Finding Shangri-La | Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The perfect land of Shangri-La, made famous by James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, has become part of our modern world—perhaps not in reality, but as an ideal. Hilton based the name on the Tibetan paradise, Shambala. We apply the name to any unattainable ideal.
People seem to think that Christianity is about heaven—who gets there, how to get there, what it will be like. There are all sorts of details they will give you about the last days, the last judgment, and particularly about what heaven will be like. We hear a lot of talk about streets of gold, white robes (no jeans), and music. There is also a lot of talk about the kind of people who will get to heaven and the kind of people who won’t. (We take comfort in being able to point out the folk who will not be joining us.)
It is Shangri-La. It is the future that is better than the now.
Oddly enough, Jesus didn’t really talk about heaven that much. The Gospel of Matthew did record him talking about the kingdom of heaven, but that kingdom seems to have more to do with now and less to do with the future. Jesus kept saying, “The kingdom of heaven is…” but not, “The kingdom of heaven will be…”
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus throws out a string of parables like pearls beside the people who came to hear him. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, like yeast a woman hid in flour, like treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of heaven is itself a pearl of great value, worth everything.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea. It pulls in everything.
Jesus does talk about sorting fish and pulling weeds, but we are not told that we’ll get to do any of the sorting. We like to think that we are the fish worth keeping, the whole reason the net is thrown out there to begin with. And we like to think that we are not going to get culled out, thrown out.
We’re the good stuff. Aren’t we?
We are getting in, but some of those other people are not. At least that’s what lots of Christian folks say.
Jesus says that heaven is not only real, it is really close, as in within us. It is mysterious, like a huge plant growing from a tiny seed. It works without being seen, like yeast in a pile of dough. It is hidden in plain sight, like a treasure in a field. And it is worth more than everything else we’ve been holding onto.
We like to think that other people are the weeds and we are wheat, but maybe we are the field full of both. We like to think that we are the fish worth keeping and that other people are the bad catch, but maybe each of us is a net full of all sorts of things, and it is the work of heaven to throw out the bad and to keep the good parts.
We think that heaven is tomorrow and one day, but maybe that kind of thinking just keeps us from seeing God today, here in this kingdom of heaven. Where our treasure is hidden in plain sight. Where everything we see is worth less than what we overlook. Where God is doing mysterious, creative, extravagant things all the time. Where what God is doing is bigger than we imagine it is, even bigger than we imagine it will be by and by.
You know. Here in this heaven. The one that Jesus keeps talking about.