June 27, 2008
Girdwood Methodist Chapel
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
I Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Taking of Residence in the Kingdom of God
How many of you have been worried this week about the coming of the millennium? I’m not talking about the millennium that we all observed back in the year 2000 when we feared that when the clock struck twelve our computers would explode and our world with it. I’m talking about a different concept of millennium, although the end of the world does play a part in it.
I’ve been doing some reading about our spiritual ancestors who lived during the years that followed the Revolutionary War. These men and women were experiencing many changes, not the least of which was their view of their new nation’s place in the world. They believed that as they built the new nation, they had an opportunity to foster God’s Kingdom here on earth through improved literacy, improved transportation and communications, and the elevation of the intellectual and moral character of the people. These men and women went about this massive personal and national improvement program with a religious zeal – believing that if they could build the Kingdom of God on earth, their efforts would usher in the Second Coming of Christ and world unity and a thousand years of peace. This religious view is called Post Millennialism -- Christ will come AFTER we make some progress on building the kingdom here on earth. Most of mainstream Protestants were post-millennialists – seeking to build a better nation not just for themselves, but for God himself.
Strange as that might sound to some of us today, I’d like to acknowledge our ancestors’ hopes and plans as worthy goals; goals which are in keeping with the Lord’s Prayer that we repeat at least once a week on Sunday morning:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
We pray for the Kingdom of God to arrive every week, and we further pray that that Kingdom on Earth is like the one in Heaven. We really ought to take some time to think about what we are praying for. If we built the kingdom, or found it in the pages of the Real Estate Guide, would we want to make the sacrifices necessary to live there? Would we want to put a down payment on a heavenly condominium? What would be the amenities we would expect if it were up to us to decide whether this was the place in which we wished to take up residence? Would we like the other people living in the neighbourhood? And finally, a question you must answer for yourself, do you even believe there is, or can be, such a residential development as the
? Kingdomof God
We should probably take a minute to clear up the
Kingdomof Godvs. wording. Matthew speaks of the Kingdomof Heaven Kingdomof Heaven, while Mark and Luke speak of the . God and Heaven are interchangeable here, but Matthew being a good Jew writing for a Jewish audience, avoided the use of God’s name as an act of piety. In the case of today’s parables, “the Kingdomof God ” and “Kingdom of heaven” mean the same thing. Kingdomof God
And while we are setting the stage for our journey, we should probably deal with this “kingdom” business. Is Heaven really a kingdom? Shouldn’t it be the Republic of the Devine, or maybe a Heavenly Democracy? Kingdom is “sexist”, perhaps, and culture-specific to the times during which Jesus lived – but I’m asking us to suspend discussion of this issue for this particular morning. Perhaps, we may gain some insight on just how the
might be governed without addressing its Constitution and Bylaws directly. The condo contract does say something about Loving God With All Our Hearts and With All Our Minds, and Our Neighbors As Ourselves. The message is posted above the mailboxes, and on every doorpost. We’d better be prepared to take that notice pretty seriously. Kingdomof God
But if we are very much like the disciples in Matthew’s reading, we want to know even more before we make a personal or financial commitment. We’ve heard of this wondrous living space for most of our lives, but we’ve not been there nor have we ever met someone who has lived there. We’ve just read the brochures. There seems to be a lot of pre-requisites for getting through the gates and we’ve been told there is this Saint Peter person sitting at a desk with a computer. First he looks up the prospect’s spiritual credit history and then decides whether or not to click “open” to let him or her move in.
It’s a bit daunting to read about – but then there is an asterisk and our eyes go to an important footnote on the page:
If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers… (not even Saint Peter) … shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Okay, maybe we can qualify. But we want to know more. Matthew’s Jesus offers his followers a series of parables to try to answer their questions. This Kingdom, he says, is:
like a mustard seed,
like leaven in bread,
like finding treasure and hiding it in a field,
like looking for fine pearls,
like a dragnet cast into the sea.
Parables are more than just analogies or metaphors – something is like something else. Parables go a step further and turn our assumptions and conclusions upside down. Parables reveal the unexpected, subvert the normal and traditional, and cast out certainty to make room for a new insight, a pearl of great price, perhaps.
So how is our common sense or traditional assumptions turned up-side-down to invite the unexpected in this collection of parables today? Let me make some brief observations on three of them, maybe giving a slightly different perspective than you have heard before.
The realm of God is like:
a mustard seed - a small but pungent weed that is such a nuisance it takes over everything in the garden! Sure it grows big, and birds perch in its branches, Jesus, but do we really want this noxious weed in our heavenly garden? Wouldn’t roses or orchids be better? Maybe a mighty oak or noble cedar trees? A mustard tree!? Maybe we need a landscape artist for this new development.
The realm of God is like:
Yeast? That’s the stuff the women have to make sure to sweep out of the house before Passover so that it won’t corrupt the unleavened bread of the celebration. The
is like leavened bread? The ordinary, common, everyday stuff? Shouldn’t the bread served in heaven but the holy, unleavened variety? Kingdomof God
The realm of God is like:
a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money to buy that field. The
is unexpected and worth everything we have, yes, but why doesn’t the trespasser simply take the treasure without buying the land? Seems contrary to human nature, doesn’t it? But the reality and beauty of the Kingdomof Heaven demands that we give back something of value for the gifts given to us. Kingdomof God
All these mini parables are ‘red flags’ waving at us: don’t expect the realm of God will be what you reckon or want it to be. Our assumptions will be challenged; the Kingdom may even offend us. Are we ready to take that chance – and put a down payment on that heavenly condo anyway? Is this a project we wish to invest our time, our money, our very souls in – and encourage our friends to do likewise? Perhaps my analogy of a real estate investment is a bit too secular, not spiritual enough for some, but I think it is in keeping with Matthew’s theme.
Matthew’s Jesus was very astute. Wherever he looked, he saw the world not in terms of its so-called brokenness, but in terms of the all embracing presentness of God in the ordinary. But most times that presentness or wholeness could only be understood
when the hearer’s world view was shaken up in a parable. Jesus is suggesting that the
is about re-imagining the ordinary, leading to a new way of being in the world. Kingdomof Heaven
Our ancestors back 200 years ago thought they could usher in the very Second Coming of Christ through living ordinary lives in extraordinary ways; through teaching their children to read, through building roads, and funding the post office. Just what would make this place a little bit better – a little more pleasing to God? Our ancestors, in other words, respected the past, but sought to improve the future, as well.
There is a story about a meeting of rabbis sometime back. Perhaps we can gain some new insight about the
from one of the participants, Rabbi Yeshiel. This was Rabbi Yeshiel’s first meeting with his esteemed colleagues and he knew he would be scrutinized closely. Kingdomof Heaven
Usually the rabbis of
Europeboasted distinguished rabbinical genealogies, but our Rabbi Yechiel was an exception. He was the son of a simple baker and he inherited some of the forthright qualities of a man of the people. His colleagues were a bit put off, if you will, that such a common man had become a rabbi.
When the meeting commenced, each of the rabbis began to boast of his eminent rabbinical ancestors, listing grandfathers and great grandfathers and ancient uncles who had been rabbis before them.
When Rabbi Yechiel's turn came, he replied gravely, ‘In my family, I'm the first eminent ancestor.’
His colleagues were shocked by this piece of impudence, but said nothing.
So, the rabbis began to expound Torah. Each one was asked to hold forth on a text culled from the sayings of one of his distinguished rabbinical ancestors. One after another they delivered their learned dissertations, repeating what they had been taught through the generations, but adding nothing.
At last it came time for Rabbi Yechiel to say something. He arose, gazed around the room, and said,
‘My colleagues, my father was a baker. He taught me that only fresh bread was appetizing and I must avoid the stale. ‘This can also apply to learning.’
And with that Rabbi Yechiel sat down. Amen.
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