‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God’ asks Jesus in our Gospel today. To answer his question he uses a parable to help his listeners understand because it’s not a kingdom as we often think of it. Nor is it a place, as we understand place. Nor is it just a fantasy or an idea that makes us feel better.
It is so much for when we pray ‘thy kingdom come’ we are praying that God’s reign over all things will in time be established.
What that looks like is beyond our imagining except every now and then we get little clues. For example, in those random acts of kindness and love from both friend and stranger that surprise us. These help us believe that what we hope and dream of, what we long for might just come true.
They are to use the imagery of our Gospel little mustard seeds of the kingdom, gifts through which we contemplate what is to come. And yet the imagery Jesus plays with in this parable is not just about the future. It’s about what was to happen next for those first followers of Jesus.
For they in a way were tiny seeds, frightened people, fragile and precarious living in a hostile culture. But they became so much more for from tiny seeds came the church that has ‘”put(s) forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”’
We here in Whitkirk we are especially thankful that the mustard seed of the church planted here centuries ago has grown and that the large branches formed over the years continues to reach out into our community and provide shelter for all.
From the very beginning the life of the church at its best was and is an anticipation, a foretaste of the kingdom. Where in our life together we glimpse what might be, as we strive to be a community rooted in love. Where we support and encourage each other. Where we seek the way of reconciliation, healing and new life.
The trouble is, as we all know the church doesn’t always look like that. So, though we have much to be thankful for here at St. Mary’s we know too there have been times when we have succumbed to petty squabbling and disagreement, jealousy and unkindness.
Thankfully though we are not alone, the church has always had trouble living anticipating the kingdom as St. Paul’s letters remind us.
And yet still the vision matters and is one we aspire to live into. One where we to turn to Paul’s words to us today we ‘regard no one from a human point of view’.
In other words, we as followers of Jesus strive to see as he would see. To see both friend and stranger as bearer’s something of God’s image, as being unique and precious whatever their life looks like.
And here I return to one of my favourite poems written by Edwin Muir, entitled the Transfiguration. It’s a poem about seeing things differently.
I offer a couple of excerpts in the hope that the words might help us ponder St. Paul’s words that we see ‘no one from a human point of view’.
Muir writes of how
‘The lurkers under doorways, murderers
….came out of themselves to us and were with us,
and those who hid within the labyrinth
of their own loneliness and greatness came,
and those entangled in their own devices,
the silent and garrulous liars, all
stepped out of their dungeon and were free.’
But then he says
‘the world rolled back into its place, and we are here,
and all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
as if it had never stirred.’
There’s both a beauty and a sadness to Muir’s words that help us as we ponder the readings before us. He captures so memorably a sense of what might be, alongside what is.
Perhaps that’s why the poem speaks, both to the longing and desire we have for all things to be made new, so that even those who are lost are found.
Alongside the sense that life can sometimes be unbearably cruel. That though there come moments of hope they are soon tempered by the cruelty of life.
For both in our experience of life, as we read and digest the headlines and wonder what will happen next in the world it can sometimes feel as though the brief encounters with the kingdom can ‘lie forlorn’ amidst the mysteries and confusions of life.
But then to return to the Gospel perhaps Jesus likely knew this and used a mustard seed to remind us of how we might glimpse the kingdom not through power and strength but through weakness – through a tiny seed.
A seed so small that you might miss it or mistake it for something else yet a seed that once planted in fertile ground, tended, and cared for will grow and become ‘the greatest of all shrubs.’
And so, amidst the mysteries of life, the kingdom moments and the mysteries to use Paul’s words ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ because we believe that in and through him we have found a way of living and loving that makes sense of the world.
A way that offers hope and encouragement and embraces all. Believing that we have a part to play in anticipating the kingdom of God both in and through the life of the church and how we live and love and serve him in our daily lives.
To see as Muir wrote that even ‘murderers, the silent and garrulous liars and those who hide within the labyrinth of their own loneliness and greatness’ are as we are ‘free’ in Christ. We see a world filled with possibility and potential even though it might sometimes look otherwise.
Let us contemplate the ‘mustard seed’. ‘The smallest of all the seeds on earth’ for perhaps it is there amidst the small and easily missed that we glimpse the kingdom for which we pray.