27 July 2008

proper 12, year a

Gospel Text: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Thanks to some particularly human ill communication, the City of Atlanta turned off my water on Friday morning. I spent the better part of my afternoon waiting patiently at City Hall, unshowered, stinky, anxious, and irritated. Despite the fact that writing this sermon about the Kingdom of Heaven was on the very near horizon, I wasn’t really looking for sermon illustrations. I wasn’t in search of the Kingdom. But I was all too aware of how dirty my hair was.

As time ticked away at City Hall, I thought of the 20 people who were to arrive for a midsummer night’s potluck in my backyard. At this point, they could come, but they might not be able to flush. They could come, but, unless I used Francie’s hose, they’d be eating dirty vegetables. Eventually, it became clear that I had to cancel the whole shebang. So, I broke the strict no cell phone policy of the Atlanta Waterworks waiting room, and sent out a massive text message to my brothers, my friends, and a couple of acquaintances.

Soon thereafter, because I showed up with a checkbook and a lot of charm, it was arranged that my water would be turned back on within eight hours. I was at once relieved and aggravated, sad but Okay.

When I got home, I fired up my computer to send out a back up email to my friends, making 100% sure that they knew that the potluck as a no-go. I covered my bases, walked my dogs, filled their bowls with water from a jug, and went to a friend’s house to wash up. It was all I could do.

I returned home close to 8 o’clock, a full hour after the potluck was supposed to start. Standing in my kitchen, I chose tortilla chips for dinner, and just as I reached for the bag, there was a knock at the door. Jill. Sweet Jill hadn’t gotten the message, and there she was wearing a straw hat and holding a warm pie.

The kingdom of heaven is like an old friend baking a pie on what was a miserable, useless, upsetting day. The kingdom of heaven is a surprise. It is unexpected and it is delicious. The kingdom of heaven might look small, but when you see it through Kingdom Lenses, it is huge and warm, made with butter and home-grown blueberries.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is not at a loss for words. He’s talking about seeds and yeast and farming and pearls. Regular things made holy. The simple, ordinary, day-to-day stuff is seen as God Stuff. Holy Stuff. Kingdom Stuff.

And he keeps going and going and going. His teaching is like a teacup under a waterfall—maybe he’s working on the theory that the more metaphors he passes out the more likely one will stick to someone’s ribs. (As a preacher, I can appreciate this approach.)

As for us, the parables of Jesus have given us Bible geeks plenty of fodder for interpretation. Because they’re parables, they get to have more than one meaning. They get to say different things to different people. They have enough room in them to breathe; there are enough spaces in the stories for the Holy Spirit to move and wiggle in the hearts of each one of us…

Listen: The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. That’s enough to make bread for hundreds. Bread for many. That’s the kingdom of heaven.

Or this: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. A teeny, tiny mustard seed that grew into a massive, mighty tree.

Isn’t that beautiful? Something so small and so inconsequential grows into something big and nourishing. Something so small grows to be a home for the birds of the air.

Or this: the Kingdom of Heaven is the one pearl among the rest that is worth more than all the others put together.

The Kingdom of Heaven is about abundance in the least expected places.
The hopeless kid, the rescued puppy, the tiny, the small, the seemingly useless, unsuccessful, embarrassing and lost.

The Kingdom of Heaven takes the small,
insignificant, day-to-day stuff of our lives and
makes. them. holy.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like combining ordinary baking soda and vinegar.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like squeezing an ordinary blade of grass between your thumbs and making a whistle.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the net thrown into the sea—it pulls up fish of every kind, along with all the other slimy messy stuff of the sea. The Kingdom of Heaven is what’s left after the slimy mess has been thrown out. The kingdom is about sorting out what we can keep and what we can throw out. What actually has value..

The Kingdom of Heaven is the goodness we find when our eyes are open and are hearts are receptive to God’s movement in the world.

The Kingdom of Heaven is found in the Regular Things like baking bread and taking a walk.

The mysterious workings of God in our ordinary world.

Treasures in ordinary life.

The Kingdom of Heaven is as accessible and good as an old friend showing up unexpectedly with simple love and delicious pie.

Open your hearts and minds and eyes. Be alert. The Kingdom of Heaven is everywhere.