Written by: Rachael Keefe

Rethinking the Kingdom

Jesus gave the disciples several images of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Then he asked them if they understood and they said they did. I think they lied. Maybe they didn’t …

Rethinking the Kingdom

Online home of the Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe.
Image is a close up with an oyster shell with a pearl inside

Jesus gave the disciples several images of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Then he asked them if they understood and they said they did. I think they lied. Maybe they didn’t lie intentionally. Maybe they just got caught up in the moment and thought they understood. They didn’t, though. Why do I say this? Because if they understood 2000+ years ago what Jesus said about the Realm of God, then we wouldn’t be so confused by it today.

We, like those first disciples, get it all mixed up. We think it’s a later kind of thing, like after we die we go to Heaven. We continue to believe that we go to Heaven after the final reckoning in which God rewards the good and casts out the evil, as if it were that simple when it comes to human beings. We still miss, almost willfully, that the Kingdom of Heaven is right now, or can be if we make room for it to grow in us, in our daily lives, and in the world around us.

Think about it. That tiny mustard seed growing into a bush large enough to house birds. One tiny drop of the Kingdom, preferably sown with intent, grows and flourishes and becomes home for many. Not later. Right now.

If the mustard seed image falls flat for you, think about the woman with her flour and yeast. Such a small about of yeast to make bread rise. Making bread is an intentional act. Adding yeast doesn’t happen by accident and it only takes a spoonful or two which is not much given the amount of flour. Then the bread rises, more than once even.

Mustard seeds and yeast only point to the intention with which we can grow the Realm of God. Now we have the treasure in the field that causes someone to joyfully sell everything to obtain that field. So, too, with the merchant and the pearls. One “pearl of great value” is worth giving up everything else to have that pearl. Living in the Kingdom of Heaven and the joy therein is worth radically changing our lives for. It might mean that we start a whole new way of living, letting go of everything we once thought important. Imagine that…

Now it gets complicated because we focus on the either/or part of the next image, and not the whole story. The dragnet is thrown out and brought back full. What is wanted is kept and what is unwanted is tossed out. The Kingdom separates good from evil. Those who are cast out are angry, perhaps self-righteously so. Yet, if there is breath, there is hope. Unlike the fish in the net, when we fall short of the Realm of God, there is grace and mercy if we stop gnashing our teeth long enough to repent and receive forgiveness, we can try again.

The disciples claim to have understood all of this. They didn’t. Nor do we. The Realm of God is now. Our job is to work to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. One tiny seed of grace can grow and flourish and become home to many. Small acts of kindness can raise friends, neighbors, or strangers out of the depths of hopelessness and despair. Every life is a treasure, a pearl of great value. Every life is a place where the Kingdom can take root and grow and flourish. Who are we to say otherwise?

We are human, of course. We have such a hard time believing that God’s love isn’t pie; there is enough for all. God’s Realm would be more evident if we trusted that there was enough for the whole of Creation. We also, at least in progressive Protestant circles, are reluctant to consider that there is sin, evil, or badness of any kind within us. God is gracious enough to see us as without sin, to see our wholeness. However, that does not mean that we don’t need to continually separate out from ourselves sins that if unchecked could cause harm to ourselves or our neighbors.

In this time of pandemic, instead of focusing on all that can divide us one from another, perhaps we can focus on growing the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps we can foster compassion instead of judgement, hope in place of fear, love where anger tends to grow… Maybe we can do the weird thing of sowing mustard seeds in our lives so that the Realm of God grows and flourishes right now, right where we are. Imagine how different the world could be if we sow seeds of Divine Love with intention, with hope, with grace enough to trust and believe that Spirit can bring new life where we see only division, destruction, and death.

It’s likely that those first disciples got distracted by the good vs. evil stuff that continues to distract us. It’s time to focus on sowing the seeds of the Kingdom rather than trying to sort out who is good and who is evil. If all of us sought to bring more Love into the world with our words and our deeds, evil would diminish in us and around us.

Let’s bring out our treasure – what is old and what is new.

RCL – Year A – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2020
Genesis 29:15–28 with Psalm 105:1–11, 45b or Psalm 128
1 Kings 3:5-12 with Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26–39
Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52

Photo: CC0image by Elias Sch.

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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