Matthew 6:9-16 Rev. Julie Yarborough
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Christ Church, Summit
July 30, 2017
“God’s Kin-dom on Earth”
Jesus often used common ordinary objects to illustrate his teachings. Stories known as parables, which are short and simple on the surface, but complex when examined closely, are sprinkled throughout his lessons. Often just a few lines, Jesus’ parables use simple, everyday items that would have been known to his audience. Much like Zen Koans or riddles, these parables contain wisdom beyond what is initially understood, pointing to a greater truth.
In the parables that we’re examining today, the objects Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of heaven are hidden, mysterious, confusing and disruptive. It’s amazing that the disciples understand what Jesus is trying to say, isn’t it? At least they claim to understand. These parables are complex and multi-layered, and aren’t what they seem to be at first hearing.
One scholar refers to these parables as “parables of subversion.” In each case, the expected outcome is turned upside-down.
Throughout the Gospels, the kingdom that Jesus describes is unlike any earthly kingdom – there are no kings, or rulers of any sort, and the descriptions he gives are antithetical to the Roman Empire of the time, or to any empire of any time, including our own! This kingdom is more like a kin-dom, to use a term made popular by Ada-Maria Isazi Diaz, former professor at Drew Theological School, in which there is no hierarchy or patriarchy, and all are welcome. The outsiders are in and the insiders are out. The last are first and the first are last.
In her book En La Lucha, Isasi-Díaz describes la comunidad de fe as la familia de Dios, the community of faith as the family of God, where we are all kin, part of God’s “kin-dom.” “For us Latinas,” Isasi-Díaz explains, “salvation refers to having a relationship with God, a relationship that does not exist if we do not love our neighbor.” So the kin-dom of heaven is a place where all are welcome, a table with extra chairs and an abundance of food, a kitchen where no one is turned away. It is through welcoming others that we welcome God.
The kin-dom of heaven is not simply a mustard seed, but the smallest seed sown in the ground that produces a tree with room for birds to nest in its branches; it’s not simply leaven, but leaven kneaded into flour – and not just into a few cups, but into enough flour to feed hundreds of people. These everyday, commonplace objects used in such a way become agents of disruption and change, and symbols of welcome inclusion and abundance.
Jesus’ examples of mustard seed and leaven must’ve confounded his audience. Mustard seed? The seed that grows into an invasive weed-bush, and was commonly torn out of the garden? What is valuable to God is what others tear out and throw away. And leaven? This is not the same as yeast used in modern kitchens. In biblical times, this leaven was almost universally understood as unclean. It was associated with the decay of dead bodies. Used in baking, it was a piece of leftover dough kept out to spoil in order to create leaven for future baking, much like a sourdough starter today. Yet, allowed to spoil too long it led to food poisoning.
Even now, in this day and age, yeast and the way it interacts with flour is still a mysterious process. A recent story on NPR told of Microbiologist Benjamin Wolfe, who is studying the microbiomes of sourdough starters – the yeast and bacteria that give sourdough its distinctive taste and ability to rise. Wolfe’s study is seeking sourdough starters from people all over the world. “As the microbes [in the starters] munch on the sugars in the flour, they produce carbon dioxide, ethanol, acids and a smorgasbord of other compounds that give sourdough its bouquet of flavors and aromas.” The researchers are trying to determine how starters differ with age and geographic location and how they interact with different types of flours. "We have these things right on our dinner plates," Wolfe says. "Yet there are all these mysteries of the microbiome that's right there that we haven't figured out."
The kin-dom of heaven is all around us, yet it is mysterious and elusive. In Matthew, Jesus declares that the kin-dom of heaven has come near, yet he also says that, “God has hidden these things from the wise, and revealed them to babies.” There’s a theological phrase “already but not yet” that ascribes to the idea that those who faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus are living in the kin-dom of God – it’s already here - but that God’s kin-dom hasn’t been fully realized yet on earth. Already here, but not yet realized - it’s a paradoxical way of thinking, but thinking in this non-dualistic way helps us to make sense of this mystery.
Jesus says that the kin-dom of heaven is also like a treasure hidden from view and an elusive pearl. Both are out of sight – unknown except to those who seek. It reminds me of the last section of T S Eliot’s poem Little Gidding, which reads in part:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
This hidden, mysterious thing that we seek is among us – hidden in plain sight. It has always been there, hidden but not absent. From the beginning of time, God’s Kin-dom has been very much a part of creation. Those who seek it will find it, but it is not free. It costs “not less than everything.”
Our last parable today describes the kin-dom of heaven as a net large enough to catch fish of every kind. It is only at the end of the age that the good will be separated from the bad – those distinctions are not ours to make. Jesus’ parables offer a choice – we can choose to be kin-dom people or not. At first glance it seems like an easy decision, but the kingdom of heaven is not made of silver and gold – it’s made of wild bushes and bread. This treasure is not what the world deems valuable – this pearl is cast among swine, who don’t see its true worth.
Like the merchant in our parable who recognizes value when he sees it, we must give up all that we have and all that we are in order to possess this treasure. This sacrifice of ego is necessary if we are to gain union with God. We must die to self in order to live in God. And part of the way we do that is to get outside of ourselves, by caring for others.
As Jesus says in Matthew 25: “Come, you that are blessed… inherit the kin-dom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
We pray thy kin-dom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven, yet for this to be realized, we must be agents of subversion and change, rising up to help create God’s kin-dom on earth – a place where people of all races and genders and sexual orientations are welcome and treated with justice and equity, where everyone has food to eat and no one dies because of lack of access to healthcare. A place of shared abundance, where everyone has enough and no one wants for anything. That is a kin-dom worth giving all that we have to possess.
As you go from this place:
May God’s extravagant love consume you,
Christ’s life and passion inspire you,
And the Spirit compel you to do ordinary things
with extraordinary love.