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Pentecost 8A Sermon
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
July 30, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Have you ever turned to someone next to you in the middle of something and said, “Now, this is what I picture heaven will be like!” Maybe it is a perfect, 78 degree day, or sitting at a table with family & friends enjoying really good food; maybe it was a time when you experienced something so joyous or peaceful that you knew that it had to be a glimpse of what is to come; or maybe it was a time when you felt like you didn’t have a care in the world, when nothing was hanging over your head, nothing demanding your attention or your help.

When Lucy and I went on a cruise a few years ago, one of our ports of call was Cozumel, Mexico. Friends and family who have been to Cozumel suggested we visit on of the all-inclusive parks with swimming, lazy rivers, food and drink aplenty, and lots of other fun water recreation activities. We considered it, but when we got off the boat one of the taxi drivers suggested that we visit Paradise Beach, so we headed that way in a taxi with some friends. It was a decision for which I am very grateful. The beach sand was white and fine, the water a light blue, and the temperature was perfect. The sun shone high in the sky and when we got tired of the beach, we walked a few yards to the pristine pool and waded into the refreshing and cool water. There were no cares about anything except what to order when we got hungry; there was wonderful food and drink; we were surrounded by people who were either employees of the beach, waiting to get us whatever we wanted, or they were like us, on vacation and just wanting to relax in a beautiful spot. Paradise indeed – and if the Kingdom of Heaven is just like that, I will not be disappointed!

In the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven, but nothing like we would expect. He doesn’t liken it to a nice meal with family or friends; he doesn’t say that it is like a comfortable sunny afternoon on the golf course where you are always hitting the ball with perfect precision; he doesn’t claim heaven is like a carefree day on the beach where everything you want is brought to you. After likening the kingdom to a sower and a field of wheat and weeds, Jesus now shoots a bunch of short snapshots at us, hoping that we catch a bit of what God’s kingdom is all about.

I don’t know about you, but I wish Jesus would have said that the Kingdom of Heaven is a little bit more like the way I see it! I am not sure exactly what it all means that Heaven is like yeast or a mustard seed! After all, a mustard seed bush is more like a weed than a plant. It is a bit of a forgotten spice – not like basil or mint, or some of the other more popular ones; and the bushes are quite prolific in Israel. No one goes around collecting the seeds to plant mustard seed farms – you don’t need to! They take over wherever they are. And yeast has been likened to forces of evil in other parts of the Bible. Shortly, Jesus will warn his disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Saducees. Besides, this woman has added a lump of leavening to 3 measures of flour – that is enough to make bread for 100 people! Her ovens will overflow!

I guess Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is at times hidden, working without our knowing about it, but working none-the-less. And in addition to that, it is at work through that which we may have considered evil or corrupt at one time. It is also found in the ordinary things of life – places where we wouldn’t think that extraordinary things are happening. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have Jesus say that the kingdom of heaven is like a beach on an island in the western Carabbean!
And think about the man who finds the treasure in the field – isn’t he a bit dishonest? He is either passing through or he is plowing in his master’s field and he comes across something that belongs to someone else, probably hidden underground for safekeeping. Instead of telling the owner of the field, he hides it again and secretly gets enough money to buy the field. I don’t know everything about Real Estate laws, but isn’t failure to disclose the whole truth just as much a lie as telling a total untruth?

Probably the ones that come closest to being what we expect about the kingdom of heaven are the parables of the pearl of great value and the fish net. In regards to the pearl, Jesus seems to hit the nail on the head with that one, doesn’t he! Of course we would do whatever we could to purchase something if we knew it was a great investment – ask anyone on Wall Street what heaven is like, and they will tell you that it is like hitting a hot streak in picking the stocks that do well for themselves and their clients! And in the final parable, Jesus talks about the kingdom in terms of judgment. It is like a net that catches every fish where it is thrown; then when it is emptied, the good fish are kept and the bad fish are burned in the furnace of fire. Welcome, good fish to the place where there is no weeping or gnashing of teeth! Goodbye all of you fish that annoy us or steal our food or are just plain rotten – I could go for a kingdom of heaven like that one!

There are many experiences that we have when, in retrospect, are living parables of the Kingdom of Heaven. This last week, I was among 20 people living in a single family house. This was the Nieset Family Vacation which happens around this time every year. My wife’s parents put an emphasis on getting all 4 of their children together with their spouses and 10 grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 22. We are scattered from different parts of the state – They live in Fremont, in Northwest Ohio; Lucy’s one sister and we live in Columbus. Another sister is in Cincinnati and her brother in Cleveland. It is an interesting mix of political and social standings, ages, marital status and personalities. I will admit, as the week approaches I get a little bit unsure of the whole “vacation value” of such an arrangement. Aren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing? Aren’t they supposed to be fun? Well, my in-laws made sure that there were fun times scheduled for all of us for the week. Every evening there were a couple of fun “Olympic-style games” for us to compete in, like throwing cheese balls onto the shaving cream covered face of a fellow family member to see who could get the most to stick. We went to the zoo, a water park and a game center. The guys went trap shooting – a first for Colin and me – and the ladies went garage sale hopping and to a winery.

Looking back over the week I can confess that it was not only “okay” but it was a wonderful parable for me of the Kingdom of Heaven. Where all is provided, the love and generosity of the host is in abundance, and where people from all over the state and ideological spectrum live in relative peace and harmony. I also know that grandma and grandpa selfishly want to spend time with their grandkids, just like God wants to spend time with us. I also know that they see the benefit of building these relationships and memories for a lifetime, and how these times will shape their young lives.

As you prepare to come forward for a prayer of healing, think about experiences you might liken to the Kingdom of God – maybe not perfect, but times when you knew and felt the power and presence of love and grace in your lives. It is that love and grace in abundance for which we give thanks today, and that we know will heal us from whatever threatens us. Peace and blessings to you all today; Amen.