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Free Sample for July 27, 2014
By David Howell

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 Preaching Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52


His name was Billy Tiller from Mayesville, South Carolina, and he was a legendary offensive line coach for the Presbyterian College football team a few decades ago. He coached the big boys. In his office Coach Tiller had pictures framed of the stellar athletes that he had developed throughout the years. As I remember it, the name of the player was written across the top of the frame, and underneath were two pictures of that football standout, side by side. The picture on the left had been taken on the first day of practice and showed a scrawny freshman in a drab, grey practice uniform. The picture on the right was the same player four years later as a senior, dressed in a brilliant blue uniform before the last home game of his collegiate career. It was hard to believe that both pictures were of the same football player. Underneath the photographs, the caption written by a proud coach read, "Tiller Trained!" When you participated in the world of college football under the training of Coach Tiller, the person you became was nearly unrecognizable from the person you used to be.

So it is when we participate in the Kingdom of heaven and are trained in the new life by Jesus Christ. We are changed nearly beyond recognition from the people that the world had been shaping with its values. We may take it as a compliment when someone at the high school reunion tells us, "You haven’t changed a bit!" However, in the spiritual life, that comment is no compliment at all. Under the influence of the Christ, we hope that we are changed, and that we become barely recognizable as the people we used to be.

In our text from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is training us with parables; he is speaking them as illustrations or riddles about how God works in the world. He is speaking them in rapid-fire succession, each beginning with "The kingdom of heaven is like…" The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field, is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into large amounts of flour, is like a treasure hidden in a field, is like a merchant looking for fine pearls, is like a net let down into the lake. This last parable of the net is a judgment parable that seems to have more in common with the previous parable of the weeds, but the first four parables seem more related in discovering the secret working of this kingdom of heaven.

But what is it? What could the mustard seed and yeast and treasure and pearl be telling us about God at work in the world through us? We struggle to find the common thread. Maybe the discovery is that the kingdom of heaven comes in small packages and works in hidden ways. Or perhaps the gleaning is that our God surprises us with unexpected outcomes and unusual delivery systems. Surely these short parables are inviting us to pay attention to the small and the unusual around us, but even more than that they seem to be calling us to transformative change in how we participate in life.

The Kingdom of heaven, they seem to say, is a game changer, and we are motivated to seek it above all else. Instead of being driven and pressured to play the world’s game of "Make a Name for Yourself," we become committed to helping God love this world and all its people. The kingdom of heaven changes everything. It changes a seed into a tree, and flour into dough. It sells all for the treasure and the pearl. It changes us nearly beyond recognition when we become "Jesus-trained" in the new life. It changes the church from being like-minded folks who agree on the right answers into being Christ-minded people who are called to discover what we do not already know, to be startled by God’s grace which is new every day. In the process we are changed by the God movement of this kingdom of heaven and become highly motivated to seek it above all else. The journey is all about humility.

It is appropriate that our text has a surprise ending. Jesus asks his disciples, "Have you understood all these things?" "Yes," they replied. Clarence Jordan translates their reply, "Absolutely!" My lectionary study group laughed out loud in unison! It strikes us as ludicrous that these disciples would reply that they understood it all. Have we understood this Jesus and the radically different life God offers us through him? We live in a time where so many of us are so certain that we understand completely. We know the old answers, and the old answers must always be God’s answers. Jesus begs to differ. He offers us the sixth parable of the lesson: "the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." It’s these new treasures that will change us nearly beyond recognition little bit by little bit of transforming grace.

Rev. Robert M. Brearley


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See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street. Follow FestHomiletics on Twitter 

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