The Kingdom of God
Homily adapted from a sermon by Jonathan Davis
Jesus begins his teaching: “The kingdom of God is…”. Now, what do you think Jesus means when he says “kingdom of God”? What is he talking about? Well, back in the days of Jesus, there was this long held belief that the history of the world would contain five great kingdoms. At that time our great kingdoms had already come and passed and now the ruler of the world was Rome. Rome had an overwhelming military, and a unbelievable economic and political control over the world. So everyone was a bit anxious. Is this it?, they feared. Is the kingdom of Rome going to be the fifth and final climactic kingdom of the earth? Will Rome have the last word? Is our world coming to the end? But in the midst of this Kingdom of Rome Jesus came preaching about the Kingdom of God. It seems like he’s trying to tell the people something.
Maybe the message that whether the end is near or not, the final kingdom of the world will not be the kingdom of Rome, that it will be the kingdom of God. That Rome will not have the final say; but God will. That it is about the power and activity of God in the world, not some power and control of an emperor. Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God to try and help the people see it and understand.
But, Jesus isn’t the first person to try this, to try and give an image to what the kingdom of God looks like. In the first reading we heard the prophet Ezekiel describe the kingdom of God as being something like a big noble Cedar tree. He uses the image of a large and strong tree, so big that every kind of bird could nest in it. A description that makes sense, especially since most of us like to think of God and the kingdom of God as large and powerful and protective over the whole earth.
But that’s not how Jesus describes it. Remember, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God in a different way, in parables. And a parable is a lot like a riddle, or a puzzle. The answer isn’t obvious at first. Its meaning isn’t immediately clear. In fact, it is meant to initially confuse and frustrate the person hearing it before it begins to shed any light on the situation. It is supposed to make you stop and think. Parables allow us an opportunity to change how we normally think about something. They are meant to give us a different perspective and understanding of things and ideas that we have built for ourselves.
So if everyone thinks the kingdom of God is like a cedar tree, large and in charge, Jesus turns the whole thing upside down when he begins to speak about his version of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a sleeping gardener. The kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses some seed on the ground and goes back to bed, without the faintest idea of how it begins to grow. It just does. And in the end, the farmer gets to reap the benefits.
Hmmm…so what’s Jesus trying to say here? Well, knowing that a parable is like a riddle, whose meaning isn’t quite clear at first, he gives us and the people another chance at it with a second parable. He then states that the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed, a mustard seed in fact. It is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, but when it grows it becomes the greatest of all…shrubs.
I wonder if the people gathered around Jesus at the time he was teaching this message were a lot like you and me. Maybe they came together hungry for a word of hope. Maybe they had difficulty seeing God at work in the world and in their lives. Maybe they feared another power had more control over the world than God. Maybe all they could feel was the suffocating weight of an oppressive government. Maybe all they could see was their chronic illness, or a broken relationship, or hatred, or loneliness. Maybe they just wanted to know that God was a part of their lives and that they were not alone.
So Jesus tells them a parable – That the kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses seed on the ground. The seed begins to grow, even though the gardener can’t see it. He reassures them that the kingdom of God, the presence of God, the activity of God, is not something we have to wait for. It is happening right now, even though we can’t always see it. In fact, not only is the kingdom of God growing, you can’t stop it from growing. Because the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed. And a mustard seed when it grows into a bush, acts just like…a weed. Those of you who are gardeners and farmers know how weeds work. You can’t kill them. They’ll always find their way back. And that is what the kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. You can’t kill it. You can try, but it will always find its way back into your life. And then it just grows and grows and grows.
The kingdom of God, the activity of God, looks different than the world’s understanding of a kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not the same as the kingdom of Rome was. It doesn’t look like power and strength. And sometimes, we just can’t see it. It’s like a seed, growing slowly underneath the soil, where the gardener can’t see what’s happening beneath the surface. But other times, when we do see it, it just seems so small and insignificant, like a mustard seed, that we don’t recognize the kingdom of God that was hidden within it.
I don’t know about you, but in the midst of our work-addicted, status-addicted, award-winning, and medal-wearing society where it’s all about what you can achieve in your life, it is often difficult to see the kingdom of God.
But Jesus wanted the people surrounding him, and us to know, that the kingdom of God is here. Right in front of us, right now, and that we don’t live under the kingdom of Rome, or the kingdom of the United States, that we live in the Kingdom of God. And even though we might not always see it, whether we see it or not, we cannot keep it from growing – because it’s like the tiniest of mustard seeds. A weed that when planted and set loose, there is just no stopping it.
This is what gives us hope as Christians, that there is a kingdom of God and that we are a part of it.
In closing, Let us pray…… that in faith, our spiritual eyes will open and we will see and participate in the kingdom of God here on earth, and in time, in heaven.