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“The Kingdom of God is Like…”

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!

 

 

 

 

“The Beautiful BeComing”

Rev Katherine Todd
John 21:1-19

 

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”


 

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Do you watch more Netfllix?

Do you talk up a storm?

Do you cry a river?

Do you run?

Do you scream”

Do you shop?

Do you garden?

Do you journal?

Do you pray?

 

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Do you do nothing – and by doing nothing, choose to do something…?

Do you keep on keeping on, same old, steady on?

 

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

 

I suspect that in times of doubt and unknowns, many of us reach for something familiar to comfort us in the time of not knowing.  And that looks different for each of us.  But I imagine, we reach to the familiar, to things we suspect we can control, to things we can know.

 

Early in my adult life, I found laundry to be one of these comforting things.  There is the smell of fresh cloths, warm, strait from the dryer.  I can sort them.  I can fold them.  I can put them away.  And I can make peace out of the chaos of dirty clothes.

I can do this.

So when work felt frustrating…

When relationships were turbulent…

When circumstances felt out of control…

I liked to do laundry.

 

Whatever your thing is, it likely brings you comfort in trying times.

 

And Jesus’ disciples appear to have been no different.

Having gone through the emotional Olympics:  pledging to stand by Jesus whatever the cost, denying Jesus, fleeing in fear, watching from a distance as they tortured and murdered him, finding him missing from the tomb three days later, and then him appearing to them – risen and alive! – as they hid behind closed doors, these disciples are worn flat out.

And what is next?

Who knows?

Christ speaks peace into their frightened state.  Christ speaks joy into their mourning hearts.  Christ says he is sending them, just as God sent him.  And Christ gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But perhaps like a still a bit unsure of what to do with this new-found talent, Peter announces:  “I am going fishing!”  And the six other disciples with him say, “We are going with you.”

They return to what feels comfortable.  They return to what feels familiar.  They return to what they are good at.  They return to something they can understand and control.

…but things don’t work out.

Despite their collective fishing prowess, they catch nothing.

So nothing about this comfort fishing expedition is comforting.  No longer are they unsure, but now they are also, hungry, tired, and frustrated.  And that is when the Risen Christ calls to them from the shoreline, “You have no fish, have you?”  “No,” they answer.  “Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some,” Jesus instructs.

They do it, and suddenly they have more fish than they can manage!  Realizing it is the Lord, Peters jumps into the sea and the others haul the load to shore.

The scene is everything comforting.  They have a full catch, food and provision for today, AND Jesus already has a fire going, with hot fish and bread.  It’s as if Jesus has literally read their minds and given them exactly what they needed.

 

While they were eating and relaxing with Jesus on the beach, Jesus speaks with Peter, asking him repeatedly if Peter loves him.  Each time Peter answers yes, and each time Jesus answers with some version of “Feed and tend my sheep.”

This gets Peter so irritated, because it’s becoming clear that Jesus may not believe him.  But I imagine Jesus knew this was necessary.

This wasn’t the first time Peter had pledged his love and devotion.  He had done so only a week before, just before denying Jesus 3 times.

Peter believes he loves Jesus, and yet Peter had led the whole crew on a comfort fishing expedition.

He was concerned with feeding himself.

He was perhaps retreating to the familiar, going back to what was before – not pressing forward into what lied ahead.

And Jesus is calling him out.  Peter is not to go back.

Jesus is sending Peter and all the disciples forth.

Jesus is enough for them.  Christ provides for their earthly needs – fish to sell, warm food to fill their stomachs – but they are to focus their energies on looking after the needs of others.  They are to shepherd God’s flock.  They are still called to fish for people!

 

Each of us is somewhere on our journey of faith.  And if you haven’t yet, I suspect you will reach a point in your journey where what you have been doing isn’t enough anymore.  Something is not right.  What you were doing was good for then, but it’s not enough for now.

You have grown.

God has been growing your muscles of faith, as you have followed Christ step by step, and your former ways are no longer adequate.

You are ready for more.

You are made for more.

You are called to more.

 

But the land of the familiar is so enticing.

Can’t you just be content again with what was?

Can’t you just stay on auto-pilot and ignore the call of the Spirit of God on your life?

 

Here we see Peter doing just that – and leading others to do the same –

And here we see God finding him with his head in the sand, and lovingly calling him to live his faith in action.

Peter’s love for God is not meant to simply stop with him.  It is not meant to have been a good story, a nice ride.  NO.  If Peter truly loves Christ, he will do what Christ would do.  He will reach those who Christ would reach.  He will love as Christ has loved.  He will live as Christ lived.

And Jesus is outright challenging Peter’s shallow, withdrawn, safe professions of love, and calling Peter to love truly, completely, wholly.

 

So what is God calling you to?

For some of us, God is calling us out – to dig in, to get involved, to put some skin in the game, to step out, to live generously, to love boldly.

For some of us, God is calling us to stop and be – to be still in Christ’s presence, until we once again hear God’s voice reminding us who we are and whose we are.

 

God is calling us forward – not back to some former version of ourselves, or our families, or our neighborhoods, or our church.  God is calling us forth – into the future where the Spirit will lead us, loving and tending to our fellow travelers, as Christ has loved and cared for us.

Let us take care that we do not retreat. 

 

But listening for Christ’s voice and following the Spirit’s nudging,

May we love God well – tending to others –

and following God trustingly into the beautiful be-coming

that God is creating

among us,

here and now.