“Secrets of the Kingdom: The Parables of Matthew 13”
The Secret of Old and New
Let's do an exercise this morning. Please turn to the person next to you and make a choice between these two slogans and say why you choose the one you do. If all you knew about something was these slogans, which would you be more likely to choose and why?
The two slogans are "New and improved" and "Tried and true." You have 60 seconds.
This is not a fair test, of course, because it depends on what we are talking about.
If we are talking about toothpaste, our answer might be "New and improved."
If we are talking about the sofa we sit in to watch TV, "Tried and true."
If we are talking about laundry detergent, "New and improved."
If we are talking about a place to have brunch, "Tried and true."
If we are talking about cell phones, "New and improved."
If we are talking about spouses or partners, "Tried and true."
In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is teaching his disciples about the way things work in the kingdom of heaven. He tells them parables to stretch their imaginations.
After he tells them parables about the kingdom of heaven, he asks the disciples whether they understand everything he has been teaching them. They answer that they do.
And then Jesus tells them one more parable.
"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" (Matt. 13:52).
Every household has treasurers. Some of the treasures may be old, like a piece of china that has been in the family for five generations. Some of the treasures are new like the tee shirt a family member won for completing a five-K last week.
Old things and new things can both be treasures. The scribe, the teacher, the biblical interpreter trained for the kingdom of heaven has to know this.
Both the tried and true and the new and improved can be treasures. The teacher trained for the kingdom of heaven has to know this.
Either this is a truism – and a-duh – or else it is a very important conclusion to the parables about the kingdom of heaven that Jesus has been telling.
Either this is sort of an obvious statement – old and new can both be good – or else there is something important to be learned here. I'm going to opt for the second.
I think this little parable contains a very important summary about the way those of us who think about the kingdom of heaven need to think.
Remember Jesus' parables of Matthew 13 – God is a sower who scatters seeds. God is a farmer who lets the wheat and the weeds grow together. God is a woman who adds yeast to flour to cause it to ferment and rise. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that we discover by surprise…a precious jewel we happen upon by accident.
Every one of the parables has a degree of predictability and an element of new possibility within it.
When a sower sews bean seeds there is a high probability that the plants that grow from the bean seeds will not turn out to be potato plants. Bean seeds pretty dependably produce beans.
But anyone who has ever gardened knows that every crop has its own uniqueness. Some crops may be particularly large. Some may be particularly sweet. Some may be stringy or tough. Every harvest has an element of surprise. Part of the thrill of gardening is to experience the uniqueness of each harvest.
A gardner will tell you – My squash is amazing this year. My corn isn't doing as well as I expected. I'm going to try them at the other end of the garden next year. Every harvest is special.
If you mix yeast with water and flour and let it ferment and rise and bake it you expect to get bread. But every batch of bread will have its own uniqueness. It will have its own degree of chewiness or lightness. It will be more or less yeasty tasting; a little sweet or a little sour.
Part of the delight of baking bread is to see how any particular batch comes out.
You can be pretty sure you will get bread. If you mix flour and water and yeast and let it rise and bake it, it is not likely to turn out to be meat loaf.
It will be bread but every batch of bread will have its own surprises.
Jesus' parables of the kingdom of heaven are his attempt to help us get a sense of the way God does things…the way God governs.
God plants seeds of love in our hearts. God can be pretty confident that what will grow from the seeds of love will be the next crop of love. But every crop of love will have its own uniqueness. Every crop will have its own surprises.
Even God will be surprised. God will not be surprised because a bean seed grew into a potato. But God will be surprised by the particular texture and flavor of every particular bean harvest.
I know that the omniscience of God – the belief that God is all knowing – is a philosophical tenant of Christianity. How can God be surprised if God is all knowing? And I would like to recommend that as a topic for somebody's Ph.D. dissertation.
God is not surprised because bread dough comes out of the oven as bread. God knows that. But God will be surprised and delighted by the particular favor and texture and characteristics of every batch of bread that comes out of the oven.
In the kingdom of heaven, everything is both old and new at the same time.
I want to acknowledge that we are talking about things that are complicated. Theologians have argued about them for centuries. The Christian Church has split over some of these ideas. Anything I say will be too simplistic. I am going to say it anyway.
God doesn't govern in the kingdom of heaven by control.
God doesn't control how you and I are going to turn out the moment we are conceived in our mother's womb.
God doesn't control what is going to happen in the next presidential election.
If God had to control all of life and the entire world, that would be no fun for God.
If I'm going to plant a tomato seed and it is my job to make sure that plant will grow will be exactly identical to every other tomato plant and the tomatoes that grow on it will be exactly identical in flavor, size, shape and shade to every other tomato that ever existed….What fun would that be for a tomato gardner? That's a recipe for a nervous breakdown.
The fun is discovering what the unique combinations of seed and soil and weather and love will produce. What flavors and sizes and shapes and shades will we get this time.
When God plants love in your heart and some of the seed finds good soil in you, God assumes that the seed will grow into a crop of love, but the flavor and shape and size and shade of the love may depend on you.
God wants to be surprised and delighted by the way the seeds of love planted in our hearts turn out.
God wants to be surprised and delighted by the way each batch of bread turns out.
God wants to find a treasure in the field of our humanity. God wants to find a pearl of great value in our garage sale.
I actually personally believe this is what is going on with evolution. Because God seeded something good, God is confident evolution will lead to justice, inclusion, and love. God sows into evolution generation by generation. God ferments in every generation.
But there is an element of evolution which God does not control. God trusts the Creation. God trusts the good creation.
You are a treasure in the kingdom of heaven. God is sowing seed of love into your life. God is fermenting the yeast of justice. God is watching and expecting to be delighted with what you and I do with the seeds God sows into us, the yeast God pours into us.
God expects that our lives will be a special harvest. God expects that our lives will produce love and justice. But the love and justice will have its own flavor, shape, size and shade.
It will be as old as creation but as new as a loaf of bread just out of the oven.