Archive for July, 2011
5th Sunday after Trinity
Jackie Pullinger felt called by God to be a missionary, but was rejected by every missionary organisation she contacted; at twenty-two, they considered her too young and without the necessary skills. Yet despite this, Jackie left her country, family and friends for Hong Kong, giving up everything to spread God’s kingdom. She arrived in Hong Kong, unable to speak the language, with only six pounds in her pocket.
Jackie very soon felt drawn to an area called the Walled City. It is actually Kowloon. However, this was a six-acre slum packed with thirty thousand people. It was a lawless place, ruled by violent Triads and abandoned by the police. Raw sewage ran down the streets. Drug addiction and prostitution were rife. Surely one solitary girl from England stood no chance of making a difference in such a place?
Yet from these small and unpromising beginnings, God’s kingdom spread through the Walled City as God used Jackie to bring hundreds of drug addicts to Christ. So remarkable was her work that she received an MBE from the Queen in 1988. It was Jackie Pullinger who wrote chasing the dragon which depicts her life in this city.
Similarly, who would have believed that a faith which began with a carpenter and his rather unlikely group of disciples would end up becoming the world’s biggest religion?
The parables in our reading all describe what Matthew always calls the kingdom of heaven, and the other Gospels call the kingdom of God. This was a term which would have been familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day, who understood it to refer to a time when God would overthrow their Roman oppressors and make Israel strong again.
This gospel reading consists of 5 parables: the mustard seed, the treasure in the field, the leaven, the pearl of great price and the dragnet. Now to deal with all these parables in this mornings sermon is rather a difficult task, as you can imagine.
The first of the two parables, the mustard seed and the leaven, could be classed together and called parables of growth ( rather like the sower of the seed). So for example, in the parable of the leaven, it doesn’t take much leaven to turn three measures of flour in to a moving mass of dough. The two other twinned parables, the treasure and the pearl, are about discovery and joy.
The twin parables differ in detail and those differences shed light on our human experiences. Sometimes epiphanies of the kingdom are surprising and are left as surprises. In other cases people are involved as they search for the meaning of life and if they happen upon the kingdom then they are surprised because it is more than they ever thought.
so the two twin sets of parables illustrate two major themes of the kingdom (which we call heaven). Firstly, we are to be certain of it’s coming even if it does not seem to be making It’s way into our lives. One can trust in God to bring about Gods will. The one aspect that God does make known to us in surprising ways and at surprising times, places and people. It is those moments, epiphany moments, that stir us and make itself known to us, helping us to put see things into perspective, through joy and reminding us of our task too.
And so we know that the kingdom Christ was talking about was not this liberated state of Israel or any other earthly kingdom. His kingdom actually existed in people, people who submitted to God’s rule and allowed their heavenly king to direct their paths and transform their lives. In one man and his ramshackle band of disciples the kingdom may have appeared to have the most unpromising of beginnings. Yet just as the tiny mustard seed grows into a large bush, so the kingdom would grow to a size which belied its humble start.
The mustard seed is the tiniest of seed which can grow and grow into a gigantic bush!
However, the kingdom’s growth would not always be obvious, as the parable of the leaven points out: the fermentation of yeast is not at first visible, yet the smallest amount infiltrates even large amounts of flour. (The amount referred to would weigh around fifty pounds!) Similarly, the kingdom grows to have an impact far beyond its insignificant beginnings.
The spread of the kingdom can be explained to some degree by the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl. Both illustrate that the kingdom is so precious that when people discover it, whether through searching or by chance, they do not hesitate to give up all their worldly treasure to obtain it.
The ministry of Jackie Pullinger shows the truth of these parables. Just as the tiny mustard seed grows into a large bush, so God used one young woman in the most difficult of circumstances to spread his kingdom mightily.
As in the parable of the leaven, the growth of the kingdom within the kowloon Walled City was not always obvious. Some addicts made initial commitments to Christ and then fell back into their old ways. Yet Jackie would often encounter such addicts years later and they had not forgotten the love shown them. Many returned to Christ.
Jackie’s willingness to give up everything to spread God’s kingdom echoes the teaching of the parables of the treasure and the pearl. The people in those stories did not need persuading to give up all they had for the kingdom; they did it instinctively and joyfully, recognising its great worth. Jackie Pullinger made many sacrifices to serve God in Hong Kong. Yet looking back over decades of ministry, she expresses no regrets over all she has given up, but joyfully likens her work to “a party”, involving a meal of many courses. Some courses had been sour and some sweet, but overall it was a menu she had savoured.
We, too, can be encouraged that no matter how insignificant we feel and how unpromising our circumstances, God can use us to spread his kingdom. We can also be encouraged that the sacrifices involved in doing so are as nothing to the joy of being part of God’s work. In her book Chasing the Dragon, Jackie encourages people not just to read about what she has done, but to know the “fun” of being involved in our own “adventures” and “battles”.
Now that may seem difficult in comfortable Wateringbury but let’s just stop for a moment and reflect on the needs of God’s kingdom right here. Within our community, or close by, we have a school where help is always needed and welcomed, we have a retirement home, join us on a Wednesday afternoon or pop in during the week and see what is needed to be done. We have independent living units at Pelican Ct. Youth groups, uniformed groups, Mums and toddler groups run by the church and also at the village hall, nursery groups, we have the Kenward trust at Yalding but only a few hundred yes outside of the parish. Lisa organises blessing bags of food for folk who are in need. I’m sure I can go on. Now some may be thinking, I can’t do all that, I’m passed the age when I can be of use. Or I simply don’t have time!
Well just let me mention Jackie Pullinger once again:
In 1981 she started a charity called the St Stephen’s Society which provides rehabilitation homes for recovering drug addicts, prostitutes, and gang members. By December 2007 it had grown and was providing homes for 200 people. The charity’s work has been recognized by the Hong Kong government who donated the land for the rehabilitation homes. The intervention process that the drug addicts go through is very intensive. Instead of giving them medications they are put into a room for 10 days, prayed and cared over by a group of ex-addicts.
Every man comes to Jesus with some gift and with some ability. Jesus does not ask that he or she should give up his gift when called to follow the life of a christian. A scholar does not have to give up being scholarly but use their gift for Christ; a businessman need not give up their business but use their business skills for Christ; a singer, a dancer, an artist need not give up their talents but use them for Christ. Jesus did not come to empty life but to fill it, not to impoverish life but to enrich it. Not to abandon their gifts but to use them more wonderfully in the light of the knowledge he has given us.
So you might not think you have anything to offer but we all do. And whats more, We can all pray as they prayed for the drug addicts.
May God help us do this.