I play the harp.
When I was a little girl, my music would accompany brides as they walked down the aisle or paintings as they were being unveiled or poets as they were sharing their poems. And over and over, I heard the thing that grown-ups say to little girls when they’re playing the harp, “This sounds like heaven will sound one day.”
Ahhh, heaven one day. That fluffy destination in the sky, the golden city of angels and unlimited kittens and buttercream cupcakes and Michael W. Smith singing “Friends Are Friends Forever.” Forever.
Sounds amazing, right?!
No matter how we imagine heaven to be - unlimited kittens or no - most of us have been trained to think about heaven as a far-off place we will go to one day, usually when we die. Heaven is another destination we’d like to get to someday and many of us are just waiting around in the meantime, heading to church and back again every week, praying those words, “Your kingdom come,” biding our time until we get to heaven one day. But the good news is that the mission of Jesus is so much bigger than this vision we’ve assigned to it.
For Jesus, the Kingdom was and is living among us, not just one day, but here and now. And in the Gospel of Matthew, he talks about the Kingdom more than anything else - more than money, or sex, or faith, or prayer. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is wherever God is King on earth - where we see justice and art and light and life - those places where things are restored to the way that God designed them to be. And it’s blinking at us here and now, creeping in from every angle, and all we have to do is look for it.
Yes, we will experience eternity in heaven when we die. And yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is not here yet in its fullest expression and won't be until Jesus comes again. But what began in Christ is meant to continue in us, and when we lay ourselves open to God’s rule in our lives, then heaven is here, with us, right now.
The crowd standing before Jesus as he talked about the Kingdom had specific expectations of what would be happening with the Messiah by now. Their land was valuable because it connected all three continents that surrounded it, so it was perfect for trade routes. So all the major global powers had wanted a piece of it at one time or another. They had fought tooth and nail over it. They had won and lost battles over it. Over time, the Jews had become the rope in a constant tug of war between nations, and the latest winner was Rome.
They had been oppressed. They had been conquered. And so, the Jewish prophets pointed to a promise, a promise that it would not always be this way, that God was going to come in and act decisively on their behalf, crushing their oppressors and raising them up as royals in their own land.
The prophets had a particular way of talking about this too, this time when God would reign triumphant and hoist Israel on a throne. They would use words like, “uproot” and “replant” and “new crops” and “harvest time” and “seeds.” Ezekiel 17:22-23 says this:
"On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.”
The prophets had been telling them about a coming kingdom of God for thousands of years. They were expecting a kingdom of magnificence and glory, the kind of kingdom that would take over everything in a great display of majesty and power, like tall, beautiful cedars or giant redwoods, evidence of greatness, symbols of splendor, a place where birds would nest and find shelter.
And just when Israel is primed and ready for fame and fortune, a homeless carpenter comes on the scene and says,
I’m breaking in alright...like a mustard seed.
Let’s talk for a minute about a mustard seed. It’s one of the smallest of seeds, so small you might have missed it. Inconsequential. Unsubstantial. Too tiny to count.
The kingdom of heaven is like this tiny, insignificant seed that is so small, you probably missed it...
Sounds amazing, right?!
But when a mustard seed grows, it starts to take over a whole garden like a weed.
All over the American South, where I lived for a time, there is this plant thing called Kudzu. It’s a Japanese perennial that was brought over in the 1800s by a scientist for an American exhibit and set loose to spread at 150,000 acres a year all over the South, climbing, coiling, and invading everything in its path. Kudzu can crack concrete and kill plant life until all you’re left with is...Kudzu. And so now, the southern landscape is covered in spooky, leafy green dinosaurish plants, and the more you try to prune them, the more tenacious they are to grow. Kudzu is unstoppable, the plant with the iron will.
I anticipate that eventually Kudzu will rise in the South, slowly invading houses and business buildings until it has completely taken over and rendered the region unfit for human life. And we’ll evacuate and make it the villain in scary movies and stay out of its way.
Mustard seed, in a small way, was a Kudzu kind of weed. It took over everything in its pathway, stole all the nutrients in the garden and covered the plants with the aroma of dijon. First century Jews found it so repulsive that they had written laws against planting mustard seed in your garden lest it sprout and take over, strangling everything in its wake. Pliny the Elder described the mustard seed, “with its pungent taste and fiery effect,” as “running amok in the garden, and once sown, it is scarcely possible to get the place free from it.”
It starts small and yet it takes over everything.
Yesterday, we talked about the kind of weeds that are sown by an enemy, but this is an entirely different analogy altogether. Here, when Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a weed, he’s saying it’s like this unruly, uncontrollable, unstoppable plant that’s just a little bit wild. You can’t do anything to stop it. You can’t prune it, control it, or cut it back. It’s coming...all around you, quietly, slowly taking over everything.
It’s how the Church was meant to be. The Highrock family started as a mustard seed movement, a dinner and a Bible Study that got out of control. And now, we see it breaking in all over Boston. We don’t always show it perfectly, but so many of us have seen God’s Kingdom in each other. Lives are being changed. Arts are being celebrated. Gifts are being used. Hungry are being fed. God is being worshiped.
Highrock North Shore was a mustard seed idea too, a twinkle in Highrock Arlington’s eye just a few years ago, a tiny idea that took root fast. And now we have Shabbat dinners and ArtSpeak and Party at the Point and Chinese New Year and prayer calendars and meal trains and genuine love for each other and our city. They were seed ideas that may have looked small or insignificant at the beginning. But they grew. And after awhile, we’ve seen the fruit of a culture and a community that has developed all around the seed ideas, growing and coiling and climbing, just as fast as weeds.
All around us, God is in the soil, planting seeds, cultivating and gardening, new life springing up everywhere we look. And to you and to me, God says, “Give me your seeds - your dreams, your insignificant ideas, your crazy wild imaginings and the smallish suggestions you’re not so sure about. Give me your dirt - your anger, your lust, that thing you’re ashamed of. Give me the parts of your city that have potholes, that are littered with trash and broken families. That’s where I’ll plant my Kingdom.”
And when these seeds, these smallish seeds grab root in the dirt, we’ll witness the Kingdom - here and now - taking over the world like a weed.
Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
How much has God’s kingdom taken over your life? Are you still trying to prune it back? Or have you given “the garden of your life” over to the all consuming power of this weed? What would it look like for you to sow some mustard seed among your family, your friends, or your colleagues today? Are there any gifts or ideas that you've been holding back out of fear that they might be too small or insignificant to count?
Ask the Lord to open your eyes to where some mustard seed needs to be planted in your own life and the gardens that you are responsible for.
One of the other images that Jesus uses for the kingdom is that of leaven. Leaven is a reagent which enables baked goods like bread or biscuits to rise. Today, bake something that requires leaven. It could be biscuits, cookies, bread, or even pancakes from scratch. As you enjoy the fruit of your labor, consider how just that little bit of leaven, leavened the whole batch. Ask, “what is leavening in my life these days?”
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Dunagan, Bryan, “Who Do You Say That I Am?”
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History.