The Hiddenness of the Kingdom
The Hiddenness of the Kingdom
Today we have a flurry of small parables from Jesus, all of which speak about the Kingdom of Heaven. Over the past few weeks Jesus has been feeding us images and ideas about what God’s kingdom will look and feel like. As we conclude this segment of Matthew’s gospel the question that lingers is how will we interact with the hiddenness of God’s kingdom?
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I am not much of a baker, nor am I much of a gardener. But I have observed the following about the two, doing small things can reap large rewards and sometimes doing too much can have a negative impact. Consider baking, recipes will call for a teaspoon or less of an ingredient. Put too much of any one thing in and the dynamic of the whole is shifted out of balance. With gardening, a small simple seed, can erupt into a much larger plant which Jesus illustrates with the Parable of the Mustard Seed. There is a lot going on in our readings today. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention you will have noticed that the lectionary has been slicing up Mathew’s gospel over the past few weeks. Today we get a deluge of parables form Jesus on the subject of the kingdom of heaven.
There are two big takeaways from all of this: One, the kingdom of heaven erupts from something very small. A second, God is generous and enjoys giving gifts.
But what do we do with all of these parables? Where should we place our focus?
In the parable of the mustard seed we are reminded of the parable of the sower. However, the focus is no longer on the seed or the soil, but instead of the plant that emerges.
Then there is the parable of the yeast which reminds us that we are mixed in with society. With the good and the bad, that our actions will have a direct result on those around us. That our actions will have a direct result on the kingdom of heaven.
The book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is about a shepherd who has a dream of a vast treasure. He sets out and explores the world, always in search of this treasure. He visits far away places, meets interesting people, grows in wisdom and spends his last penny looking for the treasure. He returns home, disappointed, only to discover the treasure was buried in the field where he tended his sheep. Similar in nature to the parable of the man who sold all he had to buy a field with buried treasure.
The kingdom of heaven springs from the most unlikely of sources, the strangest of places. Back at the beginning of the year when we were just hearing about Covid-19, who amongst us could have imagined that our lives would be reshaped as they have been. Covid-19 when it was originally reported was something small and far away. It is amazing how such a small thing can eventually become larger and have such a dramatic impact. I wonder, do we view our own actions within the kingdom of heaven the same way? If no, why not?
When you hear a parable or story from Jesus that goes ‘the kingdom of heaven is like’ what do you expect to happen? What do you imagine the kingdom of heaven is like? It is now or is it something that is still to come? What motivates you to believe in this kingdom?
Where do you expect to find it?
Have there been times when you’ve been disappointed because you expected to find the kingdom and instead you found something else?
I remind you of the quote I shared last week from Scott Hoezee, that “the growth and spread of this kingdom is going to extend throughout the world but it may never exist in a pure state.” (Scott Hoezee)
Sometimes we hope to find the kingdom, in society, an organization, the church and we feel like something isn’t right. Like we’ve found something else instead. How do we react when that happens, how do we feel? Is there a part of our own goodness that can shape and change what we’ve found?
Do we sometimes play the part of the fool, looking for the kingdom of heaven? In believing what we believe, we run contrary to the masses in society, contrary to the dominant culture that is around us.
But we are called to be something very small, something very delicate that interacts with everything around us. Like a bee buzzing in the garden, pollinating the flowers. Like yeast mixed in with flour. Like seeds generously scattered on good soil and bad. We are called to be God’s goodness in the world, that wherever we are, God is. Whatever good we do, God does.
Frederick Dale Bruner in his Matthew commentary (Volume Two “The Churchbook”) believes that the “new and old” image in verse 52 refers to the new teachings of Jesus in the gospel and the “old” teachings from the Hebrew Scriptures and all that led up to the proclamation of the gospel in Christ. In a way, this reflects back on this string of parabolic images right in Matthew 13. For those who had come to believe, based on the Old Testament, that a kingdom was always and only some shining political reality ruled over by people like David or Solomon, the notion of a hidden kingdom is very new indeed. But Bruner notes—in a comment perfect for all of us who preach—that the “new” things are also the endlessly fresh and new applications of the gospel that have come and continue to come all through the ages. In this sense, those of us who preach and who are led by the Spirit to constantly fresh applications of what we now call “the old, old story” are instruments of God to bring out the new things that confirm in every age all that is from of old. (Center for Excellence in Preaching)
This is the task and the calling of the Christian. To be salt and light. To be goodness in the world. To mix it up and make a difference, even if only in a small simple way.
At the end of our reading today, Jesus asks the disciples if they understand the parable and they answer “yes.” However, I have my doubts about that. I suspect that none of them wanted to look uniformed or foolish before the others and the ‘yes’ Jesus got was of twelve disciple’s whose heads were full of knowledge and understanding that they were just beginning to comprehend. When we think we understand the gospels and the parables found within, we too might think we understand it. However, I suspect that this understanding is like an onion, it has layers and we are constantly finding new meaning. We might answer yes, only to realize in time we should have answered no.
This is part of the unexpected hiddenness of the kingdom. The reality that small pieces of understanding are enough. God love us, therefore we should love others. That’s enough. Is there more, yes, but that is enough. In all of these parables about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus describes a gracious, loving God who showers us with gifts. Jesus reminds us that it is the small acts of kindness, the simple goodness that is in each of us, that when allowed to shine forth has a dramatic impact on those around us. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.