Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52; Romans 8:26-39
Let me tell you “about a man who claimed to be the most accurate fortuneteller in the world. A man once came to this fortuneteller and said he had only one real question about his future and that was, “How will my life end?”
The fortuneteller gazed into the crystal ball and then announced, “Your life will end when you die.” Well that’s pretty astute. No wonder he was so accurate.
The man nodded and then said, “Yes, but will I be happy?”
“Ah,” said the fortuneteller, “that has nothing to do with the future but what you do in the present.”
So what do you think? Was that fortuneteller right? Yeah, but not because he was a fortuneteller. He was right simply because he got it right. If you want to be happy – what you do in the present – with the things over which you have some control – will have a lot to do with what tomorrow looks like. And I’ve got to say up front that there are no guarantees – no guarantees that you will be happy. None. And by now you know that I don’t even like to talk about being happy. I would rather talk about joy. Happiness, of course, depends on good things always happening in the right way and at the right time. Whereas joy is an attitude. Joy is an attitude that I can choose to have even when things are not going well.
Attitude is everything. One of my favorite quotes is from Chuck Swindoll who says, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% of how I react to it.”
So if joy is an attitude, then being joyful means that I will not let my circumstances determine how I look at life. Rather – what I want to do – what I choose to do – is to let my faith determine how I look at my circumstances. Especially those circumstances over which I have no control.
Because I know – if I were to ask each of you individually – do you want to be happy? You’d say, “Heck, yes!” or words to that effect. Have you ever noticed how some people are rarely, if ever, what we might call happy. There never seems to be any joy in some peoples’ lives. Who wants to hang around with people like that?
It’s like the horse who walked into a bar. And the bar tender asked the horse, “Why the long face?” Folks – let me tell you – as Christians, we don’t have to walk around with long faces. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a thing of joy. The Kingdom of God is about joy. It’s about love, it’s about hope – it’s about joy.
So while people are looking for happiness – and often looking in all the wrong places – do you remember the advice that Jesus said about what we are to look for? He said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and” – what? – “all these things” – what things? – “all these things” – all the things that you need – maybe not everything you want – but everything you need, “will be given to you.”
You know, Jesus talked an awful lot about the Kingdom. In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel – and let me interject here that when Matthew talks about the Kingdom of God, he uses the phrase, “the Kingdom of heaven,” – it means the same thing – so five times in our reading today he says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like,” and then goes on to describe what the Kingdom is like.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed –
– it is like yeast
– it is like a treasure hidden in a field
– it is like a merchant in search of fine pearls
– it is like a net thrown into the sea that catches fish of every kind.
The first thing that we need to see is that life in the Kingdom is a gift. Like a mustard seed – it’s a seed that is planted into our hearts and lives. And it starts off, oh so small. But what happens as that seed is nurtured and watered? It grows. It grows stronger. It develops into a bush that eventually produces more seeds. The point is that it takes time – and it has to be nurtured along the way. That’s what our faith is like. It takes time – it needs to be nurtured along the way.
The problem with us – especially us 21st century Americans – is that we want instant results. We don’t want to wait. We want things to happen on our time table, according to our agenda. We want things now.
For instance, I’ve been golfing since I was sixteen. I don’t play much – I haven’t been out at all this year – so I’ve never gotten very good at it. I’ve taken lessons. Quite a number of years ago, now. Improved my grip – improved my swing – and went out there expecting to hit like, well, at the time Tiger Woods. Truth be told, I feel great if I break 60 – for nine holes. And those of you who golf a lot, you know that that’s not all that good. But I’m going out there on the rare occasion that I do – not to win any prizes – but just for the sheer joy of playing.
Here’s the point. I don’t let golf determine my attitude. I let my attitude determine what kind of golfer I’m going to be. If I really want to be a good golfer – and I don’t have any need to be great golfer – just a good golfer – then I know that I need to give it more time than I’m giving it. You know, maybe someday after I turn 60.
May I suggest to you that when it comes to our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ – when it comes to our faith – when it comes to living a life of joy – the same thing is true. What Jesus is telling us today is that becoming a person of faith – takes time. You need to practice. You need to take some lessons. By the way, that’s what we do around here. We offer lessons here. “The Kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says, “is like a mustard seed.” It starts out small, and grows. You’ve got to give it some time.
And the Kingdom of heaven is like yeast. It has to be kneaded in – it has to be worked in – before the yeast can permeate the entire loaf. We need to give faith the time it needs to grow and develop and mature. Like yeast that permeates the entire loaf, the Kingdom life permeates our entire life. And as that happens, we will start looking at life in a different way. And instead of always wanting to be happy – maybe what we’ll discover instead is the life of joy that Jesus talks about.
You see, the Kingdom that Jesus is talking about is something of great value. It is like a treasure buried in a field. It is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When these things are found, everything else is sold in order to obtain those treasures.
Understand that Jesus is not saying here that we can purchase the Kingdom. We cannot buy our way into heaven. How can you buy something that is given to you as a gift? He’s merely comparing the value of the Kingdom of God – comparing it to everything else in life that we value.
If the first two stories about mustard seeds and yeast tell us something about what God does for us – then these next two stories tell us something about how we will look at this Kingdom life – this new life in Christ – from now on.
The parables of the treasure hidden in the field, and the pearl of great price tell us that all other things of value – all other things that we treasure – all other things that we think are important – all other priorities – will have second place in the Kingdom of heaven.
For instance, if you’ve been pinning your hopes for joy and happiness and success in life on winning the lottery – or winning it big at the casino in Niagara Falls – that’s probably not going to happen. But if you do win – maybe even win big – give me a call and we’ll celebrate. Of course if any of you ever were to win at the casino – I suppose the last person you’d want to celebrate with is your pastor. “Hi Fred! Oh! You just won ten million dollars in the lottery? Let’s see, 10% of that would be…” Yeah. I suppose the last person you’d want to celebrate with is your pastor.
Full disclosure here – Nancy and I have been to the casino. Just once. On our anniversary a couple of years ago. And you know those commercials where they show those gorgeous women laughing and showing excitement over – presumably – winning something? That’s not what we saw. We saw nothing but looks of desperation. Long faces. Intense staring. Very little in the way of joy. And just in case you’re wondering – no, I didn’t win anything. But I didn’t lose anything either. We just walked around. Watching.
Folks – whether you win the big one – or have worked hard and invested wisely – or you’re just getting by – whatever happiness you think that the riches of this world can bring – let me tell you – all earthly treasures – all earthly things of value – are as nothing – they’re nothing – compared to the joys and the security of being part of God’s Kingdom – the place where true joy is found.
Folks, let me tell you what Kingdom life is all about. That old person – with the long face – and the joyless expression – is put to death. That’s what Jesus does when we welcome into our hearts, and our homes, and our lives. That old person that you once were is put to death. And in its place – and this is the really good news – in its place there arises a new person – a new you. It is a new life – a new life of joy that you can find only in Jesus Christ.
Think about it! We Christians have the best good news ever! New life in Jesus Christ! There is no greater source of joy than this!
So you see – the Christian life IS a life of joy – a joy that comes from the life of faith – faith that begins like a seed that is planted in our hearts and lives. A seed that grows, and develops, and matures. And like yeast – it spreads throughout our entire lives – until we come to recognize that there is nothing – absolutely nothing that can compare in worth or in value to being in God’s Kingdom. It’s greater than the Bills winning the Super Bowl, if that should ever happen. It’s greater than the Sabres winning the Stanley Cup, if that should ever happen. There’s no title. No treasure. No pearl. No nothing.
Quite frankly – I can’t think of a better way of life. I can’t imagine a better way of living. May the love and joy of God’s Kingdom – and the peace of Jesus Christ – be with you always. Amen