Summary: Signs of the kingdom are found in some moments of life that seem to be the most insignificant.
The Kingdom of God is Like…
July 24, 2005
Toni and I like to get away for a couple of days every once in a while, just to get reacquainted with each other. It often happens over our anniversary in the middle of July. We like to go to Chicago to do all the tourist stuff: Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier, and a boat ride on Lake Michigan.
We of course have to eat when we go there. I always insist that we go over to Portillos on W. Ontario, down by the Hard Rock Café. They have been voted by the residents of Chicago as the home of the best Chicago hotdog in town. My wife, naturally, wants to find someplace romantic: a place with candles and table cloths and real menus. Sometimes we do that, but not before I get my hotdog.
They load on the peppers and the relish and the pickles and the tomatoes and onions and spices. In my humble but well-fed opinion, it is by far the greatest hot dog anywhere. And it gets even better when you slather it with mustard. Anyone who puts ketchup on this hot dog ought to be taken out and tossed into the lake.
Have you ever thought about mustard? It is truly a wonderful condiment. According to the Montana State University Extension Service (accessed from www.ampc.montana.
edu/publicatiions/briefings/briefing59.pdf), mustard was one of the first domesticated crops in the world and is found in three types: yellow, brown, and Asian. In 2002, the last year for which I could find statistics, world production of mustard reached 469,000 metric tons; 55,997 metric tons of which was grown in the United States. Mustard as a condiment dates from around 1300 AD when they first mixed unfermented grape juice and mustard seeds.
“The kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus, “is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.
I spent some time in my library looking up references to kingdom. I found all sorts of interesting definitions. For example:
• The kingdom is God’s reign
• The kingdom is soteriological (referring to salvation)
• The kingdom is the realm of redemptive blessing
• The kingdom transcends the totality of this life
• The kingdom is the final meaning of history
• The kingdom is here and it is yet to come
I read articles about the political kingdom, the apocalyptic kingdom, and the a temporal kingdom. I read an article about the mystery of the kingdom.
I was amazed when I was finished with this research. Some of the greatest minds and most able scholars in the world have written millions upon millions of words to describe the kingdom of heaven. Liberal scholars and conservative scholars, Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant scholars, pastors and professors, high church and free church, Th.D.’s and Ph.D’s; they have all written about the kingdom. I quite frankly, am not smart enough to read some of those articles because they use words I don’t know and concepts that I don’t understand.
I remember my first year in seminary. There are, honestly, days when I am amazed that I graduated. This is a true story. I was sitting in a discussion group in an introductory level theology class and didn’t have a clue what was going on when one of the other students asked me a question. In order to confess my ignorance, but at the same time dress up my lack of knowledge by pretending to have the attitude of an earnest search for truth, I replied, “My background is in the social sciences and I am having trouble with that concept because I am still struggling to think theologically.” What a bunch of hooey!
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Forget about learned scholars with publications a mile long. Forget about well-intentioned, but naïve’ theology students. Forget about all the dissertations and sermons and lectures and twenty dollar words. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.”
I found the web site of a group called “The Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic.” Their motto is “We don’t know, and we don’t’ care” (apatheticagnostic.com). They have a serious issue with Jesus and the mustard seed.
They quote from Matthew and Luke.
…if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you (Matt. 17:20).
…if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.