July 26, 2020
1 Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39 and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
What is it like?
The Kingdom of heaven! Or as the other Gospels call it, the Kingdom of God. Matthew, because he is writing to Jewish Christian avoids using the name of God and thus refers to God’s Kingdom as the Kingdom of heaven.
We are all somewhat familiar with the concept, the Kingdom of God. We’ve read about it in the Bible, we may have used it ourselves and we’ve heard ministers talk about it. As people of faith we confess that God is indeed King of all.
The people of Israel believed that God is King of Israel. God ruled over them and they were called to be obedient to the divine will as revealed in the Torah.
But Israel also lived with a hopeful expectation: God, one day would reveal God’s Kingdom for all to see. They hoped and expected that God’s reign as King of all creation would come. So, ancient Israel lived with this deep longing of peaceful times. They even had a vivid picture of what God’s coming Kingdom may look like:
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord……. with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…….. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:1-9). Israel was waiting for God to do this!
In chapter 3 of Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist preached: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” And later when John the Baptist was in prison and about to be executed, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait another?” Jesus said to them: “Go and tell John. What you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
In Matthew 12:28 Jesus says: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you”. Matthew in fact is saying that the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that Israel was waiting for, has now arrived. God’s Kingdom, in Jesus Christ has broken through, it is here!
As the work of Christ unfolds in the Gospel, we see glimpses of what God’s Kingdom looks like: people are healed, lepers who are shunned and cast out are cleansed, the dead are raised, the poor hear good news, people receive forgiveness and traditional enemies are reconciled.
But these are of course just glimpses. We, as human beings have limited understanding of the Divine. Furthermore, what we see and experience every day, our reality, the real world, distract us so that we forget what we’ve seen and we hardly take notice of God’s kingdom. The contradictions between what we read in the Bible and what we see in the world, blind us to comprehend and appreciate what is meant by God’s Kingdom.
So even though we read about God’s Kingdom and God’s reign of love and peace, we live our lives not always embracing and appreciating what it means that God’s Kingdom has broken through. When we think about God’s Kingdom, we don’t grasp the scope and reach of it. Or we wonder: “Where is God’s Kingdom?”
Many people of faith equate the Kingdom of God with the Church. The Church, as the body of Christ is important but she is in fact one, small part of God’s Kingdom. And on top of it she seems to be shrinking.
The fact is that the Kingdom of God is much more than the church. The church, as important as she is, is just one aspect of God’s Kingdom. God is king of the church, Jesus us head of the church, but God is also ruler of the whole universe. Psalm 93:1 state: “The Lord is King, he is robed in majesty.” Psalm 95:3 says: “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all Gods”.
What are the implications that God is King of all? What is God’s Kingdom like? What does it mean that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom? How do we or should we live as people who subject ourselves to God’s reign?
Many questions, few answers, but as Anselm said: “Faith seeks understanding.” As always, I invite you to think with me.
Jesus tells a number of parables to explain to his readers what the Kingdom of God is. They all start the same: “The Kingdom of heaven is like….”
Jesus uses parables to illustrate the mystery of the Kingdom of God.
In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus points out the contrast between the smallest seed and the big tree. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry started small, but then it grew and it changed the world. It started with one man dying on the cross, with his 12 uneducated, unreliable friends and stern opposition from those in power. But then it grew in to a universal, transforming movement. It started in the Middle East and it became a universal movement that includes all people.
The message that God’s Kingdom is like a mustard seed is profound: God is sovereign and able to take something small and insignificant and do marvelous, wonderful and transformative things with it!
Imagine what God can do with people who respond faithfully to God’s calling to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God. Imagine how God can continue to transform our world with even one or a small number of flawed people.
When we understand the implication of this parable, then there is no need to become despondent by a world that seems imprisoned by destructive and godless habits. No need to feel there is nothing we can do because the problems in the world seem so immense! God is able to take our seemingly unimpressive, small and insignificant work and turns it into something significant! God can use you and me, insignificant and small, to bring about good things. This is still true for God is still the sovereign King. What a comfort!
God’s Kingdom is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. Once again there is a contrast: A small amount of yeast and a large amount of flour. The yeast seems to simply disappear in the large amount of flour. It seems unlikely that such a small amount can make a difference. And yet it does. The kingdom of Heaven is like this. What seems too small and too insufficient God uses to make a difference, to bring about change, and to improve the metaphorical taste of the world. Whenever we feel that the powers resisting change are way too strong for an individual or a few individuals to have an impact, we are reminded of this parable.
When I prepared this sermon, I thought of the role of individuals like John Lewis, who was seen as a moral conscience of Congress because of his non-violent fight for civil rights. He made a difference, he had an impact. One man, who stood up for what is right, played a role in changing our society. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are invited to do the same – like yeast! By living, sharing, loving and serving the world, the world is leavened! A little bit of yeast has a great impact!
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
These parables point to the kingdom as a treasure and a pearl that are worth more than everything else! He considers it as so valuable that he goes and sells everything he has and then he acquires that the field and the treasure.
It is all about priorities. What is most important to us? Where do we invest most of our time and effort? It is not uncommon for people to consider other, worldly things as more valuable than God’s Kingdom. Often other things are more urgent, they need my attention.
But how do we prioritize? How do we know what is important and what is not? We after all do believe the words of Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it”. And as citizens of God’s Kingdom, we believe that God is King of all. So, when I work, I do so as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. When I exercise, I do so as a person of faith. My whole life is lived under the mercy of God. When I vote, my marriage, being a parent, when I work in the garden, when I read, whatever I do fall under the grace of God. And this is true and right! And yet, we have to admit that there are times when God’s Kingdom is not a priority!
We need wisdom to discern how to prioritize and how to live. We need wisdom to know what is right and just! King Solomon asked for wisdom to discern good and evil. And God gave him a wise and discerning mind and on top of that wealth. We too need God’s Spirit to give us a discerning mind and to guide us to do what is good, right and just! Fortunately, we do have God’s Spirit.
God gave the Spirit to guide us! “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
God knows us more intimately then we can ever imagine. God knows our strength and weakness and in spite of our weakness the Spirit intercedes for us! And the Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God! So, we can relax! We can hand our concerns, our desires, our shortcomings, actually our very self, to God knowing we are in good hands!
You see, the bottom line is this: we are God’s very own! We are citizens of God’s Kingdom! God knows us, the Spirit intercedes for us and above all God loves us and nothing will separate us from God’s love!
Yes, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom that is like a mustard seed (small but grows into something spectacular), like yeast (a little makes a big different), like a treasure (more important than anything else), and like a merchant who finds one pearl of great value, and went and sold all that he had and bought that one pearl of great value! Amen.