I remember watching a television documentary some years ago about St Paul’s Cathedral. The final programme was a look at the choir school, with boys from as young as seven or eight years old until about twelve or thirteen.
They had to work immensely hard, with the older boys regularly working something like a 13-hour day before they had any real free time. But they seemed quite happy with their punishing schedule, because for all of them their life and soul was in the choir and the music.
One lad was desperate to be chosen as head chorister. His brother had been head chorister before him, and this lad was frantic to follow in his brother’s footsteps and lead the choir. Sadly, he was so eager and worked so hard that his voice couldn’t cope with the strain, and he developed nodules on his vocal cords which eventually prevented him singing at all.
He was chosen as head chorister, but had to resign after only two or three weeks. I don’t know what happened to him after that, for the programme failed to show us what effect this devastating development had on the boy’s life.
Of course people of any age can have a dream which may develop into an ambition, and ambitions vary enormously. Many people have a real ambition to win the lottery or somehow or other become a millionaire. Others have the ambition to reach the top of their chosen field. It’s this burning ambition which keeps sportsmen and women constantly training and constantly pitting themselves against tougher and tougher opposition.
Some people are thrown into unexpected ambition through life’s events. Ever since the murder of his daughter Julie in Kenya 30 years ago, businessman John Ward devoted his life to battling against the enormous odds of authority and red tape to bring Julie’s killers to justice. As did Doreen and Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered by racist youths in London.
Many people who experience personal tragedy find themselves devoting their lives to trying to prevent similar tragedies happening for other people. So the families of those who have died from leukaemia or cancer or whatever, are always in the forefront of organisations to raise money for research into the illness.
People with burning ambition of whatever sort and for whatever reason, would give their eye teeth to realise their ambition. Some have been known to die for their ambition.
It’s in these all-encompassing and ultimate terms that Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. He says that anyone who really understands what the Kingdom of God is like, would give their eye teeth for it. Or at any rate, they’d sell all they possess for the Kingdom of God.
But he doesn’t only describe the Kingdom of God as some paradise to be experienced after death. His pictures of the Kingdom of God are very down to earth and very immediate. And he repeats over and over again that the Kingdom can be realised from tiny beginnings.
Jesus told a story in which he said the Kingdom was like a glittering and glorious banquet, to which anybody who was anybody, was invited. But those invited people weren’t prepared to give their all. They weren’t prepared to let go of wealth and position and laziness and fear, so the banquet was thrown open to those who had nothing to get in the way.
Those who have nothing – the poor and downtrodden and destitute – find the entrance to the Kingdom more easily than the wealthy, because the poor have nothing to lose.
If the Kingdom is inside us as well as outside us, then we need to get to know ourselves. According to the Gospel of Thomas (Logon 3) Jesus said, “If you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty.” If you don’t know the Kingdom you live in the poverty of confusion and misery and anxiety which is the opposite of the excitement and joy and delight which characterises the Kingdom.
But the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, the tiny seed of the God within. Once that God within begins to become conscious through prayer and meditation and service, then it grows rapidly and becomes a large tree capable of sheltering and nurturing others
And when the Kingdom is alive and active through just a handful of people, then its spread and its growth just can’t be contained.