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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

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The Kingdom

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.

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