by Rev. Brad Sheppard, Immanuel PC
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Jesus, Matthew 13:44-46
I thought about starting with the question, “What are you willing to lose?” But, maybe, the better question is, “What do you want to gain?” Likely, both questions are essential and the answer to one is dependent on the answer to the other.
The Church, particularly the Church in North America, is in a time of great change. The Church is no longer front and center as a relevant social and cultural institution. The majority of people go about their day without a thought of the Church. That is not to say that people are not pondering life’s meaning or struggling to define their purpose or seeking wisdom and moral guidance. It is that the Church is not the first place that people seek out as they ponder, struggle and seek.
God, though, is still quite real, present and active in the world but likely in ways we are uncustomed. We once measured the extend of God’s work by how many people sat in church pews or donated financially to church causes. Those are simply no longer good or relevant markers of God’s work in the world. Instead, we must look deeper and farther to find what God is doing.
I find God at work when people enter into relationship with one another and spend time together conversing about faith and life. When they do faith formation and discipleship take place—and this is usually not on a Sunday morning. As well, I find God at work when people see a need, like food scarcity, and act in a decisive way to respond to that need. Again, that is rarely on a Sunday morning as people sit in church pews.
As an aside, an important aside, I want to say that worship matters—including communal worship that typically takes place on a Sunday morning. But worship is only a part of Christian discipleship. There is much more.
The much more is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not the Church. Rather, the Church can be a participant in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is much bigger and greater, and though hard to define, can be imagined as the reality created when folks, like you and me, walk in the way of Jesus. As we do, the magnificent and mighty Holy Spirit makes something wondrous happen. Again, something bigger and greater than us and our actions. The Kingdom of God is both a journey and a destination; it is visible and invisible; it is here and it is coming. Our job is to catch a glimpse; take a step; look up and look out.
As Jesus’ parables illustrate the Kingdom of God is of such great value—greater than the sum of what we already hold. Participation in the kingdom of God requires that we let go of some things, many things, in order to gain what is priceless.
So where does that leave us and the Church today? Well, it leaves it with the profound opportunity to gain life in the kingdom of God. Such a life is worthy of everything we can possibly offer and give but requires that we give up some things. Our hands cannot hold what was and what will be. What are we willing to let go of so that we can gain?