Proper 12, Year A
I Kings 3:5-12; St. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Kingdom of Heaven is like…
I love parables, the deceptively simple sayings or descriptions that Jesus uses to help open the hearts of those who want to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The word parable literally means, in Greek, paraballo, to lay one thing alongside another things in order to make a comparison. They are Jesus’ favorite teaching tools. When Jesus is given an opportunity to describe what Heaven is like—what union with God is like—he doesn’t go into long theological lectures (thank God!). Rather, he tells stories. He draws on every-day images. He takes an ordinary object and transfigures it before peoples’ eyes to reveal what has been there all along.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like…
A mustard seed. This small seed that becomes a large shrub giving shade to birds.
Yeast that makes bread rise.
Treasure hidden in a field that inspires one to sell all they have to buy the space that contains the treasure.
A merchant in search of fine pearls who sells all he has to get the one, perfect pearl.
A net thrown into the sea that draws in all fish that, are in turn, separated out, good and bad.
Such wonderfully simple images that offer such profound opportunities for a deeper contemplation of God.
How something seemingly insignificant can grow and contribute to the wellness of all creation, offering shelter and helping nourish wellness. Satisfying hunger.
How our eyes are opened and we are inspired to sacrifice what we thought was of great value in order to gain what we discerned was truly of value.
If you want to know what heaven is like—what union with God is like—you need to explore questions of meaning, of worth, of value, of potential…of wholeness and hope and promise.
We live in an environment where a more “popular” Christianity argues that “salvation” is about our “soul” being taken up to heaven when we die to escape the perils of the world below. And, this is all done individually. That is what is most important, that as individuals we “get” to “go to” “heaven.”
But more often than not, that’s not how Jesus describes heaven. Jesus could have very well given a lecture that was recorded. He had the opportunity to do so. But that’s not what he did…and it struck his disciples as quite odd that Jesus described heaven the way he did, with parables.
Systematic theology has its place and is important for the life of the Tradition. But Jesus shows us the contemplative dimension of our faith, the way our awareness suddenly opens around us and…..we see…..
We see….we come to understand, that, among other things, heaven is not just something that we experience or “go to” when we die…but it is an awareness of God’s presence and hope and promise here and now. In this place. In and through the seemingly ordinary events and objects of life.
God is here…nowhere else…even though we cannot fully grasp God’s being…it surrounds us…
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth is God’s handiwork” as Psalm 19 says.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil…” as Gerard Manley Hopkins breathes into words…
“Surely the Lord was in this place, and I did not know it,” Jacob cries when he woke after wrestling the angel all night.
“Don’t think that if you had a great deal of time you would spend more of it in prayer. Get rid of that idea! God gives more in a moment than in a long period of time, for His actions are not measured by time at all. Know that even when you are in the kitchen, Our Lord is moving among the pots and pans.” as St. Teresa of Avila told the nuns in her convent…
Just in the past two days, I had the chance to experience two profound parables in my own life. Two profoundly ordinary and ordinarily profound moments that showed me just how close God sweeps into our hearts to make us aware. Nothing unusual, except, perhaps, that I was already tuned in to expect God to show up…
Perhaps that is the point….I don’t quite know…
Yesterday we went to Vogel State Park to spend some time with the parish folks who had gathered in that beautiful place. After Jack, Cynthia, Laura Rives, and I had canoed and kayaked out on the lake, we joined others preparing to get lunch ready. I watched the group organize itself and start bringing out nibbles and morsels to enjoy and share.
The grill was ready…and then it hit me.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a giant grill where folks from all around can come and prepare their meal together, telling stories, offering hugs, and laughing as the rich smell of hotdogs, steaks, pork chops, and chicken swirls in the smokey air like incense.
Cynthia and I stood there and watched…and smiled.
The other parable I experienced happened Friday at lunch. You should know that Roxie Goble and Reba Ruth are great friends. Reba Ruth has had cancer, and she’s back on her feet now, in remission. For a while now, Roxie and I have talked about how grateful we are. We’ve also talked about riding in her red convertible! So, imagine what a treat it was when Roxie called and invited me to lunch with her, Joe, Reba Ruth, and several of their friends.
Here is the parable as it best makes sense to me:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman, who, celebrating the health of her friend, invites others to a grand banquet at Sweet Magnolias, reserving a table so everyone can gather for lunch and stories, to give thanks and to share laughs over salads and sandwiches.
But the parable didn’t end there. It had a second part!
The Kingdom of Heaven is also like the same incredible woman inviting her friend and her priest to hop in their red convertible while her devoted husband drives them all around the town square, while they laugh like little kids and take selfies in the backseat!
“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asked the crowd.
“Yes,” they said.
They lied. We need to be honest about that. They lied. They didn’t understand it, really. Not fully…
I wonder if we ever can understand it fully—how God truly does dance into our lives at these moments that make our eyes open wide, that make us catch our breath, that bring a tear to our eye as we stand there and realize…heaven has been here all along.