Yesterday, I went to Battlefield Country Store to pick up lunch and my dog’s favorite treats. As you wait for your name to be called, you can enjoy free tastes around a table. As I enjoyed the samples I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said, “Virginia born, Kingdom bound” and included a verse from Matthew in small print below.
As I read the t-shirt, a few thoughts crossed my mind. “Should I get into a theological discussion about Lutheran paradoxes and the “here but not yet” reality of the kingdom. That it isn’t a place you go, it is a place that you are now?
I thought about the verses from Mark that we talked about in worship last Sunday and the lead question: How do you explain something that no one has seen? It sounds like a place but really isn’t a place.
In Mark 4:2 we hear that Jesus began to teach them many things in parables – the word itself makes for a fascinating study! “Para” means “alongside” and “bole” comes from the word ballein, which means to “throw or cast.” Jesus is telling stories that he has cast alongside of his teachings.
Sort of like parallel lines. There’s something there – a tension or even a communication of sorts – that keeps them from ever intersecting and yet, they are a constant companion to the other. That is their experience of the other.
Would it be helpful to look at parables in the same way – something that is held in tension, communicates and meant to be experienced, is always there but where there is no intersection.
A way to experience parables is to think of them as “word pictures.” We live in a visual world, do we not? We have visuals in the sanctuary – banners, etc.
Jesus didn’t always have that at his disposal. What Jesus lacked in visuals, he made up for in word pictures – pictures that initially might be silly or not necessarily true but reveal truth about Jesus, God or the kingdom.
Parables give us a picture of how the kingdom of God operates… Their purpose is to overturn a common, every day assumption. And deconstruct the way we think about things. We’ll talk about this in minute as we unpack the two parables before us today.
Parables can act like a mirror for us. Think about it – mirrors are flat – we have to be alongside of a mirror – parallel to – the mirror to see in it. And we have to look at the mirror but we can’t intersect with the mirror – only in fairy tales can you “cross the line” of the reflection.
If I stand and look at the mirror – sometimes I like what I see… and sometimes I don’t – a mirror will reflect back to you something about yourself.
Likewise, a parable will reflect things about God, ourselves – it will affirm us or call us to repentance. If we hang in there with it long enough, we may experience transformation of the heart and mind.
A parable can also act like a window or a pair of glasses. These things give us a new way to look at things that are right in front of us with new clarity or in a new light. And, frustrate those of us who think we know how everything should be or go.
So, putting it all together, parables are word pictures that cast alongside a teaching that reflect in a new way TRUTH about how we EXPERIENCE God, Jesus or the kingdom, and gives us a new clarity about that truth and experience.
“The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he is asleep or away, the seed sprouts and grows, but the man doesn’t know how it happens.”
It really sounds as if the guy is just throwing that seed all over the place – he’s not checking out the soil, not saying to himself, “I’ll plant here but not there…” And bing, badda bing… there’s a plant!
This must have sounded silly to those agrarian people of the 1st century – you don’t just throw out seed—that was so extravagant. And these weren’t extravagant people. They couldn’t be.
And to leave the seed alone? Go about his business? No weeding, no cultivation?
And yet, there is a plant…but the man doesn’t know how it happens. He doesn’t know how it happens.
Put this parable alongside of our lives – the kingdom of God is extravagant, it’s going to happen regardless of what we do or don’t do – it will grow. Nothing is going to stop it. This God of the harvest – is extravagant.
Turn and look – what’s the reflection for our lives? What is God revealing to us about ourselves? What is he affirming? What is he calling us to repentance?
The truth is that the kingdom of God – the power the almighty – can be hidden in the world – can be hidden in us – and it will be fruitful — whether we understand how it works or not.
Do we need to look closer? Look through a different window? Perhaps remind us that the “how” of the growth of the kingdom doesn’t so much matter but asking ourselves, “is there something that we are doing that is hindering the growth of the kingdom?”
Is there something that is standing in the way of us fully experiencing the mission that God has invited us to be a part of? Where do we need to wait in faith?
And what about that mustard seed? The power of God is like a mustard seed. At this point those 1st century ears probably went, “say what?” This is where they might have thought, “this is silly… no body PLANTS mustard seed – it’s a weed!” Mustard was considered a pungent, pesky and dangerous plant. It was forbidden to be intentionally planted and it was considered, “unclean.”
Consider that the mustard plant was to the 1st century agrarian as kudzu is to the southern states – pervasive and impervious to attempts to get rid of it. And once it took root, it was very hard to control.
And then the birds show up and find that they can nest in it – how lovely, except when you consider that birds are not desired in the agrarian society. This parable just keeps getting sillier…
So the kingdom of God – the power – is pungent, it takes over and attracts people who just might be undesirable to us, and they will find shelter in it.
But the TRUTH is the kingdom – the power of God—can overwhelm us, we can’t control it, it’s definitely not safe and it will come to overturn, deconstruct, frustrates us. It will be like kudzu.
And yet, through the transformative love of God, we may see and understand that kingdom of God is something so wonderful and so wild that it includes people like you and me.
And if Jesus can do that to a mustard seed – transform it – what more does he give to us! Parables above all offer hope. And the tangible hope is that the Kingdom – the power of God – God’s very presence is here. And it’s pervasive and invasive.
So where has it pervaded and invaded your life? Where has God given you hope in your life? Where has God transformed the mustard seeds? Could you take a picture of it? Create a visual.
I invite you to do just that – take a picture – with your phone and email it or text it to me. I’ll print these off this week and put them up.
Back to the guy in the t-shirt. No, I didn’t enter into a conversation with him. I chickened out. In the final analysis the kingdom of God can’t be summed up on a t-shirt. It’s just not that simple. Sometimes you can understand something better by describing what it’s not. But it’s fun to try to explain what it is!
The kingdom of God is like… a picture worth a thousand words – To God be the glory!