Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
1st Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12
2nd Reading: Romans 8:26-39
We’ve got here 6 little parables about the Kingdom of God. How about you, do you understand all this? We’d love to say, yes, wouldn’t we? But even the disciples, who say yes, in the next chapter express a lack of understanding at the feeding of the 5000. “You expect us to feed all these people, with 5 loaves and 2 fishes? That’s not possible!” And of course Jesus shows us that the Kingdom of God is beyond all our expectations, and that it is about this world, not something we have to die to experience.
All the readings for today are about what is worth pursuing, what has value and worth? How do we know assess whether something is trash or treasure, worth our time and energy or not?
In the Old Testament reading King Solomon basically gets the question we’ve all spent time considering—if you had one wish, what would it be. What’s it going to be—money, long life, dead enemies? You can just see God waiting for one of the expected answers. But Solomon asks for a discerning mind—the gift that keeps on giving. Solomon sees what a gift it was that his father David was in relationship with God. He seems unaware of some of his father's shortcomings, but God seems to have forgotten them, too. All humans will have weaknesses and sins, but the important thing is that David stayed in relationship with God. That was a gift that he valued and kept coming back to as a source of comfort and in decision-making.
In the reading from Romans, Paul admits we don’t know what to pray for or how to ask for it. We don’t know what to value or what the Kingdom of God looks like or how to build it. However, thankfully we have in the Holy Spirit a translator, who communicates for us what we really need. We think we know what has power in our lives: hardship, disress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, violence, and death. However, this letter reminds us that there is a stronger force, God’s love that is worth pursuing, seeking and sharing with others, that is more valuable, lasting, and powerful than anything else.
Then we come to these little parables, to find out what the Kingdom of God is all about, what is important and valuable in our lives, what is worth leaving everything else to pursue. This question of what matters and what is worth our time and energy made me think of what God invests in, and whether that can tell us something. I think it can.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. God brings weeds into the fields of our lives, disrupting the orderly rows to provide homes for the smallest, most helpless of creatures, bringing them comfort.
The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast. It is like a bacteria infesting us so we won’t be so dense!
The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Who hides treasure in a field and then goes and buys it? However, we are God’s creation, and he set us free, let us go, and then sent Jesus to pay the price to bring us home. This is the one that makes the most sense to me, with God in the active role.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for a fine pearl. Jesus gave up everything, even his life to purchase our salvation. We want to be humble and not compare ourselves to fine jewels, however, maybe it isn’t humankind only that he came to redeem or purchase, but the balance and wholeness of all creation working together as God intended. Maybe that’s the pearl.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a net. Yes, all is collected. God sorts out from each one of us, what is worth keeping and what can be thrown out.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a scribe who treasures what is new and what is old. God values the relationship that has been going on for a long time as well as doing a new thing among us.
The Kingdom is God’s work, however it is coming near to us. We want to be able to see it when it comes close to us because it both encourages us going forward and it corrects us whenever we are in the way of God’s work. And we want to be aware of the Kingdom because we want to help build it where we can, because it is valuable and satisfying not just for us, but all Creation.
Part of participating in the building of the kingdom is to take up our cross and follow Jesus, making a choice of what to let go of and what to take up going forward.
We get to let go of our neat little rows and trying to have everything organized, and allow for some rapid and disruptive growth for the sake of the little ones. We get to allow weeds in our garden, squirrels in our birdhouses, children making noises in our worship space, and outdoor worship to disrupt what we’ve come to expect, so that God can show us something new, so that God can speak to us and transform us.
We get to let go of our favorite recipes and control over every process, because the Kingdom brings surprises, like yeast. We have to let go of our expectations that we will be seen and recognized and be willing to work quietly behind the scenes, a little bit going a long way in our volunteer work and faith life.
We get to let go of our possessions, our comforts, our usual way of doing things, in pursuit of God’s way.
We get to let go of whatever those bad fish are that end up in our lives, things that weigh down our nets, distract us, tempt us, and let God throw them in the furnace. If we burn them up instead of throwing them back, when we haul in our nets the next time, those same fish won’t be in there again!
We get to let go of our either/or thinking that it is either the old or the new that is better, and embrace the big picture, knowing that the old has something to teach us, and God is bringing new life through the new story of Jesus.
Jesus came to show us what really has value, so that we can invest wisely. God coming among us shows that we who have been destructive and harmful, who have been defiant and rebellious, are worthwhile to God to pursue. These parables of the Kingdom of heaven, help us turn our focus from our selfish pursuits, to what is good for all. In giving us a little orientation to the Kingdom, Jesus is showing us that we are part of something greater, and only when we let go of our own importance and hoarding, and take our place in the whole, will the Kingdom come for all Creation.
One example I read this week compared this world to a system of trains going many different directions. But we have to decide which train to board. Some trains are shiny and bright. Some offer first-class amenities, but they go nowhere. Some offer destinations like beauty and money and fame, but are lonely. And some offer meaning and purpose and love, but the cost of the fare is giving up your comforts and possessions and riding with some people who might not smell so good or speak good English, some might be loud or tell inappropriate stories, they might sit too close, or spit on the floor or have tattoos or have baggy saggy pants. I’m convinced there are birds and mice on this train and abandoned, abused pets. You’re bound to encounter whatever and whoever you don’t expect. Congratulations! You’ve boarded the train to the Kingdom of heaven. This is the train that Jesus took, and Martin Luther King Jr., and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and even Dick Morris. But the destination is worth everything—it means connection, it means balance, it means abundant life, and it is eternal relationship, not just for us or a select few, but God’s beloved, messy, hungry, tired, disruptive friends.
So here are a few more parables for you. I hope you’ll be thinking of your own.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a human chain that suddenly forms among strangers to save a family swept out by a riptide.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a little bit of tint in a pane of glass that changes a gloomy room into one that is bright and warm.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a transgender son or daughter who comes out to friends and family and teaches them even more about what love is.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a kid on a long train ride that gets everyone to look up from their mobile devices and smile.
The Kingdom of heaven is like a small congregation that leaves the comfort of its four walls and ventures out to be transformed by the world and have new experiences of the Divine.
The Kingdom of heaven is all around us and it isn’t what we’d expect. Look for it in the smallest places, the most unlikely people, the worst of days, and you’ll see it. Set aside the things you normally value, and work with those you are most uncomfortable with and let them teach you to build up the Kingdom. The Kingdom has come near. It is here! And it won’t let us stay the same! God’s Kingdom is transforming us. It is giving us new life. We may struggle and fight, but God won’t let us go, because we are of value to God as part of the vision God has when all will be gathered together in peace and love.