Two kinds of kingdoms

This was the homily from this week’s worship service, delivered by Hugh Hollowell. The text was from Ezekiel 17:22-23 and Matthew 13:31-32

Sometimes, things are hard to describe. Imagine what it would be like to describe a kiss to someone who had never been kissed. Or describing the taste of bacon to someone who had never eaten pork.

That is Jesus’ problem here in the second passage we just read – he is trying to describe something awesome to people who have never experienced it, and so he is reduced to using metaphors.

The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed.

Oh. Well thanks, Jesus. That clears it all up.

OK, Jesus. We give. How is it like a mustard seed?

In the story Jesus tells here, where the Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed, there are several things going on you have to know for this to make sense.

The first is that there is a guy planting mustard seeds. That just did not happen – at least, not usually. See, mustard grows like crazy. It the book of Leviticus prohibited the planting of two kinds of seeds in the same field, and mustard grows like crazy and takes over the whole garden. So, if you planted mustard on one row and beans on the next row, then the mustard would eventually work its way into the beans, and your field would be unclean.

So, you kept mustard over in its own place, and you did not have to plant it but once, because it went crazy after that.

So, right off the bat, here we have Jesus saying the Kingdom of God is like a guy who is making his field unclean.

Huh.

And then, Jesus says that the mustard seed, which is very small, grows into a huge, giant… shrub. And that shrub – that is what the Kingdom is like.

A shrub.

See, in the first reading today, the kingdom of God was compared to a cedar tree. For the folks of that time, a cedar was the tallest tree they knew of.

Imagine, instead of a cedar, we say “redwood” or “sequoia”. A tall huge, tree. And according to Ezekial, God is going to plant a cedar on top of the tallest mountain, and that cedar represents the Kingdom.

Majestic. Powerful. Mighty. Strong.

But Jesus says Ezekiel was wrong.

The Kingdom, Jesus says, begins with the unclean, and ends not with a majestic tree on a mountain proclaiming greatness to all who see it, but instead with a much more modest weed that at best grows into a small shrub that shelters the defenseless birds in its shade.

The Kingdom is coming, Jesus proclaims. But it doesn’t look like you think it will.

A lot of time and money and effort has been spent trying to bring about the Kingdom as envisioned by Ezekiel. A kingdom that proclaims greatness and power and might. Jesus invites us to another Kingdom, however – one that is nothing special to look at, but spreads like wildfire and shelters the defenseless.

The question before us is simply this: “Which Kingdom do we wish to be part of? And which Kingdom do we want to help build?”

A Statement Of Peace

This is an excerpt from a sermon entitled, “Christ the King,” that Hugh gave last year. It’s a great reminder that lasting societal peace comes from caring for those society has forgotten, the disenfranchised and the disempowered.
If you’d like to invite Hugh to speak to your church or group, please email Elizabeth here. Peace, Jasmin

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“The statement that Jesus is lord, or Christ is king, isn’t just a quaint church phrase, divorced from reality. To the early Christians, who lived in a world where a common greeting was, Caesar is lord, it was a political statement.

The ‘peace’ brought by Rome – a peace brought about by fear and domination, enforced by the largest army the world had ever known, kept in place by the threat of horrible violence – to say Jesus was your king was to speak of another way to live. In a world that lived under Rome’s ‘peace,’ to speak this way pointed to a peace brought about by love and mercy.

It spoke of their dream of another world, the age to come when God would reign. It spoke of a time when, as the author of Revelation says, ‘The kingdoms of this world would become the kingdom of our God, and of God’s Christ, who would reign forever and ever.’

It was a statement of hope. It was a commitment to change, to work to make the world as it is, into the world as it was meant to be.

And today we look around, and we see a world in turmoil. We see a world wracked in chaos, a world that is on fire and burning. Paris. Beirut. Ferguson. Baltimore. Baghdad. The polar ice caps. The rising shoreline. The mass extinctions. Earthquakes. Childhood poverty.

We look around us, and we see the good world that God made lying in shambles, and the solution we are presented with by our governments is inevitably more war. If there are people involved, we declare war on them. If it is a nebulous concept, like poverty, illegal drugs, or terrorism, well, that doesn’t slow us down at all. We will declare war on that, too.

As Americans, war gives our lives structure and meaning. It is our founding story, our war for independence. A hundred years later, we had a war to save the Union. Then in the thirties, we were starving in the throes of the Great Depression, but the Great War saved us. After that war, we didn’t know how to live, so we invented the idea of a Cold War. It wasn’t a real war, but we had to pretend it was and prepare as if it was.  

We as a people, steeped in war, born in war, do not know how to live without war. Peace through war.

In this environment, to speak of Jesus as king is a statement of hope, a declaration not of war, but of peace.

A peace that comes not from aggression, war, or conflict, but from caring for and safeguarding those who are on the bottom of society.

When God is king, no one is left behind. In the kingdom of God, everyone counts, and all are fed.”

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