July 26, 2020
Outside today, we are still in Matthew’s gospel in chapter 13. Jesus is still teaching the crowds in parables. Between our online and outside services, over the last couple of Sundays, we’ve heard parables about the sower and different types of soil… and about the wheat and the weeds, while they may grow together in the end each will be judged for what they are. Today we start with Matthew’s telling of the parable of the mustard seed. Listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you today.
READ Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
All of these parables are trying to expand our knowledge of the kingdom of heaven. So it’s best for us to start with defining just what Jesus means here in Matthew when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not heaven… that place where we hope to be after we die. That is not what Jesus is teaching about… that is not the hopeful vision he is trying to put into those who are following him. The heaven in kingdom of heaven is more akin to what we pray during the Lord’s prayer… praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Think of it as short-hand for that line in the prayer. So the kingdom of heaven has an earthly meaning… a what happens when God’s will… God’s love is enacted on earth through… what should be… the normal exercise of our faith as Jesus defines it… as the Spirit equips it.
As Jesus explains in last week’s parable of the wheat and the weeds, the good seed is planted by the Son of Man. There is the expectation of a bountiful harvest… that the seed sown will grow into a fruitful field that will be harvested and will feed and create new seed for the next season’s harvest. The weeds… sown by the evil one… the weeds have no purpose. The weeds do not feed but they do create more work that interrupts or can obscure the bountifulness of the harvest. The weeds make things harder. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, there is a clear good and a clear evil… and each are judged by their nature.
So… using the language of that parable… the kingdom of heaven is the result of the good seed that is planted and grows into the intended good harvest. The goodness of the seed has consequence. We usually don’t talk about consequences in reference to something good… usually that word is associated with the consequences that come with doing the wrong thing. Or maybe that’s just how I’ve heard it most of my life. But… in following God’s will… in obeying and living by the teachings of Christ… in being able to discern the difference between the wheat and the weeds… God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s will is accomplished… the harvest is good… in this simple and natural way of things.
So the kingdom of heaven is God’s will being done… and as the parable of the mustard seed teaches… it can begin with the tiniest of seeds… the tiniest of actions. For God’s will to be done doesn’t require some jaw dropping, special effects laden, theophanic-like display of God’s powers… it can start with a simple act of obedience to God’s ways. The kingdom of heaven can be found in and grow from the simplest acts of kindness… acts that grow out of our empathy… acts that display the same type of love… forgiveness… or grace that we are shown through Christ. Again… that’s the lesson from Matthew 25 in the judgment of the sheep and the goats. The sheep are the ones who saw the least of these and acted… gave food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty… welcomed the stranger… truly welcomed the stranger with an open heart… cared for the naked by giving clothing… gave care for those who were sick… remembered and visited those in prison, not locking the door and forgetting them… not writing them off.
The kingdom of heaven can start with simply sharing our resources with one another instead of hoarding or over-indulging… of asking first if that person is really worthy of me and what’s mine. The kingdom of heaven may begin with some action that helps everyone to have good food to eat or clean water to drink. I think… following Matthew 25 and a number of other scripture passages… we can all agree that those are easily found examples of the divine will. Plain reading. Easy to understand. All would agree that there are no starving or drought plagued people in the kingdom of heaven. Small works… combined together… cumulative efforts that grow into a tree so that all of its branches are full… so that all can come and nest there.
It’s a nice idea. Gives off all the good feelings. And it doesn’t get done. Why? Because there is work that advances the kingdom and there is work that inhibits the fruition of the kingdom. So the flesh quits and sinfully cries out for God to do it himself… which is not what Jesus teaches in these parables. The faith of a mustard seed… Jesus will later teach… the faith of a mustard seed has the ability to move mountains… and he’s not talking about an effects laden miraculous event of God. He is talking about that small piece of faithful kingdom work that happens through us. Even as the problems around us that we look at today seem insurmountable… so much larger than what Matthew’s hearers could imagine… it still begins with the faith of a mustard seed… the belief that the kingdom of heaven can be here on earth… the great leap of faith that God’s mighty acts can begin in the individual human heart.
Because the kingdom of heaven is like yeast… mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. A little bit of yeast is able to transform three measures of flour. Ok… so I admit I don’t know much about baking… nor can I imagine how much three measures of flour looks like, although I am imagining a good amount of flour… but I have seen those little yeast packets in the grocery store and I know it only takes one of those yeast packets to transform flour into becoming bread. The kingdom of heaven is transformative. The kingdom of heaven transforms the broken creation into what God intends. It gives us that broader vision to see what currently is not before us. For God… nothing is impossible. In the kingdom of heaven… nothing is impossible. Our mustard faith seed can set to work on eradicating hunger all over the world. It can envision systems where clean water is available to all no matter where they live… no matter their economics or politics or religion or ethnicity. The flour is all around us. The raw materials of heart and brain and spirit… of creation are in our possession. We have the flour to make the bread that feeds and nourishes. Now the yeast is God’s spirit that dwells within… the spirit of God implanted and growing us toward this vision of the kingdom of heaven… transforming us through the redeeming grace of Christ.
And there is work that takes us toward transformation… that allows God’s word and Spirit to transform and grow… and there’s the work that impedes… that dulls our vision… that reinforces that it cannot be done… and even if it could be done, should it be done.
The kingdom of heaven when discovered… when you truly come to believe in its possibility… is a joy that is worth more than anything that possessions can bring. A silly example… when you donate an item of food are you like me… imagining that food on its journey to someone? Imagining not that that person who sits down will suddenly say aloud ala some cheesy television commercial, “Wow honey, this is the best oatmeal I ever had because I know it comes to me by someone’s love.” No. The hope, though, is that having that something to eat that day takes off that burden of worry for at least a short amount of time so that maybe God can plant a small mustard seed in that soil that might somehow further the kingdom in a small way. That’s where I would find joy. That’s something worth sacrificing for.
That’s what the kingdom of heaven does… it rearranges what we are supposed to value into what God values. Selling all that you have… to me that is the parables’ way of saying your priorities are revalued.
There is another lesson for us in the parable of the merchant. The kingdom of heaven must be sought after. It must be pursued with a willingness to have it change you… to revalue your priorities… to give up all that you thought was so important… so that you are a part of God’s will being done… even in your own small way. The kingdom of heaven is to be sought with clear intentionality. It isn’t stumbled into.
And that brings us to the parable of the net thrown in the sea. A reminder like the parable of the wheat and the weeds… that there is good and there is bad. The good advances the kingdom of heaven. The bad is thrown out. There is a separation between the righteous of God and of evil. There are sheep and there are goats. It’s not enough to say I believe in the kingdom of heaven. It’s not enough to be for the kingdom of heaven in theory. You either work and bear the good fruit of the kingdom. Or you are cut down and thrown on the rubbish pile. Matthew’s gospel doesn’t give any room for deathbed confessions and pleas for forgiveness after living in ways that impeded the work of the kingdom. One… because the kingdom of heaven isn’t about where you go after you die… the kingdom of heaven isn’t interested in your immortal soul… the kingdom of heaven wants you to know God and to live God and to breathe God and to do God’s will in the moment as the need demands as you are gifted to participate. There are good and there are bad and those are recognizable because we know… we know what the Lord requires… it is not a mystery or a secret what the Lord requires… you know the words of the prophet Micah as well as I do… to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
See we are all as smart as a scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of God. We know the words of the old… we know the words of the new… and we know those words must be lived in the now and every tomorrow that is to come. For that we were predestined… for that we were called… for that we were justified… and for that is God glorified by us. Amen.