April 29, 2018

Kingdom of Heaven Is Within You... ♥ <== This Is The Message For You Today!

Kingdom of Heaven Is Within You

The Mustard Seed and The Leaven | Matthew 13

In Jesus’ day, it was dangerous to talk about kingdoms. It was dangerous because there was really only one kingdom: Caesar’s. The Roman Empire dominated the world, and it dominated the world through brute force. History books talk about the Pax Romana, or Roman peace. It was a period of relative peace in the world during the 1st and 2nd Centuries when Rome was at the height of its power. But if you look into the lives of 1st Century Jews, you get the sense that Roman peace came at the tip of a sword. It was Rome’s way or it was no way. In fact, the Romans specifically designed something for people who got in their way: crucifixion. Rome crushed people. It slowly squeezed everything people had out of them with its endless taxes. It was a kingdom of power, a kingdom of the sword.

That’s the setting in which Jesus was telling stories about a different kind of kingdom, a kingdom not of the sword but of the seed. Both of these kingdoms hold power in their growth, but one uses death to accomplish growth while the other uses life.

One of the central ideas Jesus communicates with these parables of the mustard seed and the leaven is that the kingdom of heaven is growing. By its very nature, the mustard seed is invasive. The plant was and is known for it’s resilience and it’s tendency to keep on growing even when it is unwanted. Farmers fear the mustard seed because the plants can get into everything. It invades every nook and cranny, like weeds growing up in concrete cracks. In fact, there are modern day accounts of mustard plants growing in the cracks of boulders and splitting them in half. The seed itself is less than a centimeter long, yet is has the potential to split a massive boulder through it’s growth.

The same is true for the leaven that the woman hides in the dough. Most Bible translations refer to it as yeast, but the leaven is actually a fungus that expands when given moisture, heat, and sugar. Like the mustard seed, the leaven is alive. It moves. It bobs. It weaves. Even though it’s small, it is constantly expanding.

Most of the people Jesus spoke with were poor and powerless. They were tiny in the face of massive Roman Empire. Wealth and power were the dominant values of the day. The people who possessed them were the ones who shaped and changed the world. If you didn’t have them, you were nothing. You didn’t matter. You’d never change the world.

Yet Jesus challenges this assumption. He looks into the faces of the poor and powerless and tells them that they have resources of a different sort. They are still capable of changing the world. He speaks to them of a kingdom whose strength is in its smallness. It’s interesting that the kingdom Jesus spent so much time talking about started with just a bunch of poor people in Israel, but within a hundred years it had spread like wildfire throughout the Roman Empire. Now, thousands of years later, all that’s left of Rome are piles of broken rocks. Not so with the kingdom. The kingdom is still humming with life, finding its way into cracks and crevices and darkness, reminding the weak, the small, the hurting, the powerless that they have vast resources within them, and that they can shape and change the world in profound ways.

But Jesus doesn’t say that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. He says it is like a mustard seed that has been planted. A seed sitting on the sidewalk is nothing more than potential unmet, but when that seed is planted and cared for Jesus says, “it will grow into a plant upon which others may rest”. Because this kingdom is alive, it must be planted, it must be cared for, tended to and nurtured or it won’t grow.

There are seeds just sitting inside of us-seeds we’ve neglected or assumed would grow on their own. We don’t get to be neutral in it all. We don’t get to sit this one out. We each will have an impact on the world around us through our actions or inactions. When we nurture the seeds that have been planted inside of us, the kingdom of heaven has a field day. When we fail to nurture those seeds, our inaction creates a world where Roman Empires flourish.

For centuries people have been caring for their seeds. Standing up for the rights of the oppressed, feeding those who are hungry, caring for those in need, and bringing praise to God. The seed is like a legacy that is passed on through the generations, one that we each get to care for in our own way. The seed is growing and therefore always changing. It looks different to different people. It never looks exactly the same. But the one thing that Jesus says always remains the same is that it will grow and it will provide rest for others.

The mustard plant grows up into a tree with branches, and the birds of the air come to rest on it. The leaven expands to create a massive batch of bread to nurture people. When the seeds grow inside of us, there are always implications for others.

Some friends of mine recently lost their eighteen-month old daughter. Her death has been excruciating for everyone. So a handful of us got together a few nights ago to love and support them. We cried, we prayed, we hugged, we sat silently, and we looked at pictures. At the end of the evening our friends said to us, “we just want to thank you for sharing this weight with us.” Somehow our presence had actually lifted a little weight off their shoulders. They were able to stop for a moment and simply rest on our branches, to feed on the loving presence of those seated around them. Every corner of that living room was filled with the kingdom. It was a tangled mess of branches and bread, and it gave them rest.

This is the kingdom of heaven. It is within you. It is not far from you or beyond your reach.

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