The kingdom of heaven is like…… by Pastor Noel

July 30, 2017     Proper 12,A

 

      The kingdom of heaven is like… lying down with dogs; … like crossing your eyes.

      Our gospel for today is a whole string of parables Jesus used for teaching. It sounds to me like those books of manners for kids, or like “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

      There are some big differences between Jesus’ parables and those other sayings, though.

      The other sayings always give the answer. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Cross your eyes and they stick that way.

      Most of these are cautionary. They warn us of negative, harmful, consequences if we misbehave. 

      They are short and complete, you don’t have to guess at, or think about, what they mean. They close the conversation, say all there is to be said.

      Jesus’ parables don’t seem to have negative consequences, and they do not have simple, easy explanations.

      They give a lot to think about, guess at, and they open the way for endless conversations.

      Fred Buechner has said that with jokes and parables, if we have to have it explained, we shouldn’t bother.

      The morality sayings are used to keep people in line, to teach manners, to bring us all into conformity.

      Morality sayings are like fences that try to gather us all together in good behavior.

      Parables are not always about leading us to good behavior—in fact, they may seem to lead us toward questionable or even unlawful behavior!

      Parables are to make us think, and act.

      Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” that gets planted in the field.

      Mustard is an invasive weed.  Where I used to live, out in the middle of NY state, and here, too, each spring there are miles and miles of golden fields—filled with bright yellow dandelions. 

      Every now and then the golden yellow is broken by a darker yellow plant—mustard.

      In Jesus’ day it was against the law to plant mustard in a field or garden with other plants. It is an outsider, a rogue, not a good behavior plant at all.

      How can it be like the kingdom of heaven?

      “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast” that a woman mixes into flour. Once yeast, or any leaven, is mixed with flour, they cannot be separated. 

      But, leaven, too, was unlawful at times—when cleaning house to prepare for Passover all traces of leaven have to be removed so that bread will be unleavened.

      And comparing the kingdom of heaven to something involving a woman….!

      How is this like the kingdom of heaven?

      Jesus would have shocked his listeners with these parables— mustard and leaven and God’s kingdom all connected?

      Again we have the message heard in the parables of the sower and the wheat and weeds—God’s kingdom is everywhere and contains both good and bad—evil.

      And only God (or his angels, as in one of the parables today) only God can tell which is which.

      Despite our best intentions, we cannot always tell what is good and what is evil.

      These parables call us to trust God and to risk—two behaviors that we may find difficult if not impossible! Jesus takes old, familiar ideas and uses them to look ahead to new possibilities. New possibilities may mean risk.

      We might hear these parables better if we update them to our modern day life:

      The kingdom of heaven is like a white woman who sits in the front, or the back, of the bus with Rosa Parks.

      The kingdom of heaven is like someone who knowingly gives work to an illegal immigrant so his family can eat.

      The kingdom of heaven is like someone who stands up to be counted for kingdom values of justice and peace, even if they are the only one standing.

      Jesus’ parables, and our modern versions, are calling us to live in a way that may be even more shocking and upsetting to us than they were to Jesus’ audience.

      These parables are calling us to good stewardship.

      Is that a word, an idea, that makes you uneasy?             

      It shouldn’t—good stewardship is about using what God has given us—our whole lives, in fact—to show that we honor and trust God and all of God’s creation.

      Here’s an idea that may be new to you: stewardship is not always about money.

      Good stewardship is about living in the kingdom and making that kingdom so appealing and transforming that everyone wants to join us.

      Good stewardship is about starting in small ways, perhaps, trusting God more and more with our lives and being transformed by God’s activity in our lives.

      Stewardship is about growing more and more into partnership with God as we live into the kingdom.

      That’s why we sometimes say “All things come from you, O God,” as our offerings are put on God’s holy table.

      We give our time, treasure and talent for the spread of the kingdom, and God blesses us in that. It is our whole lives that we are offering here on the altar.

      We give our lives to God and God’s life is given to us as we receive the bread and wine.

      The risky part comes as we learn to step out in trust and love for God and give more and more of ourselves, our souls and bodies, for the spread of the kingdom.

      Helping God bring the kingdom here, now.

      The kingdom of God, (of heaven) is not about trying to be morally righteous, as our morality sayings would have.

      The kingdom of God is about recognizing the reality of the kingdom in our world, and trusting that God’s goodness will prevail.

      It is about working with God—looking back and ahead, risking, being transformed, by the treasure of God’s love for us and for the world.

      God’s stewardship is SO generous, so available, that Paul tells us nothing can get between us and God’s love for us—not even our own refusal to accept, claim and live with that love.

      This abundant love is what Jesus calls the old treasure that we are to embrace, along with new treasure, that is new and maybe risky ways of living and sharing God’s kingdom.

      We can do this knowing that God is with us, not to give easy answers, but especially when the answers are hard and scary, or not there at all.

      We can do this knowing that as we are given God completely, without reservation, so we are called to give ourselves completely, without reservation, for the kingdom of heaven right here.

      As Michael Hardin says, “We can surrender to God’s reign, the (community) of the Crucified. Through our surrender we find our place, our gift of service and our work in this (community).”

      By so doing, we share, literally share, in the blessings of the end of the ages. We share, we are heirs, in God’s kingdom. This is Christianity, our becoming ‘little Christs.’”

      The kingdom of heaven, or maybe the community of God, is like someone in church who is so filled with God’s welcome for everyone that they can’t wait to go out and share it.

      May the kingdom of heaven be—- like each of us.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details