Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.
The kingdom of heaven is like…
Most evenings, since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, I go for a walk with our dogs. We were walking home in the dark on Monday night and suddenly I got a waft of a wonderful familiar fragrance. I couldn’t see it, but I could smell it. It was Jasmine. Every time I have walked past since whether in darkness or daylight, I have stopped for a moment to breathe in the sweet fragrance of Jasmine.
In a society fixated with outward appearances, beauty, size, wealth and power, this week’s reading reminds all who ask, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?” that the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God is something that is not easily recognisable or plain for all to see. It is like seeds sown in the dark earth; something that is at work without being noticed; something hidden from sight; something present but not always perceived. The kingdom of heaven may not be found in the things that we invest so much of our lives and energy into, nor may it be something that awaits us when we leave this life but in the parables Jesus is certainly telling us that the kingdom of heaven is here and now. So how do we turn our attention to the ways of the kingdom of heaven? How do we grasp the life of the kingdom?
When we see falling attendances at church services and churches closing and being sold, one could be tempted to conclude that the dream of the kingdom of heaven is over or it is just a fantasy. But the parables remind us of the hiddenness of the kingdom and encourage us, despite the outer appearances of a church that is shrinking, that the kingdom of heaven is still very much alive and growing. Seeds are still being sown, watered and nurtured and will produce an abundant harvest. The parables remind us not to equate the church with the kingdom of heaven and remind us to look outside the church for the signs of the kingdom at work and to look in unexpected places, even in small, dark and unimportant places by the world’s standards.
I listened to conversations with Sarah Kanowski on ABC Radio this week as she interviewed Rebecca McCabe, who recently left the Sisters of Mercy having been a nun for 26 years. Rebecca McCabe said that now that she is out of the life of the convent she has had more scope to explore her spirituality than she ever did. She said, "It was like there was a security there that held me, and I needed to step outside that to gain my own agency to redefine who I was and to re-evaluate — I suppose at the deepest level — what's meaningful in life." It seems strange to hear someone say that, yet sometimes we have to stop and search for that seed of life again and nurture it and be nurtured by it. How tragic it would be to spend our whole life in the life of the church and yet not grasp what the kingdom of heaven is about. How tragic to be consumed by power and wealth and beauty and numbers and miss the kingdom. How tragic to be driven by fear or busyness or ego or by the demands and expectations of others and not have the time to slow down, to stop and smell the flowers of the kingdom.
Prayer: Loving God, as I walk through this life may I smell the flowers of the fields as well as those that bloom in the garden. May I notice the flowers along my path; the flowers on the sunny hillsides and even the flowers in the dark valleys. May I notice those hard to find flowers in deserts and dry times in my life, and on the cold lonely winter days of my life, as well as in the Spring, Summer and the Autumn of my life. May I be aware of your kingdom all around me and may I give my attention to your ways and find your life and let your kingdom grow in me, within me and all around me. May I be a blessing sown in your garden, a sweet fragrance of life. Amen.
Photo: Flowers in the Burren, and Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation