The kingdom, like the sown Word, is in the works, and it will settle for nothing less than full manifestation. We are not waiting for its power to come; we believe that it is already here — and that it will inevitably have its perfect and utterly triumphant work. — Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgement
In Mark’s Gospel, these are the first words Jesus speaks:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
What is the kingdom of God? Well, it’s something Jesus tells stories about.
We can tell that this kingdom is near at hand because when Jesus tells those stories about it, he tells stories about things that are near at hand. Jesus’ ‘Parables of the Kingdom’ are stories about farmers and seeds and merchants finding pearls and women baking bread.
These stories have a bit of a twist. The twist is there because while the kingdom of God is nearby, it is also hidden. You can see it — hidden in plain sight — if you have eyes to see. If you can change your way of thinking and find a new way to see things. The parables call us to engage with them, to rethink, to redirect our hearts and minds.
In today’s terms, we could tell a parable something like this:
The kingdom of God is like an old woman in a coffee shop who pays for the strangers at the next table, and slips out before they realise it.
The kingdom of God is like a pregnant woman getting on a full bus, whereupon a homeless man gives up his seat for her.
There’s an old woman in a coffee shop. Happens all the time. But imagine the surprise of the people at the next table when they find their bill is paid.
A pregnant woman gets onto a bus, which is full. Happens all the time. But who gives up his seat for her? Someone who other people have pretended isn’t there.
Jesus’ parables of the kingdom are about such ordinary things, but with extraordinary twists. But you need eyes to see how what is extraordinary about them may be connected to God’s hidden work in the world.
With this in mind, let’s look at the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
The kingdom of God is so close, it is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; and eventually the birds of the air nest in the branches.
Mustard is good, I like mustard a lot. I’m glad people plant it. What could be the extraordinary twist?
There are two twists I want to mention.
The first is that for Jesus and his contemporaries, mustard was a nuisance. Once you had it, you couldn’t get rid of it. Why would anyone plant mustard? It grew like the weed it was. It’s like a Queensland farmer carefully cultivating a field of prickly pear. Why would they do that?
The second twist is that the image of birds making their nests in the branches of a tree comes from Old Testament texts about the great cedars of Lebanon.
For example, Psalm 104.16–17a says
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. In them the birds build their nests…
However, Jesus chooses not to talk about massive, impressive trees. He tells a story about a bush that you just can’t get rid of.
The kingdom of God is not like a great tree that impresses everyone with its imposing size. It’s more like a huge weed that doesn’t invite our admiration but which digs in for the long haul. Mind you, the birds of the air don’t mind that it’s a weedy kind of bush. They find a home in its branches.
The kingdom of God is like a cafe which weathered the global downturn in 2008 because of the loyalty of its regular clients. When things recovered, the owners invited all the regulars to an evening on the house, with huge amounts of wonderful food and drink. Everyone went away full of joy.
I tell you this as a parable, but it’s also a true story. My wife and I were two of those regulars.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray
Your kingdom come, / your will be done / on earth as in heaven.
What are we praying for? We are praying for something already near at hand. Something hidden from us until our ears and eyes are opened. Something unknown by the wise and powerful, but which is made known to the poor in spirit. God’s kingdom is hidden in plain sight.
It’s something that Jesus tells stories about, so that we might see and hear.
Where is the kingdom here in West End?
The same place it is everywhere. Hidden in plain sight. You don’t have to strain to see it. Just listen for the stories that are being told. And when you hear a story, tell it to others.
The kingdom of God is like a disabled person, moving in her wheelchair with the wind in her face and joy in her heart.
The kingdom of God is like a dog that buries a bone and later digs it up to share with another dog.
The kingdom is near at hand. Look for it. Open your eyes, see how close it is.
There was another parable in today’s Gospel Reading. Not much seems to happen in it; it seems a little — well — dull.
Someone scatters seed on the ground, and goes about their daily life. Eat, wash, bed. Rinse and repeat. Out of the earth comes a crop. Which they harvest.
That’s it. Oh, and the kingdom of God is like that. It is happening all around us, without us doing much at all. Can we sense it? Can we draw hope from it?
Let me tell you one more parable before we finish:
A woman had a most peculiar dream. In her dream, she was wandering around some shops in a large shopping centre. Suddenly, she noticed a shop which took her fancy. She wandered in and saw Jesus behind the counter! Jesus said to her, ‘You can have anything your heart desires.’ Astounded but pleased, she asked for ‘Peace, joy, happiness, wisdom and freedom from fear.’ Then she added, ‘and not just for me, but for the whole Earth.’ Jesus smiled and then said, ‘I think you misunderstand. We don’t sell the finished product here, we only sell seeds.’
How are you nurturing the seed within you?
West End Uniting Church 13 June 2021