The sermon for week July 24, 2011
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
When asked about the kingdom of God, Jesus did not lay out a systematic description he said, “The Kingdom of God is like a Mustard Seed.” He did not give a weighty intellectual answer, he did not draw a map, or give us a method to test and verify where something or someone was in the kingdom or not, he just told a story. A particular kind of story known as a parable.
A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles or lessons. Jesus' parables are seemingly simple and memorable stories, often with imagery, and each conveys a message. Scholars have commented that although these parables seem simple, the messages they convey are deep, and central to the teachings of Jesus.
To illustrate what I think these parables we have heard today mean, I will tell you a parable.
I once heard a parable about a little town of ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and sit in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes it place, and quacks out a hymn or two.
Then the duck minister comes forward and opens the Bible.
He reads to them and starts his sermon.
He states: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles.”
Well the ducks start going nuts and quacking “AMEN!” and “PREACH! PREACH!”
The Duck pastor continues “No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like the birds you are!”
All the ducks are beside themselves and are frenzied, and the feathers are flying all over the place.
The Duck pastor states, “GOD in the SCRIPTURES is often depicted as the WIND! We can SOAR upon the BREATH OF GOD! We can be ONE WITH GOD! And give ourselves to God so fully that God will guide us everywhere we go! TAKE WING MY FRIENDS! TAKE WING!”
Well now the ducks have completely lost it. Some ducks are hugging one another, some are crying, some have their eyes closed and a big smile across their bill. Some are staring at their wings like it’s the first time they’ve noticed them.
After the service, they told the duck pastor how this was the best sermon ever. They all got so much from the worship and they can’t wait until next week.
And then they all waddled home.
They. All. Waddled. Home.
How sad is that? Yet how true.
In our gospel lesson today, I hear Jesus teaching us: “Okay, I’ve told you that there’s another kingdom. This kingdom is governed by a whole different set of rules, and I’ve told you what they are. If you’re with me so far, you’ve accepted that idea. You get it, at least in your head. Now what happens when you suddenly discover it in your heart? It’s not just something out there that you think about; it’s something inside you, something you feel, something you know. Now what do you do?”
Now what will you do?
The answer from these parables is clear: we turn our whole lives over to the kingdom.
And where is this kingdom? It’s everywhere.
The mustard seed here does not refer to faith. It refers to the fact that mustard plants in Jesus’ day were considered weeds. They were like our dandelions. They cropped up everywhere, in the most unlikely of spots, and they were extremely hard to get rid of. And what’s with all the birds? Well Jesus was speaking to a farming people. Birds were bad, they were unwanted. Yet they soared upon the breath of God. What Jesus is saying is that once you learn about the kingdom, you start seeing it everywhere. People you once thought were unwanted become welcomed.
Churches have split time and time again on issues like race, gender, and LGBTQ issues only to find that those who they thought were unwelcomed, once welcomed in, become the backbone and future of the church.
Jesus then talks about the woman and the leaven. The moral of this story is that once the kingdom gets inside you, it works like leaven and fills you up and it expands you.
The two parables of the treasure and the pearl accent joy and commitment. At finding the treasure, or the pearl, the person sells everything--literally, "all as much as he has"--and buys it, "costing not less than everything," as T.S. Eliot put it. Each one goes all in.
Are we going all in now? Are we giving God and each other all that we can?
If we aren’t now, we eventually will. For we will all die, of course. We will all, some day, give everything we have. Christ demands our whole life, and, in every single case, that is exactly what Christ will get. It is our choice live and live life abundantly or just wait around until the inevitable comes.
To put it another way, we can give all that we have to Christ and life life abundantly, or we can wait for that day when everything will be taken from us.
So we might as well start feeding the hungry here. Clothing the poor and making sure their essential needs are met like we do with the personal needs ministry. Making sure the homeless are housed like we do with our Habitat for Humanity Builds or the recent trip down to Back Bay. The programs are already here for you to join. The tools of your salvation are already in hand, just pick them up, plug in, and start doing the work of the kingdom.
In telling these parables, Jesus did not make the characters angels or kings, but a woman, a merchant, fishermen. And he did not use difficult or out-of-reach tasks, but everyday peasant-class things like baking bread and fishing. Attainable things, things we already do in our lives every day but used in such a way that it benefits others.
Jesus came to tell us that the tools of our salvation are already in hand. The materials to build the kingdom of God are already all around us. It is our choice whether to use the tools and help build the kingdom and make its arrival apparent to others.
The message of these parables for me is clear: the kingdom is everywhere. It is within us and outside of us. And we’re the ones who can make it happen. We’re the ones who can realize, even if only for fleeting moments, the kingdom of God on Earth.
This is the message of the Sylvania Sessions, our Saturday rock worship series. God is even in Pearl Jam, the Beatles, and Green Day. This was the message of Paul we learned over this past year in our chapel class Susan Rowland Miller taught. This is what I teach the confirmation class. This is what Janet teaches our kids each Sunday.
The kingdom is everywhere.
It is our choice to become disciples of it.
We’re the ones who have the choice.
We can see it everywhere, like dandelions, we can let it fill us up, and we can give all we have to it and receive a far better reward.
We can continue to waddle or we can fly.
God and all the people who love you want you to fly, to soar upon the wind that is the Spirit of God blowing through our world. Isn't that one of the main reasons for Jesus' life to show us how to have an abundant life? Stretch out your wings and have the flight of your lives. AMEN.