Sunday, September 21, 2014

Landowners and the Kingdom of Heaven

What is the kingdom of heaven like?

A couple of years ago I was driving out to Tamanick for the eight o'clock mass at St George’s and I realised that the light had a kind of special quality: with shades I hadn't seen before, mysterious shadows and a bit of an edge to my vision which was both mysterious and disturbing. I wondered if I might be having a mystical experience. But I made an appointment to see my optometrist who said that it was time to get my cataracts removed.

Fast-forward a few weeks for surgery for the right eye and a month after that for the left and I began to see the world in a new way. I have heard women say they noticed the dust everywhere around their house; I’m not that good, but I saw the edges of things more clearly: the corner window, the shape of the cats ear, the distinct outline of one noisy cockie’s wingspan rising in flight into a blue sky: everything looked pretty wonderful and newly refreshed

So sometimes we need to have our vision checked to make sure we’re seeing things as well and as accurately as possible; sometimes there can be a filter or a flaw that keeps us from perceiving what is either in front of us or some ways away: and often  checking out our lenses, the way we view things, helps us see old things in new ways, and  overlooked possibilities might emerge and get suddenly clear and maybe even wonderful.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?

I want to talk about the Gospel lesson for this morning; but I think that insights about the landowner and how he pays his workers can be seen more clearly when we take some time to focus on the background of the story, what Matthew refers to as “the kingdom of heaven,” and I think it’s important for us to question our vision here, check out how clearly we’re seeing  the big picture of larger life that stands in the very center of this story.

Because in the last 500 or so years, we (meaning people coming from a European culture) have changed the way we’ve look at life, and the way we tend to see things now have up changed both how and what we see. Two quotes fit here:  one well-known enlightenment thinker said, “Man is the measure” and another wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” Together those two ways of seeing, thinking, measuring, change everything, maybe for good and bad; they can be an accurate lens, but they might also be a bit of a cataract: maybe opening up our sight, maybe closing down our larger vision too.

Because for most of our time on the planet,  humankind shared their hopeful stories of their journeys using poetry rather than prose, using mystery rather than history, using a heartfelt hope rather than heads filled with facts. But for the last 500 or so years we’ve tried so hard to think it out, get it straight in our minds, get its measure and know its numbers and that’s made a change.

Now I am not saying that modern scientific thinking is bad! All this scientific knowledge, technical data, dictionary facts and figures, has given us a lot of  information and no small amount of wisdom; It is just that it is not the whole story!

Because the older story shared on the journey, round the campfire, at the altar; this poetry and music and myth and metaphor can call us to go beyond ourselves, enter into mystery, follow a truth that finds a faithful way home by a way that passes understanding.

So we have to understand anew the background of the Kingdom of God, and then we can come to see the old  parable, the story in the foreground, and what it has to tell us, in a brand new way.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?

What if we look at the landowner and the way he chooses to pay his workers like we never seen it before! How strange a place where people who came in at the last hour of the day are paid as much as those who were on-site in the morning! It doesn’t make sense in terms of the modern ideas of human  resources and relations, it wouldn’t be in touch with union or government policies and protocols, and I think any Board of Directors would look askance on this in terms of budgetary planning. But if you hold that Christ-shaped hope of heaven in the centre of your heart, this story can be an insight to a whole new way of life.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?

Listen to a better preacher than I, St John Chrystostom’s Easter sermon from around 400AD. For this is really all about Easter!

Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. 
And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay. 

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends. 

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

 First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

 Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. 

Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. 
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

And, by God, the kingdom of heaven is just like that! 

In the name of Christ. Amen


Philip Harvey said...

One of the greatest sensory memories of my life is travelling with a friend (circa 1978) through Myrtleford and down the highway to Wangaratta in the middle of a lightning storm. There were rainbows everywhere, the colour of the land and sky was hallucinatory, rain poured or stopped, bursts of sunlight alternated with descending night. No substances had been abused, I think it is just the nature of the Ovens Valley and Milawa region and the Warbys, there is a kind of light and atmosphere that, at certain times of the year, creates amazing climactic effects in that part of Vicrtoria and you just have to be there to see it as it passes through. Just saying. My friend and I had that day finished some weeks tobacco-picking at Myrtleford, a 'pastime' that is no longer popular or profitable.

Robert Whalley said...

After I gave the sermon at Tamarack one parishioner said that there was a kind of light phenomena found in that area that had both an indigenous name and the scientific name; both of which I have forgotten. So other people are testifying to what you witnessed.