February 19, 2017 Sermon
1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-31/ Matthew 13:44-46
Kingdom Worth Pursuing
While reading today’s scripture readings, I thought of the movie Billy Elliot. For someone interested in gender identity and sexual orientations, this movie felt special to me. Billy is a young boy living in a small mining town in northern England. The miners are on strike, including Billy’s father and older brother. Although money is tight because of the prolonged strike, Billy’s father gives Billy 50 pence everyday so he can get a boxing lesson and become masculine. But one day when the ballet class shares the gym with the boxing class, Billy who doesn’t like boxing to begin with, becomes curious. He starts using the boxing money to take ballet classes, and the ballet teacher soon discovers Billy’s extraordinary talent for dancing; in fact, good enough to study at Royal Ballet School. Billy’s father and brother, who are macho men and don’t approve of dancing boys find out that Billy has been taking ballet lessons instead of boxing lessons. Consequently, both Billy and the ballet teacher spend all their extra time in secret preparing to audition for the ballet school. Billy’s father who had been persecuting his son for dancing, one day sees Billy dancing. Recognizing his talent, he makes the painful decision to become a traitor to his union and cross the picket line so that he can financially support Billy’s ballet education. Yada yada, Billy gets into the ballet school and becomes a ballet dancer in the end.
Apart from Billy’s effort to break the gender stereotype by pursuing ballet dancing and being called gay (although in a more derogatory term), what touched me greatly was the dedication and sacrifices made by Billy, his ballet teacher, and later on his father to work towards one goal they deemed worthy; sending Billy to a prestigious ballet school. They believed in Billy’s talent, so they made sacrifices to make this goal happen. Don’t we all do the same thing; when we believe in something strongly or want something badly, we invest in it and make sacrifices? It happens in both good and bad cases. At the end of the bad side, there are religious or political extremists who dedicate all their energy persecuting others, and at the end of the good side, there are people dedicating their lives to good causes and working for justice for all.
In today’s gospel text, we read two short parables about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like someone who discovers hidden treasure, goes and sells everything to buy the field where the treasure is hidden. The kingdom of heaven is also like a merchant who finds a pearl of great value, goes and sells everything to buy that pearl. Now according to these parables, what qualities of the kingdom are we talking about? First of all, we need to differentiate between what Jesus is teaching and what the author of Matthew is teaching through these parables; first there was the teaching of Jesus that was passed down through oral traditions, but then the author of the gospel edited the story he heard from the oral traditions to teach his particular audience. These parables in Matthew are called twin parables because the author of Matthew put them together; but it seems like these two stories were circulating separately in the oral traditions. We think so because these parables are also found in the Gospel of Thomas, which didn’t make it to the Bible so a lot of us don’t know about it, and the Gospel of Thomas doesn’t present these two stories together.
What Jesus intended through these parables, examined through the Gospel of Thomas, focuses on the surprise and joy of finding the treasure or pearl unexpectedly. It is the same with the kingdom of heaven; one encounters God unexpectedly and experiences the joy that determines everything in one’s life from then on. In short, having experienced the joy of meeting God unexpectedly, one makes the life decision to pursue God’s kingdom. Matthew’s teaching on the other hand, focuses on the sacrifice one makes at finding something worthy. Both the finder of treasure and the merchant sell everything they have to acquire the worthy things they found. Likewise, the disciples of Jesus, upon finding the highest value in Jesus and his teachings, “sell everything they have” (figuratively) to dedicate their life to live out God’s kingdom. If we find something we deem to be of the highest value, wouldn’t we do everything we can to pursue it? I am working towards becoming Canadian for Canada’s multiculturalism and inclusive policies. I became a United Church minister because of the United Church’s commitment to social justice. My mother church, the Methodist Church doesn’t allow the ordination of openly gay people or same sex weddings. I left my home country and the Methodist Church in pursuit of these values.
As we prepare our Annual General Meeting today, let us sit back, close our eyes, take a deep breath, and think of what kind of God’s kingdom we are pursuing as the Church of Jesus Christ here in Kimberley. Let us think of what values we are pursuing. Do we believe in the values of God’s kingdom that Jesus preached? Do we believe in the values of the United Church of Canada? I believe they can be summarized as inclusive love, compassion, and social justice. How are we putting them into practice? Yes, we have been doing a good job so far, but what MORE can we do to pursue the values in which we believe?
The Apostle Paul taught his Corinthian Christians that they are different body parts in one body of Christ. We are called to be different body parts functioning as one, operating the body of Christ. The fact that we are called as different body parts means all parts and all jobs we do are important and indispensable. As different parts of one body, we move as one body and go towards the same direction; this direction is the kingdom of heaven and its values we pursue with sacrifice and dedication. This is the “greater gifts” for which we should strive that Paul mentions in verse 31. We should strive for the kingdom of heaven and its values of love, compassion, and justice in our ministry.
As we go through our meeting today and make decisions on our ministry, let the Spirit of God guide our hearts to think as one. Listen for God’s call for you to be a part of this body of Christ because God needs you. We need you to make up different parts of this body of Christ. So, let God guide your hearts so that this new year, we can be a healthy and strong body of Christ, tirelessly living out the values of God’s kingdom.
Rev. Sunny Kim