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The Kingdom of Heaven is Persistent

1 Give thanks to the Lord and call upon God’s Name; *make known God’s deeds among the peoples.

2 Sing praises, sing praises, *
and speak of all God’s marvelous works.

Throughout the Gospels and in Matthew’s Gospel in particular, Jesus taught through parables. I love parables. These earthy stories with a heavenly meaning start with the here and now, the up close and personal, to help us catch sight of eternal life. I also love the way parables make us think. It has been said that you cannot tell people the truth; you can only put them in a position where they can discover the truth for themselves. (Dr. Fauci hopes this is true for our times!) 

That is what a parable does. Parables don’t argue for truth itself, but they show that what is true about God and about ourselves might be discovered as we wrestle, resist, and are pulled into the truth.  And the good thing about a parable, as opposed to an argument which seeks to win, is that a parable never puts anybody down.  It just opens a portal for a different way of viewing. 

Today’s parables tell us that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. This seed is quite small as Jesus tells us, yet when it is sown in the field and it begins to grow, it becomes a great shrub, eventually providing a place for all the birds to find shelter. 

The next parable tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. This yeast is not the kind found in the red packet in the grocery store refrigerated section, rather it is sourdough starter. We hear that a woman took and mixed it in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Many times this is the end of the story. We can be tempted to hear these parables as if they are proverbs: “big things sometimes have small beginnings.” This is good. It is sometimes true. But a parable isn’t a simple lesson. It isn’t a story that has a moral. A parable is a space you step into that, now surprised and disoriented, your senses altered, you see and hear in a new way. It’s meant to cause you some confusion and some discomfort so that you are shakened from your couch-prone-viewing spot and have to sit up, look closer, and pay attention.

The mustard seed is not just small, it is an invasive weed. Though it starts out as barely perceptible, once it is in the soil it takes over. Like mint or kudzu or crabgrass or bindweed, it intertwines with other plants until mustard takes over and it is the all in all. Everything, everywhere will be mustard, mustard, mustard. It is stealthy. It is persistent.

The man who “sowed” that single mustard seed may have had no idea that his land would soon be thick with invasive plants. Maybe he thought he could keep the mustard contained. But the reign of heaven is like the metamorphosis of a cultivated field into a wild and leafy bird sanctuary. Once the reign of heaven takes root it will do its thing. The neighbors might snicker about what you did to your field. But soon they will receive a few seeds—or two—or fifty—when the wind blows them onto their land. 

The next parable concerns yeast or leaven. The term for “yeast” (zume in Greek) refers to sour dough starter. In the parable, the woman does not “mix’ the leaven into the flour, she “hides” it. The Greek term enkrypto (the basis for the word cryptology) means that she is literally doing something in secret. But in placing this starter in the flour, its results will eventually come to light. What is being hidden is only hidden so that it can come forth in the revelation that the original has been transformed. It is stealthy. It is persistent.

And she is not hiding it in a couple of cups of flour. Three measures of flour equal about 40 to 60 pounds. The dough would be far too much for one woman to knead on her own and the yield would be far too much for one person to consume. Reminding us of the prodigious amount of good wine produced by Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana, the image of the amount of flour is one of extravagant abundance. The kingdom of heaven is like sourdough starter hidden in an overwhelming amount of flour that can create more than a year’s worth of bread.

Why does Matthew have Jesus compare the kingdom of God to a weed that takes over and sour dough starter that when hidden infiltrates a mixture that results in an enormous yield? Perhaps because both mustard seed and yeast have a way of spreading beyond anything you imagined, infiltrating a system and taking over. 

Both symbolize the radical generosity of God that is available to everyone. Both are part of the good world God gives us. Like the sun that insists on shining, the seed insists on growing to be used by anyone who finds the plant. Like the vast amount of bread the woman bakes, the mustard plant provides far more than a single individual can use.

Grace Church is a part of this parable movement in our community and in our world. At our Food Pantry, we offer food, kindness, compassion, and care. There is no attempt to convert or convince. We simply greet the people, honoring who they are and where they are in life. We respond to their needs, ask about their families, inquire if there is more we can do, and send them off with a blessing of “Take care.” And “It’s good to see you.”

At Gideon’s Garden we are raising beautiful vegetables to give to our neighbors who are hungry. And we are offering care, attention, love, teaching, and time to young people who want to learn about farming and about being good people and being a part of helping our community. No requirements for beliefs. No outright preaching takes place. And yet, gentle messages of stewardship of God’s good earth, being awake and aware of the awesomeness of creation, experiencing grace and forgiveness when actions don’t work out, seeing the value of working together to provide for the well-being of others—all these messages are thick in the air of the garden. Most of the young people who work with the Rev. Jen Bloesch are not members of a church, and they are seeing first hand, receiving without measure the radical generosity of God while participating in tending the good world God has given us alongside someone steeped in God’s love who offers that love freely to them.

Over and over, Grace Church has participated in, contributed to, supported in many ways the work being done to care for all God’s children. Walking alongside Multi-Cultural Bridge, The Berkshire Immigrant Center, The Literacy Network of the Berkshires, The Mampong Babies Home in Ghana, Hands in Outreach in Nepal, and on and on we share God’s love and hope with others. 

Simply give as God has given. Without being aware, without being coerced, people are being showered with the love that comes from God. They are being seen as God’s beloved and worthy of an abundant life. You see we know why we do what we do—because God first loved us. And this kind of compassion, grace, hospitality is infectious, it spreads through the love that is generously and freely given.

The kingdom of heaven has a strange power of proliferation. The kingdom of heaven is about a love that simply cannot be rooted out.. It is persistent. 

Once you have truly been seen and lifted up as a beloved child, you cannot go back to believing that you are unworthy or undeserving of love. 

Once you have experienced a deep kindness, you cannot turn your back on the needs of others. 

This is the word that Christ not only spoke but also lived daily.

This is the word that Christ not only proclaimed but unleashed.

The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast in the dough teach us that despite all obstacles, despite all indications to the contrary, God’s realm of love, justice, and peace will ultimately prevail in our hearts and in our world. We are part of the kingdom movement. We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement and we share love with all.

In the face of exclusion and disrespect, we practice God’s eternal welcome. 

When confronted with suffering, we reach out through God’s eternal healing. 

When challenged with hate and division, we proclaim love—generous, abundant love—no exceptions. 

Thank you Grace Church for all you share with each other, with the community, and with the world. Your love is being spread everywhere and in your love, the kingdom of heaven is brought near and it’s work is transforming everything.