Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is It A Good Thing When Mustard Takes Over?

Matthew 13:31-33

Today we come to the end of the parables Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God in this lectionary cycle.

I hope by now that when you look out your window you see even a glimpse of God’s kingdom instead of the approaching fires of hell that the enemy wants you to see. 
I hope you see the wheat among the weeds, the people of God’s kingdom who are practicing their discipleship by promoting peace, feeding children. I hope when you watch the news about the conflict in Gaza/Israel, you also listen to the stories of the doctors and nurses who are caring for the wounded and dying. I hope you pray for them. I hope you pray for peace. Trusting that God’s word will take root. Eventually. Because, I hope you see the tiny plants of God’s kingdom struggling to grow in the cracks of this conflicted world of ours. Changing forever the landscape of this earth. God’s word among us slowly-but-surely creating good soil. Good soil in which the kingdom of God can come on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus has been teaching us to pay attention. I love these stories of Jesus because they are so earthy, true to life, yet so radical that we must open our hearts to a new way of seeing life.

We have had two wonderful and powerful parables about the kingdom. Now we have these short ones all in a row.
The kingdom of heaven is like: a mustard seed, yeast, treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price, a fishing net full of all the fishes which we will sort out later.

It is as if Jesus is trying to get as many people as possible on board with this new idea of the kingdom of God. So you are not a gardener then let me see if the story of yeast will make it clear, or how about a pearl no? then how about fish? or a treasure hidden in the field.

Each one of these stories is important and leads us to similar conclusions. The kingdom of God isn’t what you expect. We will stick with just one of the stores again this morning. And because it is summer and we are all trying to grow something, anything. I want to look at the mustard seed story. Because it reveals something we may not have noticed before.  
We have all heard about the miracle of the mustard seed, that tiny little seed that is so very small. Jesus says in this parable that it grows as big as a shrub. And we think that that is the miracle of the parable. But there is no miracle here. Not really. Like the other garden parables, there is simply the obvious ambiguity of what makes the kingdom of God so unique.
Mustard plants in Israel Palestine are useful shrubs, growing 2-6 feet tall. But they were not cultivated as they are now. They grew wild along the shores of Galilee. And if they got into your garden, watch out. Like mint. Like mint a little mustard plant is a good thing, but like mint if it isn’t contained or managed it will take over the whole garden.

Here in the parable it has grown completely out of control. It has become a shrub. And so big that birds can nest in its branches. The people of Galilee hearing this wouldn’t think this was a miracle. They would think, oh my goodness it is going to take over.

Is this a good thing?
That the kingdom of heaven would get this out of control that it will take over the garden?

I love growing lemon balm in my garden. I love to use it in lemonade and ice tea. I love using it to garnish platters of fruit and vegetables. I even love weeding and pulling it out because it smells so good and the fragrance stays on my hands and gloves. But I have lemon balm growing in places I really don’t want it to grow. Once it gets established it is hard to control.

Is this a good thing?
That the kingdom of heaven would get this out of control that it will take over the garden?

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He is painting a picture of the possibilities of the kingdom of God and he is making the authorities very, very nervous. They want to grow their own view of the world. A world that looks more like a cultivated garden with everything in rows, the riff raff weeded out, the people who don’t fit into their idea of a good harvest gone, wiped off the face of the earth. They want a kingdom that is centered on their understanding of what is holy and right. Where women are hanged or stoned or denied safety for not conforming to their ideals of what is holy and right. Where children are sold into slavery to keep their economy working. Where men and women with college degrees can’t get fulfilling jobs that honor their talents and abilities. They want a kingdom that keeps people subservient and needy on the system. Where those in power hold the majority of the assets and the rest must line up in straight neat rows in order to have any kind of worth in their society.
They want a society that is based on fear and despair.

So I ask again: Is this a good thing?
That the kingdom of heaven would get this out of control that it will take over the garden?
That the rows are no longer neat and tidy. That weeds and wheat can grow together? That plants can grow in the rocky soil and among the thistles? That all that is strange and beautiful and useful and unique and ordinary and everyday can grow into lives that shelter birds and small things and those who have no home and those who need a safe place to call home.

Do you see why they had to crucify Jesus? Not just for our sin but because of our sin. The world Jesus was preaching was going to mess up the power authorities’ carefully cultivated society that put them in power and left others out. It scared them to death and so they had to kill the messenger. Jesus died because we want to live in a system of power rather than grace.

It is one thing to want your vegetable garden and cropland weed free and in neat rows. It is quite another to want your world to be so ordered and homogeneous that only your own kind flourish and are successful.
We all want to live in a world that is orderly and we try so hard to make our world so. We set up rules to let some in and keep others out. We open our doors only so far. We interpret scripture so that our viewpoint is supported. We get fearful when others grow more, prosper more, have more.

But God’s kingdom is not orderly, it is messy and full of strange and beautiful and ordinary and everyday people who are all God’s children. Who all have the potential to become exactly who God created them to be. When They believe and we believe that we are living in the kingdom of God.

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