by Pastor Doug Stratton — July 26, 2020

Matt 13:31-33; 44-51

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

CCI: The surprises of God’s Kingdom are the essence of the Good News.

The 13th chapter of Matthew is the greatest concentration of parables that we find in scripture. The Sower and the Seed, Enemy and Weeds, the Mustard Seed, the Yeast, the Treasure, the Pearl Merchant and the Dragnet are all parables of the Kingdom. Each reveal something of the God’s work in the world. And each of them, though familiar to us, contain an unexpected element that teaches us about the Kingdom. We could easily spend months preaching this passage and look at the types of soil and the nature of the weeds and symbolism of flour and yeast and mustard seeds and merchants. But we are not going to do that. Instead, today I want to look at little things that God makes decisions about. 

Now I know that there are a number of gardeners gathered here this morning, so that you can answer questions that will be raised, I invite you to unmute yourself at this time. As the summer progresses, we are harvesting squash and beans and lettuce and okra and soon we will start gathering tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers. What have you harvested so far? I would imagine that each of the gardeners here chose what you planted carefully. Is there anyone who intentionally planted invasive weeds in their garden? If you have not, why is that?

The first of the parables Jesus told in today’s reading is the story of a mustard seed that a man intentionally planted. Mustard is an invasive weed. It will quickly choke out other plants in your garden and if it grows too large it becomes a tree that will block the sun. That does not sound like a good idea for the garden. 

So how is the Kingdom like this weed seed? I think there are several lessons. 

  1. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a welcome addition to the world. 

The values of our world focus on the individual. The most commonly asked question when we are making decisions, is often “How will it affect me and the people I love?” 

The values of the Kingdom focus on others and self-sacrificing love. The question the follower of Jesus is encouraged to ask is “How will it affect those on the edge of society?” This approach to life is a mystery to those who are not walking with Jesus. 

2. Kingdom of Heaven can spread rapidly.

We know how invasive species, whether kudzu or Lanternflies can take over an ecosystem. We try to fight to keep these invasive species at bay, but they will continue to spread and change the landscape. Normally, these invasive plants and animals are viewed as harmful, but one specie of invasive insect is now viewed as one of the most important creatures in the North American ecosystem. The honeybee did not exist in North America until European settlers arrived. Today we understand honeybees to be foundational insects. 

The Kingdom of God is an invasive presence but as it grows, the positive impact it has on society spreads and brings life. It was Christians who stayed with the dying during the plagues of the middle ages. It was the message of people being created in the image of God that empowered the abolitionists. It is gospel truth of the power of nonviolence that empowered the Civil Rights movement. 

As the Kingdom spreads, it overtakes society much as the Mustard tree overtakes the field. 

3. The Mustard tree give room for the birds of the Air. 

Jesus pointed out the as the Kingdom grows, the Birds of the Air make their nest in its branches. 

Notice, the birds are not part of the Mustard, but there is room in the tree for them. And so, in the Kingdom there will come to dwell that which is not part of the tree, but something for which there is room. Is the Chamber of Commerce here in town part of the Kingdom of Heaven. No, their mission is to build Hatboro, but there is room in the Kingdom for their ministry of feeding the hungry. Is the NFL part of the Kingdom of Heaven, (I may get some argument here). No, it’s not, but the work the NFL is now embarking upon to work for equality and stand for racial justice makes it a bird in the branches. In fact, the Kingdom can provide a home for any who embrace the values that Jesus proclaimed. There is a home in the kingdom for any who are seeking to fulfill the mission Jesus established in Luke 4, a mission to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The message of the Mustard seed and tree is “There is room in this strange, invasive Kingdom of God, so come on in!”

I want you to hear from Mary (with some help from Bob) about a small thing in their lives that has grown to be a source of shelter for many birds in the world. 

  1. Mary, tell me about a small decision you have made that as your reflect on it has utterly changed your life.
  2. What advice would you give to others as you about the importance of little things?
  3. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Yes, the Mustard seed is small thing, but as Mary has shared, seemingly small things can change our lives. And that is how this parable ties in with the fourth story in this reading. 

Jesus said, “The kingdom is heaven is like a man, a pearl merchant, who was searching for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

In this little story there is so much hidden. It is almost like the world’s shortest short story: For sale, Baby shoes, never worn.” In those 6 words the emotions of hope, joy, shattered hearts and grief are brought to the reader. And so in this story, we learn of a man with a niche business who worked only with the most wealthy people, a man whose life was focused on providing a rare commodity to these wealthy individuals, a man who traveled far and wide for his trade; a man who suddenly discovered a single pearl that so captured his attention that nothing else mattered. We are told he sold everything he had and bought this one pearl. He sold his inventory, he sold his house, and apparently, if he had a family he even sold his family. Just. To. Buy. This. Pearl.

A little thing. A single pearl. He did not even know that he was searching for this thing. But when he encountered it, his whole life changed. He was no longer a merchant providing a rare commodity to an elite clientele. He was now the owner of a single pearl. He discovered he had found the one thing for which he had been searching, and in fact, he did not even know that is what he was looking for. 

I want to ask, what is your pearl? What is the one thing that you have or would give everything for? For some it is wealth. For the prisoner it may be freedom. For a musician it may be a gold record. For a barbecuer it may be the perfect brisket. 

But there is another side to this. For the person afflicted with addiction, their pearl may be the next margarita, or the next fix. For these we are willing to sacrifice all we have. 

So today, what is your pearl? Where do you fit in the mustard tree? What does it mean for you to experience the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus prayed that the Kingdom would come to earth just as it is in heaven. So how would you complete the sentence, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…..?”

~ Pastor Doug