Rev. George Miller
August 2, 2015
What is the Kingdom of Heaven, and who is this Jesus fellow that tells parables about how it’s like mustard seeds or yeast that has been hidden in flour?
For the past month we’ve explored the people who populated the Old Testament. The next three months we’ll explore the Gospels and our image of Jesus.
Today’s scripture is a good starting point. As we begin this seeking-out process I want to make two statements. These are my views, shaped by years of study:
1- I believe that when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, he’s not focusing on a place we may go after we die, but a way of living right here, right now on earth.
I believe Jesus was concerned with the well-being of God’s Creation, which includes, but is not limited to people, with human bodies and human concerns,
such as having food to eat, a place to live, and the ability to live healthy lives, be it physically, mentally and socially.
2- I believe that Jesus was not all warm and cuddly, and that things he said were often meant to provoke, to get people to think, and to challenge the way in which they live and co-exist with the world.
I believe that because Jesus was crucified, we have to realize everything he said had something that made many people uncomfortable and afraid.
Because of this, I believe there are those who call themselves Christian who would crucify Jesus again if he was amongst us.
With my unapologetic views laid out, let’s take a look at today’s scripture.
Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, or to put it another way, how the Kingdom of God appears here on earth.
He talks of a mustard seed, which was considered the smallest seed of all. The smallest, but it can grow over 12 feet tall.
He talks of yeast hidden in flour, which would produce enough bread for 150 people.
That’s a lot of height for such a small seed, and that’s a lot of dough. It all sounds so good, so satisfying, and so, so extravagant.
But remember- I believe Jesus provoked and said things that brought him closer to the cross.
So here’s the deal: back then mustard was seen as a weed. They were tenacious and strong; once mustard starts growing, it’s nearly impossible to root out or control.
Like crab grass; like the greening that has taken place within our orange groves.
So Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of God to a weed that takes hold and can’t be rid of.
So here’s the deal: we may like yeast to make our Panera Bread taste so good, but back in Jesus’ day, yeast was a symbol of decay and corruption.
When the Israelites prepared to be freed from Pharaoh’s grasp, they celebrated the 1st Passover with instructions to remove all yeast from their homes and to only eat unleavened bread. This observance was to happen for all other future high holy days.
So this parable equating the Kingdom of God to being like yeast is bound to raise some eyebrows.
Not to mention, in the original Hebrew, the woman does not “mix” the yeast with the flour, she “hid” the yeast, inferring a sense of stealth and secrecy.
So Jesus is equating the Kingdom to an act of trickery, deconstruction and a fungus.
Can you begin to hear how Jesus provoked?
Can you understand why some religious and political leaders thought the cross was the right thing to do?
Yes, we can say Jesus is talking about the unexpected ways in which the Kingdom of Heaven surprises us, but it also sounds like the Kingdom can be outright invasive.
Invasive: that word has been swimming through my mind since last Saturday, when my friend Dan took me on a trip through the Everglades.
What a memorable day that was.
Dan picked me up in his wife’s SUV. It had no air-conditioning and decals that read “Redneck Girl” and “Flo-Grown” with Florida in the shape on a handgun.
We stopped at Golden Coral for breakfast and ate friend chicken, fried bacon and fried corn nuggets.
Then we drove for 360 miles round trip. We shared stories. I learned that Dan is a hunter and fisherman who sincerely cares about the environment.
He assists on surveying deer, checking to make sure they aren’t starving or diseased. He works at check-point stations to ensure hunters have followed the proper laws.
Dan cares about well being of the alligators and the rare, endangered tree snails.
He worries about the invasive species that threaten the Everglades. He has a phone app to report where such species turn up.
He has a full hunter’s license so he can do his part is limiting the number of pythons that have slithered into the swamp.
He may fish for sport and food, but he also fishes to limit the number of exotic fish that have found their ways into our waters and decimate the eco-system.
Once in the Everglades, we slowly drove down a 23 mile dirt road, stopping to see the alligators, the hatchlings and the gar.
I learned to be aware of where I went and to use my ears, so there was no need for cell phones or i-Tunes to entertain.
I learned to use my eyes and to train them for what to look for, because you never know what lies right below the surface.
A log can look like an alligator; a resting gator can look like a piece of wood. Soon everything began to look like something.
Right away, I got to see the invasive species, like the Mayan cichlids that came out of nowhere in packs and would strike anything, even an empty hook.
Shells after shells after shells of African snails that lined the canals.
Even something as unseemly as eucalyptus trees that looked nice, but as Dan explained, quickly spread and choked out the growth of the native trees.
It made me think, if Jesus was in Florida, would he use the Everglades to make a comparison to the Kingdom of God?
Would Jesus say the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pet iguana let loose in Davie County that grows to the size of Godzilla?
Would Jesus compare the Kingdom of Heaven to cichlids let loose in the waterways that travel in gangs and eat the other fish?
Would Jesus compare the Kingdom to a Burmese python who lurks in the high grass and consumes an unaware deer quenching its thirst?
Talk about how provocative that is.
But here’s the thing, the mustard seed may be a weed, but in Jesus’ parable, it does co-exist with Creation to become a place where all the birds of the air can build a home.
The yeast may be hidden, but it creates enough daily bread for about 30 families.
These parables may feature secrecy and surprise, but they also feature elements of co-existence and bountiful goodness.
The invasive species in the Everglades do not know how to coexist. They only know how to devour and destroy.
The invasive pythons only know how to consume large numbers of deer and bobcats that have been survived for centuries in a balanced ecosystem.
The invasive snails can wreak havoc on humans, causing liver and brain damage.
The invasive iguanas are treating local vegetation like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
…So, where is the Good News in today’s parables? This is what I believe today’s parables shed light on:
From the perspective of deconstruction, it can mean the ways in God’s Kingdom can dismantle, weed out and attack those things like racism that try to keep a people down.
It can mean how the Kingdom can challenge sexist thoughts about what girls and boys, women and men can and cannot do.
It can means that in the Kingdom, laws limiting who can fall in love, be married and raise a family can be choked out and deemed obsolete.
From the perspective of surprise and abundance, these parables show how God is able to take any situation to make God’s Kingdom’s known here on earth.
For example, how God is able to place a good ol’ boy from the south and a loud-mouthed Yankee into a non-air-conditioned SUV for 14 hours and they have a rip-roaring good time.
How God can work through a horrible recession to bring about economic growth and a thriving local community.
How God can take a church that has 3 young children and create a program in which 16 amazing youth and an equal number of volunteers have the best week ever.
How God can take children who barely know each other, have them gather in the Chapel to bless a prayer shawl for a little girl about to have surgery, and move them to comfort each other through tears and hugs.
How food coloring, flowers and glow sticks in bottles of water can be means to teach children about praying with Jesus.
How empty coffee cans become instruments to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
How waffles dipped in chocolate, buttered ears of corn and deep-fried funnel cakes teach about the extravagant welcome of Jesus Christ.
How through the mystery of the Holy Spirit, even though we may have different opinions and not always agree, we are able to come together to make the Kingdom of God a bit more real.
Heaven is indeed a place on earth, and as Jesus reminds us again and again, how the Kingdom appears, and the ways it makes itself known, will continue to be a surprise.
It may not always make us comfortable, we may not be aware when it’s happening, and it’s more expansive than we can ever imagine.
But the Kingdom of God is real, and it’s always present, and always growing.
Therefore let us have ears to hear, eyes to see, hands to help, minds to not over-think and hearts to welcome.
For all these good things, we can say Amen and amen.