Sermon: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Text: Mark 4:26-34
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have heard it said that Heaven really must be a wonderful place, because no-one has yet come back to complain!
As active Christians, it is something which we think we have an idea about, it is certainly our goal and perhaps through the grace of God, it will be our reward also. But we do not properly know what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like: cartoon images abound of clouds and angels with halos and wings compete with pastoral images of rolling golf courses and big houses.
Christ spoke frequently of the kingdom of heaven and its relationship to this earth, but only obliquely described it in practical terms. It was far more important for him to outline the nature of heaven than its substance. For us, it is the nature of heaven which should be our concern, not the substance.
Thus, this pericope, or gobbet of scripture serves to bring together two explorations of the Kingdom of Heaven by likening it to something familiar to the people of the age. Both times in this reading he uses the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
• Like the growth of plants, which happens without our truly perceiving it
• Like a mustard seed which starts small and grows into something mighty
We should be careful not to overstep our understanding of these similes, for Christ does not say “The Kingdom of Heaven is”. We are not ready yet for what the kingdom actually is, and so it is revealed to us in language and concepts that we mere human beings can handle.
Both of these examples gives us a glimpse of an aspect of heaven, but without the full picture. Christ, who came from heaven to earth is the only one who is gifted with that full picture.
When we are always with our children, we don’t really notice them growing. One moment, they are light and easy to pick up and the next… One moment that blazer engulfs them and in the twinkling of an eye it is halfway up their arm. Those marks on the door post serve to prove what their Aunties remark when they havn’t seen the children in a while: ooooo – havn’t you grown.
Just because we don’t notice something, doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. How often do people blame God for all the bad things that happen in the world and neglect to praise him when something good comes off? How often do we write off God’s blessings on us as the work of our own skill, our brilliance, and forget to thank He who makes all of this possible?
The Kingdom of Heaven has come to earth, in hidden form, before our eyes and we did not spot it, for it came in the form of a man. That Kingdom will come crashing into earth again in the future, and when heaven and earth coincide, it will be like nothing we have experienced ever before.
A friend of mine was a viticulturist, a grower of vines and the creator of some of the south coast’s best vineyards before he ran away like me to join not the circus, but the priesthood. He spoke of the link between the fermentation of wine and our growth in the spirit: it takes a little yeast, it works in a mysterious way, it works hidden in the dark, and transforms simple grape juice into something so much more.
Just like our love, wine is created in the warmth, it grows under the pleasure of God. It is more than simply for ourselves that we experience this growth, for we have preached this faith for far longer than the modern ‘self-help’ gurus and life-trainers; the faith in Christ moves beyond the personal and into the collective, making us children of God. We are transformed, like wine, in subtle ways, and the ordinary is made extraordinary, fruit sugar becomes alcohol.
Of course, this is what Christ does for us each and every day. He takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary; he takes the bread and wine and gives us his body and blood. He takes our ordinary lives and transforms us.
The humble mustard seed is transformed into a shrub, it expands and takes over, filling the area and beyond. That is growth, growth in the spirit, growth in faith and love, growth in our humanity.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Well, like nothing on earth really. The Kingdom of Heaven is beyond our human understanding, but on the authority of Christ it will be better than anything we can imagine. It will be broader than the mustard shrub, when heaven crashes into earth it will be beyond belief. It is not us or our values who will decide who is there – for that is God’s choice alone. For now, we must continue to grow in Christ’s likeness.
This is why coming to church, participating in the mass and receiving the Eucharist is more than a duty. It is more than something we do, because we have always done it so. We continue to do this, and to encourage others to do this, because it is a part of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives; we might not be able to see it happening, but it happens under our very noses – transforming us from a seed into a great harvest. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like!