On Hope and Kindness and the Nearness of God – The Rev. Michelle Meech
July 30, 2023
The kingdom of heaven is like…
Today’s Gospel is this string of parables. The kingdom of heaven is like…
- A mustard seed that is the smallest of seeds but grows into something that provides shelter for many.
- Yeast that reproduces itself over and over again, stretching the ingredients of the bread into a new form.
- A treasure or a pearl of great price, something of value beyond our comprehension.
- A net thrown into the sea that catches fish of every kind.
These parables offer us different ways of understanding the reign of God, different ways of entering into this idea that Jesus talks about again and again and again in the Gospels: The kingdom of heaven. The reign of God.
When Jesus talks about the kingdom, when he talks about the Reign of God, he’s not talking about what happens to us when we die. Jesus is talking about what is available to us right now. Jesus is telling us that the reign of God is here, waiting for us. God’s peace, God’s promise, God’s love… is right here. Right now.
The understanding that the kingdom of heaven is only available to us when we die has been a part of what has kept white supremacy in place, a part of what has kept people color oppressed, a significant part of systemic racism.
Let me explain with a scene from a movie. It’s one of my favorites – The Color Purple.
The movie is set in the Jim Crow South – slavery isn’t legal but there are laws for white people and laws for Black people. These laws and the way they were upheld made it clear that Black people could have their person threatened, beaten, or killed at any time. This, of course, made sure that white people maintained control. It was also a time when women and children had no rights. They often lived lives of abuse
In this context, we have a Black woman named Celie, who has been married off to a man she simply calls “Mister.” It’s not a marriage of love. It’s clear that her only purpose is to cook, clean, and take care of his children. When she falls short or when she advocates for herself in anyway, she is beaten by “Mister.”
Now, “Mister’s” oldest child is a boy named Harpo who, when he gets older, falls in love with a woman named Sophia. They truly do love each other. But Harpo is expected to control his wife, the way his father “Mister” controls Celie. And Sophia does not want to be controlled. Harpo happens to be complaining about the situation one day when Celie is nearby, and Harpo asks, What am I supposed to do. And Celie, who has been beaten her whole life and knows that’s how she is controlled, tells Harpo to beat Sophia.
In the very next scene, we see Celie working in the field next to the house and we hear the rustle of corn as Sophia comes charging through the stalks, looking for her. “You told Harpo to beat me.” Sophia accuses.
Celie defends herself with her belief: “This life be over soon. Heaven lasts always.”
Sophia replies: “Girl, you oughta bash Mister’s head open and think about heaven later.”
What Celie expresses here, is a clear theology. To some, it’s a form of hope. It certainly is to Celie because, for her, life is brutal and filled with misery and heartache. No wonder she only finds hope in the knowledge that it will soon be over.
But the people who believe this theology, are not only the Celie’s of the world, those who have a difficult life. It’s also a theology proffered and believed by a significant portion of those in power. Why? Because it’s a theology that removes any responsibility from us to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world right now, today… to hear the call to be the change we wish to see in the world. And it reinforces the belief that God must favor us if we have an easy life. That our comforts and our wealth are signs of God’s blessing and not a result of privilege and systemic oppression.
It’s a theology that is very convenient for white supremacy – that this life is just dust in the wind… the way things are is just the way things are. But the true reward for our patience and endurance or our good works is eternal life in God’s kingdom after we die.
I don’t think this is where Christian hope lies. And I would argue that it’s clear from the Gospel witness that this is not where Christian hope is found. Because all of these parables in today’s reading and all of the parables that Jesus ever uses and all of the stories he ever tells… are all lessons and metaphors about abundance – real, tangible abundance. That, even in our worst moments, abundance exists. God’s Reign is here, in the midst of our lives.
But that’s not all, because Jesus tells us that all of the law and all of the prophets boil down to 2 basic commandments that are a lot alike. Love God. With all your heart, your soul, your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Hope lies in the knowledge that God’s abundance is already present with us and that we will experience it because we are all here to take care of one another.
Think about it. When, in your life, have you truly experienced God’s abundant love? It usually comes when you are desperate, when your back is against the wall, when you see no way out, when you’re at your wits end… and someone comes along and bestows one simple act of kindness on you.
A card or email. A hug. A coffee delivered to you. A stranger stopping on the side of the road to help. A skilled laborer who gives you a discount when fixing your water heater. An open door or a warm bed when you need shelter. A safe place to cry without needing to explain yourself. Another person who sees your struggle and stands with you so you don’t feel alone.
This is what hope looks like. Because this is how God’s hope manifests in the world. Because the kingdom of God, is right here waiting for us. Waiting for us to show up and be the person who is there when another beloved child of God’s back is against the wall.
And this is what Celie, eventually, experiences. She meets someone who sees her, who offers her kindness, who offers her love. And Celie’s world starts to change.
We are all tender, vulnerable creatures. And when we have privilege, it’s easy to forget this. We can grow to believe that everyone can and should just take care of themselves. After all, we do. We can. But do we? Can we?
We are built to be social creatures. We need to be known. We need to experience kindness. We need to be seen by another and come to realize our belovedness. In other words, we come to know God, in our relationships with one another because we come to know ourselves in our relationships with one another.
In this string of parables we get from Jesus today, we see this. The tiniest things end up creating something that’s so abundant we can barely believe it’s true:
The tiniest seed, the mustard seed, becomes something so big that it shelters many.
The yeast that grows and grows multiplying so fast that the bread becomes more abundant and more nutritious.
The treasure or the pearl that, when they are found, are so precious that we would give everything we have for them.
The net thrown in that gathers fish of every kind, all of us, all of who we are, and names what is good and holy in us, and sets aside the rest.
In other words, the act of kindness that, for us, becomes the mustard seed or the yeast that grows in us.
In other words, the pearl or the treasure we find within us when we come to know ourselves as beloved. That when we know it, we will give up everything else to keep it.
In other words, the net of God’s Love that calls us back to be forgiven because we are beloved.
These are not things that happen when we die. These are things that are possible right here… right now.
Christian hope has always been articulated through the revelation that Jesus is the Christ – God incarnate – Emmanuel, which means, God is with us.
So, I invite you to look around. I invite you to know that God’s Reign is real, that God’s kingdom is here. I invite you to see that God is with us.
Jesus is talking about what is available to us right now. Jesus is telling us that the reign of God is here, waiting for us. God’s peace, God’s promise, God’s love… is right here. Right now.