An Image for the Kingdom

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God? What parable shall we use for it?” What images come first to your mind when you think about God’s kingdom? In this weekend’s first reading from Ezekiel we get an image of a great cedar which God raises up from a sprig on top of a mountain. Cedars grow nearly 130 feet tall, (to give you a common everyday frame of reference, that’s about six and a half T-rexes tall.) these are huge majestic trees with birds that nest in their tall lofty branches. It’s a big deal, and God puts one on top of a mountain. Shall we use that image for the kingdom of God?

But why stop with only six and a half T-rexes? This is GOD’S Kingdom we’re talking about here. What if we Make God’s Kingdom like our big blue planet? It’s huge, it gives all of us homes life, and air to breathe. It moves mysteriously without our direct knowledge of it. It’s a modest 637,816 T-rexes tall (in diameter at the equator). It is basic to all of our existence, we all take it for granted, and yet if it wasn’t here, we would be rather out of luck. Shall we use that image for the kingdom of God?

Maybe big isn’t as important as good and worthwhile. How about something that’s worth a billion T-rexes? Or something that no amount of T-rexes could buy, like the Mona Lisa, or the love of a child. Shall we use these images for the kingdom of God?

I think one image we often unintentionally use for the kingdom of God is of an hour-glass. We see the church as something that is emptying out and progressing ever toward its demise. If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, it is full of articles about the emptying of church pews. I see just about every day a new story about how churches are dying and secularism is on the rise. More and more people say their religious affiliation is “none.” We clergy types are scrounging for ideas, and we watch nervously as the sand continues to pour out into the other sphere. Shall we use this image for the kingdom of God?

Here’s another one: Our Church is like Sherlock Holmes. Exceptional in our field, we aren’t like other churches. We think differently, we do better. We make a difference, and we can solve the crime with only a toothpick and our powers of deduction. We aren’t like those other churches. Sure we have our quirks, and our idiosyncrasies, but we get along and we make it all work. Here we love one another, and we do good things for our community. Shall we use this image for the kingdom of God?

Or some say the Kingdom of God is like an Old Country Buffet. It’s a place where we can pick whatever we like! As if it were a matter of personal choice, and what truths you discover for yourself inside. You do your own thing and I’ll do mine. “Well, I like this bit about loving one another over here, but I’m not in the mood for helping my bad hair smelly breath neighbors today. That stuff Jesus says is pretty Good, but every once in a while I like to throw in some Buddha. When I really want to spice things up I read Nietzsche, and light some candles for Quetzalcoatl.”  Shall we use this image for the kingdom of God?

In today’s Gospel Jesus picks his own image for the kingdom of God: Mustard. Shall we use this image for the Kingdom of God? Mustard…greatest of all the, erm, shrubs. As a point of reference, a mustard shrub is not even one quarter of a T-rex tall. It barely comes up to T-rex’s knees! This is no mighty cedar of Lebanon with birds in its branches… it’s a tiny bush where birds can nest, on the ground maybe, in its shade. An average person is about as tall as a mustard bush. Not only that, mustard is not something you particularly want growing in your garden. Mustard is an invasive weed. Trying to plant mustard in your garden is just like trying to plant mint in your garden. You don’t ever simply have one tidy controlled mustard patch in your Garden. If you plant mustard it will very soon BE your whole garden. It can start with one tiny seed, and all at once, before you can put your spring tomato crop in the ground, you have an entire field of mustard. Mustard can’t be controlled, it’s pungent, it’s wild, and its tenacious.

How is this stubborn, lowly mustard weed like the Kingdom of God? It seems the last image one might pick to describe it. Maybe he means that the Word and Promises of God work like this: They start small. They don’t look like much. But every week I get up here with my awkward looking mustard seed and I say “with Joy I proclaim to you that Almighty God, rich in mercy, abundant in love, forgives you all your sin and grants you newness of life in Jesus Christ.” 1 There it is. That little word, the tiny seed of forgiveness that is sown in our garden. And from there on it grows wild! It weeds its way into us, and before we can even plant tomatoes, our whole garden becomes forgiveness and love.

Every week we take our ordinary bread and wine (which both come from seeds) and we share them with one another. But God’s word takes root in that bred and wine. God’s love and forgiveness grow out of them for you. And it grows out of control. It provides shade. It takes over our whole garden. The Kingdom of God breaks into our world, putting down roots and getting in the way. It starts in unlikely small places, and it quickly runs rampant through the rest of our lives. Daily we die, daily we go out and struggle to plant other things in the garden. But daily God keeps filling our gardens with new mustard, and God’s Kingdom endures. Go weeding as many times as you like, God keeps on growing mustard and forgiving our sins.

It only takes a little bit for God to get a hold of you.Today we will splash a little bit of water over Desirae Lynn’s head and God will get a hold of her. God will grow relentlessly in her garden. And we will welcome her into the Kingdom of God.

A little smile on a single person’s face can take root and spread to everyone in the room. A single match can make a blaze the size of a forest. A lone drop of water makes ripples throughout the entire pond. A single loose pebble can cause an avalanche. A single man dies on a cross, and all of our sins are there crucified as well. A tiny mustard seed becomes a fearsome shrub. “With what shall we compare the kingdom of God?”

  1. Absolution from Now the Feast and Celebration by Marty Haugen