Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Kingdom of Heaven is counterintuitive. It doesn’t make sense. At least not from an economical point of view. It doesn’t make sense that a merchant would sell all she has in order to buy a pearl – which she presumably would not turn around and sell – unless she did not want to be a merchant anymore.
It doesn’t make sense that a person would sell all he has to buy a field that has a treasure in it. I guess that’s more honest than digging up the treasure and taking it, but would the person who owned the field sell it if he knew there was treasure buried in it? Is it the ethic of the Kingdom of Heaven to only disclose what you have to disclose in order to make the deal? And what will this person do with the treasure?
Perhaps these things will make more sense in light of the mustard seed and the yeast. First off, let’s remember that the parable right before this is the one about weeds and wheat. Wheat good / weed bad, right? Except that the mustard tree is somewhat of a weed. In the region of the Galilee it is an invasive plant that some have compared to kudzu.
So, that tells me, first and foremost, that the Kingdom of Heaven is invasive. It gets in the middle of our well-planned gardens that are designed for harvest and sustainability and it redirects the priorities of that space to be life giving and sustaining in a different way – even to those birds of the air that Jesus said in chapter five were less important than you and me to God.
Likewise, adding yeast to three full measures of flour was not a thing anyone would do. That’s about a bushel of flour, and adding all that yeast to it not only limits what you can do with it but also gives some urgency to what you do. For example, it could not be used for unleavened bread. And it would have to be used quickly to make use of the yeast, but also the yeast is usually activated separately with some moisture. It may not do any good to just add it to flour.
Still, adding all that yeast to all of that flour is an action of abundance. It requires the baking of more bread than a person can eat. It’s also a bit of a gamble as to how much of the yeast will be activated. So, again, we have this idea in Matthew that the opportunity to follow Jesus is offered with reckless abandon, even though not everyone who says they follow Jesus truly do.
Maybe that’s why Jesus directs the parables about the investment in pearls and fields to the disciples instead of the crowds. He wants the disciples to know that this disruptive Kingdom of Heaven – this counterintuitive abundance of grace and mercy and providence – is worth giving themselves over for. And what about you and me? Is the Kingdom of Heaven something we are able to give ourselves over for? In a small church, sometimes it feels like we are each giving an abundance of our time and energy because there are too few of us to get all the jobs done.
And while every contribution of time and talent is a joy to be celebrated, Jesus did not say that the church is what the Kingdom looks like. At least he did not say that building things and holding onto things is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.
Instead he described what it might look like for us to literally stumble upon the beauty of what God is doing in our midst and be moved by it in such a way as we cannot help but redirect our lives around what God is doing.
Not everyone will see it, and not everyone who sees will respond. I think that’s what connects these parables with Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Now, before we get all excited about predestination and election I want to remind you again that what Paul is talking about here is “life in the Spirit.”
He’s talking about the fact that the unlimited God is moving in and through the limitations of humanity in a way that God had in mind from the beginning of all things. With that in mind, there are two really important things to consider about this passage. The first is that he is talking about a new reality that results from the faith of Jesus, which has been given to us through his death and resurrection. The second is that it is through this faith that we come to know that God is active and present in our lives – that’s what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ.
And Paul has all these great things to say about that. Everything is going to work out. Nothing can separate us from Jesus. We might even get a little glory out of the deal. Then Paul slips in this phrase from Psalm 44 about being slaughtered like sheep! That doesn’t sound like things are working together for good. But not to worry, because we’ll be more than conquerors in the end. Or at least those of us that God has chosen are OK. Wait. What?
Friends, all I can say to that is that I do not believe in a God who is capricious or picks favorites, and I actually don’t think Paul does either. I think Paul was limited by his own experience, and he was also speaking to the experience of a young, persecuted church that was more likely than not to be suffering because they were willing to let others know that they followed Jesus.
What Paul wanted them to know was that there was a love that was bigger than their own suffering that still held them, and that the destiny God had in mind from the beginning was that all of creation would be loved into restoration by God, and there is nothing that can stop God from loving you or me or even the one who is the most unlike you or me that there can be.
And that takes me back to the parable I’ve avoided. You know, the one about the drag net and the good fish and the bad fish and the burning and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Again, I think we have to keep in mind the other parables in this section and the idea that God is the one to do the sorting. Again, I think it is crucial to remember that God casts the net wide and deep. Again, I must say that while there is evil in the world, we must resist the temptation to limit our understanding of people as purely good or bad. Instead, we have to look at this as an invitation to have that which is evil taken from us as we are refined over and over by the love of God that will not let us go.
Do we understand this? Do we know what this means, and will we let it transform us? I certainly hope so. For we are all called to be disciples of Jesus who will not only cherish the old but embrace the new thing that God will do in our midst.
What will be next? Some of us never imagined that we could host volunteers from across the country engaged in flood recovery, but God imagined it. And there are yet more things that God has in mind that we can give ourselves over to if we understand them as the Kingdom of Heaven. There are relationships waiting to blossom. There is a level of diversity and inclusiveness that God has in mind for the church that we have barely scratched the surface of.
Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is counterintuitive. It is invasive and disruptive, but it is also life giving and sustaining. I want to close with one last image of the Kingdom of Heaven, because I think it’s a good example of the way Paul describes living into the Kingdom through life in the Spirit – particularly when it seems like the Kingdom is nowhere near.
There’s a video on the “Dodo” video channel of a fishing boat out in a channel. Suddenly they see a pod of killer whales all around them and then this young seal pup jumped onto the back-motor deck to take refuge until the whales move on. The people on the boat couldn’t believe it. They obviously couldn’t speak to the seal, but somehow reassured him that he was safe.
I think that’s what it’s like to know that God is with you in those times when all seems lost. Steven Paulson said it this way in Feasting On the Word, “What is needed for faith to persevere [through suffering] is someone outside you, your own personal groaner, who gives the lament of your heart to the One who made the promise.”
Thanks be to God, that the Spirit of God upholds us as we suffer even in our first world way! Thanks be to God that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and worth giving ourselves over to! Thanks be to God that we are being moved, inch by inch, into the arms of the One who has freely chosen to love us and set us apart as examples of what it means to love and forgive and live into the Kingdom which Jesus described as both present and on its way. May God be glorified in all we do and say as we seek God’s Kingdom and rejoice in God’s Spirit. Amen.