Have you ever been somewhere they make the most wonderful and unique dish? Like many other places in Australia there are a variety of bakeries and shops in the small towns nestled among the winding roads around New South Wales. They sell all sorts of pies, but I have to admit I’m very fond of a curry pie. But what I find best is when they use a local ingredient such as seeds, they waste in a vineyard. It makes sense, especially given all the vineyards in the Hunter region of NSW. So, I wonder to myself if anyone had thought of making a wine pie just on its own?
Vineyards are everywhere. Rows and rows of grape vines next to rows and rows of other crops. So neat and orderly looking – quite pretty. Quite predictable, except for the weeds, of course. You never know where or when they’re going to show up. Just like we can never predict how the Kingdom of God will show up.
Take, for example, the parable of the mustard seed that Jesus tells us about in this week’s Gospel from Matthew 13. What we may not know today, but what the early listeners would have most likely understood, is that the mustard plant is a weed that grows like a bush and spreads. It’s a very invasive weed. Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a plant that will constantly and inevitably keep growing and spreading. Have you ever seen ivy on an old house, taking it over completely? Now there’s a visual. That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
But that’s the endgame. Jesus’ point is that the beginnings of the Kingdom are tiny. The Kingdom of God starts small and unnoticeable. But when the Kingdom comes into its own, it is everywhere, and you can’t miss it. We are part of that growth, part of that kingdom, whether anyone recognizes us for what we are or not. The most important thing is that God knows.
Jesus does not stop there in our gospel lesson today. He gives even more parables – more stories of ordinary things that possibly have extraordinary meanings. Parables like these are meant to be wrestled with.
So, what else do our parables tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven? It says in the gospel that it is like yeast that a we mix with flour to make huge amounts of dough – enough for an entire feast. In Jesus’ time, leavening was something that people understood in scripture as unclean or evil. Unlike the convenient packets of dried yeast, we have today, leavening was done by letting some bread rot just enough in order to leaven a new batch of ingredients. The Kingdom of Heaven is being modelled after something that is seen as unwanted or unusable in everyday life. And yet, God makes it good.
The Kingdom of Heaven is also like a treasure hidden in a field that makes a person sell all they have in order to buy the field that the treasure is in. It is like a pearl of great price that makes the merchant sell all he had in order to have just that one pearl. How valuable is the Kingdom of Heaven? What would you give up everything to possess? Would possession be worth the sacrifice?
The Kingdom of Heaven in your part of God’s vineyard is like …. You fill in the blank.
What is valuable in God’s Kingdom, others may see as junk. How often do we who are Christians buy into the attitude that on Sundays we carry Jesus in our pocket and take him out for a while, only to put him back in as soon as we leave the parking lot? We get settled in our daily lives the rest of the week and forget whom it is we follow. We might think, “Oh I’m just part of a little church. We can’t do much, so why bother?” Why bother indeed? Except that God bothers. Then God asks us to bother more than we want.
Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom starts out small like a mustard seed and grows into a tree that shelters and nurtures life around it. When that small mustard seed starts growing, it has an advantage, because it can grow in and around the landscape, sheltering those beneath it and giving a place to perch for those above it. This, too, is how the gospel is spread in neighbourhoods where churches discern which leaf to unfurl in their present landscape. A little branch here, a little branch there, and suddenly the place is alive with people in the neighbourhood being nurtured by the spread of the gospel.
God’s gifts are unexpected, but they are so vast that they require a response. Do we give up our self-centred attitudes and everything else for the Good News of the gospel? That’s a question that will take a lifetime to answer and is easier said than done. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with the section of God’s Kingdom that we’ve been given. Even right now, we are in flux – we don’t know what the future holds for the church. But even in that unknowing, we have an advocate – the Holy Spirit – that helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
We are called to trust God. The God that uses what others think is unusable. The God that calls us to love others with reckless abandon. The God that sees in us what others cannot see. By living this way, we become of what the Kingdom of Heaven is made.