God forbid that after the pandemic we go back into our churches on a Sunday morning and leave the seeds and the yeast that makes the kingdom new and grow in a building never to see sunlight again.
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More seeds this week it is the last week of seeds I think but this time Jesus is talking about a farmer who is very precise in his farming techniques. He takes a single seed, the tiniest of them all and carefully sows it in his field. He hasn’t flung seeds far and wide like we heard two weeks ago. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to the weeds that encroach on his crop like last week.
He takes a tiny seed and plants it specifically in a field where he knows that it will have space to grow and the space is important because a tiny seed will grow to be one of the tallest of bushes so large it could grow to eight or ten feet but it’s often referred to as a tree.
Everyone knew about the miraculous growth of the tiny seed into a large tree. In our culture in a similar way we could say from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow so the kingdom of God is like an acorn but even smaller.
At one point in Jesus teaching he asks his listeners if they understand his parables and stories: ‘Have you understood all of this?’ he says; ‘Yes’ they answer. They wonder if they really did, do we, or are they just trying to please Jesus?
Jesus’s contemporaries were expecting the Messiah to be earthbound to be a warrior a champion to release them from Roman occupation but the kingdom Jesus speaks about is not one that will suddenly explode into being with a clash of swords and chariots. The fields of the kingdom of heaven will not be soaked in the blood of enemies and heroes, no medals awarded, no seats or title of privilege.
Instead the kingdom of heaven will grow slowly but to be as large as a mustard tree. It will provide shelter and protection but it will take its time to grow, and as people of faith, members of the kingdom we need to have patience. Our timing is not like God’s but we must seize every opportunity.
But we must be careful what we pray for because you might just get it. That may seem to see a strange thing to say but there’s truth in it, but sometimes as Christians the prayers just roll off our tongue and we don’t really think about the implications of what we’re praying for or the process that might be involved in the things that we pray for for them to come to pass.
Nowhere is more evident I think than the Lord’s Prayer which we say week in week out – hopefully day in day out – and maybe we don’t think through the implications of the words we’re saying.
Gospel reading over these past few weeks culminating in today’s reading makes it truly obvious what Jesus is trying to tell us. We must work to bring about the kingdom of God. Your kingdom come – that seems like a fairly pleasant and generalised plea to God, but it’s actually quite subversive, counter-cultural, even revolutionary, request because it’s a plea for the existing social order to be turned on its head and for the world to be governed and controlled by a new set of ethics and rules. For our social and political interaction to be transformed almost completely.
To me that sounds quite an attractive proposition at the moment and we have certainly seen the world change in these last few months. Are we going to allow those changes to continue are we going to fight to have the old world order back again and allow nothing to change?
Your kingdom come: be careful what you pray for. Part of the problem is of course that we have created Jesus in our own image. We want to think of him as meek and mild, perhaps a white man gently strolling around the
Israeli countryside talking in happy metaphors about sheep, and lights on the hills and performing wonderful miracles for his adoring crowds.
We may find it uncomfortable to think of a man who looked a whole lot more like Yasser Arafat than David Beckham, a Palestinian tradesman on the streets of what is now Gaza and the West Bank, a social revolutionary who was dedicated to denouncing the oppressive Jewish systems and challenging the pseudo-authority of the occupying Roman army. Perhaps uncomfortable but a historical truth.
Your kingdom come: be careful what you pray for. In our gospel reading today Jesus gives a number of parables beginning each one with the phrase ‘The kingdom of heaven is like’ and we hear that phrase and we settle back in our chairs or on our sofas and get comfortable because we know we’re about to hear Jesus spin us another story. But it doesn’t work like that. When this revolutionary preacher says ‘The kingdom of heaven’ is like there should be a shiver running up our spine and we should be on the edge of our seats because this man the Son of God has dedicated his life and death to taking us right outside our comfort zones and confronting us with the harsh reality of truth.
So he begins in verse 31 with the parable of the mustard seed ‘the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of seeds but when it is grown it becomes the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree’. Comforting isn’t it? Gentle Jesus meek and mild telling us that big things come from small beginnings? We link it to saying to Jesus saying that we are to have faith like a mustard seed and we think therefore that it’s okay to only have a little bit of faith because that’s enough so we can all relax. We don’t need to work particularly hard at being Christian? We don’t need to devote ourselves too much to the spiritual disciplines because Jesus has told us just a little bit of faith: perfectly fine.
But then Jesus follows it up with another story in verse 33 the Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman had mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened… Ahh the Great British Bake off. We now know what Jesus is talking about the women in their kitchen kneading the dough while children play around. The lovely smell of freshly baking bread hangs in the air perhaps the kitchen door is open onto a lovely garden where the husband sits and reads his newspaper with a faithful family dog sitting at his feet an idyllic family seen comfortable image for us; but Jesus is not telling us these stories to make us comfortable to make us want to stay the same dormant seeds in the ground yeast in a dark cupboard
Jesus is not that Christmas baby, that gentle meek baby in a cradle. He’s grown much like the mustard seed and he’s changed. No longer gentle but revolutionary a speaker of the uncomfortable truths a political idealist the Son of God who sees the unjust world and wants to change it – to change us he wants us to grow his kingdom.
Now there is a tendency for Christians to want church to be a beautiful place where we sing beautiful hymns and use beautiful liturgy in the comfort of a building consecrated just for that purpose. Don’t hear me saying that these things are not important. I do know the importance of the church building as a sacred place a holy place of liturgy and song – things not to be taken for granted. But now those things have been taken from us we have the perfect opportunity to grow.
We’ve had to forsake aspects of church for the sake of the kingdom of God. We have kept the seed watered the yeast warmed and we must not go back to leaving them in the cupboard cold and unyielding. God forbid that we go back into our churches on a Sunday morning and leave the seeds and the yeast there leaving God in a building never seeing the sunlight, that makes the kingdom new and grow.
The truth is that the kingdom of God the kingdom of heaven is not always a particularly beautiful place to be. The kingdom of heaven can be a messy place at times it can be ugly, lonely, difficult. We found these past months hard, sad, different but we have kept the yeast warm the seeds watered. Let us not go backwards but move forward to let the dough prove the shoots grow; let us continue to be flexible, innovative, creative; let us continue to look at ways to bring the kingdom in for others and not be self-serving. Are we brave enough strong enough can we keep going? Yes for these months have shown us that we do have the resilience that we have each other for the church is not the building the church is you and me it’s love and welcome that we share within it it’s the place that we come and discover our own place within the story where we can be ourselves and find full acceptance where we can discover that kingdom for ourselves yes things have changed but from where I stand it’s looking a lot like the kingdom of God.
So let us continue to pray: your kingdom come. Amen