The Eighth Sunday after the Pentecost, Year A
[Texts: I Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-52]
“Can’t See the Bushes for the Trees”
Please pray with me:
O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee. Amen.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a mustard seed…”
Well, for starters, because a mustard seed is tiny.
And a mustard bush– what that seed grows into– is, indeed, a bush.
Not a tree– not a tree with bark or a thick trunk or big branches– but a bush.
Under ideal conditions, a mustard bush can be as tall as ten or twenty feet.
Under less-ideal conditions, it might not even grow to be as tall as I am.
But even at its best, it’s got nothing on the eighty-plus-foot-tall cedar trees that Jesus’s listeners would be familiar with.
If He wanted to talk about a giant, strong, powerful, awe-inspiring tree, He probably would have talked about those famous cedars of Lebanon.
But He didn’t.
He talked about a bush.
A mustard bush.
A mustard bush– which grows from a tiny, insignificant mustard seed.
Well, to be fair, Jesus didn’t have the most impressive beginning, either.
He was the child of an unwed, poor, teenage peasant girl,
born in a barn, laid in a trough, surrounded by farm animals and shepherds.
He grew up in the middle of nowhere,
in a little town nobody believed anything good would ever come out of, the stepson of the local carpenter.
He spent his ministry as an itinerant preacher,
with no formal education to speak of, no money, and no permanent address.
He rode a donkey into town,
washed the feet of His disciples,
and died the death of a common criminal,
hanging on a cross between two thieves.
That hardly sounds like the conquering superhero King that His people were expecting.
(That’s because they didn’t know what to expect.)
Sometimes I don’t think we know what to expect, either.
We’re missing the bushes for the trees.
We’re looking for those eighty-foot cedars when the Kingdom of Heaven is right in front of us.
We look to Wall Street bankers, billionaires, celebrities, ruthless politicians and soulless empires, and think,
“Now that’s power.”
And it is–
but not the kind of power modeled for us by Christ–
our donkey-riding, foot-washing, born in a barn King.
That is not how this King works.
That is not how His Kingdom works.
In the Kingdom of this world, we are told that bigger is better–
why drive a Ford F-150 when you could drive a Ford F-350?
why build a Wal-Mart when you could build a Super Wal-Mart?
why have a little when you could have a whole lot?
Bigger is better… except when it’s not.
Bigger is better… except in the Kingdom of Heaven…
where finding your place means leaving everything behind,
and saving your life means giving it up;
where a feast for thousands begins with a child’s lunch,
and a royal parade is led by a donkey;
where power looks like a manger,
and strength looks like turning the other cheek,
and authority looks like a basin and a towel,
and victory looks like a cross.
We think this Kingdom is so far away, so unattainable, so hopelessly distant–
and with all the grief and unfairness, the suffering and sorrow, the death and despair that tower over this world we live in,
who can blame us for thinking that way?
But Jesus tells us to think again.
He tells us that His Kingdom is like
a farmer’s field,
a woman baking bread,
a wedding feast,
a mustard seed.
The Kingdom of God may not be what we expect a Kingdom to be like,
nor is its King anything like how we would normally imagine a ruler.
But if we know what to look for,
it is all around us,
revealed to us in the most ordinary and unexpected ways,
through everyday items and experiences,
in the things that are so easy to take for granted–
so easy to miss–
but is is there.
Thy Kingdom come, O Lord.
And help us not to miss the Kingdom for the trees.