The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 13th Chapter
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like the tiniest seed, hidden underneath the dirt that covers acres of farmland. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a 4 micron (that’s literally microscopic), single cell, eukaryotic yeast, hidden in amongst a couple of pounds of dough. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure chest, buried and hidden from view, with no “X” to mark the spot. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a perfect pearl, hidden in a shell, hidden by the body of an oyster, hidden on the floor of the sea. The Kingdom of Heaven is like the fish who swim in the ocean, hidden in the depths.
Our task over these last few years has not been to create the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s “been there and done that” long before any of us were around. Our task has also NOT been to GROW the Kingdom of Heaven. Like a seed, like yeast, like a pearl in an oyster and like fish in the sea, the Kingdom of Heaven grows on it’s own and doesn’t need our permission or even our cooperation to grow. God grows it.
No, our task over these last few years that we’ve been together has been to TRUST that The Kingdom of Heaven is out there, particularly in places many people were sure it wasn’t; to look for it and SEE signs of it and to point to it and tell the world, “LOOK! LOOK AT THAT! THAT’S A LITTLE, TINY, BEAUTIFUL CORNER OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BREAKING THROUGH RIGHT HERE AMONG US!”
When I first got to Prince of Peace, I looked out from this pulpit, and I’ve got to tell ya, you looked rode hard and put up wet. I recognized that look, because for the two years before I came to Prince of Peace, that was the look I saw in my mirror every single day. Lots of dirt. No signs of life. Years of waiting for a seedling to poke through takes a toll.
But, I suspect to everyone's surprise, it did begin to poke through, didn’t it? And it began to poke through with a program that became known as Mustard Seeds. I think God is not unskilled in the use of irony! We pulled families together who weren’t coming Sunday mornings and asked when they could gather for Christian Education and they told us Sundays at 4 p.m. then we asked the area Episcopal churches to join us and soon a Mustard Seed sprouted. The Kingdom of Heaven, out of nowhere, suddenly poking through all that dirt.
At the same time we had elbowed our way into the K-5, a group of five area Episcopal churches all churning away like yeast in dough, throwing off a lot of gas (Elmer will back me on that one!), but eventually all that gas ended up with Prince of Peace and St. Mark’s coming together. I think we’re all, even now, a bit unsure of exactly how it happened but when we looked up one day in January the chairs had been rearranged and we had both doubled in size like a ball of dough rising in a bowl, covered with a tea towel. The Kingdom of Heaven rising… right there… in the middle of us all.
With St. Mark’s came the ministries of Addie’s Attic and Everyday Basics. Prince of Peace had long had a heart for reaching out to our city, but over the years didn’t have their hands in it like before. St. Mark’s had the same heart but needed a few more hands. Then the Warming Center needed a home and suddenly there was a treasure of hands and hearts and new resources, buried deep under ground in the basement of St. Mark’s Parish Hall. Then one day, a little boy and a little girl from Iraq, who spoke no English, came in through 6 inches of snow, wearing pool shoes and women’s flats and we saw it and found them shoes and there it was, suddenly visible! The Kingdom of Heaven, an amazing treasure buried all along in the basement of St. Mark’s Parish Hall, lifted out for the community to see with great joy. From that treasure, came a grant from the Diocese. From that grant grew the Capital Area New Mainer’s Project. From that grew a project from Tuft’s University and The Kingdom of Heaven keeps pouring out, like treasure from a chest, day after day after day!
Now those three ministries of Addie’s Attic, Everyday Basics and the Warming Center are building on one another… layer upon layer, like an oyster builds a pearl. With the long and generous legacy of St. Mark’s Home layering on… With the talents of a skilled director layering on… With the support and encouragement of the United Way and the community layering on… With new grants from other sources layering on… With even the mayor’s office layering on in a helpful way (and people say miracles don't happen!) A pearl of great value called Bridging the Gap is being formed right now. Now, that oyster has yet to be shucked. That project is not fully formed. That corner of the Kingdom of Heaven has yet to be fully revealed. But with all the other ways God has shown us the Kingdom of Heaven in the past few years, I don’t know about you, but for me, trusting that God IS building the Kingdom of Heaven, layer upon layer even in ways we can’t yet fully see, has become much easier to believe.
Our years together, our struggle to see and point to the Kingdom of Heaven, has not been without difficulty. We’ve had our risen loaf punched down a time or two. Our seedling has weathered some very cold frosts. Our foot’s been cut on oyster shells looking for pearls. We’ve dropped the treasure chest on our toes a few times and some of our most beloved fish swam out of the net before it could be pulled up on shore. But here is the lesson of this parable… here is the lesson for you and for me from these few, amazing years we’ve been together…
There really IS a seed out there in the field! There really IS a treasure buried and waiting to be uncovered! There really IS yeast growing in the dough! There really IS a pearl of great value growing layer upon layer! There really is an ocean full of fish! Often hard to see. Hardly ever where we expect it to be and not always in a form we’d pick, but you and I… we know it’s there now! You and I… we might have forgotten that for a while… but we’ve reminded each other of that truth! The Kingdom of Heaven really is poking through! I can’t tell you how thankful I am that you have shown me that truth again.
So now, my fellow scribes, trained once more for the Kingdom of Heaven, promise me you will use all the tools you’ve learned… the ones you knew before and the ones you’ve newly learned and I promise to use everything you have so generously given me. Because even though we will be apart in miles, remember, we’ll always be together… always pointing out to friends and strangers in the street, the tiny corners of the Kingdom of Heaven that we can see, poking into the world around us every day. Thank you all... not only for showing me the Kingdom of Heaven poking through, but also for BEING a beautiful, tiny corner of the Kingdom of Heaven that poked into my world at exactly the moment I needed it most. Thank you for reminding me that God’s treasures are always right under our feet, whether we can see them or not, no matter where we might be standing. Amen.