Sermon Archives

Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered ~ Matthew 13: 31-33; 44-52

Jesus had a lot to say about the “Kingdom of Heaven.” In fact just about everything that Jesus did and said during his ministry was about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus’ first words were: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Something new is happening and it is close by, in the midst, right here – can you feel it, see it, touch it – do you have a new mind to receive it? Because that’s what “repent” means: to “get a new mind for a new age.”

I think of Tony singing in “West Side Story” –
Could be!
Who knows?
There’s something’ due any day;
I will know right away
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballin’
Down through the sky,

Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!
Who knows?

It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feelin’ there’s a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Comin’ to me!….

The air is hummin’,
And something’ great is comin’!
Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach.
Maybe tonight. (We know what happened to Tony)

Expecting the kingdom is not always a peaceful enterprise. It may call for your life!

The Kingdom of Heaven, according to Jesus, was more than some peaceable kingdom in the future, it was not in the “sky by and by.” It was present, real, revolutionary and upsetting – it will rock you, shock you, upset you, crucify you, at least confuse you, and call you to do things you didn’t think you could do.

The kingdom of heaven is like a weed (mustard seed) that takes over a cultivated field. You don’t want the mustard seed in your garden. Birds may like it but farmers don’t. And why would God be sowing a weed?

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, a tiny powerful change agent that, when mixed into the dough with a little water and heat, swells the loaf. Such a little tiny thing causing such chemical havoc.

The kingdom of heaven is like this treasure. You will give up EVERYTHING in order to buy the field in which you have hidden it. (I thought God didn’t want us to bury the gift?)

The kingdom of heaven is like that pearl that you HAVE to have. Nothing else will do and so you do what is considered absolutely foolish and sell everything in order to buy this one little pearl. And what are you going to do with it?

Is ANYTHING worth that much? What is worth that much to you? What is the most important thing to you, really, the most important thing?

The kingdom of heaven is like that amazing catch of fish which is then shaken down and separated – the bad thrown away, the good taken in at the end of the age when the angels come.

It is as if Jesus wants to bewitch, bother and bewilder us, disrupting our comfort, distressing the status quo, and causing our teeth to gnash.

I wish I could domesticate this image. I want to give you an answer. I wish it were gentle good news, but not today! For these parables just stir things up.

The kingdom of God is like immigrant children on the border, pressing to get in.
The kingdom of God is like extremists hiding missals in mosques, risking everything.

Parables are not fables, not moral tales, not how “the leopard got its spots” stories.

When Jesus is talking in parables, he’s talking in a kind of insider’s coded language, using a hidden truth. And I really don’t know what they mean. I really don’t!

“Do you understand this?” Jesus asks his disciples and they say, “Yes.” Perhaps they do, but I wonder.

Jesus doesn’t give you answers. He hoists you up on the horns of a dilemma and leaves you dangling.

We pray “Thy kingdom come!”

We sing “Seek ye first the Kingdom.”

Do you realize that you are praying and singing for something that you will not be able to control and it may cost your life and livelihood?

We look to the Bible for answers, asking: What does the bible say about marriage? What does the bible say about justice? Because we want to do the right thing. We want to please God.

I was at a rehearsal dinner in Seattle several years ago. This really nice guy, a Christian, heard I was a minister and he asked me, truly in humble respect, for biblical verses that would justify him taking his gun to church. He wanted to have every part of his life shaped by scripture.

We ask: “Lord, what must I do to get into the kingdom?”

And Jesus says something very clear and brief: “Love God, love neighbor.”

But understanding and living that will take a lifetime and beyond.

Looking for answers? Go someplace else.

Looking for attitude? Want to get trained as a scribe for the kingdom? Come on then.

We will stand confused together, we will seek together, risk together, go for broke together, get all shook up together, be amazed together, make mistakes together, be foolish together, welcome everyone, drop the masks and stand in awe together…and wait for Jesus together.
Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know what to tell myself other then, life is complicated, choices have to be made, life has to be lived – and if you think there is some formula…Give it up!
For it is only when we come to the Lord with open hands, open hearts, and open minds — and admit that we don’t know—only then do we have a chance for wisdom, a chance to realize that we are standing in the kingdom.

Ted Loder prays: “Persistent God, deliver me from assuming your mercy is gentle. Pressure me that I may grow more human, not through the lessening of my struggles, but through the expansion of them… Deepen my hurt until I learn to share it and myself openly, and my needs honestly. Sharpen my fears until I name them and release the power I have locked in them and they in me. Accentuate my confusion–until I shed those grandiose expectations that divert me from the small, glad gifts of the now and the here and the me.”

Accentuate my confusion!

The kingdom is coming, here, in our midst.

Are you looking for it? Taking risks?

Go ahead and sowing your weed seed! Perhaps the birds will like it even if people don’t.
Do you feel the kingdom in your gut? Pulling you to do something, anything to move past the boredom, get you past the simple answers and formulaic responses of our world.
Are you willing to get knocked off your feet by joy or sadness, and trust beyond trust that God is present and that that is the only thing that matters. Even as Palestinians and Israelis kill each other, and cancer returns, and things don’t work out, and you feel like you are at the end of the age? Well, you are!
Is there something you yearn for so much that you are willing to do almost anything?
Are you sorting through your own life: separating the good from the bad, the succulent from the smelly? What part of your age is ending and what part beginning?
That’s all I have today. But when we are in those moments between certainty and confusion, that’s when we may be pressing on wisdom, leaning into the kingdom, becoming like those scribes who are trained for the kingdom of heaven – able to bring out what is old and what is new.
I can’t believe I am going to end with this, but maybe Bruce Springsteen sings it best about the kingdom attitude:

The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody’s out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide
Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul
Oh, Someday girl I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go and we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us… baby, we were born to run

Scribes and tramps and seekers – bewitched, bothered and bewildered – born to run into the blinding light that shows us the Kingdom of God!