Thy Kingdom/Kin-Dom Come

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Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-53

He 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.” When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

Thy Kingdom/Kin-dom Come

I have been reading this book with an evocative title: A Paradise Built in Hell. It is written by Rebecca Solnit and she looks at disasters and crises and the communities that are formed in their wake.

You would picture in your mind that when something terrible happens then sometimes people become terrible, but in fact often and consistently the opposite happens. A natural or humanity-created disaster we know can be a terrible tragic loss of life with injury and trauma and grief. But the author of the book lifts up another pattern that emerges as well: the unlikely communities that form following natural disaster, looking at times after earthquake or hurricane or catastrophe when social order breaks down and class distinctions fall away because everything has been lost and even normal commercial economies don’t function in the same way. And yet, here is what can happen: people connect, creating a deep community where there had been isolation. People live in the present and find purpose and meaning in work that matters. People become creative, finding solutions where there had been none for the real human need before them.

The author finds accounts of folks who talk about these times after terrible disaster with almost euphoria. She does a deep dive on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, telling stories of Ann Holshauser who on the third day after the earthquake set up a soup kitchen in the park with one tin can to drink from and one plate. Gifts of food came from the community from all over as folks who had something to share brought it and folks who were able to cook jumped in and all of a sudden she wasn’t the only one but had created an ad hoc soup kitchen from survivors for survivors, given just what could be offered. The story continued for many after the earthquake as people were cooking for each other, finding humor and camaraderie resilience, even with the destruction around them. The novelist, Jack London, said after the earthquake, “Never in all of San Francisco’s history were her people so kind and courteous as on that night of terror.” The author goes through one disaster after the next, some of nature and some terribly manmade and shows that when all breaks down often what results is not chaos but a brand new world. She quotes that those in the London blitz in the highly bombed cities had higher morale than those who were lightly bombed. She tells stories that are frighteningly common of shopkeepers leaving their wares, stories of both great heroism but continued acts of charity and grace.

This, of course, is not how every story of disaster ends. Often those in authority will look at the crowds with fear and some will look at the chaos with greed. This is a thing that happens: at times a new world can break out that breaks all of the rules, even if it only lasts for a moment. I have known it only in very fleeting moments when, say, traveling and there is some sort of cancellation and all of a sudden the people I have been waiting within an aggravated line become people who then laugh with me and share their stories and commiserations and there is a community there that there wasn’t before. Sometimes miraculously we become our best selves and lay aside the order we are used to into something that’s uncomfortable but better and miraculously we hold this potential all the time. This is the world I want to live in and God hears and says, “Great, there’s only one catch: this pearl is worth more than you leave behind. The seed must fall on good soil to bring this kingdom. You need to be brave enough to pray the most dangerous words you know: ‘Thy will be done.’”

But first let’s talk about kingdom. In our world we are used to the word “kingdom” most often when accompanied by magic or perhaps princess fairy dust. A kingdom is ruled by a king. In the Hebrew Scriptures the book of Samuel, when the people first asked for a king before Saul, God was a little hesitant and tries to talk them out of it. The people wanted a king like the other nations and they asked the judge, Samuel, to appoint one. Samuel tries to warn them saying, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots to be his horsemen to run before his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vineyards and give it to his officers and courtiers. He will take a tenth of your flocks and you will be his slaves and in that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you on that day.” And the people say, “Sign us up.”

This is what kings do, even for the kings of Israel. God is warning the people that when you set someone up in power like this the results are seldom surprising. Still, the people ask for a king, so that they can be like the kingdoms of this world. And so they have Saul who leads to David who leads to Solomon who leads to a long history involving a number of tyrants and knuckleheads, the falling of the northern kingdom and the south and so now, here in the New Testament, here we are taken over by the Romans. The people of the New Testament time would have known about kingdoms because they were living in a terrible one. The Roman Empire is, after all, the group who will put Jesus to death; they are not known for being easy-going as far as empires go. The people of Israel knew the kingdoms of this world well, which is why there is this hope, this dream of a kingdom that is their own. In the midst of an oppressive empire they have the hope of a king, a good king, someone who will restore the fortunes of Israel, a Messiah who will usher in a reign, victorious and glorious and right; this hope for a Messiah who is known, a king, a good king, a King Arthur of kings, one who will give hope to the people, the best kingdom of this world.

And Jesus, when he comes, is not that king. John the Baptist when he comes sets the stage preaching a kingdom saying to folks, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And Jesus talks about the kingdom of God a lot. The parables that were read today are just a smattering. Jesus proclaims the kingdom of heaven, but his teachings don’t sound like the kingdoms we know: a king holds power and authority, receives fealty and in the best case scenario uses that power wisely, wielded with might. And in the worst case scenario abuses that power and exploits the people.

But Jesus, when he talks about the kingdom, isn’t talking about power at all. He teaches about the Beatitudes where the poor and the meek and those that mourn are somehow the ones that are blessed. Jesus teaches not just to love your neighbors and hate your enemies but to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Jesus’ kingdom is one where the first are last and the last are first. However this kingdom, Jesus is turning it upside down. And so the images we just heard of Jesus teaching what the kingdom will be are not one of armies and thrones of might, it’s not of wielding power and the world that might be. Jesus teaches about kingdoms using simple and small things, humble things, teaching about seeds and earth, yeast and flour. The kingdom that Jesus teaches is not one in battle but grown, flourishing into being in the unlikely corners and the tiniest seed that grows until even the birds have a home in the branches. The disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” and Jesus calls forward a child whom he put among them and says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus isn’t talking about a change in sovereigns; he is talking about a new world.

I’m a bit of a sap when it comes to theater. I saw this play, Come From Away, a few years ago. It is set in a small community with an enormous runway left over from times when planes needed to refuel before crossing the Atlantic. It was a small community in the middle of nowhere. And then it is set on September 11, 2001 when, in the midst of a terrible and chaotic day, every plane in the sky needed a place to land and this tiny little community had a place they could come, and so overnight the size of the town doubled. The whole musical is telling the story of people around the world who are brought together with different languages and religions and races and sexual orientations, people from all over the world in the midst of a terrible day and this tiny community rose to the occasion, flinging open their homes and guest rooms with places for people to stay: people chipping in, finding food, shelter, remembering the pets that must be on board in the cargo hold, people with resourcefulness and care opening their doors and community and creating a community where there had been none across incredible lines of difference. And of course, I spent the entire play weeping.

That’s what I hope for humanity. I hope that there are lives within us anywhere you might go in the world, capacities for kindness and generosity and courage that is greater than all the stories we could tell of cruelty in this world. My hope is not just crisis that allows the best parts of us to flourish, for we know those moments when kindness blooms in a place it doesn’t belong, when mercy and courage and sacrifice change the rules we knew too well. And I want to live in that world.

For Jesus is not saying that the structures of the world stay the same and now we just have a good person in charge. No, this kingdom is like nothing we have ever seen but is made in contrast to the world we know: the world we know and the kingdom we know best, the kingdom where the powerful win, powerless suffer, the kingdom where the structures of the world continue, the kingdom where violence begets violence, where hate begets hate, the kingdom where we must be hard to protect ourselves, the kingdom where lines are drawn and cannot be crossed, the kingdom where our long histories continue on their way in cruelty and brutality until it reaches its end. For we too, although we may not always admit it, know the kingdoms of this world and how they can be from the cruel to the gruesome so the everyday brokenness where we need one another and do not meet.

I want to say that the words we put in the bulletin each week, although you may not realize it, are actually optional. Just because we print it with an “all” next to it, it does not mean you are required to speak it out loud. And so I want to let you know that you are not obligated to pray all of the words of the Lord’s Prayer, although we print them each week. And so perhaps we need to think long and hard before praying, “Thy kingdom come,” and the one that follows, “Thy will be done.” These are the words Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane accepting that he will likely be a victim of violence. These are the words Jesus prays as he opens himself to what God might do. They are dangerous words and powerful, so much so that we are asked to say them not by rote or routine but because we are praying something we hope is beautiful enough for what may be asked for it. We are praying for something we hope is so compelling that we might be willing to trade it all for that pearl, to sell it all for that field because what are we praying for but a new world that will be, a new regime. What are we praying for but being ready to be upended. By saying “Thy kingdom come” you are claiming your part in a land that has yet to be. You are casting your fate with the miniscule seeds and yeast of this world and believing that even with this God can change the world. You are holding your arms and all that you own and saying you will let it go for a treasure that can only be glimpsed. You are saying, “Forget my attempts at status. Let me take down my false crowns. I don’t want to be important. I don’t need things to stay the same. Take my will and let me leave it with you. Take my selfishness. Take my cowardice. Take my anger. Take my despair and hate and fear. Take even my life if it need be. Because in the midst of this world I just want to be led by the children. Let me be humble and let me be led by the children into a world that they dare to believe that the worlds are not set.”

Watching this week the children from Parkland, Florida, and looking back to the black children and immigrant children and the children I can barely make myself watch in the stories that come from Syria, I want to follow the children into a different kind of world. Let us learn to be led by the children into a world where all children are at home and there perhaps I might find myself at home, too.

Come; let us be led to a kingdom that’s not like the kingdoms of this world. Come, let us be led: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

© Copyright. Lisa Horst Clark. 2018. All rights reserved.

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