1 Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
P Hello, Beaky and Munchie, how are you today?
M I’m good.
B And I’m even better!
M No, you’re not!
B Yes, I am! Look at my pretty green feathers! You’re just sort of brown, and not even very brown at that. You’re more white than brown.
M But light brown is what I’m supposed to be! I’m a chipmunk! If I were green, that would mean there was something wrong with me!
B I think everybody should be green like me!
M Maybe there’s something wrong with you!
P Hey, what’s going on here?
M Beaky’s preening like a peacock!
B Who wants to be a peacock? I’m perfectly fine just as I am!
M Pretty sure the peacocks might disagree…
P Are you two arguing about which one of you is better?
M Beaky is. I’m not!
B It takes two, you know!
M But I’m just saying your pretty feathers don’t make you any better than my fuzzy fur!
P Munchie has a point, Beaky. Even though green is a favorite color of mine, your green feathers don’t make me like you more that I like Munchie. I’m glad to have both of you as friends, and I would be very sad if you two stopped being friends with one another.
M Especially just because I’m not green.
P Right. You know, today Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of heaven, and nowhere does Jesus say that the kingdom of heaven is just for those of us who are green, or brown, or white, or black, or any other color in all creation.
M He talked about mustard, and that’s yellow!
B And yeast is kind of the color of Munchie…
P And did you know that some pearls are actually green?
B Like me?
P Maybe not quite, but the point that I was trying to make is that when Jesus tells his stories about the Kingdom of Heaven, he doesn’t stop with just one story, and he doesn’t rank his stories as being better, but sort of throws them all out there.
P Why do you think he does that?
M Maybe we connect with some stories better than others?
B I like the fish one, because I love to dive in the water after fish, but some of them are just yucky!
M I like the treasure one, because what someone else thinks is yucky might just be what I like!
B Like off-white fur…
M Yeah? So?
P Slow down, here… Beaky, what did you mean by that?
B I was just trying to have some fun!
M It isn’t fun when it’s mean!
B But… I was wrong when I said my green feathers were better than your fur.
P Are you trying to apologize?
B I’m trying to say I like your fur…
M Well, you can’t have it!
B I know that, but it would be a whole lot easier to hide if I were more like you…
M Not if you’re in the green grass, or the tree’s leaves!
B I guess not…
P So, are you two still friends?
M I think so…
B Of course we are. I’m just kinda stupid sometimes.
M You’re not stupid! Sometimes you just talk before you think!
B That’s true.
P Maybe we’re all guilty of that now and then!
M But Jesus wants us anyway.
B Yeah, and it would be silly to hide from Jesus!
P Even though many people try to do so!
Thank you for showing us that heaven has joys for all kinds of us. Help us to share those joys with everyone all across the world. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Why did I title this message, “Insidious?” Maybe it’s because of the mustard. As the daughter of someone raised on a farm, and being raised myself in places where fields of wheat, flax, oats, rye, and corn dominated the landscape, I learned very early that mustard was a weed. Fields that should have been all green, or filled with the purplish blue of the flax flower, were marred by the very obvious yellow flowers of the plant that rose higher than the intended crop around it. My dad would remark in disgust at the mustard that invaded otherwise more homogenous crops. It wasn’t until I was an adult, preaching this text, that I researched where mustard is actually grown intentionally as a crop to produce the seeds I find in delicious pickles and sausages and which is used to make that tangy yellow condiment I like on my burgers that I learned it is intentionally grown very close to the places where it exists primarily as a weed… in the same state in which I lived as a child: North Dakota.
In today’s story about the yeast, yeast is a good thing, intentionally mixed throughout the three measures of flour so that it can affect the entire batch. Yet, later, in this very gospel, Jesus will warn about the yeast of the Pharisees, as something more like an invasive species than something desired as good. This all reminds me of a great idea someone once had of importing a particular beetle from Asia that would eat the aphids that fed on certain crops, so that we could reduce the use of pesticides… but those Asian beetles had no natural predators over here, and have become a large annoyance for many.
So what else is insidious? Would we use it as a term to describe the virus that hides symptomless for days or even weeks in people who breathe it out into the world around them, infecting their family and friends? Of course we would! But I’m quite sure that’s not at all what Jesus intended in today’s stories.
I used the title insidious because Jesus is using stories that describe the kingdom of heaven getting into everything, like a mustard seed that grows so proliferously that birds can make nests in its branches. It’s so potent that it can be used to leaven three times as much as one would expect. It’s so precious that people would sell everything else to obtain it…
But that’s where we veer from the word I used as my title, because something is insidious only if it is also harmful, and Jesus is not using these stories to describe what is harmful, even though I grew up seeing mustard as a harmful weed.
The coronavirus causing COVID19 is certainly insidious, because it causes harm while staying under the radar. It seems a small thing for some, little different than a cold or a mild flu, while causing such distress in others that they are compelled to share stories of their distress with others… if they survive. Many of them say they didn’t believe it could be that bad.
The kingdom of heaven, though, is not to be described as a bad thing. Its spread is only insidious if you’re trying to avoid it! Mustard is only a weed when it grows within another crop. Yeast is only bad when there is too much of it unbalanced by the good it ought to do. And what about those who sell everything to purchase a treasure? I’m pretty sure you can imagine how that could go wrong as well… how many have lost their homes or families because of an addiction to the perceived promise of some kind of pleasure or treasure?
What sparks the insidiousness of Jesus’ stories is the ways I see where they could all go wrong, because of course there is no story that can fully describe the kingdom of heaven for us who have not been there. Add to that our living in a world where promises are often broken, scams are rampant over the phone, on the streets, and through the Internet, and one might understand a bit of suspicion, or cautiousness.
Finally, we need only to trust in the goodness of Jesus, in the goodness of God, despite any suspicions or fears. The kingdom of heaven can give you a home in the wilderness, like the mustard bush in a sea of whatever is less hospitable. The kingdom of heaven is enough for more than you can imagine, you, and your family, and your neighbors, and the people you can’t imagine joining you for anything. The kingdom of heaven is precious in a way that false promises can never reach. Don’t imagine the kingdom of heaven to be insidious, believe it is real and offered to you, even within this world of uncertainty. Receive this gift of God through Jesus Christ. Amen