Sermon; 8 Pentecost/Proper 12A; Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52
Today is the last in the series of kingdom parables we've been hearing. As promised from last week, these are all of the parables we missed then. Also, as promised, these parables come in quick succession.
The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a great shrub where the birds of the air make their nests. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixes with 50 pounds of flour. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure found in a field that gets reburied, after-which the person sells all they have only to purchases the field with the hidden treasure. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who finds a single pearl of great price and he, too, sells all he has to purchase the pearl. The kingdom of heaven is like a fisherman who catches fish of all kinds, keeps the good and throws out the bad. The kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things all at the same time, and our senses and sensibilities are assaulted with so many visions it can seem impossible to make sense.
The obvious question we ask is, “So what exactly is the kingdom of heaven like?” The answer is, “D – all of the above.” I think we ask that question because we want to know exactly what we are in for, or exactly how we are to behave to ensure we make it in. It's sort of like the difference between football and baseball fields.
If the kingdom of heaven were like a standard football field, we would have it all figured out. The kingdom of heaven is like a football field – 120 yards long, with a playing area of 100 yards, two end zones 10 yard deep, and 53-1/3 yards wide, regardless of whether you have NFL players, college players, or high school players. But it's not.
Instead, the kingdom of heaven is like a baseball field – it might be 280 feet to the fence, or it might be 320 feet, or it might be 440 feet. It may be a perfect arc between left and right fields, or it may have random cut outs. Outfield fences may be 10 feet high, 15 feet high, or maybe even 37'-2” high. The kingdom of heaven may be like an outfield that is smooth all the way across, or it may have a hill in dead center.
So what is the kingdom of heaven like? It is like a small seed that grows into a great shrub so big it becomes home to many different kinds of birds. The kingdom of heaven starts small, maybe as small as one church, but grows into something so big that it becomes home to many different kinds of people.
Have you ever noticed that when a variety of birds get together we find beauty in their different songs? Can we find beauty in the different voices of all the different people of the kingdom? Have you also ever noticed that when there is a large group of birds living in one place there is also usually a very large mess? Are we able to live with the idea of a messy kingdom?
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed into three measures (or 50 lbs) of flour. We hear this today as a good and necessary thing. But remember that yeast is more often used negatively in the gospels. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In the gospels, yeast is often used as a warning against corruption and hypocrisy. Today we might use rust or a spoiled piece of fruit in a bunch that ruins and taints everything around it.
But here we have Jesus telling us that the kingdom of heaven is a small, imperceptible force that will corrupt the world. The kingdom of heaven is a force that ruins the world for good.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field that someone finds, reburies, sells all his possessions, and buys the field for himself. The kingdom of heaven is like a dishonest man who withholds the fact of buried treasure to the rightful landowner and then buys it for a price well under its real value? Or maybe the kingdom of heaven is like a buried treasure someone stumbles upon, realizes its value, and does everything in their power to make it part of their life. The kingdom of heaven is like a visitor to this church who has no idea of the value of this place; but once coming through our doors, learns of its value and does everything they can to make St. John's part of their life.
Or the kingdom of heaven is like someone intentionally searching for fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great price, he sells all he has to purchase it. In other words, are you actively looking for the kingdom of heaven?
When we were in Montana, Joelene and I served on the CDC – Congregational Development Committee. We traveled around the diocese to (usually) small churches who were looking for help in finding a mission. During our time together we often heard people give us a litany of “if onlies” . . . If only we had more people, if only we had more money, if only we had more programs, if only we had more kids.
After doing some work together that told about their parish, I read this parable to them and asked, “What is your pearl of great price? What is the one thing you can do well?” And then they developed a plan to work on that. Because you don't need to do everything, you just need to do one thing well in order to make a change or a difference.
The kingdom of heaven is like a person who discovers the one thing they can do for the spread of the gospel.
The kingdom of heaven is like someone who brings out their treasure, both old and new.
The kingdom of heaven is not one thing. The kingdom of heaven is so big, so vast, so utterly incomprehensible that it takes many things to describe it.
The kingdom of heaven is like a tree full of messy birds, or the pursuit of a treasure, or things both old and new. The kingdom of heaven is small and disruptive, like yeast or rust, that will change the world.
How will the kingdom of heaven affect and change you?
How will you pursue the kingdom of heaven in your daily life?