THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS & STUFF
(*Lamest sermon title ever. #ScottPilgrim)
Gospel text: Matthew 13
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
The Parable of the Net
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Considering the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ is Jesus’ central message, it’s a little embarrassing that the Church has traditionally had a very difficult time agreeing on what that means.
What is the kingdom of the heavens?
It almost certainly does not mean
do the right thing or
believe the right thing
or pray the right thing
and you’ll go to heaven when you’ll die.
Jesus says the kingdom of the heavens is within you and among you.
Jesus says the kingdom is here now,
to be experienced in this life as fullness of life,
He also describes it as hidden, as advancing, and as coming.
Here already but not yet here.
We could blame Jesus for not defining it. “Jesus, just tell us?”
But he doesn’t define it here. Instead, he opts to describe
And he seemed to think the kingdom of heaven is best described in parables. Yikes.
Why parables? Why symbols? Why puzzles? Make it plain!!
Here’s why: because Jesus NEEDS them to sink deeper than our heads,
into our hearts and out through our hands.
He talks about the kingdom of heaven as Secrets.
Hidden treasures. Buried seeds. Unseen yeast.
Lorie Martin: “Each of these puzzles shows something that is concealed in the soil, the flour, the ground, and in the clam or the shop, wherever the pearl was waiting. The greatness of the Kingdom is concealed and then revealed in the small and in the grand things of life. I wonder what discovery or insight we may bump into today or may find as a part of our search?”
The kingdom expands:
the Little Seed that grows into a great tree
For me, the mustard seed is a word of hope, of resilience.
A shield against despair and “oh, what’s the use.”
Big movements dwindle, big ideas become old ideas,
big bullies fatten or wither or bald, big empires rise and fall.
The world system Does. Not. Last.
But this little seed, buried in the soil, tiny and hidden, seemingly dead…
will not be stopped. It sprouts, it grows, becomes a plant, a great tree, flowering and bearing fruit and housing bugs and birds and critters.
When the last drop of the earth’s oil has been consumed.
When the sun no longer burns through the smog
and nothing grows in the irradiated soil.
When we’ve used up our weapons on hate and self-destruction
and live off-grid in Flintstones clothing.
When zombies and dinosaurs roam the earth and disappear again.
When the last MacDonald’s Church franchise gratefully shuts its doors…
The seed abides. Whatever the kingdom is. Wherever it’s buried.
It will remain and grow and become the greatest tree of all.
Giving shelter and shade and food that outlast all our dystopias.
We can really only talk about it well in parables or poems.
“And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune,
the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter.”
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder.”
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Here’s a line from the movie “Inception”
“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed—fully understood—that sticks; right in there somewhere.
This idea. This kingdom of the heavens, this kingdom of Jesus.
This little seed. It grows.
The kingdom transforms: the Yeast
Again with the yeast, the kingdom grows and spreads.
But it also transforms whatever it touches.
As a little lump of yeast gets punched into a loaf, and yes, it spreads.
But the first Christians thought about how it fundamentally changes the loaf. Wherever it spreads, whatever it enters … becomes like it.
The kingdom of the heavens is the ultimate change agent.
Imagine a colonial marauder, traveling the seven seas and exploiting the nations and enslaving their people and spreading a toxic gospel.
Even there, hidden in that ugly, cracked and destructive vessel,
a woman has hidden the tiniest lump of yeast.
And everywhere it goes, a miracle happens. Child sacrifice ends. Young women are no longer thrown in volcanoes. Cultures stop burying widows alive. Slaves start singing about Zion.
The last holdouts for transformation seem to be the colonialists …
but take hope. The yeast transforms.
Working away until the whole loaf is yeasted.
It’s the kingdom of the heavens. It’s the kingdom of Jesus.
The kingdom beckons: the Hidden Treasure / the Pearl of Great Price
It also beckons. This buried treasure calls out, “Come find me!”
And when you’ve caught the bug, maybe can’t not go searching.
The Ditchfield bug. My mom’s clan. We all have it.
Antiques. Auction sales. Garage sales. Garbage dumps.
Hunting, digging, scratching…. Bradley, look. It’s solid oak!
Stripping away old cracked lacquer, finding the treasure, recovering the Victorian sideboard.
Digging out abandoned iron bed frames from a Manitoba snowbank, scraping off layers of bad paint, rubbing the bars down with brasso, revealing a gleaming brass headboard.
This treasure, this pearl … is worth more than anything.
More than oak or brass or bank vaults of gold or epic palaces.
You’d give anything for it.
Your time, your money, your reputation, your comfort.
This kingdom of the heavens, this kingdom of Jesus,
This treasure… beckons us. “Come find me!”
The kingdom Includes: the Dragnet
Fourth, the kingdom of the heavens includes.
Jesus describes a great dragnet that gathers in ALL the fish.
He then says that IF there is sorting to be done, the angels will do it later.
Same with the wheat and tares, the sheep and the goats.
They ALL grow together.
IF there’s sorting to be done, it’s NOT now and NOT by us.
God will work it out at the end of the age.
But for THIS age, ALL are invited, ALL are compelled …
COME IN! Yes, you too! Everybody. Everybody? Everybody!
The righteous. Sure. The wicked. Them too.
As if we’re so great at discerning them anyway.
Only if you are the standard of righteousness.
In which case you’re ‘the wicked.’
And yes, you’re welcome too.
Amazing that we so contorted his point that we actually thought the wheat and tares, the sheep and goats, the good fish and the bad fish were our license to exclude.
Well, exclusion is not the kingdom of the heavens.
It’s NOT the kingdom of Jesus.
Whatever it is, it includes.
Jesus said, “And if I am lifted up [speaking of the cross], I will draw (drag) ALL people to myself.” ALL.
Jesus said, “For you granted him authority over ALL people that he might give eternal life to ALL those you have given him.”
Oh, hey! Here, at last, Jesus will DEFINE the kingdom of the heavens,
He will finally DEFINES eternal life,
He will clearly DEFINES salvation.
Now, this is eternal life: that they know you,
the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
If you’ll trust him, the reign of death is over.
Yours is fullness of life.
In you. Now.
Oops. I got pretty Jesusy there, eh?
- He’s the seed that got buried in the ground …
and burst out on the third day.
- He’s the treasure that got buried in the field …
the pearl precious beyond any price.
- He’s the yeast that got buried in the loaf …
the central figure in history who is making all things new.
- And He’s the dragnet …
who is drawing all people to himself.
So to me, he’s kind of a big deal. Truly historic.
But also, it’s super personal:
- He’s the seed of divine love that got planted in our hearts
and the love that is growing in us, bearing good fruit.
- He’s the merchant who saw the treasure in you,
who sold everything to find you,
not matter how hidden and obscure you feel, he saw your value.
- He’s the One who he sold the farm to buy the pearl of great price.
The pearl turns out to be you.
He swapped heaven and dove as far as hades to retrieve you from the jaws of that salty old oyster.
- He’s included in his fleet of fishers,
not to make others join our club or give them a bad news ultimatum.
He’s asking us to sow this contagious idea of a kingdom ruled by Love.
It’s an idea so tiny, so hidden, so precious … it might. Just. Work.