Sermon: Proper 12 RCL A – “The Kingdom of God is…”

A mosquito is flying, looking for a snack. He spots a man high on a pole, lands on the man’s arm, and bites.

The man, an electrician who was anxious to finish work, decided not to wait for the “cherry picker,” and instead used a ladder. When the mosquito bit, he quickly moved to swat it. He missed; however, the sudden movement caused him to lose balance and he dropped to the ground and the ladder fell against the wires causing a short, creating a black out across the whole district.

In the zipper factory it suddenly went dark and the machinery stopped. The owner immediately knew that for him it would be a complete disaster. He had too quickly accepted his first big order; he had already had to put all his staff on extended overtime and to save on cost had not yet put in a generator. Now he knew he would have to tell the customer that he would be unable to complete the order in time for the clothing factory. He could only hope that next week’s shipment would be alright.

The CEO of the clothing factory was livid. He should have known not to trust that new zipper maker, yet he had to cut costs to remain competitive. He could not afford to have the workers on that particular line stand idle with pay for one week, so he laid them off for that time.

The trade union did not agree with the production line closing for a week and so picketed the factories entrance. There was trouble at the picket line and some people were injured. Management blamed the union and the union blamed management. A full strike at the factory followed.

It was approaching the height of the sales season for clothing stores, so on hearing of the labor dispute customers cancelled their orders and renewed them with trouble free factories.

In the small town, the main employment was the clothing factory. Without it, there was nowhere for the people to work, so they left in droves; trying to find employment. And the town became a ghost town. Why? Because a mosquito wanted a snack.

Within mathematics there is the chaos theory and within chaos theory is the butterfly effect, which, according to a Wikipedia article, is defined as “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. For example, the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane,” or how a mosquito can turn a thriving community into a ghost town.

It may be that God works through what we consider chaos theory, but there can be no doubt that His plan is infinitely well conceived. As the Psalmist declared, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” but so many times, God’s plans begin, not in the grand and flashy, but in the simple, the quiet, and the very small.

In 1923, two brothers set up a production company in their uncle’s garage making cartoons. Their first original character was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. They had their ups and downs, but eventually came up with a cartoon character named “Mickey.” Of course the two brothers were Walt and Roy Disney. The Walt Disney Company is now involved in all sorts of media: print, television, online, you name it. In 2016 they weren’t operating out of someone’s garage, the company had $55.6 billion in revenue and was worth about $150 billion, yet before he died Walt Disney (d. 1966) said, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus told us five short parables all beginning with the words, “the kingdom of Heaven – or God – is like a ___.” He completed those five statements with a mustard seed, leaven/yeast, a treasure in a field, a pearl, and finally a great catch of fish. What he doesn’t do, as with the parables of the last few weeks, is explain them. Instead he asks, “Have you understood this?” The people answered, “Yes.” So my question for you is: Do you? I know you do, but just for fun, let’s review.

To begin, the Kingdom of Heaven is like one of the smallest seeds, the mustard seed. It seems insignificant at first, yet over time it grows into a large tree making room for many birds. In the time of Jesus, the Jews thought that this tree – that is, the Kingdom of Heaven – was only for Jews, but Jesus teaches there is room for all the birds of the air, for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, in God’s Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is like leaven. Through Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven has been greatly increased, yet like leaven, this expansion goes on unseen. It is not like a kingdom expanding through the conquering of lands and peoples. It is not expanding in the physical world, but in the spiritual, in the hearts of people, and through this, the Kingdom is expanded, one soul at a time.

Some of those souls, like the man who found the treasure in the field, find the Kingdom of Heaven unexpectedly. They are going about their daily business and encounter God, while others are actively searching for truth, as a man searching for the finest of pearls. In either case, whether unexpectedly or through searching, when they find the Kingdom of Heaven, when they find The Truth – Jesus – these individuals will use whatever means is available to them and pay whatever price is required, so that they may possess it for themselves.

But not everyone who “thinks” they have found the Kingdom of God has actually found it. Remember what Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” So the Kingdom of Heaven is like the fishermen who use great nets to fish. They cast them out on the water and the net traps everything as it sinks, but not all the fish that are caught are fit to eat. So, at the end of the day the fishermen sort them, keeping only the good and casting out the rest. The same is true with souls. Some think they have found the Kingdom of God, that treasure in the field or the pearl of great worth, when in fact it’s only fools gold or a glass marble. This is a warning for us all to be on our guard against false teaching and to continually seek the Truth of God, not arrogantly believing we’ve got it all worked out, which was the error of the religious leaders in the time of Jesus.

It is in this way that the Kingdom of Heaven has grown throughout the world and throughout history. Even today, many have given everything they possess, including their very lives, to have it for themselves and to share it with others. Yet even this great movement of faith began very small, not with a mosquito, a mouse, or a mustard seed. It began with a young girl living in the Judean countryside. It began with her, “Yes” to God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

What part do we play in this great work of God? We often think, very little if anything. We look at the world around us. We see the powerful of the world, the great upheavals of nations, we witness the misuse of wealth, the divisions of families and entire races, so many wrongs and we come to believe that we can’t make a difference. We are too small, to insignificant to effect the Kingdom of Heaven. But consider these words of Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he spoke to a group of individuals about to be ordained priest: “Amidst the vast scene of the world’s problems and tragedies you may feel that your own ministry seems so small, so insignificant, so concerned with the trivial. What a tiny difference it can make to the world that you should run a youth club, or preach to a few people in a church, or visit families with seemingly small result. But consider: the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter and that the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child are of infinite worth to God. Consider our Lord himself… In a country where there were movements and causes which excited the allegiance of many – the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Essenes, and others – our Lord gives many hours to one woman of Samaria, one Nicodemus, one Martha, one Mary, one Lazarus, one Simon Peter, for the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.”

You say that is true for priest, for the ordained, but we are all called to the Holy Priesthood of our God, so whatever analogy you choose to use – a mosquito, a mouse, a young girl, or a mustard seed – the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Our God will continue to increase the same as it always has, in very small ways, one soul at a time through your faithful efforts, through your works both great and small. So allow God to put you to work. Repeat to him the words Mary spoke to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” I am the Lord’s servant. May your purposes for me be accomplished.

Let us pray. O God, you granted countless graces to the saints who have gone before us, choosing them as most faithful instruments to show the way of sanctification through daily work and the fulfillment of the ordinary duties of a Christian. Grant that we also may learn to turn all the circumstances and events of our lives into occasions of loving you and of serving the Church and all souls, with joy and simplicity, lighting up the ways of the earth with brightness of faith and love. Amen.

5 Replies to “Sermon: Proper 12 RCL A – “The Kingdom of God is…””

  1. You are such a gifted writer! Your prayer at the end especially moved me. Your words are always filled with thoughtfulness, beauty, and divine wisdom. Thank you for sharing your gift with us so that we may learn God’s ways and grow in His Truth. I absolutely loved this sermon. I am learning that God’s ways don’t make sense to the world. Believers must discern His truth and wisdom through spiritual eyes and I believe you did an excellent job of interpreting today’s scripture with spiritual eyes. God uses the quiet, simple, and small things to do great and might things in the spiritual realm and the natural world does not understand this or see its significance because the natural world operates through the loud, complex, and grand and expects instant and overwhelming results. A simple smile, hand shake, “hello”, a plate of homemade cookies, airing up a strangers flat tire, or any number of small, insignificant acts done with loving intention can send waves of change and growth through the spiritual realm that we cannot and may not ever see or understand. We as believers are called to be faithful in this walk of quiet, simple, small acts of loving intention and allow God to do His work through us. Thank you for this fantastic reminder. I will apply your teaching today to my own life to become all that God has called me to be. May the Peace of the Lord be with you always!

    1. Thanks, Tammy. As I read through the text, I wondered if we all understood those rapid fire parables and decided on a bit of expository preaching, which I don’t do that often. And yes, it is in the small, simple things we do that matter. My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “Do everything for Love. Thus there will be no little things: everything will be big. Perseverance in little things for Love is heroism.” (The Way, #813) Be a hero!

    1. Fr. Dave! Great of you to stop by and thanks. Fr. Henry is always in the back of my mind when I write sermons (sometimes he scowls and I know I need to try again!).

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