Six Similes

What do you think the Kingdom of Heaven is like?

 

Read Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?  Is it giant fluffy clouds and angels with harps and we all get wings?  Or your favorite food everyday and no weight gain?

Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure, a pearl, a net, a homeowner. I think Matthew chapter 13 is the children’s sermon portion of Jesus’ teaching.  These are such great images.  These parables are like a room full of trampolines because they are jumping off points for our imagination and inspiration as we think about how we might complete the sentence with different images.[1]

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”  What do you think?

Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven often in Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  The Kingdom of Heaven is so near that it is coming out of the mouth of the person who is making that statement.  Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth.  Jesus teaches about it and demonstrates it. He tells us to pray for it, and so in the Lord’s prayer we pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”

For the past two weeks we’ve been looking at Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13. We started with the parable of the soils and then the parable of the weeds.  This week we (Raegan) read six little parables, parablettesSix similes that Jesus uses to tell us how the Kingdom of Heaven is here, within reach, and more powerful than we might expect. The Kingdom of Heaven, the power of God, “is among us, permeating every aspect of our lives, changing, enlightening and transforming us.”[2]

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

  • One commentator says the Kingdom of Heaven is the ethic that Jesus taught and then demonstrated by healing people.[3]
  • The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s care for the sick, the demon-possessed, the lost, the despised, the oppressed.
  • We see this in the words Jesus said about himself in Luke 4:
    • “The Spirit of the Lordis upon me,
      for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
      that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free,
      19  and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. (Luke 4:18-19).
  • Jesus teaches this Kingdom ethic in Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is an upside down place where the oppressed are set free, and blind can see; where the outcast are welcomed, and the lowly are lifted up.  Where small things can have big impact, and there is unexpected joy.

  • Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a tree, showing us how something very small can grow to be a blessing. Mustard is really basically a weed, but it tastes good on hotdogs. And in God’s kingdom weeds and tiny things can have big impact.
    • The Kingdom of Heaven is like Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. Before the pandemic, they were giving out food to about 120 people a week. Now they are serving 2000 a week, and they had run out of space for the pallets of food. They rigged up the air-conditioning in one of their hallways to make a cold-storage area for the food that needed to be refrigerated.  But they still needed more space.  Then somebody had a mustard seed of an idea and they asked session whether they might take the pews out of their chapel to use it for staging the food.  Session met and said yes in the morning, and by 4 pm that afternoon half the pews were already gone.[4]  The Kingdom of Heaven seed was their faith and willingness to serve their community, and God blessed their efforts and continues to renew their resources in miraculous ways so that they can keep blessing their community.Mustard Immanuel
  • Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast. (I could make some puns here, but I figured that leaving those out is the yeast I could do.)  Yeast is small and basically invisible, but it has great affect as it spreads through  bread dough and makes it rise.
    • The Kingdom of Heaven is like a pastor in Oregon who is helping the Presbytery of the Cascades to understand the yeast of racism that has affected them in negative ways. They’re learning about the history of racism in their state. In 1844 — 15 years before Oregon became a state — the Oregon Territory declared that region of the country to be a “White Utopia.” In 1846, Oregon’s provisional government passed its first Exclusion Law, making it unlawful for any person of color[5] to reside in Oregon Territory.  That law was repealed in 1854.[6] But two years later, a new Exclusion Law was added which denied voting rights to Blacks, Chinese and Mulattos already in Oregon. Free Blacks and mulatto immigrants were barred from remaining or owning property, while property rights of “white foreigners” were protected. That pastor says, “You and I would not endorse such behavior today, but if we are beginning to understand structural racism, we have to admit that the DNA that existed when our ancestors enforced a ‘White Utopia’ still lingers today.”[7]  The Presbytery of the Cascades is working to replace the yeast of racism with the yeast of anti-racism.Yeast Brian Heron
  • Jesus says, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that was hidden and unexpected, but it brought great joy, so much so that it was worth selling everything to have.
    • And I wonder if the Kingdom of Heaven is like our house here in Sterling. My husband and I found it unexpectedly as we were driving by on our way to go see another house that we’d found on the internet. But this one had a look about it that caught our eye, and a sign out front that said there was an open house happening right now. So we stopped and went inside, and it felt like God said, “this is the one.” So we bought it.
  • Jesus says, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for pearls. The pearl was hidden, like the treasure, but the merchant found it because he went searching for it. and then when he found it, he sold everything to have it.
    • And I wonder if the Kingdom of Heaven is like the song by U2 that says, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”[8]
      • I have climbed the highest mountains
        I have run through the fields
        Only to be with you
      • I have run I have crawled
        I have scaled these city walls
        These city walls
        Only to be with you
      • But I still haven’t found
        What I’m looking for
      • I believe in the Kingdom come
        Then all the colors will bleed into one
        Bleed into one
        But yes, I’m still running
      • You broke the bonds
        and you loosened chains
        carried the cross of my shame, of my shame
        You know I believe it
      • But I still haven’t found
        What I’m looking for

It’s a song about the joy of knowing God and salvation in Jesus Christ and still seeing all the ways that God’s reign is not complete here on earth yet.  Jesus has done the work on the cross to conquer sin and death, but there’s still sin happening, and there’s still work to be done to fight against the evils of racism and poverty and despair.  (During the Facebook live broadcast, Christian Dashiell shared this video of U2 with a gospel choir.)

  • Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that brings in fish of every kind, and Jesus says not to worry about sorting them out. The angels will take care of that later.  Be cool. We’re all in this together.
    • And maybe this parable goes with that U2 song, too. The world isn’t perfect.  There is both good and bad.  And we still have doubts and uncertainty.  But God’s got us all in the giant net of his love, so keep on…  Stay engaged in the journey.
    • And like the disciples when Jesus asks, “Do you understand?,” we’ll say, “Yes,” but sometimes we might say it with less certainty.
  • The last simile often gets left out. I think this one sounds like a librarian. Jesus says, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old” (v52). Like a librarian who has old books and new ones, and all of them have great stories that help us learn.
    • The Kingdom of Heaven is like Amy Brownlee who brings from her library all kinds of stories, old and new, to help teach kids (and adults) about all kinds of amazing things in the world. In our small groups, Amy helps us connect with gems of truth by sending us library links and book suggestions.
    • The Kingdom of Heaven is like a church in Georgia that went through their archives trying to find out more about how their church had survived during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, and when they didn’t find much, decided to make sure that future generations had information about this current pandemic. So they’re working on a photobook of porch pictures of their members and describing in this book how the expression of our faith is being redefined during this time.[9]Disciple Homeowner

What do these six similes say to us about ourselves? About God? About the Kingdom of Heaven?

The Kingdom of Heaven is at work here and now in all the ways that we let God’s love rule in our hearts and in our actions,

and the Kingdom of Heaven is our hope for the future that is uncertain and unknown, but in which we are confident that God’s love still reigns.

What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?

What do you think the Kingdom of Heaven is like?

——

[1] Trampoline idea borrowed from a video by the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Oregon https://dskidsermons.com/this-sunday/

[2] Margaret Guenther, “The Mysterious Power of Leaven,” Christian Century, July 15, 2008, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2008-07/mysterious-power-leaven?code=Y9FxtNVpP54ePBKh3rOP

[3] Arland Hultgren https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1638

[4] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/this-church-took-out-the-pews-to-help-feed-l-a-s-hungry/

[5] The law actually said “negro or mulatto.”

[6] According to an Oregon Encyclopedia timeline

[7] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/beginning-to-understand-structural-racism-in-oregon/

[8] Bono and U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Joshua Tree (1987),  Listen here: https://youtu.be/e3-5YC_oHjE https://www.npr.org/2019/07/26/743620996/u2-i-still-havent-found-what-im-looking-for-american-anthem

[9] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/pt-0720-ideas/

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