The joy of having a mobile church is that you can worship literally from anywhere. Like the kitchen inside my house. And without some great institution telling me what to do or say, I pretty much have free range to share what God puts on my heart.
For example, I can stand in my kitchen and read the ingredients on the back of a bottle of mustard if I want to. By the way, did you know mustard is made with: distilled vinegar, water, number one grade mustard seed, salt, turmeric, paprika, spice, natural flavor, and garlic powder? The particular brand of French’s Yellow Mustard claims zero calories, no artificial colors or flavors, and it’s gluten-free.
Why am I doing this? Because there’s a good chance you have a bottle of mustard in your kitchen. It’s a common condiment one keeps on hand and yet we barely know anything about it. I think it’s safe to say that mustard takes up less space in one’s head than it does in one’s refrigerator.
When I think of mustard, I am reminded of a trip I took with two friends for spring break. Like most starving students, we barely had enough money for gas, and hardly enough for beer. Food was an afterthought. But we had to eat, so we hit the grocery store and grabbed whatever we could afford.
As I was standing in line with my provisions, my buddy Gordon came up behind me balancing a jar of mustard and a loaf of bread on top of three cases of beer. No cheese. No meats. No other condiments. He had no need other than those three things. For Gordon, there was nothing better than a mustard sandwich and a cold beer. Who would have thought something as common as mustard could bring a person so much joy?
I see this story in a different light now that I’ve come to understand what an ancient mystic meant when he said, “God is nothing.” That is to say God is no thing, but all things. Even a common plastic container of mustard or a loaf of bread? I think Jesus gives us some clues in his parables.
We’ve spent the last two weeks dancing around Matthew 13, skipping over some pretty import stuff. Like these two parables found in verses 31-35.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
You might have noticed a theme evolving. Not just seeds, plants and things that grow. But a bigger theme that’s been hiding in plain site. And that is: The kingdom of heaven. The realm where human and divine mingle together.
Matthew first mentions this kingdom in chapter three with John the Baptist. When Jesus went to the wilderness to be baptized by him, John proclaimed, “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” We see it again in chapter four, when Jesus begins his ministry saying the same thing, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
As Talitha Arnold points out, “Jesus demonstrates that nearness every time he heals someone, reaches out to outcasts, respects women, and cares for the poor.” To expand on her point, God’s kingdom is not some esoteric far off place; it’s literally down to earth, here in this present moment. It’s as close as our breath behind a mask, or mustard on a hamburger bun.
Jesus said it’s been hidden from the world up until this point. But it’s been hidden in plain site. As these parables demonstrate, God’s kingdom can be found in every nook and cranny of our daily life. We can see it with our eyes, touch it with our hands, and taste and savor its sweetness as well as its bitterness. The kingdom of heaven is near.
If Jesus were telling these parables today, I imagine him saying the kingdom of heaven is like a maid who cleans your hotel room no matter how big of a mess you make. Or the kingdom of heaven is like a sandwich artist at Panera who gives you a little extra meat because you look hungry.
While God’s grace, mercy and love are extravagant and elegant visions of heaven, they are also as commonplace as holding the door for someone in a hurry. God’s realm is found and discovered in everyday people doing everyday things. Which tells me, what we do in this kingdom is actually pretty important.
In her award-winning book Liturgy of The Ordinary, Tish Warren sees everyday tasks as the extraordinary ways of worship. She writes, “In the overlooked moments and routines, we can become aware of God’s presence in surprising ways.” We can use the ordinary to be extraordinary for God’s glory.It’s up to us to embrace the sacred in secular life.
Recently a friend posted pictures of her trip into the redwood forest. In describing her pictures, she used words like majestic, wondrous, and heavenly. The same kind of words the psalmist used to glorify God. However, this person does not believe in God. Yet here she was giving God praise.
Eugene Peterson wrote, “Everything that is made is a clue that leads us back to God.” Every small seed and gigantic sequoia; every cry of a hungry baby; every hollow gaze of a thirsty drunk. All things lead us back to God, if we only open our eyes to see. As Peterson noted, “Our ability to see anything and understand it is because of God. Even our questions about God are evidence of God. Our enlightened minds, which we may use to deny God, are a gift from God who gives us life.”
Jesus got that. And revealed it to us in parables. Thanks to Jesus, we have the ability to see the kingdom like he did. Through him, we can embrace and embody the incarnation, the mystery of the oneness between the divine and human that was revealed at his birth.
What does this mean for us today? Let me just say Jesus isn’t merely opening our eyes. He’s calling us to open our hearts and hands too to do the kingdom work – revealing God’s righteousness in the most mundane and majestic ways.
I’m sure you’re laughing right now, believing there’s nothing divine about you. I know I have doubted this about myself more than once this week. And it’s only Sunday.You might be doubting your ability to make a difference in God’s kingdom. You might think because you don’t have the education, or you don’t know the bible very well, or that you’re shut away in your home that you’re not worth much to God.
Think about this: In Ancient Israel, yeast was commonly used in stories to illustrate corruption and impurity. Jesus used it to describe the religious leaders who were out to get him. And yet in this parable, it’s a good thing. Just as the yeast of the Pharisees revealed God’s glory, so too can you be the same.
An ordinary seed that produces a tree of life. Corrupt leaven that can make enough bread to feed the multitudes. If this is how God’s kingdom works with insignificant everyday objects, then just imagine what God can do with ordinary people like you and me.
Because of Jesus we are not only able to see the nearness of God but we can also be the nearness of God by embracing every moment as sacred...and human as divine. This is what it means to be the church, the body of Christ, that lives life like he lived his – loving others as he loved, forgiving as he forgave; praying, healing and caring for those in need, just like he did.
We cannot make the kingdom of heaven happen, that’s not up to us. But as the church, as disciples and students of Jesus Christ, we are called to partake in it; to play in this heaven realm and share it with everyone. Through the smallest of acts of charity to the grandest gifts, we too can reveal the secrets of God’s kingdom and its nearness in our lives. Every smile we give is a smile God gives to that person receiving it. Every meal we make, every flower we plant, every child we teach, every wrong we let go of … a little bit of heaven is revealed.
In closing I want to leave you with these words from the great American poet, Wendell Berry who wrote, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Think about that today. Through Christ Jesus, God has opened our eyes to see the world as God sees it – as a holy and sacred space. A place where people of every color, class, and condition can live together in peace.
As you move in the world, remember Jesus has employed and empowered you to move into those desecrated places and reclaim its sacredness by being holy and beloved children of God.
You are God’s abundance. You are the visible presence of thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. You are the mustard and bread of life … blessed by Holy Spirit … to nurture and nourish the world … one sandwich, one smile, one person at a time.
Let us pray
Gracious Lord, for some reason you believe in us. Despite all that we have done to reject you, you still continue to accept us. Help us to remember this as we move from here out into your kingdom to shine the light of Christ and to see and embrace all people like he did. Not for our glory but for yours. amen.
Arnold, Talitha J. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Berry, Wendell. How To Be A Poet. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/41087/how-to-be-a-poet (accessed on July 25, 2020).
Peterson, Eugene. A Year With Jesus: Daily Readings and Meditations. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006.
Warren, Tish Harrison. Liturgy of the Ordinary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
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has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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