July 25, 1999 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Matthew 6:10; 13:31-33, 44-52
This week, I came across a story about a woman named Judy. Judy was the kind of person for whom everything always seemed to go wrong. If Judy went skiing, she would always fall and fracture a leg or an arm. If she were walking down a country lane on a bright summer day and paused for a moment to lean on the end of a long picketed fence - it would topple, falling to the ground in one sweeping motion. Something always went wrong for poor Judy.
In any case, one day she decided to bake bread. She took out the recipe and carefully gathered all the ingredients it called for, then followed it, step by step. There was a slight problem, however. Instead of adding one cake of yeast to the mix as required, she added one whole box - several cakes of yeast.
You can imagine what happened. The dough began to grow and grow and grow. She added more flour - and it kept growing and growing. She added more water, and it kept growing. More salt, more wheat germ, more oil - and it just kept growing and growing. She tried cutting the mound of dough in half, pounding it, caressing it, covering it, pleading with it - and it kept growing and growing and growing.
Finally, in desperation, Judy went out and buried the huge lump of dough in her front yard, came back inside, and sat down in the living room to watch TV. Within an hour, her father came bursting through the front door screaming: "THERE'S SOMETHING GROWING IN OUR FRONT YARD!!!"
You know what happened. The heat of the sun beat down on that ill-fated mound of dough - that unbaked loaf - even though it was buried in the ground, and brought the yeast back to life. It started growing again and BURST out of the ground! Even its grave couldn't contain it, so irresistible was the life of that yeast which Judy had mixed in her bread dough.
Yes, the kingdom of heaven IS like the yeast which a woman mixed in three measures of flour. Of course, the story Jesus told involved no calamity Jane or Judy - but it could have. Yeast - such a little thing, really, like a mustard seed. You know, it's often the little things in life that surprise us with how much effect they have on the big things.
The mightiest of computers is totally dependent upon it's smallest component. One tiny mistake can throw off an entire program, and possibly shut down an entire computer system. It usually is something very small and overlooked many times. But the effect can be drastic. It's surprising what something so small can do, for bad or for good.
A mustard seed ... a bit of leaven in the dough. Jesus spoke of little things. But what a difference these little things make. A grain of mustard seed. Small, seemingly insignificant. Yet, wonder of wonders, one day it is a great plant, perhaps 10 feet tall. Now, I grant you, that's not a California Redwood. But the effect is the same. A tiny seed becomes a large plant, taller than a man. Of course, we can explain how it happened. But does that make it any less of a wonder?
And a bit of leaven. Small, seemingly insignificant. And yet, wonder of wonders, a tiny bit of yeast can transform flour into a feast. Little things, really. A mustard seed ... a small amount of leaven ... What a difference it makes. Jesus said this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about. It's like a mustard seed. It's like leaven. Small, seemingly insignificant. And yet, wonder of wonders, it is so much more than it seems.
What is this "Kingdom of God?" Those words do seem quite foreign to us in this day and age. We don't live in a world where Kings really reign. Oh, we have a Queen Elizabeth overseas, but she is merely a figurehead - a ruler without real power. On this side of the Atlantic, for a while we had a "Camelot" of sorts, the Kennedy clan being close to royalty in some peoples eyes. Did the last vestige of this daydream crash in the ocean off Marthas Vineyard, along with that small plane, last week?
What is the "Kingdom of God?" Is it a land with a figurehead government? A place where God rules, but without real power? Is it merely a daydream? Of course not. But what, then, is the "Kingdom of God?" It seems so foreign to us in this day and age. I wonder, though, if it was any less foreign to those who lived in the days when Jesus walked the paths of Palestine?
They may have had some idea, related to their own experience. I mean, certainly, they knew about King Herod, who was really a puppet of the Roman Emperor. No doubt they remembered fondly the days when Israel was a great power, when King David united the people, and Solomon, his son, built that Kingdom up with real grandeur. And within the common memory was the Kingdom of the Maccabees, when Israel shook off the domination of the Greeks, and became again a great nation, or sort of. Did this experience help them to understand what Jesus meant by the "Kingdom of God," any better than us? I wonder.
Somehow, I imagine that the "Kingdom of God" was just as much a wonder to them as it is to us. Oh, they had the O.T. scriptures, just as we do, but they didn't really understand any better, did they? When Jesus spoke to them about God's Kingdom, he often spoke in parables. Parables can be quite elusive. They don't speak to the rational mind. They don't necessarily describe Gods Kingdom, as much as they open us up to it.
Gods Kingdom is terribly foreign to us. That's why it's so hard to describe, why the Bible rarely speaks of it in black and white terms. Gods Kingdom is terribly foreign to us. And yet, at the same time, when we experience the reality of this realm, even partially, it fits us like a well-worn shoe. For Gods Kingdom is to us what is really real. It is, as one theologian put it, the "ultimate reality"; which is just a fancy way of saying that its the way things were made to be in the final, the total sense of it all.
When we experience God's Kingdom, its like going home. Its like a place where we really belong, though weve never been there before. But it still is foreign territory, even if it feels like home. Thats because it is God's territory, and God is always a bit foreign to us. Yes, God is as close as a Daddy or Mommy, but God is still God.
Because God's Kingdom is so foreign to us, Jesus speaks to us about it in parables, little stories that open us up to the coming of this Kingdom, to the coming of what's really real.
A Grain of Mustard Seed... Really, God's Kingdom is like that? Come now, you must be joking. It's absurd! A mustard seed ... Next you'll be saying that a mustard seed's worth of faith can move mountains. Yeah, I guess Jesus said that, too, didn't he? (Mt. 17:20)
The funny thing about God's Kingdom is that, while it is still yet to come, it is, in effect, already here. That may sound absurd, but it's true. When Jesus came, a new day dawned upon this world. God's Kingdom was bubbling over. The miracles Jesus performed were like the erupting of God's Kingdom. What Jesus taught was the way of the Kingdom. A new way of living. Mustard seed people living with mustard seed faith. Living as if God's Kingdom has already come; a sort of mustard seed conspiracy.
Yes, that is the funny thing about God's Kingdom. It is foreign territory to us, and ever it shall remain. But today, not just some far off tomorrow, we can claim it as our home. The Kingdom of Heaven is not just some far away place that we will go to when we die, provided our name is in the book of life. If that were the case, it would make perfect sense to put off committing ourselves until the last possible moment. Which is what many people do.
When we view God's Kingdom in that way, then it seems the only way to draw people into the Kingdom is to scare them with the possibility of eternal damnation; that they might die before they give themselves to Jesus. Now, don't misunderstand me, that is a distinct possibility. The consequences are there.
But if (hear me well) if this Kingdom business is something we can experience now, then to wait till the last moment is to miss out on something. Something wonderful. If, indeed, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, then there is so much potential in every person who lays claim to it. We can be mustard seed people, living as if God's Kingdom were a reality here and now. Treasuring it, Claiming it, Living it!
Of course, mustard seed people know that God's Kingdom has not fully come. There is much darkness in the world. And, all too often, mountains don't move. But mustard seed people know what's really real, & they know that God's Kingdom is coming, and they know that God's good Will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That mustard seed will one day become a mighty tree, even if today it seems terribly small and inconsequential.
Speaking of trees and other growing things, let me remind you of a cooler time of year - when winter lays claim to the earth, and we all long for color to return to the land. On those dreary days a special package arrives in the mail, a magazine. On the front cover is a picture of the reddest, most succulent tomato you ever saw. Inside that catalog, you scan the pages and color returns to life. You can hardly wait for Spring to come, when grass is green again, and the sky turns deep blue in contrast with the blossoming colors all around. As you look at that magazine, the drab world around you changes. Color returns, hope flowers. A new day is coming.
When we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," isn't it a little bit like looking in a Burpee Seed Catalog? We know it's coming. We're mustard seed people. God's at work in us right now. We've experienced a taste of the goodness of His Kingdom, those of us who've dared to take a bite. We live now as if God's Spring, His Kingdom, were already here. Cause, you know, in many ways, it already is. We've experienced it. In small ways, yes. But, isn't it the little things in life that surprise us with how much effect they have on the big things?
Something small and insignificant... like a mustard seed ... like mustard seed people ... like me ... like you?
©1999Peter L. Haynes
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