“The Kingdom of God – So, What’s That Like?” July 26, 2020
“The Kingdom of God – So What’s That Like?”
A sermon based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Wow… Wow, wow, wow. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven is like yeast, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure found in a field, the kingdom of heaven is like finding a precious pearl or a net full of fish.”
When my daughter was quite a bit younger, she took up the habit of (like) saying the word “like” (like) all the time. I used to keep count in my head as she rambled on about this and that and when she was through I would give her the tally: “Sixty seven,” I might exclaim.
“Sixty seven what?” she’d reply.
“Sixty seven times that you said the word ‘like’ in the last 5 minutes. Good job; you’re really (like) upping your game!” This was usually met with a flat denial followed by some awkward moments that led to a general atmosphere of sulking. Now, it was never my intention to be mean by doing this. I was simply calling attention to this somewhat annoying habit she had developed and was having a little fun at the same time. But looking back, I have to say that I could have handled things differently. I could have – I should have – been kinder and more understanding. What I mean is that we, as adults, too often forget that kids are learning the ways of the world all for the first time. We, who pretty much know it all, lose track of what that is like – like, you know?
Seriously though, when we are exposed to something new and unique and perhaps totally bizarre we have to process it somehow. And to process this totally unique and different thing we draw upon what we already know. That’s what we do. We need to be able to compare this new thing to something – anything – to make it real; to make it believable; to begin to understand. In short, based on what we already know, we try to imagine what this new and strange thing is like. It’s funny, but with that being said then the habit of using the word “like” every 8th word in a conversation…well, it makes perfect sense.
And that is what I believe Jesus is doing by telling this series of parables one after another. He is trying to explain a new and unique and perhaps totally bizarre concept to these children of Israel. He is trying to explain the kingdom of heaven – the kingdom of God – and his disciples are struggling to say the least. Salvation, eternal life, the forgiveness of sins – these were qualities of the God of Israel that weren’t spoken too often in the temples of those raised by the law of Moses. And so it was that Jesus, with the patience that good teachers possess, speaks to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like…. here’s an example, here’s a picture, here’s a taste.”
When I was a kid, my understanding of heaven was fairly cut and dry. I was taught that when we died our souls went to this wonderful place where pain and suffering were no more. There were gold streets and ivory palaces and we would finally get to meet Jesus face to face. It sounded like a pretty good plan to me.
Of course, there were certain requirements that had to be met, but I didn’t concern myself with that too much. I was a good kid, I figured. Things will work out grand. Later in life, however, this heaven thing got complicated. Preachers kept talking about God’s Kingdom and how we are a “Kingdom people” and my earlier concept of heaven was turned inside out. Jesus, it turns out, had come to live among us to bring the kingdom of heaven right here and right now. Like the disciples, I found myself unable to process such a new thing; not with any sort of satisfaction, at least. Then like so many of us, a thousands distractions got in the way and years went by. But the time finally arrived when I found myself asking the question once again, “What is the Kingdom of God really like?”
It was the Christian philosopher Dallas Willard that wrote, “The gospel is less about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die, and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.” “The Kingdom of God is like,” Jesus tells us. A pearl you spot in a jewelry store. A box of money you stumble across while digging up a garden spot at a rental house. An half used packet of old yeast that makes enough bread to last a month. All these things at face value are a bit ridiculous. There’s no mention of the cost of the field compared to the cost of the treasure. But that’s not the point. The point is that God’s Kingdom happens when we least expect it, and when it does it changes everything. Before you know it, we’re doing all sorts of silly things. Before you know it, we’re planting worthless little seeds with the faith they will grow into a source of comfort to the people of God. Before you know it, we’re spending our time and resources on fields we don’t need to have a treasure we can’t live without. Before you know it, we are cashing in our stocks and bonds to hold the one true pearl of the Kingdom of God.
“It’s all a bunch of silliness,” you might say, and you’d be right. None of us would be foolish enough to do these things. We wouldn’t behave this way. But apparently, it doesn’t matter. What matters is our excitement. What matters is our passion. What matters is our single minded focus on getting that treasure, of having that pearl, of feeding the multitudes with a spot of yeast. Why would we want to do these things? Why would we want to behave this way? According to Jesus, this is faith, doing faith’s works. That’s the joy and that’s the glory of being a part of God’s Kingdom here on this earth.
So what is the Kingdom of God all about? What does it mean to be a “Kingdom People?” Turns out there isn’t a simple answer. All I can think to say is that the Kingdom of Heaven is like falling in love. There is no simple formula to make it happen, no set of rules, and no online training program. But when it happens to you, you’ll know it. There will be no doubt in your mind. And when it happens you will give up anything and everything to keep it around. You’ll find yourself behaving in ways you would never have dreamed were possible. You’ll find that faith work is the best work. And you’ll find that all those hymns that talk about the joy and peace that comes from the love of Christ – you’ll find they weren’t kidding. To stumble onto the love of the One whose love is eternal – that’s what the Kingdom of God is like. That’s what the Kingdom of God is all about.
Amen & Shalom