A Story About the Kingdom: The Possibilities
by Jacob Juncker
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 27, 2014.
Reading: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Today wraps up a three-week mini series we’re calling “Stories About the Kingdom.” Two weeks ago, we talked about the Story of the Soils. Jesus used this story of a sower to remind us of our need to tend the soil—to make ourselves ready—for the seeds of—for the coming of God’s Kingdom. We must tend the soil so that the God’s Kingdom might take root in our lives, grow, and bear fruit.
Last week we talked about the Story of the Weeds and Jesus’ peculiar response to let the weeds grow. God’s desire is for us to concern ourselves with living into God’s Kingdom. Our primary concern shouldn’t be to weed the garden, it should be to make God’s love real for all people and let God’s grace work on the weeds.
After worship last week, someone approached me and said, “Pastor, I’m confused. Let the weeds grow?” he said, “I thought we were supposed to confront evil.” I wanted to respond in a public way to say this: I think God’s concern in these stories—these parables—is to get people to orient themselves with the movement of God’s love, the establishing of the Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven.. That is, it’s not so much that Jesus doesn’t want us to confront evil, I think he does. However, what Jesus seems most concerned about, in these stories, is for people to allow God’s grace to work in them so that God’s Kingdom might come. As the Kingdom takes root, as we align ourselves with the good in this world (God), evil will naturally diminish.
And, in the stories for today, we find that once the Kingdom takes root, you can’t hide it. It transforms everything. And, becomes something you’d give anything for.
“Everyone who has ears should pay attention” (Matthew 13:9, Common English Bible).
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
I’m not quite sure where it was said first, but it’s often attributed to Aubrey Hepburn: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” That is, you plant seeds in your garden hoping that they will grow healthy plants and bear fruit. You plant a garden with the belief that there will come a day when you can reap a harvest. “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
In the last two stories, in the previous two weeks, Jesus has talked to us at length about our need to tend the soil. He’s given us a heads up about the weeds. Now he’s ready to tell us a bit more about the Kingdom. And it’s at this point in the story telling, that I envision Jesus getting excited. Like a gardener who is excited to see the first sprouts in his garden, I imagine Jesus, giddy with excitement, telling these final stories. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed… It’s like yeast… The kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that someone found in a field… Or, it’s like a jewel merchant who finds the most beautiful, flawless pearl… It’s like a fish net cast into the sea that brings forth a diverse catch of fish… These stories remind us what it’s like when the Kingdom takes root: when the seeds sprout and the garden begins to truly grow and that gets Jesus—the generous sower of the seeds of the Kingdom—excited.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed or yeast. It seems so insignificant at first—like a small seed or a granule of yeast. But give it time to work and it will grow into something huge, bigger than you might expect coming from something so minuscule.
Let it work, and it will impact everything. The Kingdom of Heaven is pervasive. Once people experience the great love of God found in Jesus Christ—once they’ve experience true forgiveness, mercy, and love, they (we) will be transformed. God’s love changes everything. It gives us a peace that goes beyond our understanding, a hope that is unshakable even in the face of the greatest hardship, and it moves us beyond ourselves that we might serve God and our neighbors.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure or a pearl. It’s important to note that the treasure is literally stumbled upon while the pearl is diligently searched for. So often the Kingdom is that way: for some it’s the stumbled upon kindness of a stranger that shows them a glimpse of the way things could be. For others, it’s a lifelong pursuit. Either way, once you’ve experienced the world the way God intended it—where all live in peace, where joy, love, and forgiveness are the norm not the exception—you’ll give anything and everything to stay there. Once you’ve experienced the fire of God’s love, you’ll do anything and everything to keep it going.
Perhaps, this is why the Church has existed for so long? To be sure the Church has made its fair share of mistakes. There have been times when we’ve gotten way wrong. There have been times when we’ve denied the sacred worth of individuals, when we’ve condemned instead of loved. There are times when we hoard God’s love instead of share it. There have been times when we’ve said and done things that divide instead of reconcile people with God and one another. Oh, but when we get it right: when we see glimpses of God’s Kingdom, that’s a special thing, something worth giving everything for—something you’d give everything to see again.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net. It reaches far and wide. It brings in everyone! That doesn’t mean that everyone is perfect. It doesn’t mean that everyone is good and righteous. But, the Kingdom is for everyone: good and bad, right and wrong, whole and broken. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that draws everyone closer to God and closer to one another (sometimes whether we like it or not).
It’s in these last few parables, stories about the Kingdom that Jesus tells us of the possibility of the Kingdom: it’s like a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure or pearl. It’s like a net. These stories are meant to give us a glimpse of the way in which things might be different if only we’d live faithful lives, allowing the love of God to take root in our lives that the Kingdom of heaven might come on earth as it is in heaven.
I heard a story once about a farmer who
purchased an old, run-down, abandoned farm with plans to turn it into a thriving enterprise. The fields were grown over with weeds, the farmhouse was falling apart, and the fences were broken down. During his first day of work, the town preacher stops by to bless the man’s work, saying, “May you and God work together to make this the farm of your dreams!” A few months later, the preacher stops by again to call on the farmer. Lo and behold, it’s a completely different place. The farm house is completely rebuilt and in excellent condition, there is plenty of cattle and other livestock happily munching on feed in well-fenced pens, and the fields are filled with crops planted in neat rows. “Amazing!” the preacher says. “Look what God and you have accomplished together!” “Yes, reverend,” says the farmer, “but remember what the farm was like when God was working it alone!”
While the story is theologically suspect—God can and does generously care for the world God created and loves so much—nonetheless, the story is a good reminder that God’s Kingdom can only come when hearts and minds are open to the transforming love of God found in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God, heaven on earth, will only come to the extent in which we open our lives and respond to God’s mercy and grace. So, tend the soil, don’t mind the weeds, and live into the possibility that is heaven on earth.
We like the idea of the Kingdom. Help us to be open to your leading. Help us to respond to your grace.
Let your kingdom come! May we not be afraid. May we not hold back. For its in Jesus name—the one who came to show us how to give it all for the world you so love—we pray. Amen.