoral they are, all of them. The theology is woven all the way through, but it is always immediately, intimately entwined with the pastoral; the most profound theological insights are always intensely practical, driving decision and action in the here and now.

And this is something you see so consistently across the earliest Christian writings. In the Gospels, Jesus reveals to us the nature of God, and the Kingdom of God, the meaning and purpose of life and how we must live it, and all these mind-blowing things through stories about the simplest of things: the sowing of seed, a wedding feast, a shepherd with his sheep, a woman who loses a coin, a merchant who sees a pearl, the most everyday and ordinary things caught up in the holiest of heights.

And that is as it should be. Sometimes in the modern world we can divide theology from everyday life, like there's these abstract logical puzzles about the nature of God, or whatever, the realm of theologians in ivory towers at universities; and then completely separate there's the problems and troubles of ordinary life. No. No. When I think of New Testament, I think of a book of profoundly practical wisdom; when I think of Paul, I think of a man who was never afraid to get his hands dirty, whose most profound theological reflections were attempts to answer the immediate, pastoral questions of the spiritual brothers and sisters he so dearly loved. 

One of Paul's most famous passages is 1 Corinthians 13 where in beautiful, lyrical words he explains the nature of love. It ends with the famous words, "And now abides faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." But these three virtues are not just mentioned in that famous passage from Corinthians, but together in Thessalonians, at the start in chapter 1, and then again at the end in Chapter 5, and they mentioned, albeit spread around, in this passage too. 

Clearly to Paul these were the defining, important virtues. But while in 1 Corinthians 13 he defines love in poetic but abstract terms, here he shows what faith, hope and love means in his intense concern for the Thessalonians, his hope they will have remained devoted to the teaching he brought them, his faith in the face of troubles and persecution. Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that these are the lifeblood of the gospel: "for God so loved the world that he sent his only son", and the Son, Jesus Christ, showed that love for us, he wept for us, he died for us, he longed to gather us in as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and now we must show that love to one another.

These virtues are simple, they are practical: we all know what faith, hope and love looks like, we live it everyday, for our children and families and friends, for our country, for our community, for ourselves. Paul is saying, let Christ inspire us and empower us to do these things even more. Let Christ's love fill us up to bursting, so we overflow with love for God and other people even more. Let the knowledge of what God has done for us, and faith in what God is doing with us, and hope for what God will do with us; let it burn away our remaining bitterness and suspicion and fear.

Let us gush with affection for one another, as Paul gushed over the Thessalonians. Let us consider every unhappiness in this church to be our own, let it niggle and annoy us to know that anyone here has a need, or a concern, or a fear, that goes unanswered. Of course, our love and concern should not be limited to people within these walls. Charity begins at home, or in this case, within our own church, but that should merely be the first step that radiates out and out until it rebuilds and recreates a better world for all. But to misquote the first letter of St John, if you cannot love your own family, or your own community who you see all the time, then how can you love the vast world beyond, who you rarely ever see? We can never do everything, but we can all do something, each time the opportunity appears.

Maybe you struggle to feel that love and concern for the people around you. After all, Paul wasn't British, he wasn't raised with the stiff-upper lip. Well, good news, because love isn't just a feeling, neither is faith, or hope. In fact, that is one of the great and important insights of Christianity. Love isn't a feeling, it's a doing. The same goes for faith and hope as well. Show love to the people around you, meditate on how much God loves them: because whoever they are and whatever they do, they're his precious children; and the feeling will eventually come, as far as the English are capable anyway. The same goes for faith. It doesn't mean believing without any doubts, it means placing our trust in Jesus, it means being faithful to Jesus, following his commands despite doubts and uncertainties that bombard us. And that is something we can all do in ways large and small. Hope too, comes in making the choice to take risks; risks in trusting in a person, in an idea, in greater communication and openness; taking a risk that things can be done, that things can be done better, that things can get better. The feelings follow eventually.

In so much of the external world and society, love is limited and conditional, available if we are useful or beautiful or charming. Well, let us reject all that. Let us love one another without borders or limits because God loves us, infinitely, eternally, without pausing or ceasing; and we trust that he sees truly and clearly where our vision in confused and dim. Let us discover what Paul discovered, that God pours out his love into us every day, the same for the greatest and the least. So let it fill us up, let it flow over onto other people, whoever they are. Let it make us soft and sentimental, but never stationary or static. Rather, like Paul, let it be the fuel powering our engine, to love with more passion, to serve with more dedication, and so to build the Kingdom of God on Earth, that alone endures beyond the changes of life and death, because it is built on God himself.


Sermon on Moses - Hebrews 11:23-29

"By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they
saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel."

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned."

Hebrews 11:1-2 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” 

We for some weeks now have been working through a list of Old Testament figures taken from the letter to the Hebrews. This chapter begins with the famous words,“now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. The list of Old Testament figures we’ve been working through then are chosen as examples of that perspective on faith. They are examples of where people took bold action in the present inspired by looking ahead to the fulfilment of God’s promises in the future, promises whose fulfilment they are would not themselves necessarily live to see. Stepping out in faith, as we often call it. 

Last week’s reading included a good example that Paul Simmonds spoke of. Joseph had a remarkable life and he kept his faith and trust in God through his troubles, great troubles. But the act that Hebrews highlights is Joseph at the end of his life, looking ahead to after his death, giving instructions that when his people left Egypt they should take his body with them. He trusted in God’s promise that he would give the Holy Land to his people, though he would not live to see it. So we need to bear that in mind, when we think about what God is saying about Moses in Hebrews. Hebrews does not start with Moses but with his parents. He was the child of faithful parents. They had faith so they put Moses in a basket in the river, not knowing what would happen but knowing, in faith, that there would be a chance for their child. 

Our faith never stands on its own but relies on those who came before us and those who will come after. Let us share it and build it, we never know what it might mean. Every great man or woman of history whose name we know, was taught or inspired by someone nobody remembers, who gets no credit, but was essential to that great person achieving what they did. You don’t know what you might achieve with God; and you don’t know who you might affect, and then what they might achieve.  

So who was Moses? What did he become? He was in some ways not a very impressive man, like many God chose he was terrified by the idea at first, he begged God to send someone else; he was not an eloquent man, he was so scared of speaking that God had to promise to send Aaron with him. He was someone whose temper sometimes got the best of him. But at the same time he was a man of remarkable courage and a great sense of justice. You can see his courage and sense of justice when he intervened to save a Hebrew being beaten by an Egyptian, but also his temper because he killed the Egyptian. After that he fled Egypt and came to Midian, where he saw a group of women, shepherdesses, being bullied away from a water well by a group of men, and again he wanted to help these women, strangers to him.

Hebrews says Moses could have stayed a Prince in Egypt, he could have wallowed in wealth and earthly pleasures (which does indeed sound nice); but he chose hardship and poverty to be faithful to God and to free his people. So often in the Bible it is not that a man was extraordinarily clever or strong or anything, but that in the end he was willing to take huge risks to stand up and do the right thing, because he had faith in God and his promise. Moses was a man who could stand against the absolute ruler of Egypt, a living god to his people, and command him, saying, God, the true God, has told you, let my people go.

And he did, he freed his people, he freed his people and led them out of Egypt into the desert, trusting that God would lead them to the Promised Land, without knowing how they would possibly get food and water for so many thousands of people, but trusting in God to provide. Later on, he would receive the Law at Mount Sinai, that would guide the Jews in how they must live and worship God; that would prepare the way for Christ by teaching his people that God is Holy, and that though again and again they would fall short, God gave them ways for their sins to be forgiven through sacrifice and prayer. These temporary sacrifices prepared them to understand the one infinite sacrifice that Christ would make to provide an eternal path to free us from our sins. 

The Law gives us the image of the Lamb of God, the sacrificial lamb that would become such a power symbol of who God is in Christ; and the 10 commandments that lie right at the heart and basis of our systems of Law and Justice. In fact, Moses was credited with writing more pages of the Bible than any other writer, the first five books, known to the Jews as the Torah, the Teaching. It is the historical core of the Old Testament, and so the whole Bible. 

Moses has a crucial role in the achievement of the Exodus, the giving of the Law, and the institution of the Passover. And all three are crucial to understanding Biblical faith. Moses’ achievements are still at the heart of Jewish religion and identity today. The annual celebration of the Passover, remembering how through Moses God rescued his people from Egypt, is the most important ritual in the Jewish year. A liturgy carried out around the family table, as Jews have done for three thousand years, with the foods of the Passover story: the lamb and the flat unleavened bread. Flat bread because there was no time for the dough to rise before the Hebrews had to leave their homes and flee from Egypt. 

The Passover is our story as well. The night before he died, Jesus held the last supper with his disciples. This was a Passover meal, where they remembered the Exodus and broke the bread, and ate the lamb and drank the wine. Incredibly, there Jesus took the Passover bread and wine and said, this is my body, this is my blood. He was saying I am God’s salvation, as through Moses God saved his people from slavery in Egypt, so through Jesus, God would save all the world from slavery to sin and death, if we will let him, if we choose to be his people. That is what we remember every time we take Communion, this is what we share: The bread and wine of Passover, the body and blood of Jesus, our Passover lamb.

One thing to note in our reading is how it says Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasurers of Egypt”. “Disgrace for the sake of Christ”? That might sound strange to us. How did Moses know Christ? We often forget that Hebrews and all the books of the New Testament take for granted that Christ is God and that he was an active presence in the Old Testament, and that the Old Testament Prophets spoke of Christ and believed in him. 

At Christmas time, we read the opening to John’s Gospel ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God, which is of course places Christ Jesus, the Son of God, right there at the start of Genesis on the first page of the Bible. And he’s there in the Exodus according to this reading from Hebrews.  Across the New Testament, particularly in Matthew, in Acts, in Paul’s letters and here in Hebrews, they are saying that the Old Testament speaks of Christ, and Christ was there and known in the Old Testament, in Psalms and Isaiah and everywhere throughout the history of God’s people. This is why you can’t take the Old Testament out of the Bible, because if you did you wouldn’t have a New Testament left. And I don’t just mean that one historically led to the other, I mean that if you removed all the parts of the New Testament that are talking about the Old Testament you would be left with a lot of empty pages. 

The Exodus itself, has always been of special importance to people suffering oppression and slavery. That God heard the cry of the slaves, named them his people and brought them out of slavery to the Promised Land. In particular, it was profoundly important to the black slaves of America. Taken from Africa and introduced to the Bible by their captors, still they found in the story of Moses a promise of freedom that defied the men who held them prisoner, and brought meaning and hope that God was with them. Denied education or freedom to meet and organise, they expressed themselves through music, songs sung in fields and simple homes, shared orally and passed down through generations. After slavery was abolished in America in the 1860s these songs were written down and shared widely. In our hymnbooks they used to be called negro spirituals. And Spiritual they certainly are. And it’s an incredible thing that the story of what Moses did could mean so much, thousands of years later and thousands of miles away, to a people in the face of such suffering. 

Moses is described as special: in both Exodus and Numbers it is said uniquely that God spoke to Moses not in dreams or riddles but face-to-face, face to face. This is the amazing thing about Jesus, everyone who saw him saw God face-to-face. All the Apostles, all the people who followed Jesus, had a relationship with God as special as this one unique person in the whole Old Testament, and through the Holy Spirit within us, we can say the same. We have a faith passed down from the Patriarchs to Moses, preserved by his parents, lived through his courage; that brought his people into the Promised Land, that was and is always looking to Christ, and to this day is inspiring those suffering oppression to strive for a more just and Christ-like world: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  I pray we will all embrace that faith. It has done mighty things in the past, and with God, it can do mighty things in the future still.  Amen.

Sermon for King Charles III's Coronation - The Kingdom of Heaven

Mark 4:26-29

Jesus said to them, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Yesterday we saw the coronation of King Charles III, the first coronation in this country for 70 years,

and today I am speaking to you about the Kingdom of God. We have two different kingdoms before us then: the Kingdom of God, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. How then, do these Kingdoms relate to each other?

The Coronation expresses an ideal of service through historic traditions and ceremonies, that in this country have always been rooted in a Christian, Biblical understanding of service and sacrifice. Our King was crowned in Westminster Abbey, by our own Archbishop, and in the most sacred part of the coronation, the King was anointed with holy oil, made from olives grown on Mt Gethsemane in Jerusalem, the garden where Jesus prayed on the night before he was crucified. This anointing follows a Biblical tradition far older even than Christ, going back to the Prophet Samuel and King Saul over 3000 years ago. 

This reminds both the King and ourselves, that we stand in a line of tradition, an inheritance, that goes back far before us, and will be here long after us. We are part of that inheritance, but it is greater and larger than us, a higher standard by which we will be judged, as servants to other people and to God. Our laws are largely secular, they are not written with God first in mind, though there are thoughtful Christians in all our institutions, from the parish council right up to parliament. 

Our laws are decided democratically, but the people can be wrong: we must ultimately judge these laws by whether they reflect God's law: his will for justice, love and peace; respect for the image of God in other men and women, and respect for God's creation. In governing our society, politicians and others often fall short of those high standards. At times in our history, we have failed as a whole society, whether during the years when Britain was involved in the Slave Trade, or in the tolerance of dreadful poverty in the past and today.

We are residents of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God, which is a greater and higher loyalty. The Bible calls us to obey the laws of whatever land we live in, except where those laws profoundly contradict God's higher law. First, we must campaign and argue against unjust laws, but then sometimes we must make the difficult choice to break those laws, in order to keep faith with God. 

How we do that still matters. In ancient times, Christians peacefully refused to engage in the pagan worship of the Roman Emperors, and they were condemned to death for it. In modern times in America, the Reverend Martin Luther King, a Baptist Christian Minister, led black and white Christians in a peaceful movement of civil disobedience that challenged the profoundly unjust, racist laws of the southern US States. Today, as well, around the world, in unjust countries like China, Iran and Russia, Christians wrestle with their consciences, and brave men and women of God face imprisonment and worse for standing up and putting obedience to God ahead of obedience to the state they live in.

It would perhaps be easy to say that the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world should be kept completely separate. Some Christians lean in this direction, arguing that Christians should have nothing to do with politics; while many atheists insist laws should be entirely secular, with no spiritual input at all. But while the Kingdom of God is not of this world, the Gospels tell us the Kingdom of God is bleeding into this world: soaking it, transforming it, making it a new and better creation; a hope for all mankind, and all nature. This transformation comes through Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the one and only man truly worthy to be a King, the one and only man in whom we can always place our trust. From the very first Christmas, when God came into this world as a baby, his Kingdom is here and present and growing: from the start of Jesus' ministry in Galilee it explodes outward.

This means there are three different layers of reality that we must distinguish. On the one hand, we have the realities of what power and politics looks like now, in this world, which is often a disappointing affair of hypocrisy, division, hatred and short-sighted greed. Then there is the presence of God in heaven, where God is everything and evil and sin have no hold. In between though, there is a process, a changing reality as the Kingdom of God soaks into this world and transforms it. The Bible makes clear that ultimately, in the end, this world will be transformed entirely: the ugliness and greed of politics will pass away and the Kingdom of God will be all in all, forever and ever. It is God and his Kingdom that is truly real and eternal, while evil and misery is passing away and will be gone. 

We see that completed Kingdom of God now as an ideal, a vision: when we read the Bible, and in moments of worship and liturgy, like the Coronation itself, but it is becoming reality. For now the world falls short of the ideal: in our churches, our politics, our economy, our ordinary life; but day by day, through every small act of love, hospitality and service, through every work of beauty, through every time we stand up for truth; that Kingdom is becoming more real than the shadows cast by sin and evil. On a rainy day, everything looks dark, but eventually the rain stops, the clouds burn away, the sun comes out, and then everything is filled with light. As St Paul said, "for now we see as in a cloudy mirror, but then we shall see face to face". We are already citizens of the Kingdom of God, but this is a Kingdom still under construction here on earth. As our Lord Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is within you", and every day, inspired by our Lord, and supported by the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to build that Kingdom into reality. 

To build God's Kingdom here on earth, we need to understand that Kingdom better. What is it like? What can we learn about it from the parables we heard today? I love these short, simple parables. There is not any complicated story, but each gives us an image and feeling that defines the Kingdom of God. In the parables of the scattered seed, the mustard seed, and the yeast, we have powerful image of life and growth, a set of images for just this time of year, as spring takes hold and new growth is everywhere. The Kingdom is a surging force, that spreads from person to person, that starts with tiny beginnngs and grows and grows in every aspect of life. It spreads throughout people's lives and whole societies like yeast in dough, making it rise and ferment; if we embrace the new opportunities to do good we see around us.

God is a creator first of all. He is the source of all things, the Father who gave life to us all. In his Kingdom, his nature grows into our mundane world in a new and deeper way, through Christ, who brings God and Mankind together. King Charles III inherited his kingdom from his mother Queen Elizabeth, and it is a kingdom defined by borders of land and sea. Christ is a King who creates his Kingdom wherether he goes, by bringing life in all its fullness, inspiring art, music, beauty, community, charitable love and joy.

If growth and life are the image of the first set of this parables, then joy is at the core of the second set. You see this across so many of Jesus' parables, they so often end in a party, or a person rejoicing. Look at the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, or the merchant's pearl. Here is joy, the joy of a sudden, life changing surprise, of finding the thing you've always been looking for.

These are very short parables, but because they are stories about people, they always have an edge to them, this is no saccharine, perfectly safe world. There is uncertainty, there is the risk that we face in all our decisions and chances. The man who finds the treasure doesn't know who else may find it, he doesn't know if the owner of the field will sell, for a while he must take a risk and live with uncertainty, the suspense between making the decision and actually securing the prize. 

The man who bought the field, and the merchant who bought the pearl, had to risk everything they had, to get something greater still. And that kind of risk is both exhilarating and terrifying. I'm sure at some point in your life you will have taken a risk on a job, or a business idea, or moving home, or on Love. I remember when I was planning to ask my wife to go on our first date, or when I was plotting to propose marriage. The fear and excitement were like nothing else, I honestly don't think I've ever felt so alive. And that is what I think Jesus wants us to understand here about the Kingdom of God.

In all these stories, the Kingdom of God is like the ordinary things of this world: a seed, a grain, a tree, a pearl, like the world God has already made, but not just as they are, as they could and should be. C.S.Lewis described heaven this way, as containing every good and beautiful thing the world contains but even more so: the grass is greener, the light is clearer, the air is purer, the food more delicious, the water more refreshing and the laughter is longer and deeper.

This all sounds like a dream. It is a dream, but with two essential additions. First, every great idea starts with a dream, they have to be a dream, before they can be reality. Second, God made all these good things, they already exist. The Sun and water, the seed, the coin, the joy and laughter we have now, these are the deposit, the downpayment, for the more wonderful things God is still doing. And we know he can complete them because he began them. The difference is now God calls us to work with him and through him, alongside Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at these parables again: the Kingdom is like yeast that a woman mixes through a lot of flour; a merchant sees a pearl and sells all they own to have it, a man finds treasure in a field. In each case a person is involved and active. We are that woman, that man, that merchant and through God's power, we build his kingdom here on earth.

God's Kingdom is unique, it is not defined by borders and laws, but by every loving heart, every act of faith and hope, every song of worship and prayer, every work of art and beauty. It spreads in the heart, and in each community, as well as in institutions and nations. Its territory is every aspect of life, and every part of the human heart. It can unite people of all nations, races, languages, ages and culture because it includes every good thing God creates. Politics so-often fails to build a better world because it relies on promoting division, hating enemies, appealing to greed, pride, fear, spin and propaganda, so its house is built on sand. Only by transforming our hearts with faith, hope and love can we then transform our institutions and nations on solid foundations.  

God's Kingdom grows in enemy territory without force or violence, every time a man, woman or child chooses to turn to Jesus Christ. Whether in China or Iran or Russia or North Korea, human power can threaten and spy and intimidate, but it cannot prevent people turning in their hearts towards Jesus, the One True King over all. That is why in every dictatorship, from the ancient Romans, to the 20th Century Communists, to the high-tech totalitarianism of today, independent churches focussed on Christ are treated as a threat to the State, because they answer to a higher power and create a community with values that defy the authority around them. At the same time they are never isolated or alone. They are outposts of God's Kingdom in which we are all citizens, united in prayer with millions, even billions of saints in heaven who have gone before us.

But there is a warning: church institutions can also be captured and subverted by nationalism or greed or force. A particularly sad example today is the Russian Orthodox Church: a church with a long and noble history of mystics, monks and saints, and devoted faith over centuries. Today though, the Patriarch of Moscow, its most important Bishop and leader, is a paid lackey of Putin. In the Communist era, the KGB, the Soviet Secret Police, tried to make sure the Church did not cause trouble by having their own men elected as bishops and Patriarchs. The current Patriarch is just such a stooge, a man whose first loyalty is to Vladmir Putin, not Jesus Christ.

This is why the Bible tells us that God's Kingdom is not limited to any one institution or organisation or nation, but is found wherever people are faithful to Jesus, before everything else. In the coronation, King Charles promised to uphold the values of God's Kingdom, in a ceremony influenced by a thousand years of Christian faith in Britain, but that ,eans nothing if he and we do not put it into action. We must love our country, but realise that it too must be changed and transformed. We must love our churches, while realising that they are groups of fallible sinners, still being transformed. We must love ourselves, knowing that God is still working in our hearts to change and inspire us. Let us be forever grateful that God uses fallible human beings like us to do his work and build his enduring Kingdom.

As Christians, let us contribute to our United Kingdom in every positive way we can: supporting our schools, our parish councils, our charities, serving as magistrates, or just voting in elections. But our true loyalty and citizenship lies in the Kingdom of God. That means while we serve this world we are not limited by it. Our faith does not distract us from doing good, but inspires us to go further. We are united across language and nation and class, not by abstract statements of values, or an accident of birth, but by the love we share for our Lord Jesus and one another. Inspired by our Lord, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we have a hope that endures, and offers a better way for us as individuals and our whole world. By placing our faith in Jesus Christ we can all be part of building that Kingdom, and I pray we all will.