7.26 / 27 Yeast, Fish, and the Internet
7 Pentecost A2014 July 26/27, 2014
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you noticed that there are a lot of words and phrases that we use in the Church that are more than a little fuzzy? Words like salvation and justification and love, even. Concepts like original sin and transubstantiation and the world to come. Today we have another one of these concepts writ large in the gospel. It’s this idea of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Or the “Kingdom of God.”
I’ve struggled with this concept a lot over the years—and it’s one of those ideas that I’ve had a lot of trouble defining for myself. It’s fuzzy for me—hard to pin down.
We talk about the Kingdom of Heaven all the time – because we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
So—we pray for God’s kingdom to come, but what, exactly, are we praying for?
Now, I think I’ve got a better handle on it this year, and it’s because of all the emphasis in our diocese on God’s mission. Our diocesan bishop, Ian Douglas, stresses God’s mission all the time—and that’s because it’s his training; he was a missiologist for years and years at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.
So--what is God’s mission? God’s mission is to bring restoration and reconciliation to all people. Restoration. Reconciliation. Peacefulness. Unity. The end of strife. People can talk to each other and work together. People overcome their mistrust and paranoia and work together for the good of everyone.
These, then, are some hallmarks of the Kingdom of Heaven, of the Kingdom of God. And this is how you know you’re tasting it: you get a glimpse or a morsel of what you wish for with all your heart, what seems impossible now, in this day and age.
The Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is something that propelled Jesus through his lifetime. It is something that we see now in glimpses, and something for which we yearn, in all its fullness. It is already, and it is not yet.
It’s so fuzzy and hard to describe that Jesus resorted to using similes in his teaching about the Kingdom, so that people might understand him better—in the long run. Today’s gospel selection, in fact, is loaded with similes. You can tell a simile by the language “is like”. There are, in fact, 6 different similes in this gospel. And because of that, one commentator went so far as to call this Sunday “Simile Sunday.”
Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like:
A mustard seed that grows into a big, weedy bush and shelters a lot of birds
It’s like yeast that mixes through dough and makes the whole thing rise
It’s like a priceless treasure hidden in a field, worth everything you have
It’s like a pearl of great value
It’s like a dragnet that gets pulled along in the sea, and brings up all kinds of fish, both good and bad. The way those fish are disposed of directly reflects their value. In other words, the Kingdom brings judgment and a final sorting. God will purify the Kingdom.
And the Kingdom is like someone who shares from his treasure old gems and newfound wealth, alike.
So Jesus tells us here that the Kingdom of Heaven is priceless. It’s something that generates a runaway feedback loop of goodness and abundance. It is demanding. And it’s a good mix of old and new.
So let’s play with this idea of Kingdom of Heaven. I challenge us here and now to think up some modern and timely similes for the Kingdom—similes to describe what it would be like if God’s mission were being fulfilled among us. And remember, God’s mission is to reconcile all people and restore them to peace with God and with each other and all Creation.
I’ll start us off here, since I know it’s hard to think of these kinds of things on the spot.
God’s Kingdom is like: an internet connection of incredible speed
It’s like a virus-free internet
A front page of the Times with stories about nations making peace instead of war
A congressional term where senators, congressmen, and the President work together in good faith for the good of the nation. Where work gets done because it’s legitimate, and not because it hurts the other side or otherwise scores political points.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa
Clean water flowing freely from a million new African wells
A dinner party of Israelis and Palestinians who actually enjoy each other’s company
The whole world going on an expenses-paid vacation to Disney World together and having fun together
“Star Trek 4”
A catmint plant that grows from a stray seedling, and prospers so much, attracting bees and helping them make honey for the bees, and bears and people
The book The Goldfinch, where there is maturity and ownership of the past, and restitution made for sin
The movie The Hundred Foot Journey, where neighbors stop competing and feuding and learn to work together
These are some modern similes for the Kingdom of Heaven. Don’t we yearn for it?
May we learn to take our yearnings, and act, and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven among us. For it does start small, with one act by one individual, and then it can grow into something impressive and immense.
Do what you can to bring in the Kingdom. Hang on to hope, despite the temptation to cynicism. Be God’s agent in the world.