In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, the very first thing Jesus does after his baptism and his temptation in the wilderness — the very first thing he does as he begins his healing and teaching ministry in the world – Jesus announces to the world that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”
When you hear the words “the kingdom of God” what comes to mind? Is there an image or story that comes into your mind about what the kingdom God might be like?
No one can say in words exactly what it’s like, of course, but for many people the picture that sticks in their minds is a high, lofty and holy place – like the one they first imagined as heaven when they were kids – maybe in Sunday School days.
At one point early on in my life, I heard that the roads in heaven are paved with gold. And that was probably about the time I saw the movie, the Wizard of Oz for the first time. So the yellow brick road struck me as quite heavenly – along with all the other fanciful scenes in that movie.
But in the end I decided that couldn’t really be heaven. There was the wicked witch – and of course she wouldn’t have made it to heaven. And the great Oz turned out to be a fake.
But the biggest problem I had with the Oz-like heaven was this: I thought heaven was the place that you would want to go to when the time coame, and you would just want to get away to that place and stay there – forever – in heaven. But after Dorothy totally conquered Oz, she wanted to go back to ordinary, everyday life –in Kansas.
Actually I think that we might be on to something with that “follow the yellow brick road” image – that maybe the kingdom of God isn’t exactly a place, but maybe it could actually be more like a journey . . . ???
Tuck away that “journey idea” for now – for another sermon, another day –and let’s go back to the gospel …
Today’s gospel is about Jesus teaching with parables — using metaphors to describe the kingdom of God. Have you ever wondered why Jesus teaches in this obscure way? Why doesn’t he just come right out and say who God is – what the kingdom of God is? But throughout his ministry, Jesus speaks indirectly – comparing holy things to ordinary, everyday things.
In this passage Jesus makes two metaphorical comparisons:
First: The kingdom of God is like seed that a farmer plants and then he forgets about it. While the seed is hidden in the ground, it sprouts and grows, producing grain. We’re told that “the earth produces of itself” — without any help from the person who scattered the seed. God is ultimately in control of growth in the kingdom of God – not the farmer.
Second comparison: The kingdom is like a mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds – that miraculously grows into the greatest of all shrubs. The mustard seed is a symbol for persistence and growth in the kingdom of God.
The amazing things about both these images are their essential hiddenness and their smallness – seed hidden in the ground, especially the very small mustard seed.
So, the kingdom is like something that’s not clearly and immediately visible – not readily apparent to the eye. It’s something just below the surface of things – waiting to be discovered, nurtured and enjoyed. Realizing its presence may take time and intentional awareness, but its potential magnitude is beyond our comprehension.
Reflecting on these images, we can see that Jesus taught holy and profound truths by telling stories from everyday life. Jesus is talking to farmers, when he tells the story of the sower who goes out to sow seed – and the farmers in the crowd will immediately know about mustard seeds, as well. They are tiny seeds to be sure — but once they find their way into your field they grow like wildfire. (That’s because the Middle Eastern variety of mustard is an invasive plant – like our Brazilian pepper plant.)
Something we might learn from Jesus’ story telling is this: It’s very important to learn to read our own lives. It seems to me that Jesus may be telling us, that our lives are full of kingdom moments if we only have eyes to see – that our lives today are immersed in the kingdom of God. But we need to wake up to Jesus’ presence with us – wake up to the signs that God is continually working around us . . . and in us and through us.
Jesus promises to be with us always. But for that to work – if we want to know the promise of Jesus’ presence, we need to live in the now. To put it in other words: we need to be really present to life to know Jesus’ real presence with us. And with Jesus – the kingdom of God has come very near – now!
At the risk of adding a few more metaphors to the mix, I’ll share with you some of what the Kingdom of God has been like for me since I joined you here at Trinity by the Cove . . .
- The Kingdom of God is as if someone puts a beautiful flowering begonia on your desk your first day on the job . . .
- The Kingdom of God is like a crayfish boil — on a hot afternoon — with an occasional gentle breeze . . .
- The Kingdom of God is like a family fishing tournament – where if you’re lucky you win a prize – but you know the real prize is the people you’re with . . .
So what is the kingdom of God like for you?
This one thing I can tell you with confidenceif you find a metaphor or a story that works for you, that feels true and bears the fruit of God’s love in your heart, go with it!
Whenever, wherever, however you find the Kingdom of God live into it – live out of it. . .
The kingdom of God is like this. It is as if the Divine seed grows abundantly within your heart. . . So keep your eyes and your heart open for it!