I imagine that it is no secret to most of us that there are things and moments in life that are simply indescribable. They are slippery and hard to put into words. You just cannot put your finger on it. So indescribable that we have to use other, more concrete and ordinary things to try and get at the experience of it. The boy ran fast like a bullet. The house was big like a castle.
Now one of those things in life that is slippery and hard to describe is love. Any 14 or 65 year old who is newly in love knows this. You start to say and write things that desperately try to get at how you feel. When I see her walking down the hall, it is like my stomach is doing back flips and my heart has fallen faint. When I talk with him, it is like listening to the most soothing and relaxing music – I just melt. There is the classic answer to the age-old question, “How do you know you are in love?” I don’t know…it’s hard to describe…you just know. Love is so hard to describe that you have to use more ordinary things to get at it.
I think heartbreak and loss are one of those moments in life too. It demands something more ordinary then itself to try and get at what it is like. A person whose spouse has died might says, “It is like a part of me died with him that day.” Or a senior in high school whose girlfriend broke up with him just a week before prom might say, “It is like she ripped my heart out and stomped on it.”
There are things in life that are so indescribable that we have to use more ordinary things to try and understand it. In our text today, the kingdom of Heaven is one of these things. Hard to describe, slippery, difficult to put into words. In this chapter alone, Jesus makes seven attempts at describing the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like someone who put good seed in a field. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grew into the greatest of trees. The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who hides yeast or leaven into a bunch of flour. The kingdom of heaven is like this…the kingdom of heaven is like that. Over and over again, Jesus is trying to paint a picture of something you just can’t quite put your finger on. The problem is that while comparisons are often helpful in revealing the indescribable, the way Jesus articulates the kingdom of heaven, it isn’t so much helpful as it is startling.
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree. This sounds nice on first glance, but on second thought, it sounds weird. Because it isn’t true. Those of you who are farmers or gardeners may know that the mustard bush is not the greatest of shrubs and it does not become a tree. Instead, it is this unsightly and uncontainable bush that is more like a weed that won’t go away. Why would Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven to something so unexpected as a weed?
Again, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman hid and buried deep into a whole bunch of flour. Now, upon first glance, there is nothing startling about this, until you realize that the yeast or leaven that Jesus is talking about is not the white powdery stuff that comes in little packets at Hy-Vee. No, this yeast is a moldy piece of bread. Moldy bread mixed in with flour to create more bread – try serving that at the next potluck with a little tent card saying, “bread made with moldy bread.” You’ll have people skipping past you politely saying, “Ummm, no thank you, I’m good.” Throughout scripture, yeast, this moldy piece of bread, has been used as a negative image, an image of corruption. Why would Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven to something so unexpected as a moldy piece of bread?
To be honest, I am not sure what Jesus meant in these parables. But I can’t help but wonder, if just like an earthy and ordinary mustard seed that is unexpectedly planted in a field like a weed and if just like an ordinary moldy piece of bread that is unexpectedly hidden in a bunch of flour, what if the kingdom of heaven is when ordinary things disrupt our lives in unexpected ways? What if the kingdom of heaven stretches our imagination of how God is active in the world?
Just last week, I stumbled upon the kingdom of Heaven, I think. Having run into a little bit of a banking and financial issue, I rushed into the nearest Wells Fargo with a sick feeling in my stomach. I was paniced. When I found the banker, who I had only met once before, he was getting up from his desk and leaving his office. Maybe he was off to a meeting or lunch or something, but when I asked him if he could help, he didn’t hesitate to stop what he was doing and to help fix the situation. He didn’t try to sell me anything. He didn’t make me wait until he was finished with what he was doing. He simply sat down and helped me through what turned out to be a banking mix up, and sent me on my way. What if that is the kingdom of heaven…something unexpected buried within the ordinariness of life? An ordinary guy at an ordinary job and an unexpected place for God to show up through generosity and care. What if that is what the kingdom of Heaven is like?
Or what if the kingdom of Heaven is like Cassie Thomas, a young girl from Coon Rapids? This summer, Cassie, a 10 year old, gathered up all of her toys and set them out on tables in her garage and sold them. She sold all of her toys and with the profits, she plans to buy school supplies for children who cannot afford them. An ordinary girl with ordinary toys and an unexpected place for God to show up. What if that is what the kingdom of heaven is like?
There are things in our lives that are simply indescribable. So indescribable that we have to use more concrete and ordinary things to try and get at the experience of it. And the kingdom of heaven is one of them. So if you hear Jesus’ words today and are looking for the kingdom of heaven, I suggest you direct your eyes away from some far off, extraordinary place, and look for it among the ordinariness around you. The kingdom of heaven is as close as the nearest field and as ordinary as the ugly weed-like mustard bush sitting in the middle of it. The kingdom of heaven is as close as the dough in a baker’s hands and as ordinary as the piece of moldy bread that gets mixed in. Perhaps we all could look for the kingdom of Heaven this week. We all could try and finish that sentence – “The kingdom of Heaven is like…” Who knows what we will come up with?
Maybe the kingdom of Heaven is like the vulnerable and simple act of a father changing his child’s diaper. Maybe the kingdom of Heaven is like forgiveness when it isn’t deserved. Or maybe the kingdom of Heaven is like the constant task of a business woman just trying to balance the books. Try this week to finish that sentence, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” and if you do, give me a call or send me an email. Because this is one of the reasons why I am so excited to be here with you all – I am excited for us together seeing where we can discover and maybe even help to bring about the kingdom of Heaven. But let’s not be too quick to finish that sentence. This kingdom of Heaven is one of those things in life, just like love and loss, that is hard to name and hard to see at times. God seems to show up in things that are so ordinary and all around us that we easily miss them. But let’s keep our eyes open, for the kingdom of Heaven is near. Thanks be to God. AMEN