What’s the Kingdom of God like?
August 1, 2012
When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar. As a child I never understood that riddle! It was only later that I realised that the term ajar had a double meaning, ajar slightly open /a jar meaning a glass container. You have to work at riddles sometimes to understand their meanings.
In Eastern culture riddles are often employed in education to encourage the listener to have new thoughts ,to look in new directions, the premise being that if you work out for yourself what the teacher is telling you, or look behind the words to see what is implied you will remember the point. The Bible contains lots of examples of riddles perhaps one of the most famous being one that which was used by Tate and Lyle on their Golden syrup tins:
Out of the eater came something to eat
Out of the strong came forth sweetness
Does any one know where this comes from ? It’s found in the OT in the Book of Judges: Its s part of the story of Samsonwho discovers a honey comb in the carcass of a lion.. Later he uses this event as a riddle to confound the Philistines
So its not surprising to find in the NT Jesus using the same methods. In all the gospels we find Jesus using metaphors ,picture language and parables ( meaning in New Testament Greek – riddles) in his teaching. Often the full meaning of his words are hidden as we see at the end of Mark 4: he did not speak to them except in parables but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
For us this seems strange: surely Jesus would want everyone to understand his message. Why is he speaking in riddles that people can’t understand? Tom Wright in his helpful Bible Commentaries suggests that sometimes the Jesus Teaching is so dynamic and revolutionary that to speak more plainly would risk his ministry being curtailed
This reminds me of a Monty Python Sketch where Scientist worked on the funniest joke in the world as a weapon of war, they believe those who hear it will die of laughter. Different groups work on parts of the joke because it was so funny and when they broadcast the joke to the enemy, each group read just their section for fear that they too will die .
In the same way, Jesus reveals his mission in small doses He wants people to make their own decision about him working out for themselves the full implication of his message. He also he knows his message will threaten the status quo and ultimately lead to his death.
The two parables we heard today come from Mark Gospel and were told to a large crowd gathered on the lake side. They concern the Kingdom of God and, like much of Jesus teachings, relate to everyday events in the listeners lives Both parables focus on seeds and growth. The first parable speaks of the Kingdom as being like seeds growing . The message of the parable is that the absence of any growth above the ground doesn’t imply that things are not developing elsewhere Jesus wants his followers to understand that the Kingdom will come in its fullness but this may not happen over night
Jesus is assuring them about the future: things will come right in the end. God is at work in the world and his Kingdom will come.
This must have been a comfort to his followers after his death and resurrection. As they thought of his words they would be reassured that their efforts to spread the good news would not be in vain
The second parable explains that the kingdom will start small like the mustard seed but has the potential to grow. As the mustard seed develops in to a large shrub, its branches a secure place for the birds of the air. Jesus’ listeners familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures would have recalled a similar image in the passage from Ezekiel 17, where God promises to restore Israel after she has been destroyed by her enemies.
On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, under its shade every kind of bird will live.
Jesus extends this metaphor opening the kingdom to all nations, so we are given a picture of the kingdom as some where secure and sturdy, welcoming to all who seek to rest in its domain.
Implications for our faith ?
We live in a fast tech world. We expect to see things happen quickly. We drink instant coffee, use quick drying ink, eat ready meals. If you are a football supporter then you will know how fickle the directors of the clubs can be. If the team is not promoted or win a trophy the manager is packing his bags by the end if the season
Jesus, parable reminds us that God’s kingdom is different .Things do not happen overnight the word of God may be slow to germinate in the life of a listener.
This week I joined one of our Home groups as they shared with one another passages from books and music which had encouraged them in their faith. One member read an extract from a sermon by Bishop Oscar Romero who was martyred for his faith in the 20th century
Romero reminds us that none of us will reach perfection in this life and the work we do for God will often remain uncompleted. All we are asked is to be faithful and trust that God’s kingdom will continue to grow silently and quietly.
St Paulwrote to the early churchthat the work of the kingdom is corporate
I planted the seeds in your heart ,Apollos watered it but it was God who made it grow …
This is sometimes a hard lesson for us to learn we want to see results tomorrow but that isn’t the way God’s kingdom works.
Years ago when Rob and I first moved to Sheffieldwe were volunteered by our vicar to run the Church youth fellowship Every Sunday evening after church, around 30 young people would invade our home .They were sometimes stroppy and uncommunicative they split coffee on our new carpet and put their feet on our furniture. Week by week we shared with them the Good news of Kingdom and wondered what effect it was happening Sometimes when we were tired ourselves it was hard to remain motivated and faithful and trust .
The second parable reminds that God’s kingdom has potential for growth beyond our imagination. Sadly our image of God is often far too small . When we attempt things for the Kingdom we see all the pitfalls and problems we limit God’s potential by our lack of imagination and faith. Look at the mustard seed a tiny insignificant specimen yet it has the potential for enormous growth
Roger and Miranda Bowen were our CMS Mission partners when I first came to St Columba’s .They had spent 10 years inBurundiduring the late 70s and 80s and started many initiatives during that time including the building of a small church and the training of young men for the Anglican Ministry. When they returned toBurundiin 2004 they wondered what might have happened in their absence. To their delight they discovered the church had grown both numerically and spiritually .The building they had seen being built has been replaced with a much bigger church The young priests they had trained were now leaders and they had the privilege of watching Archbishop Rowan consecrate one of their ordinands Bishop of their province
This is the potential for growth that the parable describes
And what of our own youth group ?
I have to say that our times with the young people were not all gloom and doom . As so often is the case when you do something for others you find yourselves blessed . Their inquiring minds and their honesty in seeking to follow Jesus kept us motivated .We led that group for 10 years and followed the development of those young people with interest. It has been a great delight, 30 years later, to see some of them are now leading church youth groups themselves or are being involved in other ways in the church. Looking at the names of clergy in this diocese and beyond we recognise some who visited our house as part of that young people’s group.
So when I get frustrated at the slow progress of the Church’s ministry I am reminded of the parables of the Kingdom and the promise of God in Isaiah 55
My word that goes out shall not return to me empty
It shall accomplish that which I purpose
And succeed in the thing for which I sent it
All we have to do is trust God.
Linda Furbey June 17th 2012