Many of you know that I have a small toy collection growing in my office. I don’t know how it got there, but it is there. Anyway, some of you might look and that and think, “what a dork” or “grow up, man” or “let’s not encourage him by buying him more really cool things” *wink wink
But I assure you, as dorky as it seems that I have this small collection in my office, there are others out there that will put mine to shame. Take a buddy of mine, for example, his collection is sweeeeeeeeet. I didn’t even know he collected until about a year or so ago, and he started sending me pictures of all that he has amassed so far. And today is your lucky day, as I am about to share some of it with you all:
Amazing, huh? What is even more amazing is that each one of those probably average to over $100. So do the math, he is sitting on a small fortune there. And while I look at his impressive collection with awe, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “man that dude is a bigger dork than our pastor is”.
And you know what? I wouldn’t blame you. I don’t think my friend does either, as he gave me permission to use his pictures for this specific purpose, and he even took new ones for me to share with you. While we might perhaps shake our heads at the amount of time and money spent on a collection of such trivial items, let’s ask ourselves what kind of time and money do we spend on our own hobbies and personal interests?
I mean, some people like to buy toys well into adulthood, and I get why that is weird, but how many of us like to collect other things that might not make sense to others? Things like stamps, or decorative plates, or those Starbucks mugs from different cities? Or maybe more expensive things like watches, or cars, or jewelry? Or maybe it isn’t about the material possessions, perhaps some of us like to spend a lot on experiences. Like, how many would invest in eating out at fancy restaurant? How many of us like to go on extravagant vacations to remote parts of the world? Of maybe go to a lot of movies or music concerts or plays? We here at the church have even experienced first-hand how many people would rather fork out the extra dough for a Montesorri preschool when there was a perfectly good preschool just a flight of stairs away for just a fraction of the price.
We all like to invest our energy, time, and money in different things, and they might not make sense to each other. I remember one year my wife actually did take me to a fancy restaurant for my birthday, and while the food was absolutely delicious, when I saw the bill I felt sick to my stomach. I mean the money that was used to fill our bellies for 4-5 hours could have been used to get some decent performance mods for my car, and that would last for a few years at least. While I really did appreciate the gesture from my wife, I think I would have preferred the car parts.
The point is, we all have different kinds of passions and hobbies and things that we would say is “worth it.” And I don’t think any of us are in any position to judge others as to what is an appropriate use of our own money. Unless you really can’t afford your hobby and you are borrowing or even stealing in order to have the means to fund that hobby or if the hobby itself is hurting others, then really it isn’t anyone’s business. And I’m not just saying this because of the bookshelf of toys in my office or that my really slow car from the factory is slightly less slower because of the time and money I spent on it. I’m saying that because we might not know the joys of another person. We might not understand the passions of another which brings them happiness. We might not get how the sources of fulfilment and perhaps purpose might differ from ours. But that doesn’t make them wrong, nor does that make us more right. All it means is that we are different, as I would imagine that we all understand.
So you want to pay for front row seats and a $100 steak? Have fun. You want to collect mementos of your childhood and pay the extra “mid-life crisis” tax? Go for it. You want to spend your entire life savings to buy a whole field because of a treasure that is hidden somewhere in it? Be my guest.
Just know that while people may look at you funny when they find out how you like to spend your money, that this kind of passion, this unbridled sense of putting value on things that others may not get, this desire to go all in to support what makes you happy and what fulfils you, is what Jesus compares to the kingdom of God.
And it doesn’t seem to make sense.
I mean, the mustard shrub isn’t a great tree, it is an invasive weed at best. Sure, it might give stray birds a place to rest and maybe even live, but this is your farm you’re talking about, and we don’t want to share our farm with these wild and free-loading animals. You don’t mix bread-corrupting yeast with flour to make bread in Jesus’ culture. Sure, from what I understand leavened bread might make larger portions of tastier bread, able to feed more but it isn’t the kind of bread we are supposed to make as a good practicing religious person. You don’t trade everything you have for the sake of a field or a single pearl. Yeah, you might have fulfilled your childhood dream or goal in life, but seriously, it is just treasure that you won’t be able to use. These things that Jesus talks about don’t make sense, they go against our instincts and inclinations, they aren’t just counter-cultural but almost anti-cultural, as they aren’t just different but borderline offensive to the good and right teachings of tradition and custom.
But, as Jesus tells us, such is the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven might feel uncomfortable because the fruits of your hard work might be shared with others that you don’t think deserve it. The kingdom of heaven is a mentality in which we can joyfully deviate from tradition in order to care for others. The kingdom of heaven is so precious and valuable that we may want to nonsensically devote everything we have in order to more realise how fulfilling it can be.
This isn’t to say that the kingdom of heaven turns us into irresponsible oafs that don’t think about anything but their own beliefs. Quite opposite, actually. Rather, the kingdom of heaven changes our inward focus into an outward focus. The kingdom of heaven helps us to see the full grace and welcome of God. The kingdom of heaven teaches us that there is nothing… nothing… that would or could ever separate us from the love of God. And we are reminded that while we are recipients of that promise, so also is everyone else.
Yes, this promise that we will always be welcomed into this loving kingdom applies to all people. The promise includes those who don’t make sense to us, as we might not make sense to them either. The promise envelopes those who have different passions and practices that we do, as even that will not exclude them. The promise reaches out to those who those who find joy in things that we just cannot understand, as their joy and peace and welcome come graciously from God, and thankfully not from us.
So there is fulfilment in so many areas of life. There is peace in all situations. There is the kingdom of God, entering into our world and into our communities, penetrating us in our most vulnerable places, revealing itself as welcoming, all encompassing, and a place of hidden joy where we can see the grace and mercy of God that brings us to healing and wholeness.
This ordeal that I am going through of losing my dad exactly 3 weeks ago, I am admittedly more distraught than I thought I ever would be. I found myself to be less patient, less efficient, and less emotionally available to my friends and family. I caught myself often just in a daze, not really thinking or doing anything, but just staring off into space wondering when things would ever get normal again. But you know what? This is my new normal. Not that I will always be impatient, inefficient, and unavailable, but that I will never have my dad back to the way he was, I will never be able to see him just sitting on the couch in his spot watching tv, I will never be able to see him laugh at one of my stupid jokes. But in this despair and sadness that I feel, I see the kingdom of heaven entering in through the support my very theologically diverse family has been giving and has been given. I see the kingdom of heaven in how this event has brought my siblings and I closer as we have started to talk about things that we never have before. I see the kingdom of have in the memories that I have of my dad, the person he is however flawed, the things that he has done for his family in spite of all the mistakes he made, and the legacy he leaves behind in me, my siblings, and all who he has met.
See the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God doesn’t always make sense. It may not always be comfortable or wanted. It might not even be recognisable at first. But it is there. It is here. It is all around us, supporting us, strengthening us, giving us hope, peace, and joy, even in the midst of confusion and the seemed nonsense of life. And we can be reminded daily that there is nothing, not anything in creation, not anything outside of creation, not height or depth, not even death… nothing… that ever could have the power to separate us from the love of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
As we trudge on through this season after Pentecost, through the difficulties and hardships we might face, through our losses and nonsensical pains, may we continually see and feel the presence of the kingdom of heaven in our lives, that it might be our source of passion, of peace, and of joy. Thanks be to God. Amen.