Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
“To you I will give the land of Canaan
as the portion you will inherit.”
Praise the Lord.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 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.”
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 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.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 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. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
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.”
These images of the Kingdom of God are telling and worthy of a deeper dive.
First off, what is the Kingdom of God? I don’t know that any of us can fully explain, after all none of us have seen it in full. Some have wanted to explain it away as heaven, but our scriptures talk about the Kingdom of God as being here and now, among us. It is not something we merely wait and hope for. It is what Christ began and we are called to continue, in this world, here and now, by the Spirit of the Living God.
And so, when we read these parables, Christ is giving us insights into the work we are to be about. Christ is giving us glimpses into what is not yet but is already AND is still becoming. We glimpse what is and what is to come. And so these parables become touchstones to us along this life of discipleship, along our journeys of faith, along our lives of mission and service.
The first parable we read compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed a man plants in his field. Though the smallest of seeds, it says, it yields among the largest of garden plants, becoming a tree, in which the birds of the air build their nest and perch in its branches.
Several things stand out. First, the Kingdom of God is powerful but modest. It may appear small. It may appear wimpy. It will be underestimated – the hug, the smile, the kind word, the act of forgiveness, words of compassion and empathy, telling the truth, listening, the small step toward justice – and yet, as it grows, it far exceeds expectation. Not only that, but it is a blessing to other creatures. The Kingdom of God grows and grows and grows – it multiplies like the loaves and the fish – and in its shade, creatures find shade and shelter, rest and provision. THIS is what the Kingdom of God is like!
The second parable we read compares the Kingdom of God to yeast a woman mixes into 60lbs of flour, till the yeast pervades the dough. 60 pounds. Can you imagine? I did the math: that’s 12 bags of four. Some tiny grains of yeast – able to raise 60 pounds of flour? That’s no small feat. Again, one would underestimate the yeast. It is small – especially up against 60lbs of wheat. They don’t begin to compare, and yet it leavens the whole batch! THIS is what the Kingdom of God is like!
The third parable is different than these first two. Rather than speaking of how small the Kingdom of God begins and yet how powerful and pervasive it is, this third parable speaks to something else. It speaks of joy! It speaks of impact! It speaks of one’s life, turned upside down,…in blessing!
Here a man finds a treasure in a field. He is amazed. What luck! What blessing! But it is not his; he does not own the field. And so he hides it back again, goes home and sells all he has, and returns to buy that field. Today perhaps we could imagine one doing this, if one found gold or perhaps oil on a track of land. It is a treasure. It is provision. It is more than one could ask or imagine. And yet there it is. And so every bit of life needs to be rearranged in order to receive that gift, that blessing. Everything unnecessary must go. Everything owned to this point doesn’t even begin to compare. Nothing will be the same because this man knows that the treasure is worth it all. He gives up what he has in order to receive the blessing. He sells all he has that he might acquire it. He loses his life in order that he might find it.
pearTHIS is what it looks like when one truly finds the Kingdom of God. It is a treasure of great worth. Nothing else compares. Everything else must go to make room for it.
And the forth parable is like the third. This time the man is in active search for a pearl of great worth. He knows what he wants and won’t stop till he finds it. And when he does, he lays down everything he has for it. He sells it all so he can afford the one thing for which he has searched and searched. And he buys it! He seeks and he finds, as he seeks with all his heart. And he would never go back. THIS is how earnestly sought after the Kingdom of God is. THIS is how desired, how valuable, how re-orienting the Kingdom of God is on our lives.
And so we come to the fifth. Different still, this parable tells of the end of the age, the end in which the righteous are sorted out from the unrighteous. The unrighteous meet a fiery end. And this is jarring, is it not? This is the kind of story told by many a preacher scaring the Kingdom of God into fearful souls. But righteousness isn’t remedied by a one time confession or prayer. Righteousness comes from action. And our actions just don’t cut it. But God in mercy has made a way in Christ, that all may be made well, that all may be made whole, that all may be cleaned and covered by the sacrificial love of Christ – taking for us the punishment we deserved and drawing us into the family of God – made righteous not by our own actions but by Christ’s actions on our behalf. We are made righteous by the saving act Christ. And our command is simply to receive it, to let that truth seep beneath the surface of things and start that Kingdom of God transformation in us, from the inside out.
Thus, not all will believe. Not all will receive. Our God is most loving; we are given the choice to love or to hate, to return or to flee, to receive or reject. Even God, who alone knows what it truly best for us, allows each of us the freedom of choose, the freedom to love.
Should we not do that for one another also?
THIS is how lovingly and respectfully the Kingdom of God comes to us. THIS is the responsibility each of us must bear: to receive or reject, to turn toward or turn away. Whatever we choose or do not choose, it most critically matters for our very lives.
And then Jesus pauses the telling of parables to ask whether or not the disciples understand. They believe they do, answering, “yes.”
And Jesus concludes saying, “Therefore anyone who has been a teacher of the law and now has become a disciple in the Kingdom of God is like the owner of a house who goes into his storeroom and brings out treasures, both new and old.”
I don’t think I’d ever before noticed this statement by Jesus. It would appear that Jesus is speaking about teachers of the law – meaning those Jewish religious leaders who were teaching the people the way to go. He is pointing out that in that line of work and service they receive spiritual blessings, and that in joining now in the Kingdom work of God, their blessings only increase – for a lifetime of treasures, new and old.
And so does this not apply to our own lives today?
How about the civil servant, working to do justice, who discovers the grace and love of Christ and joins with God’s Spirit in doing justice by the power of God?
How about the mother who raises her children with love, who comes to know the depth and breadth of God’s love for her and joins with God in nurturing her children in the love of God, calling them to live into the fullness of all God has made them to be?
How about the scientist working on breakthroughs, on cures, who hears God’s call to service, who now joins in the power of God to bring healing to the afflicted, far and wide?
Do they not have treasure wrought, blessings bestowed, both new and old?
And is this not Christ’s invitation?
…to seek that pearl of great price, the Kingdom of God?!
…to sell everything one has in order to acquire everything that truly matters, the Kingdom of God?!
…to begin our journeys with God, trusting in the smallest of acts done in obedience to the Spirit of God?
…to plant our tiniest seeds of faith and to watch them grow into rest and provision, shelter and shade for all God’s creatures?
Is Jesus not inviting us still?
… into deeper communion?
… to recognize how our lives intersect with God’s purposes?
… to see how God’s heart and life lives within us?
… to greater joy, greater provision, greater meaning, greater harvest than anything we could have done in our own strength, in our own power?
The Kingdom of God is what we have yearned for, what we have prayed for. It is worth far more than anything we could earn or acquire for ourselves. It is the justice that rolls down like the mighty waters. It is the mercy that makes way for healing. It is the equity that frees souls to live into their truest selves, their truest purposes and callings. It is the kindness and compassion that nurtures our very souls, begetting life where there was once only death.
THIS is the Kingdom of God.
Christ began it.
The Spirit of God enlivens it.
And WE are called to live it into being, more and more and more.
Thanks be to God!