The worship service is up and ready to go live at 10am, Sunday July 26th. The bulletin can be found here.
If you wish to participate fully in this worship service, please have ready a bowl of water for the Thanksgiving for Baptism, some food and drink for communion, and if you desire, a lit candle for the calming of the mind. All these are optional and designed only to enhance your worship experience (not hinder it).
Thanks for joining us!
God of enlightenment, the unfolding of your Word gives us light and provides wisdom to all who seek your truth. Open our minds and hearts by the presence of your Holy Spirit, that the mystery, the majesty, and the abundance of your heavenly realm is made evident here among us and our communities, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
How would you finish this sentence? “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Any takers? It’s ok, I can wait until you come up with something… A question like this is one of those where you’d respond with a “I know my answer, but why don’t you tell me what you’re thinking and I’ll tell you if you’re right or not?” The thing is, to be able to finish that sentence, you’d have to actually have a pretty good understanding of what the kingdom is like or even is. Then after you grasp that huge can of worms, then you’ll have to know of something that is comparable and then connect the two.
And that is hard.
Because what can you compare the kingdom that is so unseen and only talked about in a book that we (and let’s be honest) barely read? What metaphors would suffice in describing something that is so metaphysical, so theological, so deep beyond description? How can one ever grasp all that it is? And if it seems like I’m just stalling here, I totally am because let me tell you, it isn’t easy to answer a question like this.
But luckily, we do have a source that can help us. Jesus! Of course. And it just so happens that today he gives us not one, not two, not even three, but FIVE different examples of what the kingdom of heaven is like. And they all give us a clearer picture than what we had before. I mean, that is if our picture before was basically just a black screen with absolutely nothing distinguishable whatsoever.
Jesus starts off with comparing the kingdom to a mustard seed, which he calls the smallest of all seeds. It isn’t, by the way, but apparently the kingdom is like someone planting that smallest but not smallest of all seeds and it grows to become the greatest of shrubs. It doesn’t really, by the way, it is more like an invasive weed. Jesus says it becomes a tree, which it doesn’t, it stays as a weed-like shrub. And that birds come and build nests in its branches. Birds don’t do that. Those branches are barely strong enough to hold the leaves that grow out from those branches, so no bird in their right mind would actually build a nest there. Not to mention it’d be super low to the ground so any eggs there would be easy pickin’s. So this one doesn’t seem to make any sense, but ok, that’s how Jesus starts describing what the kingdom is like I guess.
Then Jesus says that the kingdom is like a woman taking yeast and mixes it in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. Either that or the army that she was feeding finally burst from eating so much bread. I looked up what three measures of flour makes and it’s approximately 60 loaves of bread. That is six-zero, not six. And that’s loaves not slices. And that’s bread, not mustard seeds. So… a lot of bread. More bread, really, than one person would need at one time. So another swing and a miss, Jesus?
Next he says that the kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field and someone found it, dug it up, and hid it somewhere else but because he was so happy with the field for having the treasure in it (which no longer is the case, by the way), he sells everything he has and buys the field. The field that no longer has treasure in it. It is just a field. Sold everything he has for it. Yeah.
Then to really drive the point home, Jesus keeps going. He compares the kingdom to a merchant who wants to buy fine pearls, plural. But he finds one and then trades everything he has for that pearl, singular. Ok.
And then for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, Jesus isn’t even finished yet. Finally he says the kingdom is like a fishing net that caught fish of every kind that were subsequently sorted with good going into buckets and bad getting thrown out. This maybe is a bit more understandable, but still a headscratcher when compared to the others.
Jesus asks them if they understood all this, and those liars actually said yes. They couldn’t even understand Jesus literally telling them word for word that he’ll die at the hand of the authorities and be back by the end of the weekend, and they expect us to believe they understood that string of nonsensical parables? Forget about it.
But maybe that was the point.
Uh what? Isn’t a metaphor supposed to help us understand something, not to confuse us more? Well, yeah it is, but what if the concept that is being taught and we’re trying to understand is just one that cannot be understood? What if there isn’t a parable conceived that could be used to accurately describe something that is so beyond comprehension? What if the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is talking about is so far removed and different from our “normal” way of life that no words or metaphors would ever suffice?
Well, that might be pretty cool actually.
Because let’s face it, the way we’re living now isn’t all that great. Even after the 2000 some odd years since the time of Jesus, we are still living in fear. Fear of violence and oppression, fear of racism, sexism, and ableism, fear of scarcity and not being in the highest of classes, fear of change in our privilege, our paradigms, and our perceptions of how life should be treating us and what is fair or not. We live in fear of being unnoticed, unremembered, and unloved.
But God promises us that none of those things would or could even remove us from God’s love through Jesus. God promises that nothing of this world can ever change our position in God’s family. God promises eternal welcome into this kingdom, this nonsensical, impractical, and perhaps paradoxical kingdom which has come near to us through the life and ministry of Jesus.
So how can we describe this kingdom? We can’t. For it is beyond comprehension. It is peace that surpasses understanding, grace that surpasses description, love that surpasses imagination. And above all, it is an abundance of blessing that is so beyond sense, that it’d be like making a home in a crappy shrub, making more food than we know what to do with, going extravagant for something that doesn’t call for extravagance, going all in because of joy, and being able to see good even in bad. This abundant blessing is what is promised to us. It is what has been given to us. It is what we have, here and now, ready for us to just open our arms and accept it.
This doesn’t mean that kingdom life is free of problems and pain, but rather it means that even in spite of problems and pain we have hope. Hope in things unseen, hope in promises yet to be realised, hope in this kingdom that doesn’t make any sense to be our sense of grace and peace as we navigate this world that encapsulates us yet pales in comparison to what it could be.
This hope carries us. This hope helps us to see God in the world. This hope reminds us of the abundant blessing of the kingdom seen in our lives, in our relationships, and in our communities full of love and joy.
So in this season after Pentecost, may we understand that we cannot understand the kingdom, but we can rest in our hope of the promised new life found within it, a new life of grace, peace, joy, and above all, love. Thanks be to God. Amen.