I’ve been thinking a lot about the Kingdom of God. What do we mean when we say, “the kingdom of God,” or “the kingdom of heaven?” It is a place we go to? Is it a state of mind?It’s that word, “Kingdom” that messes us up. To us, “kingdom” is a place where a king rules. It has a physical location, borders that define where it starts and ends. But the word that usually gets translated “kingdom” actually means “rule” or “reign.” It’s an activity not a place.
So when Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven,” he’s actually saying, “under God’s rule,” or “where God reigns” or perhaps “anywhere God’s will is done.” Someone suggested that a good way to think about the “kingdom of heaven” is to substitute the words “God’s love” for it.[i] In a way, that makes sense – God is love and anywhere God rules, love reigns. So a good way to look at the parables we read today is to say,
God’s love is like…. a mustard seedGod’s love is like…a woman making bread with yeast
God’s love is like…a treasure hidden in the fieldGod’s love is like…a pearl of great price
God’s love is like…
How is God’s love like these things?That’s the question Jesus asks us in these parables. He says, “God’s love is like…and he tells a story. It’s up to us to listen carefully. The stories challenge us to look at God and ourselves in a different way.
Listen again to Jesus’ parables.
God’s love is like….People stopped and stared. There it was, in the center of an otherwise perfectly good field – a tree. But if you looked closer, you would see it really wasn’t a tree.
No, it was a mustard plant – an enormous mustard plant, probably the largest in the whole region. It was so big, birds could nest in it. The farmer often had his lunch in its shade. It provided an amazing harvest of mustard seed each year, going to spice merchants and to medicine makers. Truly a remarkable plant.But it wasn’t the sheer size that causes people to stop and stare. No, it was the sheer audacity of the farmer in planting the thing in the first place. Who ever heard of planting a mustard seed in the middle of a field? Didn’t he know that mustard would take over his field? Didn’t he know that mustard was nearly impossible to keep just where it was planted and just as impossible to get rid of once it went where it was not wanted?
There were good reasons that the Torah said not to plant mustard in your fields or gardens. No good Jew would plant a mustard seed in the middle of a field.Leave it to a Gentile to plant mustard!
God’s love….invasive, it won’t be conquered, it messes up our human ideas of order, it’s impossible to remove…
God’s love is like…Anna felt in the deepest corner of her cupboard for the secret hidden there. Ah, there it was - the leaven. For weeks, a piece of bread lay hidden in the warm, moist, dark of the cupboard. It got stale, and then mold grew on it, and finally…well something had changed and now she held no longer a piece of bread but a mysterious substance that would make today’s baking rise into fluffy loaves.
And did she ever have baking to do. Fifty pounds of flour! She would be baking all day. The smell of bread would permeate the entire neighborhood. She would bake enough bread to feed a legion if she chose. She could feed her whole town with the day’s baking. She could supply a lavish wedding feast with bread.
Anna thought about the last time she searched the cupboard for leaven. It was just before Passover, and leaven was ceremonially unclean. Like any good Jewish housewife, she scoured every corner of her house to remove the leaven – thereby removing all uncleanness from her house. During Passover, all bread had to be the dry, hard matzo. Today - today, she could make the mouth-watering soft bread, enough for everyone and more.Anna smiled as she carried the leaven to her workspace.
God’s love…hidden, mysterious, permeating everything it touches, abundant….
God’s love is like….David had been plowing when he heard the ‘chunk’ of the plowshare hitting a rock. “Great,” he thought, “I bet it broke. Now I’ll have to traipse back up to the homestead and tell the owner I broke his plow. I bet he’ll take it out of my wages! What rotten luck!”
But when he pulled the plow away and dug up what he had hit, he found a box. “What in the world is this doing in the middle of the field?” He opened it and gasped – it was a fortune!Did the owner know this was in the field? Surely not, or he would have plowed it himself to keep the secret. David’s eyes narrowed and he looked quickly around. No one saw him – or what he had found.
He quickly buried the box - a little deeper – and carefully plowed over it. There! No one could tell that there was anything different about the 7th row from the north end. Only he knew that just 15 paces from the end of the row was buried treasure.Anxiety grew over the next few weeks. All he could think about was the treasure. He worried someone else would find it, he couldn’t get enough money to buy the field, the owner wouldn’t sell. His friends said he was no fun anymore – he didn’t want to sit with them in the evening and tell stories. He was too afraid his secret would slip out. His wife thought he had lost his mind. She argued and cried and threatened to leave, but he sold everything they owned anyway. Finally he had enough to go to the owner and bargain for the field.
The owner wondered why he wanted that particular field. It wasn’t much of an investment. David smiled to himself and said nothing. Later, he thought maybe he should have mentioned the treasure to the owner. Was it right for him to keep that bit of information to himself? Certainly if he had told the owner, the owner would have claimed the treasure.But now, finally, it was his.
God’s love…unexpected, all-consuming, life-changing…
God’s love is like…“Oh, before you go, I’d like to show you one last item.”
Joshua knew Phillip had held something back. They had been doing business for a long time and Joshua could rely on Phillip to have the finest pearls. He also knew that Phillip liked a bit of suspense, showing the inferior pearls first and slowly bringing out finer and finer pearls as they bargained. From the smile of Phillip’s face, Joshua knew that whatever he had, it must be special.Still, he was unprepared for the exquisite beauty of this pearl. Such luster! Such color! Such size! Never before in all his years as a pearl merchant had Joshua seen such a fabulous pearl. He had to have it!
Casually, he said, “How much?” and gasped at the price. He would have to sell his entire inventory at full price to purchase this one pearl!It was impossible, really. The smaller pearls, the inferior ones were his bread and butter. He could sell them all day long. The really beautiful, more valuable pearls were harder to move. A wealthy client with a special event would purchase such expensive merchandise, but those sales were few and farther between. This wonderful pearl would be admired by everyone, but…who could purchase such a luxury except the emperor?
Still…He looked again at the pearl. It captivated him. He had to possess it.He shook Phillip’s hand and agreed to the price. The next time he came to town, he had sold every last pearl he owned.
He had nothing but the pearl. It was his inventory. It was his life.God’s love…valuable, sacrificing and worthy of sacrifice…
God’s love is like….A tiny mustard seed that invades the garden, growing little by little every day, slowing taking over
A bit of leaven in a mound of flour, mixing in with every bit, expanding, rising, making enough to feed allA treasure in the field that so captivates a person that he or she will do anything to get it
A pearl so valuable that someone will give all that he has to purchase it.
God’s love is….Where do you see signs of the rule of God’s love around you?
If you were to tell a parable about God’s rule, God’s love, how would you describe it?
God our King, your love is so vast and your rule so amazing that we cannot even begin to imagine it. Your Son gave us stories to help us see a bit more clearly. Send your Spirit to us to give us ears to hear and hearts to understand, eyes to see your kingdom of love around us, and hands to work your will in the world. Amen.