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The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 11)

The Kingdom of Heaven is as if ...

Readings: 1 Samuel 15:43-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

The kingdom of Heaven is as if ... Jesus begins many of the parables in just that way. And then he goes on in very human terms about the unknowable. He gives us a glimpse of the glory of God.

For Jesus the glimpses of the kingdom often came through nature. “The kingdom of Heaven is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground.” It may not mean a great deal to us in modern world, but it certainly got the attention of everyone in that agricultural society in which Jesus lived. They knew what he meant. They knew that once the preparatory work had been completed, the ground prepared, the seeds planted, their part was finished. All that remained for them was to wait patiently for the seed to grow. The growth, they knew, came from inside the seed. They created the conditions and let God do the rest.

The parable helped them to understand a great truth about the kingdom. When we receive the seed of Jesus in ourselves, we are capable of bringing forth much fruit. We don’t need to labour over it. The seed has already been sown. We need to patiently wait as God brings it to wonderful fruition.

The kingdom is as if ... Jesus gives another illustration. “It is like a mustard seed,” he told them. Once again, the crowd listening to Jesus already had a picture in their mind. It was a common saying in Palestine where that tiny seed becomes such a great shrub that the birds can build their nests in its shade. From something tiny and inconsequential grows something so large and secure and encompassing that it becomes home to the birds.

Small is large. Every small child is of tremendous significance. A small amount of food is enough to feed many people. A small person has a generous spirit. A small ragged band of followers becomes a world-wide church. A small baby becomes an important hinge in history. A small gesture represents a great love. A small group becomes a wonderful community. A small church accomplishes great things. A small glimpse takes us beyond ourselves to the kingdom of God.

Our human nature wants to know the unknowable, the unimaginable, the mysterious. We want to unlock the great mystery that is God. From time to time in our lives we get such glimpses of glory. They are the ‘ah has’ of life. We may not recognize them for what they are, glimpses of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of God is as if ..., but somehow through those glimpses we know a little more clearly that we are beloved of God, that we, small as we may be, are part of something so immense and wonderful that it cannot really be explained in human terms. It has to be experienced.

We all have such moments of revelation. For Wordsworth the kingdom of God is as if ... What else could he be saying when he wrote? “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er hill and dale, And all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils.”

There are times I have known that the kingdom of God is as if ... When something has been revealed to me. And yet when I think back on the moments my sense of them is so fleeting that I almost forget.

Most often such glimpses of the kingdom come to me through the beauty and wonder of nature. The kingdom of Heaven is as if ... someone visited the Rockies for the first time.

At least it was for me. It was a hot summer day when we left Calgary to head through the Rockies. Yet at Roger’s Pass we could quite comfortably have worn a winter jacket. I remember standing at a lookout and thinking that I had never seen such awesome beauty. The enormity of it ... peak after mountain peak as far as I could see. Cold grey rock, white snow peaks and blue sky. If you have been there, you know what I mean. But I suspect I cannot begin to explain it to someone who has never been there.

The kingdom of God is as if ... someone planted a grove of date palms along the Dead Sea. My visit to the Dead Sea was one of the most memorable parts of my trip to Israel. You have probably seen pictures of people floating in the Dead Sea reading their newspapers. It is a remarkable experience. The salt is so dense that even a non-swimmer will float. Great icicles of salt form above the surface of the water. The salt invades the land. There is so much salt in the soil around the sea that nothing should be expected to grow there. It should be barren desert. And most of it is. Yet there in that arid countryside, date palms flourish as the people of Israel reclaim the soil. It was one of many glimpses of the kingdom that I experienced on that amazing trip.

The kingdom of God is as if ... someone planted willow trees beside a stream. I lived for a time close to a large park in Toronto. Much of the park was unmanicured, left in its natural state. It was wonderful to walk into that part of the park at dawn or again at dusk. I would head toward a rather marshy area. There were a number of willow trees along the bank of a stream. There, the birds nesting in the trees would sing and chatter. The noise level was deafening, but not one creature could be seen in the dense foliage.

Is the kingdom here on earth like that? Are our churches and communities like that for the poor and the least of the world? Is the universal church a great sheltering tree of lost migratory birds? Whom do we hide and to whom do we give security in our lives?

If this kingdom, this reign, this place, this community of Jesus is a mustard plant, who is nesting in our branches? Which birds come to dwell with us in safety, hidden from the outside world in a secure place where the young can be nurtured and grow up knowing a home? Are there all kinds of birds, unnumbered birds, sheltering in this safe place?

If there are not then our eyes are not turned toward the kingdom. We do not share in that vision of God’s kingdom. For ever since Jesus sowed the seed, the light of the coming kingdom has been shining. But it depends on us to sow the seed. Otherwise we will fail to communicate the world. It depends on us to catch those glimpses of God’s glory and share with others our vision of God’s kingdom come. Let us plant one seed and trust that if our cause is good, God will support us and it will grow and prosper. Let us in our small way reach out as Church into this community and into God’s world. Let us hasten the kingdom. Amen.
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