June 13, 2021 “Explaining the Unexplainable: the Kingdom of God 101”
“Explaining the Unexplainable: The Kingdom of God 101”
“The good deeds you do now are the treasures for the future.” ~ Philippine proverb
“Give good and get good.” ~ Estonian proverb
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
“The Kingdom of God is like…” We’re going to be hearing that opening phrase a lot in the next few months. “This is what God’s kingdom is like,” are the first words of Christ in today’s gospel message. I’ve always imagined what it would be like to sit before Jesus and hear him say those words…to me – live, in person, in the flesh. I imagine the exhilaration I would feel knowing that after all this time – a lifetime, actually – I will finally learn the great mystical secret of God’s Kingdom. At last, I will be able to pray the words, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – I can pray these words with the satisfaction that I know how the whole thing works. After all, Jesus told me himself. But you know, that’s about as far as my imaginings go because like the disciples, Jesus doesn’t give me the password or show me the secret handshake. No, like the disciples, Jesus explains the Kingdom of God to me (and to us all) through parables. And like I said, we’re going to be hearing a lot of parables in the next few months; and most of them begin with the words, “The Kingdom of God is like…”
So what is a parable? In some ways, maybe it’s easier to say what it’s not. According to theologian David Lose, a parable is not simply some kind of word puzzle for us to figure out where A=God and B=Jesus and C=us. Some do seem to work that way but they are not generally this secret encrypted message for us to decipher. They are also not tales or fables of morality. There is rarely a moral at the end for us to apply. Again, some parables have some definite moral implications, but they’re not the pearls of wisdom that we would like to think. No, instead parables are meant to shake things up. The word parable comes from two Greek words para, meaning “beside” and ballein, meaning “to throw.” So think of a parable as a story that is thrown beside your story. It is throwing one thing, like a vision of God’s kingdom, beside another, like the world as it is, just to see what happens. That’s the beauty of parables: they are unpredictable, they are disruptive, and because they often seem to challenge the things that we accept as truth, at least by the world’s standards, they can be a bit challenging.
So what about these two parables we read today? My first impression – just because I was in a funny mood – was that here is proof that God does indeed have a sense of humor. The first one begins, This is what God’s kingdom is like, and then proceeds to describe a certain someone who scatters seed on the ground only to go home to “sleep and wake night and day.” The seeds grow, even though he doesn’t have a clue how it all works, then eventually this someone pulls himself up off the couch to go harvest the grain. I’d call it “the Parable of the Lazy Farmer” but, of course, I would be missing the point entirely.
The second parable begins the same way. Jesus asks, How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story shall I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed! Though this is one of the smallest of seeds, yet it grows to become one of the largest of plants.
Here is where God’s sense of humor comes into play once again. In biblical times, the mustard bush was considered a noxious weed. Countless man hours were spent digging up and burning these invasive plants. It would be as if I were to broadcast millions of blackberry seed through all the fescue fields in Yamhill and Polk County just to make a point; the point that isn’t it just marvelous that such a tiny seed can grow into such a large obnoxious vine with stickers that will tear you to shreds. I have a feeling that if I got caught doing such a thing the Kingdom of God would be the last words to come from the farmer’s lips. He or she would most likely make some sort of reference to “Kingdom Come” because that’s where they would like to send me. But once again, I would be missing the point entirely.
“The Kingdom of God is like…” So what’re are thoughts here? I’ll forget a young man named Michael who had a great insight on God’s Kingdom. We were talking about how churches struggle sometimes and he blurted out, “Oh, no. Without the church, we’ll never see the Kingdom of God!” Funny, but for just a moment I had the feeling that this 9 year-old boy had a better understanding of God’s Kingdom than I did. Jesus knew that creating a heavenly kingdom here on this earth wouldn’t be easy. It’s hard to imagine and impossible to understand how this could be possible. That is why the gospels are filled with parables – stories that are “thrown in” next to our stories – to explain the unexplainable.
Jack Heimbigner offers some thoughts of the Kingdom of God that I found helpful. The key characteristics of the Kingdom of Heaven, he says, is that it is open to everyone and we should invite everyone. Also, we are not the ones who will sort out the believers from the non-believers. Next, the Kingdom of God is huge but always starts with one person followed by one person who believes impacts everyone around them with the Kingdom of God. And last of all, the Kingdom is immensely valuable for us, and we should strive to go all-in for it. The two points that stayed with me here were that the Kingdom is huge but always starts with one person, and that one person who believes has an impact on everyone around them with the Kingdom of God. Which brings us back to the planting of seeds.
Nothing has demonstrated how seeds can grow wild better than social media. All of a sudden, our voices and our thoughts can be multiplied to reach millions of people in an instant. Unfortunately, many of these seeds are seeds of hate and seeds of division. South African DJ Kyos writes, “Every time you say something, know you are planting a seed. The question is, what seed are you planting with your social account? What are you planting when you speak to other people or when you speak about other people? What seed is planted with you by the people you follow, or the people you hang out with?” Every time you say something, know you are planting a seed. The question is, are they seeds that God will nurture and grow into the Kingdom? That is my continual prayer – that when we get back to “normal” we will have learned a lesson or two. My prayer is that we’ll find ourselves wanting and needing and striving for God’s Kingdom right here and right now, and with one voice we will say it, and we’ll mean it, “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
Amen & Shalom