The Kingdom of God is Like…
The Kingdom of God is Like…
Scripture: Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-50
You are probably familiar with the expression ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ An expression meant to convey the depth of meaning we can pull from a single image. I do believe it is true, a picture can convey meaning, expression, and wonder in a single glance far easier than a string of sentences can. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture that I’m going to display and then say thus ends the sermon.
Our scripture passage this morning features more parables from Jesus. Parables which describe the kingdom of heaven. However, if you were to paint a picture based on these descriptions, I’m not sure that someone would be able to point at the painting and say, “Heaven, you’ve painted heaven.” Jesus is rather playful in the way that he has described heaven for us. He doesn’t tell us that the kingdom of heaven has golden spires. He doesn’t tell us that the kingdom of heaven is built in the clouds. He doesn’t tell us anything that we could then pass on to someone else about what heaven looks like. Jesus doesn’t physically describe heaven and I think that’s important. When I was younger, much younger, I would dream about what heaven looked like. But Jesus doesn’t tell us that, because that isn’t what Jesus wants us to focus on. Jesus has other things he wants us to consider.
Instead, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like.
Not the kingdom of heaven is this way or that way, rather the kingdom of heave is like. We don’t receive a physical description or an image of a city we could paint. Instead, we are given little nuggets that speak to the character of the kingdom of heaven. What are the attributes or the traits of the kingdom of heaven. Not what it looks like, but what does it feel like.
Today we have the remaining parables that Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven. They come in rapid fire succession. Some are shared with a larger crowd and others are for the hearing of the disciples alone. While each tells their own truth about what the kingdom of heave is like, when considered together they start to paint a picture for us. A picture, not of what heaven looks like, but of what it feels like. A tapestry of the values of the kingdom of heaven.
The Mustard Seed is tiny. To see one is to wonder what it is and perhaps dismiss it as insignificant. However, the mustard seed grows into a large bush. Perhaps large enough to be called a tree by some. The birds of the air come and make a home within it. Matthew is making some great scriptural references for us. Consider what we read in Daniel:
“Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.” (Daniel 4:12)
And then from Ezekiel:
“All the birds of the air
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the animals of the field
gave birth to their young,
and in its shade
all great nations lived.” (Ezekiel 31:6)
The mustard seed represents more than the ability of our faith to grow and expand. That from small things great things can happen, yes this is true, but the parable has so much more to tell us. The mustard seed represents the totality of God’s kingdom. The kingdom doesn’t look like a tower, a village or a kingdom, it looks like a bush that will feed and provide shelter for all creation.
When God’s people are feeding and sheltering others, that is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Bake without yeast and you will have a denser loaf of bread. A small amount of yeast, mixed in with the flour, is transformative. You don’t need a lot, just a little will do. The yeast transforms the other ingredients. The kingdom of heaven transforms people’s lives. The kingdom of heaven is welcoming and inviting, it is safe, in all ways for all people. Being in tune with God’s kingdom is transformative.
The kingdom of heaven is sometimes hidden and sometimes it is like something that is hidden. Perhaps that gift or skill you have but have never had the confidence to share. But it brings joy out in you and in others. Though we share in all of life’s experiences together, Jesus reminds us that there is something joyful about being together as a community of faith. Something pleasurable about doing the work of God’s kingdom.
I found a $20 in my pocket once. It was in a jacket I hadn’t worn for a while. I felt like I’d struck it rich. The kingdom of heaven, when we recognize what it is and how it works. We realize that there is no monetary value we can put on it. We would gladly sell everything to obtain it, just like the pearl. The trick is, we don’t have to. We don’t have to sell everything to gain the kingdom of heaven. As we learn what the kingdom of heaven is like, the values and relationships it helps us sustain. The way it encourages us to look at and interact with the world. Then we realize we’ve received a prize beyond measure.
The fish bring us back to last week, the parable of the wheat and the weeds. A reminder that the good and the bad still exist together. It reminds me of a story, not about fish, but about flowers. Well, perhaps not even flowers, but a weed. It goes like this:
An individual who took great pride in their lawn found themself with a large crop of dandelions. They tried every method they knew to get rid of them. Still, they plagued them.
Finally, they wrote to the Department of Agriculture. They enumerated all the things they had tried and closed their letter with the question: “What shall I do now?”
In due course, the reply came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”
The good and the bad do exist together. There is evil and nastiness in this world. There is also good, much that is good. Our role is to be sensitive to what the kingdom of heaven is like. To allow the seed to grow, that it might transform lives, provide a hidden surprise, and remind us of the treasure God has provided for us which is the kingdom of heaven. A place, if you will, which is very much a real place which exists right here, right now. We are all residents of the kingdom, we all tend the gardens and fish the waters of God’s kingdom.
“What do the mustard seed, yeast, buried treasure, a pearl, and a net full of fish have in common?” John Carrol writes that, “Each shows us something of what it means that God is sovereign…” (John Carroll – https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-17/commentary-on-matthew-1331-33-44-52-6#)
And so we trust.
We trust in the promises of God’s goodness.
We trust that this is what the kingdom is like.
And that trust is rewarded when we find ourselves acting in these ways. Not describing what heaven is like, but living like how heaven should be.
Each of these things described are small, yet they have impact. You might think you are small, that in the scale of all the people on the planet what impact can I be? The mustard seed says you represent God’s kingdom. The yeast says your presence will transform lives. The hidden treasure reminds us to look in unexpected places and the pearl tells us of the value of the kingdom. Finally, the fish a reminder that we are called to do good in this world on behalf of God’s kingdom and all of God’s people.
Trust in that.
Small beginnings which can have a lasting and large impact. 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.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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