The Kingdom of Heaven is Like...
The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon
Scripture: Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
The kingdom of heaven is like... Each one of us can fill in the blank with our own vision of the kingdom. As a young person, I heard my mother, Ellen, say numerous times that she had found her heavenly kingdom here on earth. She would go on to say she was blessed by a devoted husband, their three children and an abundance of love in her life from family and friends. Whatever the promises of eternal life after death might hold was of slight interest to her. What I did not understand about her interpretation of the kingdom when I was young, I now understand.
Today, I keep asking myself – “what is the kingdom of heaven like?” Is it a place with no fear of a deadly virus, with no fear of our local police, with enough food and safe clean homes for all children, women and men? I also ponder the question “how can I find God’s kingdom now, too?” I am not holding out hope for any heavenly streets paved with gold. I want to find and to be part of creating the heavenly kingdom on earth now.
During the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how something so small that it is invisible to the eye can grow rapidly and multiply into a destructive force that consumes all our attention and resources, as individuals, communities, nations, and as a world. Especially during these challenging times, we need Jesus to tell us again what the kingdom of God on earth should be like because we are so mired in the seductive realms of the earth. These stories are down to earth, literally. They are common stories about ordinary folk – a tenant farmer, a housewife, fishermen – people doing everyday things. This is hardly an exalted vision of God’s realm.
Sometimes in this strange and unbelievable time, it is hard to imagine what God genuinely wants for all of us. This passage offers a counter-image to these harmful forces holding us in a net of anger, and in a net of fear of other people and our own self-interest and unjust privilege. How can we learn to give those things up and become our true loving, giving, faithful selves? Are there material things which hold us back from embracing the full love and grace of God’s kingdom? Jesus has such desire for us to know that he tells his followers five different ways. For Jesus, God’s realm is not some esoteric kingdom in the sweet by and by, but as close as our own homes and neighborhoods. Jesus has the power to transform our lives not by scaring us but helping us see the heaven in the daily routines around us. Jesus uses the image of a trash bush and yeast (which was historically a symbol of corruption and impurity) to show us how God can also transform us.
The parables describe how the kingdom of heaven emerges from something almost invisible to the eye and grows exponentially, offering us the nourishment of faith, truly a treasure worthy of all our attention and resources. We can ponder and then ask each other; “who also yearns to be sheltered in this community of faith called St. Luke’s?” How can we create space for them? One of the advantages of our current practice of joining online for worship is the fact that family and friends from several distant locations have been able to join us for Sunday worship. Who else might we invite to “zoom” in for this weekly event?
What does it look like to live through grace and love? Again, we reach for these images of the mustard seed, so small, almost invisible to the eye yet it grows into a large tree which can shelter birds. We cling together as community to remind ourselves and each other of God’s love and promises. We each individually hold onto a tiny seed of faith, thus allowing our collective faith to mature into a place which provides shelter for all. Faith and love mixed like yeast into a community where we can all feel the abundance of God's grace. The treasures of God's love for which we would give up every material thing. A wide net which gathers above all of us, allowing us to sort out the pain, anger, and fear so that only love and grace remain. The parables point out our responsibility to choose God’s way of love for all peoples. Look around and ask, how can we become agents of God’s transforming power of love? In times such as these, we need to cling to the parables about the kingdom of heaven so that we remember who we are and who made us.