Sermon Pent 9, yr A, 2023 English lesson time!  And I hope I get this right as there are several teachers in our parish! An analogy is a comparison, made in order to render a concept more understandable or relatable.  Otherwise,  to take an abstract or unfamiliar concept and create an example to make the concept more relatable or understandable. Today’s gospel is full of them; the kingdom of heaven is like….  Biblically Jesus called these stories based on analogies, parables.  Today’s parables focus on the question; what is the Kingdom of heaven? Now, these are not stories about life after death, or even what we generally think of as heaven.  In the gospel of Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven is about how we live…now. Ask anyone of Matthew’s contemporaries and they would say that they live in the ‘kingdom of Rome’, under the oppressive, imperial rule of the Roman Emperor, locally represented by King Herod. So, the parables Jesus told the crowds and disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven, were not pie in the sky…they were political, they were relevant and they were unfamiliar.  Jesus was explaining a new concept, a new vision of how God would be changing this world, would be a part of this world.  Jesus was speaking about how God would usurp Rome’s rule and create a new empire, a new kingdom.  The challenge was Jesus couldn’t go up to the farmers, fishermen and families he preached to and telling them… Friends! We are experiencing a liminal epoch, wherein God is expanding the ecclesiological and soteriological basis of our theological praxis. So, Jesus used parables, analogies, to explain the new way that God was entering into relationship with humanity, a relationship more personable, more inclusive and more participatory than it had been.  Moving from a relationship with God and faith as a people set apart, to a people whose faith is tied to this world we live in and invested in God’s rule of it. However, the only relatable kingdoms known to those Jesus preached to was that of Rome and that of David and other biblical leaders. The kingdom of heaven as Jesus explained was new and surprising, something unseen and yet remarkable. “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.” This new understanding, this new way of living in Godly relationship is valuable beyond price… ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ This new way of being in relationship will grow far beyond what is expected, after all 3 measures of flour, leavened by a relatively small amount of yeast will yield 40 or 50 loaves of bread. ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’   And my favorite part is when Jesus then turns to the disciples and asks…. ‘Have you understood all this?’  They answered, ‘Yes.’  Ha ha sure they have!  The poor disciples have had a terrible track record of understanding Jesus teachings, I somehow doubt that this time is any different.             Yet are we any different?  Have we understood Jesus’ parables as clearly as Jesus might have hoped, not likely.  However, there was one big difference between the disciple’s understanding of these parables and ours.  They were perfectly fine with a mystery.  We on the other hand like our theology clean, clear and neatly placed in a box.  We like to have firm answers to the whys and whens and hows of faith. When we ask the big questions … like what is the Kingdom of Heaven?  We would prefer to have an answer that is dictionary clear, preferably with a google map link attached.       We would not be content with the answer ‘it is a mystery’ or ‘it is faith’ or even : ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’   We get bogged down in the reality that the not only is mustard not a tree, nor ever has been, but it’s stems are far too thin and flexible to hold up a bird nest.   We struggle to see past the facts and simply appreciate the analogy.  Because it is an analogy…it isn’t meant to be a botany lesson…it is symbolic.  The Kingdom of heaven is so fantastic that even something as small as a mustard seed, be that faith or the church or even ourselves, can grow beyond all realistic expectations to shelter and provide for many. It isn’t about what is factual or not, what is scientifically true or not, Jesus parables are about explaining something intangible and unimagined. Describing the sunrise to a blind mole. And this is terribly important, because we are in a similar time as those disciples. We are experiencing a liminal epoch, wherein God is expanding the ecclesiological basis of our theological praxis. The church is changing.  What God is doing in the church is changing.  How people view and interact with the Church is changing.  How we understand being Christian is changing. And it’s scary and overwhelming and exciting.  It’s like, as one book I’ve read describes; training all your life to be an expert sailor and being faced with a future full of mountains.  ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. ‘       ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’         We are at a point where we are examining those fish of every kind and those treasurers old and new and trying to determine which will carry us through the mountains. We have been sailing for so long, being fishers of people, used to calm seas and stilled storms that looking the shore of our future and seeing nothing but mountains can tempt us to turn around and head back out to sea!       Back to the traditions, practices and skills we know so well.  Unfortunately, the tide has turned and we cannot put out to sea, we have to disembark and see what the mountains bring.       This is where we are in the church now, this is where we are in St. Andrews.  For us the parable might be…The Kingdom of Heaven is like standing at the peak of the mountain, seeing all the possibilities laid out around you.  Again, it is like a sailor…realizing that their skills at ropes and knots can be used to climb the tallest mountain.  Yet again, it is like a parish church bound up in history and tradition, yet learning a new song. We are living the parable.  We are in the midst of a new Kingdom of Heaven…ever growing, ever changing, ever pruning the old and cultivating the new. It is our turn to pull out treasures old and new and to search through the nets for what will nourish and what will not. Now is the time for the church to take a good long look at who we are and what we are called for.  To abandon the boats, take up the ropes and start to climb.