There was a coffee machine in the foyer of the Royal Infirmary, just along the corridor from my office, with coffee (in those days) at thirty-one pence a cup. Unfortunately, it does not give change – so if you put in too much money, you lose out.
One particular day, all I had was a few two pence and a couple of five pence pieces, apart from some pound coins – which, anyhow, the machine won’t take.
It looked as if I was going to have to miss my coffee break. Later, however, I happened, by chance, to be near the machine – for an altogether different reason. Glancing over at it, I happened to notice that whoever had last used the machine, had put in too much money, leaving something like nine pence in it. Added to the loose change in my pocket, it came to exactly thirty-one pence. So, unexpectedly, I was able to have my coffee after all.
When something like that happens, it’s sometimes called SERENDIPITY. It means the fortunate discovery of something unexpected.
Sometimes, things do happen to us in the most unexpected way.
Here’s an example of serendipity – this is a well-known and oft-repeated prayer written by a Confederate army officer during the American Civil War:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve–I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for help that I might do greater things–I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy–I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life–I was given life that I might enjoy all things
I got nothing that I asked for–but everything I had hoped for.
Despite myself, my prayers were answered. I am, among all men, most richly blessed!”
Jesus tells us* of other examples of finding something altogether different from what was originally sought after.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like seeds. This suggests something that is fertile, growing, dynamic, alive. It may look insignificant but is, instead, full of immediate promise and future harvest. The Kingdom speaks of growth that is happening in our lives right now.
For emphasis, Jesus referred to the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed. Again, there is that sense of Serendipity. Place the tiniest of seeds in the ground and you would expect a small plant, like a little bouquet of basil but instead you get a plant that is rather large; some species even grow into a bush. So it is with the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then, Jesus gives us other examples of what I mean by Serendipity.
The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a fabulous treasure. The idea of treasure to express something valuable, (especially wisdom), was a common idea in Jewish thought. We see how someone seems to literally stumble on good fortune by finding a treasure in someone else’s field. It was rather common for people to hoard their riches by hiding them in the ground. It would seem that the treasure, in a legal sense, could not be claimed as his until he bought the land. So, we see him selling all that he owns just to buy that land so he can claim the treasure.
Then Jesus introduces us to a wealthy pearl merchant. Pearls were so valued in Jesus’ day that they were actually esteemed more highly than gold. The merchant doesn’t even blink and eye. No hesitation! No question about it! No second thoughts! The merchant sells all his other jewels to buy this one great pearl.
These two stories have something in common. A person going and selling everything for the sake of that one valuable thing portrays the hunt for the Kingdom of Heaven. It portrays energy, animation, activity, and gladness.
Our Bible stories are about finding something unexpected, and they are stories of joyful discovery.
For God’s kingdom is a joyful place – even the story about the fishing net which Jesus told: despite its mood of judgement, it ultimately describes how we are lifted out, pulled together, elevated into the presence of a loving God.
What are we looking for? Where are we looking? What is the Serendipity in our life? The experience of the Kingdom happens when we open ourselves in a positive way to the love of Christ in the presence of Christ’s Body, which is the church. It is an experience that is growth oriented, filled with vitality, marked by openness, stamped with promise.
We may not always see it, but with God, all things are possible. And with God, we should come to expect the unexpected!
*Scripture reference: Matthew 13, verses 31-33, 44-52