Psalm 1045:1-11, 45b
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8: 26
Tena koutou katoa e te whanau o Te Wairua Tapu.
Well whanau, it has been a somewhat challenging week. Not everything we do goes to plan and we have to change tack and adjust our sails. We are in testing times in Sydney right now. We may think everything is okay and the threat of Covid-19 only happens somewhere else until it comes close to you. Be vigilant and careful out there as hotspots are starting to breakout in a number of suburbs. We have had to slowdown work at the church until members of our extended whanau had been tested and returned negative results before resuming work again. So even when the work is completed won’t mean an immediate return to karakia. We will still need to monitor our movements, contacts and activities. But remember our plans are never God’s plan.
So be careful what you pray for – you just might get it…
That may seem like a strange thing to say today but there is truth in it. Sometimes as Christians, the prayers just roll off our tongue and we don’t really think through the implications of what we are praying for or the process that may be involved if the things we pray for come into reality. Nowhere is that more evident, than in the Lord’s Prayer which we say week in week out, if not day in day out – and we don’t really think through the implications of the words we are saying. The Lord’s Prayer is a powerful karakia with some dangerous statements in it and not least of these is the phrase, “Your Kingdom come…” What seems like a fairly pleasant plea to God is actually counter-cultural and a revolutionary request because it is a plea for the existing social order to be turned on its head and for the world to be governed and controlled by a new set of rules: for all social and political interaction to be transformed almost completely. But as the late Dr Hone Kaa once said, “We are slaves to the rhythm.”
Part of the problem is that we have been educated to see Jesus in a particular image. We want to think of him as a mild mannered, white man, strolling around the countryside, talking in happy metaphors about sheep and lights on a hill, performing amazing miracles for his adoring followers. But in reality he was a man of colour, a tradesman who walked the roads of Israel and he was a social revolutionary who was dedicated to denouncing oppressive systems and challenging the authority of the occupying Roman army. But that’s Jesus of Nazareth: the liberator speaking out against the forces of injustice, who was not afraid to say, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…” So be careful what you pray for…
In our Gospel reading today from Matthew, Jesus gives a number of parables, beginning each one with the phrase, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” And we hear that phrase and we settle back in our chairs and get comfortable because we know that we are about to hear Jesus spin another good story for us. But it doesn’t work like that. When Jesus says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”, we should be nervous, on guard and be ready because this man dedicated his life – and his death – to taking us right outside our comfort zones and confronting us with the harsh reality of Truth.
So he begins with the parable of the mustard seed: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” We find that comforting, don’t we? Jesus, mild mannered, telling us that big things can come from small beginnings. We link it to Jesus’ saying that we are to have faith like a mustard seed and we think that its OK to only have a little bit of faith because that will be enough. So we can all relax. We don’t need to work hard at being a Christian. We don’t need to devote ourselves too much to the spiritual disciplines because Jesus has told us that a little bit of faith is perfectly adequate. But a Gentle Jesus didn’t tell this parable.
This parable was told by Jesus, a man who was prepared to live and die to see a new world order come in to being…
His people would have heard a story about a mustard plant, which was an invasive plant, going deep into the soil. They would have picked up on the real threat in this story. Because the sower plants the seed, perhaps in desperation and out of his poverty, in the hope that it might produce something useful and very quickly. But there is also the danger that the mustard plant will grow and grow and invade the rest of the soil and take over that part of the landscape, making the soil unusable for any other form of vegetation. And, of course, that invasive property is exactly what Jesus wants to highlight because his mustard seed becomes a tree and the birds come to nest in it.
Therefore, the Kingdom of heaven is completely invasive. It might look small and it may even be sown in desperation and out of poverty – but it will grow and grow and will invade the land and eventually become a sanctuary for others to find rest in. You see, God’s Kingdom comes as a threat to those who cling to the old world order. Sound familiar. Jesus wants God’s Kingdom to invade and dominate the land and that is the message he is prepared to live and die for.
And if we have not yet got the point about the Kingdom of God being threatening, uncontainable and invasive, Jesus follows it up with another story: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Now we know what the Gentle Jesus is talking about! The woman in her kitchen, kneeding the dough while her children are playing, the smell of freshly baking rewana bread hanging in the air and her husband or partner is sitting at the table waiting for a feed of hot bread. Another comfortable image for us – from a Gentle Jesus.
But yeast meant something else to the first hearers of this parable? Yeast was to be avoided at the most holy times of the year: Unleavened Bread was the order of the day. And elsewhere, Jesus used the symbol of yeast to describe the behaviour of the Pharisees. For those people who lived in an agricultural culture, yeast was hard to handle. It was unpredictable, it bubbled up, it collapsed and it grew again. It was hard to handle and, at certain times, it was to be avoided altogether. So Jesus again is not giving us a neat and comfortable image here: the Kingdom of heaven is unpredictable. It bubbles up from within and completely transforms the environment in which it grows.
Mustard seeds and Yeast. These are products that change its environment. They cannot be contained or controlled. They grow in secret and then, all of a sudden, the host environment becomes transformed. And the effects of the seed and the yeast will do what it wants to do: the sower and the baker cannot control them.
Therefore, the Kingdom of heaven is something we cannot control.
This is an important principle for us to grasp because there is a tendency for Christians to want church to be a beautiful place, where we sing beautiful hymns and use beautiful liturgy in the comfort of a beautiful building. Something we are working on right now. And, I am not saying that these things aren’t important but if we are to grow as a church, we will need to forsake aspects of beauty for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. The truth is that the Kingdom of God is not always a beautiful place to be. It can be a messy place; at times, it can be an ugly place. If we think that a Gentle Jesus is telling these parables, then we might expect the Kingdom of heaven to be a beautiful and peaceful place. But a Gentle Jesus didn’t tell these parables. These parables were told by Jesus, that man who was prepared to live and die to see a new world order come in to being. So he prepares us for a kingdom that can be as messy and ugly as it is beautiful.
But its in all the mess that we create together that beauty will be found. Because, as Jesus told us in the parable in verse 45, it takes a lot of searching to find a pearl. But once its found, the search will have been worth it… “Your kingdom come…” So be careful what you pray for – because the Kingdom of heaven is like that proclaimed by Jesus, the revolutionary, not like some imaginary Gentle Jesus. It is subversive and its messy, and if we want to embrace the Kingdom, then we must embrace the revolutionary nature of the kingdom and the mess that this causes…
Jesus walked the roads of Israel. And when he saw social injustice, oppression and marginalisation, he spoke out against it. His ministry was a messy ministry. But Jesus was prepared to die for the liberation of his people because he knew that the coming of the Kingdom of heaven was the ultimate goal of liberation. That was his mission. And Jesus invites us into that mission today. It will be uncomfortable at times, it will get messy – but that’s the Kingdom of heaven. Not everything is beautiful and smells like roses. So be careful what you pray for…You just might get it… Amen.
Archdeacon Kaio Karipa
God of new joy, nothing can compare to the kingdom of heaven. Help us to pursue your reign with all of our strength, that our happiness will one day be made complete. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu