"Finding the Kingdom of God"

Proper 12.A.20
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

Today’s lesson is chock full of parables. Five of them, in fact: The mustard seed, leaven in a loaf, treasure in a field, the pearl of great P andRICE a dragnet of the good and bad.

But look closely, and we can discern a similarity amongst several of these stories as well. Jesus, here, is teaching us one of the most remarkable truths that comes from the Gospel—he’s speaking of the hiddenness of the kingdom of God, and encouraging us to search for this mystery and make it our own.

Recall that throughout his ministry Jesus repeatedly makes it clear that the Kingdom of God is not the same as the Kingdom of this world. Rather than being flashy and showy, replete with military parades, long speeches, lots of bling, and copious displays of power, the Kingdom of God appears small, insignificant and unassuming. In fact, seen from the eyes of the world, it can even look foolish.

Take another glance at the parables. “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.” Did you know that it takes 750 mustard seeds to equal a single gram? Allow one of these little wisps to fall into the dirt and you’ll be searching quite a while to find it—if you can. In fact, the goal is for that seed to become buried in the soil, hidden—if you will. Now, consider leaven in a loaf. Take a few teaspoons of yeast and put them in dough—and then try to separate it back out. You can’t. It’s kneaded inside—and there—buried amongst the flour and the oil, the yeast does its remarkable work. And, again, the kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field—buried, far from prying eyes. Nothing showy here! No grand displays of power, no walks down the red carpet. Nothing like that, not at all.

But there’s something else that Jesus is telling us here as well. The Kingdom of God is valuable—it’s beyond price. There is the treasure buried in that field; and there is also a pearl of great worth. So, the kingdom of God is something precious—but, in a sense, it is also modest. It’s one pearl. What’s more, the act of selling all you have—essentially bankrupting yourself for a pearl—that’s something that doesn’t make sense. From the perspective of the world, it’s lunacy.

There’s another facet to these parables that we should note. And that is that it takes a certain degree of awareness to realize that a great treasure is within our grasp. In fact, it might even take the guidance of someone else to help us realize what we have.

Take the case of a Filipino fisherman who discovered the largest natural pearl ever found. Upon finding it in a giant clam, he hauled up the 75 pound object and decided to keep it as a good luck charm. And so he hid it under his bed—for a decade. When he was moving out of his home, he decided to give the pearl to a relative for safekeeping. His niece took a look and realized they were in the presence of something extraordinary. Sometimes it takes the people around us to help us realize the worth of the treasure within our grasp.

For the most part, these parables describe the Kingdom of God as something hidden—yet also close by. They encourage us to pay attention; asking us to consider if we truly recognize worth when it comes our way. So, in a very real sense, one of the skills these parables encourage us to develop is that of awareness; paying attention—not to the things that frequently garner attention, but to the seemingly insignificant.

These parables tell us that faith is about seeing; it’s about being aware of something the worth of which others may not perceive, because it is something that the world does not acknowledge as being valuable. Think of it, mustard bushes are (at least from the perspective of a good part of the world) trees that are an invasive species. Many in the middle east perceive them only as weeds. And, if you think about it, yeast isn’t terribly valuable—at least in terms of the world economy. What’s more, if you and I were to meet someone who sold off their home, vehicle and business and cashed in their IRA for a pearl, we (like those in our Savior’s day and age) might consider them foolish in the extreme.

The Kingdom of God is far different than the Kingdom of this world. In order to grasp it, you have to behold the world in which we live with different eyes; and you have to be willing to search for God not simply in the lofty and grand places; in positions of power, politics, money, fame and might; but in the humble and lowly regions of the human heart and in our world. You will find it, the Gospel tells us, in the dirt, in the yeast, in a treasure hidden in a field.

And so, I wonder, where you perceive the kingdom of God in your life? Where do you see it working in the world?

For myself, I have been paying attention, over the past few months to how we’ve seen many people in our society becoming aware of the injustices of racism. Perhaps you have seen it in yourself and are working to uproot that particular sin. I know that I am. From one perspective, this may seem to be a small act of awareness in oneself—but if enough people join together, it becomes something more, a movement that can promote systemic change. Perhaps that is what we are seeing happen in our country and our world right now. Certainly, the Civil Rights Movement, the abolition of slavery, the institution of child labor laws and the establishment of voting rights for all citizens, and marriage for LGBTQ individuals—all these began as a small cries for justice (hardly loud enough to be heard) but eventually they coalesced into larger societal changes for the good, not just for a few, but for many. None of this has been easy—all of these movements have been profoundly messy, uncomfortable and even incomprehensible for some. And interestingly, enough, most have been led by people of faith. So, I can’t help but think they are evidence of the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God does not operate according to the world’s perception of what makes sense. It starts small. It can look foolish. It isn’t found in the halls of political power, so much as in the mighty place of the human heart. Hidden from all—until, like yeast, it begins its work and finally, becomes a treasure which those of faith can perceive. A treasure worth all that we have to obtain it. Search, then, and find the kingdom of God. It’s here, hidden, but within our grasp if we choose to look. It’s waiting here for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.