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The Kingdom of Heaven

Notes & Transcripts

Every hour in the 24 hours that make up any Sunday on planet earth, the words are heard countless millions of times. Millions pray these words each week in worship and some pray these words every day.

Do you know them? …

"Thy kingdom come..."

Of course you do. These words come from the best known prayer in the Christian world...

The Lord's Prayer -  But let me ask you a question.

When you pray, "Thy kingdom come," what exactly do you mean by this "kingdom?" What is it that you want to come?

It would seem to be a pretty straight forward question with an easy answer.

The "Thy" in the phrase refers to God – so obviously it is God's Kingdom we want to come.[1]

The gospel reading for today can help us toward understanding what God's kingdom is all about.

Yet, Understanding the kingdom is no little thing

Last week, you may remember, I questioned you when was the last time you heard a sermon about Hell

I did so because the parable that we were addressing, “The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds”, has historically focused on the fear mongering of God’s judgment

And Hell has played predominately in that

So this week, our focus shifts – and shifts to Heaven – you may hear it as “The Kingdom of Heaven”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells several parables concerning the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’

Mark, Luke and Paul use the phrase ‘Kingdom of God’

It should be said that the "Kingdom of Heaven" and the "Kingdom of God" are interchangeable, both mean: God's eternal reign of love.

We have also been on a bit of a sermon series, these past few weeks on the Parables of Jesus

Today is the last Sunday of that and so a little bit of a summary, albeit oversimplified, is necessary for Matthew's 13th chapter

"Parables of the Kingdom" chapter goes something like this:

·         At the beginning of the teaching session, Jesus sits in a boat and teaches a large crowd that had gathered on the Northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

·         Jesus begins with the well known parable of the sower. God's word goes out into the world and there are varying responses. There are various soils in which the seed finds a home

o        Jesus explains to his disciples that some will hear and become a part of God's kingdom - while others do not hear, and the word will have no effect on them.

·         Then Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and tares (or the Wheat and the Weeds)

    • He will later explain the parable to His close followers, the disciples. He explains a very critical point – God and not we - will separate the wheat from the weeds. 

·         The remainder of chapter thirteen is a series of parables which point to the meaning of the Kingdom.  This Kingdom is like this... [2]

    • Each parable gives us an idea of what the kingdom is like and tells us why the kingdom is priceless. Of course, The Kingdom of Heaven can not be contained in any simple analogy

Yet we are given a window into understanding a layer of what God’s Heaven is with each one

It is all encompassing idea…

All of the Bible – all of Jesus’ teaching is pointing us towards greater understanding of “thy kingdom”

And when taken to heart, knowledge of The Kingdom of Heaven changes everything about our world, our values and our priorities

I said a couple of weeks ago, that one New Testament scholar, which I found in my studies, said: Parables are “stupid”[3]…

            I suggested that I would rather use the term – Absurd or challenging

                        Because I find them deep with meaning and the farthest thing from Stupid

But, what he was getting at, is that Jesus tells stories to lead people in a certain direction that is completely against the grain - Completely against common worldly wisdom

So by the world’s understanding of wisdom – Parables are Stupid

He was being intentionally controversial – and in that way, completely ‘in-keeping’ with Jesus’ technique with these stories we know as Parables

In order to fully understand the parables of Jesus, we need to strive to retain just how absurd or controversial they were at the time,

We need to guard against the reality that just because they are well known – we don’t fall into the trap of domesticating them

Taken to heart, they do change everything about our world, our values and our priorities

Starting with the parable of the mustard seed…

On first glance this is a charming story about how God might make use of things beyond our common expectation

How the mustard seed, a tiny seed may grow to great size and even be a home for birds to nest in,

The moral of the story… God can use even the smallest of faith to grow something plentiful – even abundant, enough for many others

The Mustard Seed parable is dynamic and has often been sadly reduced to… "From small beginnings come great endings."

Since it is set among the accounts emphasizing abundant harvests,

Matthew likely has this idea in mind as it pertains to the ultimate triumph of God's dominion, but such a reading also overlooks the absurd context from which the story originates

You see, mustard is closer to being a weed than wheat.

When we think of mustard it is often in the yellow squeeze bottles that are used for hamburgers and hot dogs

In reality it is an invasive plant – mustard seed was basically like a weed – more like our dandelions

                        Once mustard seed gets a corner in your field – watch out

The Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, who died in 79AD while investigating the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, writes:

Mustard grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted:

But on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.

Pliny then describes in great detail the medicinal uses of the mustard plant, but it is important to remember that it was then, as it is now, in modern Israel, a weed.[4]

The cedar tree is a better choice. According to Ezekiel 17:23, the "noble cedar" provides the kind of shelter birds' need,

So… Jesus is providing a stark and surprising contrast here.

Is there any other "tree" that could so scandously become part of God's plan?

A foodie is someone who has an ardent or refined interest in food. It used to be a term that was interchangeable with gourmet.

It has taken on a bit of a snobbish slant however, and a foodie isn't generally seen in a positive light.

Why the discussion over food, you may ask? Well, foodies generally see that the smallest of herbs can bring the greatest delight to the simplest of dishes.

Herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme have all come into favour in regards to food. But an oft overlooked herb is the mustard seed.

A mustard seed is an overlooked herb and even 2,000 years ago, wasn't regarded as something great and grand.

This is the herb to which Jesus compares the kingdom of God.

Mustard? Why not juniper, ancho or even chipotle? These are great herbs!

These are what the kingdom of God should be like!

…If we think like this, we can miss the point of the parable.

The kingdom of God is already here in the oft overlooked things, in the forgotten, the lowly and the mundane, in the mustard seeds of everyday life.[5]

Moving on the parable of the Yeast

            Again – to the ancient hearer this would have immediately raised attention

Yeast or Leaven everywhere else in scripture is used to represent the world and almost always as a negative symbol of corruption.

The only thing more astounding in this parable is that the woman uses "three measures" of wheat, enough to make bread to feed more than 100 people.

What person in their right mind would use so much yeast – certainly

no wise impoverished widow would ever do such a thing…

Another example of a little can make a lot?

Yes, but it also indicates that the dominion of God may take hold in hidden and unexpected ways.

And do so in such overwhelming, dramatic ways

The Kingdom of Heaven is to be thought of as absurd by the standards of the world – yet abundant beyond imagination

Our next two parables are the treasure found in the field and the precious pearl

One way of thinking of these might be to compare it to winning the lottery

We might all, at some point, have had dreams of winning a huge sum, or inheriting a fortune from some long lost uncle and how that might change our life dramatically

No more debts – new vehicles – new home, a cottage in the Muskokas

And while understanding that the treasure found in the field by the labourer – was such a great treasure that the labourer sold all that he had just to buy the field where it was hidden

And winning the lottery would dramatically change our lives as the treasure in the field did for the labourer

It is the change in life that is to be the focus and not the questionable business ethics of the labourer, or the misplacement of trust from God to something external such as gambling on the lottery

             

The parable about the Pearl or of the found treasure, where again everything is sold in order to obtain the one prized thing...

What if we understand the treasure in a different light… to be like God's dominion,

And Jesus is the one who gave up everything to obtain it for us?

Or better, what if we are that treasure, and Jesus is the one who, "because of joy," who gave His life in order to "buy" us?

This might be how we could understand the baptism that we have all been apart of today

How young Brayden is a great treasure and by the Grace of God and only by the invisible workings of God – is Brayden made a member of the family

How exciting is this day – what a joy that a pearl of infinite value, the treasure worth more than everything we could ever imagine – this is great exchange in which Brayden is baptised into

                                   

Our final parable today, might be the most difficult of them all

It brings us back to last week’s parable of the Wheat and the Weeds – where God’s Judgment comes into play

The Parable of the good and bad fish

A cautionary word - The parable is not about rejecting other religions or drawing tight circles of exclusion for every group but ours.

It is about the huge divide between those who choose God and live in relationship with Christ and are committed to God's love in every area of life…

And those who choose only themselves and reject the reign of God.

The weeping and gnashing of teeth is simply the final realization that our search for meaning and significance are destined for absolute failure.

The joy and rejoicing of those who discover the pearl of great price or the treasure hidden in the filed is nothing less than the joy of knowing the love of the One who created us.

One might suggest that the clearest expression provided in the three parables:

Is that the dominion of God may not always appear to be succeeding in the world, and even the Church itself can be a mixed bag of good and evil,

But in the end… God will sort things out.

The evil will perish, and the righteous will be part of God's bountiful and glorious harvest….

Sometimes one hears people talk about the need for humans to “build the Kingdom of God.”

That is really not a New Testament way of thinking about the Kingdom.

Humans do not build the Kingdom… It is declared to them in the Christian Gospel.

They know what the Kingdom is:

the rule of God’s love in the hearts and lives of men and women, the recognition of God’s sovereign power over the world and all who are in the world.

To build God’s Kingdom would be impossible assignment for human beings.

But… they are to reflect the Kingdom in a way of life, …to enter it, …to enjoy the eternal life that God’s reign offers … and to attract others into the Kingdom by their witness made day by day.[6]

Finding the Kingdom of God within… and between us…, spread out before us…, requires dying.

Dying to that God who hides in heaven or waits in the wings until we have pulled all the weeds. The God we might think of as the “Spy in the Sky”

Dying to such a far away God of righteousness… means coming alive to a God of compassion as well as goodness.

If Jesus is right, and I think he is, God is waiting in the weeds of our broken hearts and bruised virtue, to bind up our wounds and mend the disease that separates us from ourselves and one another and from all that is holy.[7]

                                                God is there always – The Kingdom of Heaven is real

God is longing for us to embrace His teaching…

One layer at a time… The Kingdom of Heaven is like…

May God give us wisdom to understand the kingdom of heaven and grace to embrace it! - Amen


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[1] http://www.lectionarysermons.com/july_28.02.htm

[2] http://www.lectionarysermons.com/july_28.02.htm

[3] Matt Skinner – Sermon Brainwave

[4] http://day1.org/559-looking_for_the_kingdom_of_god_too_high_up_and_too_far_away

[5] God Pause for Thursday, 7/21/2011 – Luther Seminary

[6] Illustration Sourcebank – # 2105 “Kingdom, Witness” – Iris and Kendig Brubaker Cully – An Introductory Theological Book

[7] http://day1.org/559-looking_for_the_kingdom_of_god_too_high_up_and_too_far_away

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