In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like. . .”
We have already heard from Jesus and John the Baptist and many disciples that the kingdom of heaven is close. Also, we have got the sense by now in the Gospel of Matthew that the kingdom of heaven is both challenging and healing, terrifying and joyful, law and gospel.
The kingdom of heaven is challenging. For example, John the Baptist says to the Scribes and Pharisees, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” And Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The kingdom of heaven is healing. We have seen Jesus give sight to people who are blind, hearing to people who can’t hear. Jesus raises the dead, cleanses lepers, brings forgiveness to the most despicable and disgusting people in the country. That’s healing.
In our second lesson for today, Paul sets forth a pretty good description of the kingdom of heaven. Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Challenge and comfort.
So in the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a little bitty mustard seed that someone planted in his field and it grew up to be this huge bush, big enough for birds to nest in its branches.” “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and hid in ten gallons of flour, and it all rose.” You know how it takes, like three cups of flour to make a loaf of bread. This is ten gallons, enough to feed a hundred and fifty people.
It’s encouraging because even a little bit of God’s love grows into something huge. Even a little bit of God’s love that God shows through you can do enormous good. So do not underestimate the good God does through you.
It’s also challenging though because, well, “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.” Have I said yet this week that these parables are crazy? No farmer would actually plant mustard in his field. Mustard is an invasive weed. It grows up everywhere. It’s as if Jesus said “The kingdom of heaven is like Kudzu that someone planted in their field. The kingdom of heaven is like dandelion seeds that someone put in their combine and sowed in a thousand acre field. Mustard does not just stay safe over there on the other side of the fence. It takes over everything.
So the kingdom of heaven does not just stay safely in the four walls of the church. It climbs out and gets into everything. It influences our finances: how we earn our money, where we invest our money, how much and two whom we give our money. The kingdom of heaven influences our sex lives. Is what I am doing an expression of God’s love? Am I expressing with my body what my soul is called to say? Kingdom of heaven has much to say about our politics. How can we lift up integrity and responsibility and the concerns of people who are poor and marginalized in our world? And what about those people over there. You know. Those people that we wish would go away because they are messing up everything. Kingdom of heaven in the backs of our minds saying “Jesus died for them, too.”
Humph. Gets into everything.
Kingdom of heaven is challenging. Yeast, in Jesus’s day was considered to be a little bit unclean. So on religious holidays like Passover, you would take all of the yeast out of your house. So also the Kingdom of heaven involves parts of ourselves that we feel like are a little unclean. Parts of our lives we hide when we come to church and put on a big smile. Parts of ourselves and our lives we would rather no one ever see, that we not see ourselves. God knows those parts of ourselves. God’s love touches us there. Precisely there, and that changes everything.
The kingdom of heaven is like if someone finds a treasure in a field and joyfully sells all they have so they can buy that field and get the treasure. Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, who finds a pearl of great value and sells everything and buys it. Yes, the kingdom of heaven is of great value. Often we hear this idea, sell all you have for God’s realm, but sometimes there’s an overtone of manipulation: “If you were a real Christian, you would give up all you have for Jesus.” Or even a threat: “You know, if you don’t give up all you have, God’s gonna get you.” But here, it’s joyful. This person joyfully gives up all they have because the kingdom of heaven is of such great value. The merchant gives up everything for this pearl because this love of God which is so unutterably beautiful.
But wait a minute. Did it say that they sold all that they had? Does this mean everything I have? Do I have to give my family into God’s hands? Are you saying that my pride, my identity has to come from God alone and not from my standing, how respectfully people treat me? Wait a minute, my money isn’t my money anymore, it’s God’s money. What about my sexuality and my politics? Are you telling me the kingdom of heaven is supposed to have an effect on how I vote?
Jesus says, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that you drag in the water and many fish come up, both good and bad. And yes, people are like that. There are some bad fish in the world. It’s a comfort that the bad fish, the evildoers will not win in the end. Justice will prevail. But here’s the challenge: Who gets to decide which fish is which? Just like last week. Does the wheat decide which plants are weeds and which are wheat? Do the fish decide here which fish are kept and which are thrown away? No. It’s the angels. The angels decide who are the evildoers and who are good. That’s the angels job, not ours. We don’t do it.
Jesus says, Therefore every scribe of the kingdom brings out from his treasure the new and the old.
Here’s a parable about bringing out the new and old. The kingdom of heaven is like a church that held a vacation bible school where everybody pretended they were in ancient Rome.
The people brought out four Biblical principles from the old: God’s love is a gift, God’s love changes us, God’s love is always with us. God’s love saves us. And they combined these old Biblical principles with new kids, some of whom had never been here before. Here’s what happened.
Day one: Hello everyone, we’re pretending that we’re visiting some Christians who lived in ancient Rome. Where do you live?
Little boy says, “We had to leave where we live and go stay with our uncle because our Mom and Dad were cooking Meth in the kitchen.”
Day two, someone says: “This is the first time I have been in a church in three years. It’s going pretty good. You know, I used to be into some very bad things.”
Day three: “For I am convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life—“ “Yeah, my brother died.” Little girl says this standing next to me. I said, “I am so sorry. But even if he is dead, God’s love is still with him.” “He’s in heaven.”
Day four: “Who is God’s mother? Everybody has a mother.”
Day five: “I wish Vacation Bible school wasn’t over.”
The next week, “I would like to have my child baptized.”
When we bring out the old from scripture and put it with the new today, we find out again, that the kingdom of heaven is close. It is challenging. It is healing. It is unutterably beautiful and grows in ways and places we had not imagined, and it will never leave us. Neither death nor life, nor things present nor things to come, nor rulers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.