I was not the brightest kid at times growing up. We all do some silly things growing up, right? We go through phases, which our parents hope we will grow out of eventually (and we all know some adults who never quite made it out of that one particular phase or another). I remember as a child of about 6 years old or so going through this leprechaun phase of all things. I remember heading out with my friends the streets of Parma, Ohio, one day to follow a rainbow in the hopes of finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (yes, children, back then parents basically released you into the world from dawn until dusk; the only rule was that you made it back home alive by the time the street lights turned on). Again, I reiterate that I was not the brightest of children at times.
The worst part about this leprechaun phase was that my mother egged me on! She told me about leaving traps out to catch leprechauns! So one day I remember leaving out a pile of coins under the stairs (because leprechauns hide under the stairs and they love money, of course; I can’t believe you don’t know this). Anyways, I was to wait the night, and the next day I would go back and check my trap. So this is what I did. I was excited the whole night; too excited to sleep. Eventually, finally, the morning came and I bound down to underneath the basement steps to see if I had caught anything. And to my amazement…I caught a leprechaun! Well, not a real leprechaun of course (they have magical powers that can evade any of our feeble traps). But nonetheless, this leprechaun bank was left in their place. I consider it sort of a consolation prize from the leprechaun community.
Now, I hate to break anyone’s spirits here today, but leprechauns…are a myth. In fact, the bank was left by my mother, but I still hold onto it as a bit of a keepsake. But this got me thinking, what other myths are out there that people still believe in. So let’s play a quick game, to see what is true, and what is, after all, a myth. This can be our minute version of ‘MythBusters’ here at Valley Community.
Fact or Myth: the outcomes are ‘busted’, ‘plausible’ or ‘confirmed’…
- Did dinosaurs and humans ever co-exist? Busted. Despite 41% of American adults believing so, we missed the dinosaurs by about 63 million years.
- Vikings wore horned helmets. Busted. These were actually designed for a 19th Century Wagner opera.
- Bulls hate the color red. Busted. Bulls are actually color blind, and when they charge they are reacting to the aggressive movement of the bull fighter’s cloth.
- Finally, fact or myth: Bigfoot here in the Pacific Northwest…Plausible!
I’m sorry if I just rocked the very foundation that some of you were basing your lives on. But I think this hints at a question that we deal with in our lives today. What’s really true? What is real news, and what is fake news? What is fact, and what is myth? And some of these questions lead to some honest, deeper, questions. Is the life I am leading really what I want, or who I am, or is it all some sort of façade?
Interestingly enough, the more we have privileges and options in life, the more we struggle with such questions. Yes, many of us live with some wonderful opportunities. We live with the idea that many of our parents shared with us as children, that we do and become whatever we want in life. We live in comfortable homes. We drive our own cars. We walk the streets of our neighborhoods in relative safety and security. We send our children to schools where we expect that they will be properly cared for. We can go to the grocery store and choose from 101 different options for just about any food we can imagine. We are living pretty great lives! And yet…there is always this ‘huh’ within our thoughts…this pause…this questioning.
Is this the life I am meant to lead? Is this what this world is all about? Is there something that I am missing?
People throughout history have wondered these very same things. In fact, in the time of Jesus, there were many asking these questions. What is this religion thing all about? How should I comprehend this government and this Emperor that seems to be controlling my life? What is really best for my family and children? So when Jesus started talking about something called the kingdom of heaven, people’s ears perked up. People have heard about kingdoms before, but never about this heavenly kingdom. Here he was, talking about the world in a way that seemed so different than the daily lives that many people lived. Here he was, teaching groups of people lessons that seemed counterintuitive to ‘real life’. Jesus was speaking in parables, challenging authorities, and talking about God in a way that most people had never heard. What really is myth, and what is real?
We pick up in the 13th chapter of Matthew as Jesus is talking about this kingdom of heaven, but what is it? The Jewish leaders of the time had different understandings of what happened to people. The Pharisees wanted people to follow strict daily laws in order to live holy lives before God; the reward would be salvation for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection, but promoted a life of ritual based around the written law. And there were others like the Essenes who chose to live away from society as a whole in monastic life.
And here comes Jesus, talking in different terms about how to live our daily lives, and this kingdom. It seems that the kingdom is something that is already amongst us, and yet still also being realized. You see, the kingdom of heaven is not something that we wait for, or hope for if we live our lives in just the right way. The kingdom of heaven is here.
31He put before them [the crowd] another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Here we have Jesus talking about the kingdom of heaven as something that is basically unstoppable. It is something that grows, almost imperceptible to the average eye, like that of a seed growing into a great tree.
According to some, the amount of yeast with the 3 measures of flour would be enough to feed over 100 people! The Kingdom of heaven moves and grows in the world all around us! And those who garner its benefits? The birds of the air who make their nests in its branches, and those who are lucky enough to taste the warm, fresh bread being made! I wonder who those people are.
Jesus continued, this time to his disciples:
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Here Jesus talks slightly differently about the kingdom of heaven. He chooses to focus not so much on the movement of God, but on the response of those who embrace this kingdom. How will we respond to such news? Will our lives change? Will we share the news and celebrate with others?
Those listening understand that the kingdom of heaven is a two way road: God will move, and we will respond.
So what is the kingdom of heaven? Is it a myth, or a reality? Is it something that we simply wait for, or something to be grasped? And what does this have to do with our lives today?
There is a teaching that one of my favorite theologians named Shane Claiborne shares with others called the ‘upside down kingdom’, or others may call it the ‘great reversal’. If we read the teachings of Jesus, we understand that the real world is not as it should be. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. And many of us are caught somewhere in the middle fighting for any sort of scraps we can muster from this world. But the teaching of the upside down kingdom says that the kingdom of heaven is quite different. In fact, if we look at Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount he says that those who suffer will be exalted. The last shall be first. And those who give their lives will find them.
If you ever look at yourself in the mirror, if you ever reflect on your life, if you ever observe the daily life around you, and ask yourself if this is all as it should be; if you pause and hesitate for a moment and wonder if this is myth or real, then I have news for you.
Jesus says that the world as it is, is not as it should be. But don’t be discouraged! The truth about the world around us is that we need to turn it upside down!
Friends, the Good News this morning is this: the kingdom of heaven is here. It is moving amongst us at this very moment. Yes, things are not fully realized just yet, but the kingdom of heaven will not be stopped! It will grow within us and around us like that of the smallest seed growing into the greatest of trees. It will rise like freshly baked bread!
The kingdom of heaven is a treasure within our grasps! Will we receive this treasure and share it with the world around us?!
The world we live in right now may be more myth, but as we turn the world on its head, we realize the kingdom of heaven is most real, and we are called to help realize this kingdom together!
So what is the kingdom of heaven like for us here today at Valley Community if it is meant to be turned upside down?
The kingdom of heaven is realized when it this church is a place where people of all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, genders, orientations, political beliefs, and identities are welcome and embraced. All people!
The kingdom of heaven is realized as we take our wealth that God has blessed us with and share it with others of this community, this congregation, and the world through stewardship and offering.
The kingdom of heaven is amongst us as we die to our selfish desires as traditional church members and find new life as disciples of Christ in seeking out and meeting the needs of those who are outside the walls of this church through mission and evangelism. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ!
All we do as Valley Community is for preparing and realizing the kingdom of heaven. This is our reason for being!
The kingdom of heaven, as Jesus says, is here today! It is real! Do you feel it?
As we take bold steps into these next days in ministry as Valley Community, may we do so courageously, in the hope and knowledge of God already at work amongst us.