Jesus said, “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God? Or what parable will we use for it?” And he goes on to use all sorts of parables to try and teach something of what the Kingdom of God is like.
It’s almost as if Jesus knows the Kingdom is too beyond our comprehension or understanding to just give it to us straight. And so he does his darndest to give us a glimpse of pieces of the Kingdom.
A parable here. A parable there. All offering another small chunk. And some of the parables are surprising. Some confusing. Some kind of funny.
But I think, for me, the one that most captures my own experience of the Kingdom of God is one of the ones we get today.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow. He does not know how.
The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head. Then the full grain in the head.”
The Kingdom of God is like a beautiful, happy accident…
It doesn’t happen because we’ve worked really hard for it. You can’t will the Kingdom of God to appear. And most of the time, when you do get a glimpse, it’s when you never saw it coming.
And you ask, “How did that happen?” And the most honest answer, most of the time, is, “I don’t have a clue.”
You know, if you pay attention to the parables, none of them are about the value of “working hard” and “making things happen.”
More so, they’re about this thing that just happens, whether we want it to or not. Whether we’re ready for it or not.
Last week, it was the parable of the sower. The farmer that just throws seeds everywhere. On the dirt. In the thorns. On the road. Places that don’t make sense at all! And yet, the Kingdom still shows up!
This week, the mustard seed. The Kingdom is like planting and invasive weed! Whoops! Didn’t mean for that to get so out of control! But the Kingdom is like that!
And this third parable, of the oblivious farmer. Who just throws seeds around, walks away, goes about his business, and come back to find, lo and behold!, full grown plants! How did that happen?!
But isn’t that so much of what the Kingdom is like?
We work so hard, sometimes, at things that amount to nothing. But sometimes, you get the right people in the right place at the right time, and “bam!”, the Kingdom of God is at hand! How did that happen?!
I don’t know…Someone planted a seed somewhere.
And it can be hard, sometimes, to realize we don’t have control over how that seed grows.
Do you know, out of all the parables that are about seeds and growing, Jesus never once tells a parable about someone who carefully tended and nurtured that tiny seed and helped it to grow into something mighty? Never once.
The parables of the Kingdom are all about how things grow with or without us. Or how things so quickly grow out of hand! Mustard seeds. Yeast in bread. A little bit ruins the whole lot!
But the Kingdom of God is like that!
Even a tiny encounter with God or with God’s Kingdom has the power to infect the rest of your life. But it won’t happen because you make it happen.
We do not have power over the Kingdom. We cannot make it happen.
In the Small Catechism, one of the things Martin Luther writes about is the Apostle’s Creed. And he breaks the Creed down into its 3 parts – parts about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And for each part, he writes a little something about what it means and what we learn about God from it.
And his explanations about the Father and the Son are lovely and good. But it’s what he says about the Holy Spirit where you’ll find some of his best theology.
He writes of the Holy Spirit, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength, I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.
But instead, the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church.”
Did you hear that? By my own understanding or strength, I can’t make sense of any of this. Even faith itself is beyond me! Faith, Luther says, is not what we do, but what’s done in us, by the gift of God.
It’s as if a bunch of seeds have been thrown around and when they bloom within us, the best we can say is, “Huh. Look at that. How did that happen?”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a guy who threw some seeds on the ground, when about his business, and was delighted to find those seeds had become grain. And isn’t that so much of what the Kingdom is like?
I mean, the only reason we are here, the only reason the Church exists at all is by this mysterious working of the Holy Spirit in us.
I know there’s plenty of talk and concern about, ‘how to grow the church.’ But perhaps the more faithful question is to flip the question around and ask,
“Why are we here in the first place? How is it that this community exists at all?”
I’ll tell you, it’s not because we’ve made it happen. It’s not because of all our hard work and effort.
Don’t get me wrong, I know this community works hard together to serve our community in so many ways. And that is a gift! But why do we exist at all? How did this community come to be at all? How did that happen?
Or, even more so, how does love happen? How does forgiveness happen? How does healing happen?
I don’t know! But here it is! What a gift!
These things, these gifts, they are in us. Taking root. Growing. Blooming. All while we go about our days, sleeping and rising, night and day. Oblivious to God’s work, oblivious to the Kingdom, growing right up in our own lives.
But the Kingdom of God is like this! It is beyond us. And among us. And within us.
And it’s not ours to control, only to receive. Only to celebrate the mystery of God at work. Even, and maybe especially, when we don’t understand.
Because this gift is not ours to own, but only ours to share. Those small seeds of the Kingdom become bread for the world. Not by our doing, but by God’s alone.
The kingdom of God has come near. And with what can we compare it?