Last week, I saw the Kingdom of Heaven on Rosemont Avenue.
That’s the name of the street where I live up in North Oak Cliff, and I want to offer a witness here this morning. The Kingdom of Heaven broke into the 600 block of North Rosemont Avenue, for a moment I glimpsed heaven there. Sure, it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling, I smiled, and I nodded at how light and joyful a place the world could be. But it just as easily couldn’t have happened. It was just as possible, and maybe even easier, for nothing exceptional to have happened at all, for the Kingdom of Heaven to stay hidden and quiet and unseen, but there were two things that happened to enable this witness I’m giving you this morning.
First, somebody invited the Kingdom of Heaven to be part of their own daily life, and then second, somebody else saw and talked about what happened.
I heard the story from that witness, and now I share it with you. This neighbor had just gotten home from a long trip last Sunday night, and she found a note on her front door when she arrived:
“Hi Neighbors, saw you were out of town and your plants were taking a beating under the Texas sun – Hope you don’t mind but I watered them and put some soaker hoses down by your rose bushes (will pick them up when you get back). Didn’t want to see all your hard work burned up by the 100+ degree heat. P.S. also cut the front lawn because I’m sure you would be exhausted from your trip.”
My friends. The Kingdom of Heaven broke through last week on Rosemont Avenue.
Since the beginning of time, God’s been trying to guide his people into the Kingdom of Heaven, to introduce us to and usher us into the kind of life and community and kingdom that he has in mind.
In the Old Testament, God set up rules for all these kinds of things. He had Moses write down every single instruction about how to talk to people and what to avoid eating or doing and when. God made sure his people behaved differently from others, not necessarily because there was something wrong with eating shellfish — a famous pronouncement — but so that others would notice that those Israelites, the people who followed that particular God, the one called Jehovah, those people were different. That God was different. Their behavior, their way of life, it set them apart.
When Jesus comes, when God incarnate dwells among the people, he famously turns over the tables in the temple and he flouts the Pharisees with regularity, but I don’t believe he’s saying, “oh, all those laws were silly. Nobody really cares about all that, anything goes!”
I believe God in Jesus challenges people to reach underneath the words of the laws so we can understand and appreciate the point of these directives, we can see what loving your neighbor looks like rather than checking off boxes of accomplishment that we’re really doing to make ourselves look good.
That’s why Jesus heals on the Sabbath, restoring the sight of the blind and the cripple’s use of his hand; that’s why Jesus hangs out with people who are “unclean” — the laws God gives, the boundaries that encompass his kingdom, are less about how to separate out people from one another, or about how to create levels of righteousness and achievement, and more about how God wants us to become closer to one another, to get to be so familiar with each other, so intimate in our relationships, that we stop thinking of my family, or your children, of my lawn, or your car, but that we approach every situation, every person, and every possession as worthy and to be enjoyed.
When our neighbor spent his time and effort watering somebody else’s plants, when he used his own sweat to cut somebody else’s lawn, when he put down his own soaker hoses around somebody else’s rose bushes, he opened a little window into the Kingdom of God for everybody else to enjoy.
It could have gone differently — no one would have blamed him if he hadn’t cut the lawn or watered the roses. No one would have even known that the thought was in his head; he could have easily ignored the little voice that suggested the deed to him. He could have shook his head, poured himself another glass of iced tea, and laid down on his couch instead. I wonder if that kind of response is what we’re talking about when we pray in the confession each week asking for forgiveness for “things left undone.”
It could have gone differently — instead of gratefully receiving the gift my neighbors received, they could have been indignant that their lawn was trespassed with and their plants were tended. This reaction is a little more far-fetched, but in this litigious society, it’s not beyond reckoning that somebody might try to press charges for trespassing, even for a good deed.
But it didn’t go differently, and so I got to see the fruit of this deed, too. The witness the recipient gave made it onto the internet, and I, along with more than a hundred other people, got to see the power of the Kingdom of God.
Last week, Fr. Jordan helped us to think about how to make sense of all these Kingdom of God parables. He told us about the story where there are these prisoners stuck way back in a cave, who have never been outside and never seen the sun, and how, when they’re freed, they’re not sure they want to go anywhere, or change anything about their lives. They’re allowed outside for the first time in their lives, but having never been there, their liberators have to try to describe what life is like out there, using only words and concepts that somebody who’s only known a cave can understand.
There’s not time to explore each of these parables in the passage this morning, but what strikes me about all of them, and what bears consideration this morning, is that the Kingdom of Heaven is not the same as the American society, or as Western culture, or as first-world standards. This may seem obvious at first glance, but if we dig a little bit deeper, the ways our minds are trained to think and the ways our hearts are trained to love might start to reveal something else.
The mustard seed, you see, is considered a weed; and having spent the better part of the weekend clearing weeds from my garden, I wouldn’t think to compare God’s kingdom to dandelions or the ivy-like weed that is everywhere in my backyard. What a strange thing to say. Surely the Kingdom of God isn’t at all like weeds that are taking over my beds. That can’t be right, that’s not possibly what the parable is about. I know what the weeds are, and I know what the good plants are. I know.
Back to the Gospel lesson: In the first-century world, yeast was a bad guy, it wasn’t viewed as the creator of delicious brioche buns or fabulous cinnamon rolls. Yeast was something that made good bread rot and caused infestations. Further, this “three measures of flour” is something like 40 pounds. So why would you ruin such a huge amount of precious flour by adding leaven to it? That’s just downright stupid. You’re not going to get anywhere if you’re adding yeast to your dough. That’s not the recipe for success — everyone knows that. You’re crazy if you try.
And further, why is a thief digging around in somebody else’s field? How’d this guy get to digging around to find that treasure anyway? What was he doing on somebody else’s property? Not to mention, I can’t imagine why a merchant would sell himself out of all his merchandise — he can’t do his job anymore, what good is this one fine pearl if he can’t provide for his family?
These stories make no more sense now than they did when Jesus first told them, and I suspect that the disciples succumbed to more than a bit of pride when they heartily answered, “Oh yes, we understand all of this!” It’s a punchline if there ever was one.
My Brothers and Sisters, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, may we have the courage and the humility to say, “No, God, I do not understand all of this. I need you to lead me every hour.”
In the Kingdom of God, may we have the perspective and generosity to listen to the voice that urges us to take care of our neighbor even if they haven’t asked us to.
In the Kingdom of God, may we have the vision and the steadfast love to keep showing up for our spouses, our children, our co-workers and friends, for our neighbors, may we even show up for our enemies, supporting these people by our presence and our sincere love.
In the Kingdom of God, there are no other peoples’ children, there are no other peoples’ sick and elderly parents, there are no other peoples’ lawns, or hungry bellies, or stressful jobs, or due rent checks. This kind of community is strong and deep, this kind of community is intimate.
Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, the King of this Kingdom, and if we consider ourselves followers of this man who was hung from a tree, who died a criminal’s death, then our lives, too, will look off-kilter.
Our values will be different, the things that get us up in the morning, that drive us through the day, that help us to sleep at night, the things that we choose to say to our children and the way we decide to treat our spouses, these things will be markedly different.
We will be marked as Christ’s own, digging deep in the good soil of God’s garden, allowing our branches to be strengthened by God’s pruning hands, keeping our eyes peeled and our ears perked, giving all our attention to how God is walking about in the garden, what he is growing and what he is throwing out, how he is pruning and how he is nourishing.
Brothers and Sisters, may we find our way clear to devote our lives to the Kingdom of God, to walk steadfast in his ways, to witness to the Kingdom’s work in the lives of those around us, and finally at our death to look God’s Kingdom full in the face, enjoying forevermore God’s goodness and his glory. Amen.