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It’s like … You Know
Matthew 13: 31-33; 44-50
People in every age have thought about what an alternative world might be like. Adults today might know the term “Camelot” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein play and movie where the king sings: “A law was made a distant moon ago here: July and August cannot be too hot. And there’s a legal limit to the snow here, In Camelot. The winter is forbidden till December, and exits March the second on the dot. By order, summer lingers through September,
in Camelot.” Robert Fulgham in his bestseller, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, wrote:
“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. Clean up your own mess.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and
dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder.
15. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and
nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that..
16. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all
die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest
word of all – LOOK.”
People in the Bible times up to today, who have sought to make a better world, remember the biblical words known as The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Today as our world has been pummeled with the powers of darkness—this week alone with the deliberate downing of a passenger jetliner, people arrested for lewd and lascivious actions, and passionately religious people bombing one another in a land that is supposed to be holy—people start to long for an alternate world. In 1932 Albert Brumley wrote his famous hymn with the first line “Some glad morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away.” And other hymn writers followed the theme in the 1930s like “Beyond the Sunset O blissful morning, when with our Savior heav’n is begun; Earth’s toiling ended, O glorious dawning beyond the sunset when day is done.” And one other hymn “In the Sweet By and By” includes: “There’s a land that is fairer than day, and by faith we can see it afar, for the Father waits over the way to prepare us a dwelling place there.”
So hymn writers, authors, poets, and more have sought to describe a world that is better than the one in which we live. Some people, even some Christians, believe that our world is going to “pot,” that it is hopeless, and that our only hope is to depart this world for the next one. So they stop working in and for the world. They protect themselves from the world with gates and locks and stop interacting with others. Some no longer work for change or for justice. Some don’t even try any longer. But the Bible has news for us today: neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor Peter, nor any of the other disciples (with the exception of Judas who was a Zealot) believed that we should just try to escape this world rather than change this world. Jesus was a change-agent of his time; after he retreated for strength, he even entered the fray of a city, or went to the fringe of a crowd to find the lonely, the despised, the forgotten, or the disabled ones. Paul would bring the gospel, with all of its message of social change and justice, to the synagogues or house churches on his journey. The Christian message then, and now, describes a kingdom where things are different, but not in a galaxy far, far away. Jesus wanted his parables to describe the way the world would look if we made godly choices in our relationships, and in our decision-making.
Today we heard some parables that need two points of clarification. First, Jesus said the Kingdom is like. Certainly it can be annoying to hear someone use like in a sentence in a repetitive fashion. “We’ll it’s like; I mean it’s like; well …. No; not like that. Jesus used like as a simile; it is a comparison using like or as. Jesus cannot tell his audience exactly how the Kingdom looks; he is either without adequate words or it is beyond our human understanding. So he says what the Kingdom is like. It’s like a grain of a mustard seed; like leaven that a woman hides in three scoops of flour; like a treasure hidden in a field; it’s like a merchant who searches for fine pearls. Each comparison unpacks a nugget of gold mined from the gold mine of Jesus’ teachings. Each teaching is multi-faceting; has meaning on more than one level; and generally takes a normal world-view and looks at it differently. What if poor people could afford to eat? What if homeless people could get a decent place to live? What if those in prison were reformed and blessed instead of eternally encased? What if powerful people and governments used their power for good will, good education, good justice, and good grace? Jesus always gave his listeners an alternate worldview. But it was not a description of Heaven the way we think of Heaven as the afterlife. Here is the second point about what Jesus says: Matthew was a pious Jew who honored the beliefs of the Jews. So Jews would never say the name of God, substituting the word “Heaven” instead. So instead of someone exclaiming “Good God!” which seems crass and harsh, people may tone it down and say “Good Heavens!” as a way of exclamation. In the same way, Jesus is not describing the afterlife when he says “The Kingdom of Heaven” in Matthew. He is referring to “The Kingdom of God” in a respectful fashion. And the Kingdom of God, Jesus said on several occasions, was breaking into the world with his presence; he was preaching how to make the kingdoms of our world into the kingdom of God; he was preaching a message not for a world of the hereafter, but the world of today. And then he demonstrated what that kingdom would be like with his parables and his actions. For example: everyone else passed by beggars; he stopped. Everyone else was ready to stone a woman caught in adultery; Jesus spoke with her. Jesus broke tradition after tradition of human first century mores by imposing heaven-sent patterns into his first century world. And we in the twenty-first century also learn that Jesus would like to change the world through us, not have us quickly depart from the world like passengers from a sinking ship. Jesus would not use a sinking ship as a metaphor for our world, even this week. He would use a different metaphor, like unleavened bread and you are the leaven; like darkness and you carry the light; like people who are fresh out of faith and you have plenty of it; it is the size of a mustard seed. The Kingdom of God is like that! It is like the man who sells all he has to buy a field in which he had found a treasure: what if the treasure was you? What if God sold all he had, because you are precious in his sight? And what if you are the pearl of great price in the eyes of our maker, and that God sold the farm to get you?
God likely joins us in not liking the world the way it is today. But God came to this world in Christ, not to provide a giant life raft to contain the population of the faithful while the doomed ship Earth sinks. No; that is not the metaphor God would use. God came in Christ to redeem the world; to make it better, more just, and more loving. And the means by which he is doing it is through Christ’s body: you and me and through Church everywhere. We are charged with transforming the kingdoms of our world to be come the Kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.
Let’s, together, work to carry out that great commission.
Jeffrey A. Sumner July 27, 2014