Praying Towards Sunday

Can you answer the question “Where is your treasure buried?” Some people say they really don’t know where or what it is. A few young children might think we are about to discuss pirates. (Buried treasure, you know.) Some might pause and then recall that the question may have something to do with Jesus, but they don’t remember what. 

Yes, it does “have something to do with Jesus,” but some of the time we forget these connection, and the actions of our lives lose the focus we intend when we say: “Thy will be done…”

Responding to the reign of God entails purposefully shaping our priorities to become part of our daily lives.

We continue reading in the Book of Matthew. Jesus continues to use parables about ordinary things to help us understand the extraordinary around us. There are five short parables in the reading assigned for today. They are all very brief and don’t have a section of explicit interpretation.  If we say our faith needs to be child-like, that doesn’t mean it is to be uninformed. Jesus' teachings are meant to be understood. Part of being a disciple is to becoming a person who is willing to learn and to try to understand.

The mustard seed is a traditional symbol of something that is very small, but is also strong and tenacious. Matthew uses the symbol to represent a small faith that grows into something very large. In reality, the mustard seed is not the smallest seed, even in the Middle East. The mustard seed never grows into a real tree. At most it might become a large shrub.  In Matthew, however, it is a powerful image.

It has been suggested that because we live where we do, we might think in terms of a contrast between the mighty Redwoods of Northern California, occasionally seen in this area, and Bermuda grass or dandelions that grow in our own yards. It has been additionally suggested that dandelions are a good illustration of the resurrection -- they keep popping up, even through cement , in spite of our attempts to do them in.

A mustard plant was not viewed positively in Jesus’ time. Mustard is a weed, appreciated about the way we appreciate Bermuda or crab grass. These plants, too, start out small, but, before long, they take over a front lawn or field.

People have always questioned how the Kingdom of God can be with us in any sense, as long as the world remains the way it is now. The world seems filled with growing ugliness, not love.  [Listen to any news broadcast.] But to those who truly know how to look, the Kingdom has been planted here, and one day it will be obvious. We should not be discouraged by its apparent modest beginnings.  God has resorted to one of the oldest “tricks” in the book and hidden the Kingdom in plain view--- in the ordinary circumstances of our everyday lives.  The real point of the parable lies in the contrast between the insignificant beginnings and the strength of the shrubs that may result. 

The earth is where the seeds of heaven have been planted.  Sharron Blezard gives a few examples of evidence that of seeds have been scattered, and already yield small samples of what some of the Kingdom of Heaven may look like.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the 75-year-old grandmother holding the restless infant child of a single mother new to the congregation. The Kingdom of Heaven is like the members of the men’s group who shows up to construct a handicap ramp for the neighbor two doors down from the church after learning her mother has a degenerative disease and has come to live with her. The Kingdom of Heaven is like the eight-year-old who makes bracelets to raise money for malaria nets for families in Tanzania. The Kingdom of Heaven is like the six-year-old who donates her birthday money to support the local food bank.

Yes, we have noticed such things like this in our very own community, but we may have not known how to fully  “see” them.  In the Gospel of Thomas, a later collection of Jesus' sayings, Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth, but you do not see it." For now, many of us get lost - looking for God too high up and too far away.  God is nearer than we think. God’s work is within the range we can see right now.

The kingdom needs people who keep alive the faith that we have inherited from those who have gone before us. The kingdom also needs people who continually interpret the old in light of the new situations we are facing today.

The key to understanding a parable is not so much to try to be able to explain some of its details, as it is to allow oneself to be moved by it and to feel in one’s bones what it means when God gets involved in life and in the world. It is a whole new view.

The treasure of the kingdom is as old as the power of God working in the creation of the world: God's calling of Abraham and Sarah, God's leading the people in the Exodus, God using Cyrus to free his people from Babylon, God's earthly presence in Jesus Christ, God's actions in the saints of old. And don’t forget or ignore the present day, faith-filled ones too! The treasure of the kingdom is as new as hearing the stories of God and God's love for us today. The Kingdom comes as new as God's power living in our lives this very minute. It is as new as Jesus coming to us in bread and wine.

If we think of what we have seen, even in just the last 24 hours, we can affirm that God’s Kingdom is present and alive.  The very small seeds we see suggest God’s presence is here in small and less visible ways than will come. The smallness anticipates the subsequent large tree. The parables affirm that God’s empire is at work and that the seed grows inevitably, to become a bush and then a tree, large enough for nesting birds. [Was the bird I saw this morning sitting on the utility wire, who seemed to be shouting at a tree, telling the tree to “get with it” and grow in keeping with the Master’s plan?] God’s Kingdom is more powerful than we’d imagined and is ready to spread to every corner. 

I enjoy reading a column written by two men who call themselves “The Two Bubbas.” They add “…the kingdom of heaven is more like something that you stumble upon while doing something else, such as delivering heating oil, or plowing a field, or casually walking through a yard sale. 

There is, for most of us, something of an “Ah ha!” quality, an experience of “Oh my goodness, now I get it!” sensation about the kingdom of heaven.  It is not always sudden; indeed it is more often a slow, gradual and growing awareness of what God is really like and what God is actually expecting of God’s people in the world.

And the Good News is these things are true.  When we are in that moment of need, when we experience the warm and gentle love and the complete forgiveness and the healing power of God in our lives – it is in that moment that we have stumbled upon the treasure in the field, the pearl of the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom comes when it is no longer hidden but revealed.  That’s partly how it works as we work together. The mustard takes over the field.  The yeast takes over the bread.  They are small and only seem insignificant, but they change everything around them.  That's how the Kingdom of God works.

These parables function, not to upset our imagery of what the kingdom is, as such, but to offer an image that contrasts earliest lowliness with the final greatness .  The scope of God’s empire is universal (“fish of every kind”). Matthew reports that there will be judgment at the end of the age that will separate the righteous, who coexist up to this point, with the evil.

Maybe, even at this stage, we don’t want to speak of “treasure buried.”  Maybe we grow to say “Our treasure is in Jesus Christ and active in His world.”

“… His Kingdom come, His will be done.”  Amen

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