The recording was captured at our Praise and Worship Service on July 27, 2104.
Jesus put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Have you understood all this? They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
“The Surprising and Captivating Kingdom of Heaven”
When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be either an archeologist or a paleontologist. Those are two really fancy words to tell you that I wanted to dig up old stuff. I wanted to discover relics and hidden treasures from the past, treasures of myth and legend. I also want to dig up dinosaur bones. As I put it to someone who asked me who I wanted to be when I grew up - I want to grow up to be Indiana Jones or Alan Grant. Indiana Jones - the famous leather jacket and fedora wearing, whip welding archeologist. Alan Grant the paleontologist from the movie Jurassic Park who dug up dinosaur bones and got to meet them in the flesh. I had a keen sense of adventure and discovery. I fashioned myself as one of my childhood heroes because of their amazing adventures and what they found along the way. I was captivated by their lives and experiences.
I still have a keen sense of discovery and adventure - I still want to discover new things, or perhaps uncover really old things. On our trip to Turkey last year with LSTC I was dubbed “Indiana Travis” by my friends. More often than not we would be found trying to translate the Greek texts we would find on the marble remains of the great temples now lying in ruin. We were trying to uncover something that was lost - some great treasure. I was on a great quest of discovery. I was captivated by the thought of finding something important. (I also had a really cool hat!)
Parables work in the same way. Sure they are teaching moments - stories that break us out of the normal pattern of life. They are great teaching tools because they have such a depth of meaning. We have been debating them for thousands of years. Parables don't come with just one lesson. They help us to re-imagine the world. They help us to encounter the kingdom of heaven in our midst.
The parables we encounter today do so just that - they show us the power of the kingdom of heaven as an adventure. They demonstrate what the kingdom of heaven can to do our lives. And it’s breath-taking.
Today we get five parables to wrestle with, and they all start the same way; “The kingdom of heaven is like…” The kingdom of heaven is like…. a mustard seed; a measure of yeast/leaven; a hidden treasure; a pearl; a net full of fish. These items seem to have nothing in common. So why does Jesus use them as metaphors for the kingdom of heaven? Perhaps we should look at the actions of the parables for a clue.
The five parables we encounter today show us the unpredictability of the kingdom of heaven. There is no rhyme or reason to how God’s kingdom comes into our lives other than surprise. The parable of the mustard seed is not so much about size and growth as it is about surprise and expansion. Sure the mustard seed is small - not the smallest seed in the world - nothing too remarkable about its size. But its reach is what we should notice. The mustard seed surprises us. It creeps into our well-kept flowerbeds and gardens and takes over - creating homes for the birds. It surprises with its reach. It captivates and captures us with its growth.
The same thing happens with the leaven. The leaven, folded into a great deal of flour, hidden by the women making the dough, soon takes over the whole batch of soon to be bread. It’s unexpected. It literally captures the bread - by surprise.
The same patter exists with the hidden treasure - it surprises a man and captivates him enough to go home and sell all he has in order to buy the field. The man who finds the pearl in the course of his job of looking at pearls is so surprised by the value and beauty of the pearl that he too sells all he has in order to obtain it. The metaphor of the net shows surprise by the breadth of its reach. No fish are discriminated against - all are caught. Fish who never dreamed of being caught in a net are swept up into its folds.. Each parable contains an element of surprise that takes over the person involved in the experience. The kingdom of heaven is ultimately not about us or what we find or create. It’s about how the presence of God makes its way into our lives, often in unexpected and unseen ways. And this unexpectedness has a way of taking over everything - much like a mustard seed or prospect of a hidden treasure uncovered.
The kingdom of heaven is not something that we can capture or control. The kingdom of heaven is something that captures us - it captivates our imaginations, it consumes our energy, it takes over our lives.
So how does the kingdom of heaven capture or captivate us? I think the metaphor of selling can be helpful. In the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, the person who finds the object sells everything in order to possess that object. They literally turn their whole lives over to the object. Its foolish. Its not the way the world works. They are so captivated by the treasure and the pearl that they can do nothing else but turn their whole lives over to the object. The kingdom of heaven can work in the same way.
Do we have to sell everything we have to find the kingdom of God? I don’t think so - but perhaps its always an option. Selling everything we have may look like opening ourselves up to another point of view. Listening to another side of a story. Giving up control of what we think we know. Letting go of the idea that we have all the right answers. Selling all we have may be risking our very lives by opening them up to another point of view, one that clashes with our currently held notions of how the world is suppose to work.
Perhaps selling everything we have looks like taking the time to learn another perspective of life. Taking the time to listen to someone else’s story of trying to make it in this world. That’s what I did with our high school youth in Chicago a little over a week ago. We traveled to that great, yet troubled city to take the time to listen. To open our lives up to another perspective on life. It was not your typical youth trip. We did not spend our days painting houses or making repairs or picking up trash or building things. We spent most of our time listening - opening ourselves up to being surprised by the kingdom of heaven.
We took a chance. We gave our time and energy over to the opportunity to gain a different perspective, a new awareness, of what is going on in God’s kingdom in our world. We gained a new perspective on some things familiar - like when we toured the national offices of the ELCA. We spent time with our own church people and experienced the global impact of our own denomination. We learned another perceptive of our story.
We gained a new perspective on things very different than what we previously knew. We toured the Faith Community of St. Sabina on the south side. We heard about their work with gang violence - about their hosting of basketball tournaments for members of rival gangs - tournaments designed to start conversation and break the cycle of violence. We heard about the kingdom of heaven breaking into the violent streets through the peace of God offered by the faith community. We learned about their housing for senior citizens. We encounter another story of God’s people - another rhythm of God’s work in our world. We opened ourselves up to be surprised and captivated by the kingdom of heaven in our midst.
The kingdom of heaven is happening in the present tense. Jesus does not say - “the kingdom of heaven was like….” or “the kingdom of heaven will be…” Jesus declares “the kingdom of heaven is…” The kingdom of heaven is happening now! Right here! In our midst!
It’s going to happen this week through Day Camp. All week long this place will be filled with kids and we will be planting seeds. Not mustard seeds or sunflower seeds, but seeds of faith. And who knows what will take root. God will take the growing into God’s hands, we will plant the seeds. And the kingdom of heaven will surprise and capture and captivate. The kingdom of heaven is present in our midst.
Where do you see it? I haven't really done this before in a sermon, but I am offering us a challenge this week. I want you to write on a piece of paper - “The Kingdom of Heaven is _________.” Put it on the visor in your car. Put it on your fridge. Put it on a note in your spouses lunch box. Text it to a friend. Share it on Facebook. Let’s see if we can encounter the kingdom of heaven going on in our midst. Take note of what surprises you, what gets your attention, what captivates you. And lets share these stories with each other. Remember - “The Kingdom of Heaven is _________.” It’s a blank canvas, an open invitation from Jesus to encounter the kingdom of heaven in our lives.
Blessings on your adventures this week in God’s kingdom. I pray we will be surprised, captivated, captured by God's dynamic and radical love.