Jesus’s Favorite Idea
July 24, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
31He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
33He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
44"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
The Parable of the Net
47"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51"Have you understood all these things?"
"Yes," they replied.
52He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, too, but as our messages this week and the past weeks have worked out, we’re involved in a series together. Remember several weeks ago we started to study about seeds and sowers? Last week we talked about weeds and wheat. And we have more imagery from Jesus today about planting and sowing and seeds. So today, I’d like to talk to you about Jesus’s favorite idea, and we will wind up our series, “Wheat and Weeds, Sowers and Seeds: Jesus’s Favorite Idea,” next week.
Let’s look at it together, friends. If I were to ask you what Jesus’s favorite idea was, what would you say? You are people who have studied the Bible and listened to sermons; Jesus talked about so many blessed and wondrous things. If sheer frequency of mentioning isn’t an indicator, what is His favorite idea? Could it be love? Faith? Some may say kindness. Some may very well say forgiveness. Well, you’d all be right, because they’re all included in one special concept that Jesus really seemed to love.
Let’s take a look at the Gospel, because today’s Gospel really frames it well: “He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed….’”
Let’s jump down. “He told them another parable: “‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast….’”
To verse 44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid….” Verse 45, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls….” Verse 47: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net full of fish….” And in verse 52: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Well, I think you know where I’m going. I would submit to you that Jesus’s favorite concept, I believe, is the kingdom of heaven. So if anybody were to ask you what Jesus’s favorite idea was, now you know the answer: it’s the kingdom of heaven. Jesus loved the concept of the kingdom of God with all His heart. (Just for semantics and definition, Jesus seems to have used “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” interchangeably, so we can, too.)
What was important to Jesus was the kingdom. That’s what He always stressed. He tried to take stories of what people could see and touch so that He could relate them to spiritual things, which cannot be touched or measured. But He always loved the idea of the kingdom. He tried to get people to be part of the kingdom and to accept the kingdom.
So, what is the kingdom of God? Where is it? And what shall we do about it?
First of all, what is the kingdom of God? Is it the place we go when we die? Is it something else? I believe, after years and years of thinking about this, that the kingdom of heaven is, number one, the place where God is king. Number two – no, there is no number two. Just number one. The place where God is king is the kingdom of God. Simple? I think so.
Next question: where is the kingdom of God? Is it the place we go to after our time on earth? Is it here on earth? In the book of Luke, Jesus makes it clear. He says, if someone tells you that the kingdom of God is over there or gathered right here, don’t go, because the kingdom of God is within you. The kingdom of God is within you. This is where it gets exciting, because this is where we come into the picture. Jesus says that the kingdom of God is a special place within you; that’s where it starts.
Think of it this way: imagine a beautiful, big island. The island is you, your life. In the middle of the island is a very impressive hill, and on the hill is a flagpole. There has to be some kind of flag on the flagpole. The question Jesus is asking is, “Whose flag flies in the center of your island?”
I need a volunteer to bring a flag to the center of church. We don’t look at the church flag very often, but we are going to today. This is the flag of the United Methodist Church. It’s a cross, signifying the centrality of Jesus Christ for us all. There are flames, which signify two things – the Holy Spirit, Jesus present with us, God present with us in the form of the Holy Spirit, and enthusiasm. Methodists are the loving people with warm hearts. John Wesley described his conversion experience as “My heart was strangely warmed.” So we are the people of enthusiasm in spiritual things and of warm hearts. That is why we have a cross and flame on our United Methodist flag.
I invite you to imagine a flag of your own. What do you have painted on the flag within your heart? I suggest whatever the form the design may take, however unique it may look, let there be a cross to fly on that flagpole in the middle of the island of your life.
Where is the kingdom of God? It is within you. No you? No kingdom. No individuals? No kingdom. It has to start there. And what Jesus Christ wants from each and every one of us is a commitment to be part of the kingdom, to fly His flag on our island.
Now, I grant you that many things go on on our island. We are still Americans, and we still love our family. Friends, we still have wheat and weeds growing on the island. We still make mistakes. We still have problems. But we still have good stuff – wheat. Whose flag flies on the center of your island? That’s the question I invite you to take with you into your week, because it’s the most central question we can answer. Jesus Christ wants us to fly the flag of God, the flag of the cross. That’s where it starts; the kingdom of God is within you.
But you know what? We are islands, but we don’t want to be islands, separated. We want to be the kingdom of God, but we want to be the united kingdom of God. That’s why we have a church, where all us islands, with all our wheat and weeds, all our hurts and all our needs can come together in one place and praise the one God who is king of us all. So we have the united kingdom of God at Montgomery United Methodist Church or, for people reading this, at whatever church you participate in. We don’t have to be islands in the stream; we don’t have to be separated out. The first step is to ask Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior. Say, “I want to be part of Your kingdom.” Jesus always says yes.
And then, Jesus says, “I want you to be a working part of the kingdom. I want you to be a deeply committed part of the kingdom.” And that is our purpose, to help do that. That is our whole mission, to help people become deeply committed followers of Jesus Christ. That is why we have an outreach team, the reason we reach out with evangelism, the reason so many of you have been doing so much work over the years to invite people to church, is because people need Jesus. There are a lot of islands in the stream out there. There are a lot of isolated people out there. Maybe there are people out there who have the wrong flag flying, who have something over than God as the center of their lives, and they’re just so empty. They need something more. So we’re opening our doors and saying, “Come, let the flag of Christ fly upon your island. Be one with us, and let’s love Jesus together.”
So what other good thing happens when you become part of the kingdom? You become part of a worshipping faith community. And, you become part of the church of Christ worldwide. Let me tell you what happened this week. I was listening to the BBC radio station. They said that there was a crisis in the country of Niger in Africa. A swarm of locusts six months ago virtually wiped out the crop production of that country. Oxfam, which is the British religiously connected missionary effort there, is looking for help. I got to church and called the United Methodist headquarters in New York and asked, “What are we doing about this?”
The woman I spoke with said, “We are on it. The United Methodist Commission on Relief has wired $50,000 to our partners in Niger to help with that effort,” she said. “Specifically, we are sending food packages, cattle fodder, and millet seed, to help not only feed the people today but to help feed them tomorrow as well.”
I said, “That’s great. How do we participate?”
She said, “You can send gifts to your conference office.” And she gave me the number for the All-Africa Relief Effort, which is where we will send our gifts. She said, “We are partnering with the United Methodist Church of Switzerland, which is on site helping these people.” The kingdom that is established in your heart, where the flag of Christ flies, is working together with the rest of the folks of this church, which is working together with United Methodism in New Jersey, throughout the nation, and in Switzerland, to help the people of Niger. Isn’t that a blessing? That’s wonderful! And that’s the kind of wonderful thing that can happen when we are part of the kingdom.
You see, Jesus was so excited about the kingdom because the Christian walk only begins with being born again. Yes, we must be born again and invite Jesus into our lives to save us and redeem us. But then, we must walk the walk of discipleship, which means being a deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ. That is very exciting stuff. It means our lives have purpose and meaning and a very special kind of beauty.
Jesus said, “Walk that walk, and your life and the things you do will be like a mustard seed growing into a big tree, where birds can take shade and get refreshment.” He said, “Walk this kind of walk, and your life will be like a precious gem, like a pearl of great price. You will have abundance, like a fishing net full of fish.” That was His promise to us.
So, what should we do? First and foremost, ask yourself whose flag is flying in the middle of your island. For all the humanness and all the mistakes, all the shortcomings and all the distractions, whom am I striving to make first? Oh, dear friends, let it be God, through Jesus Christ, and you will be part of His joyous kingdom, joining hands with Him, dancing with Him, doing His work, and living your life for Him. I can’t think of a greater joy.
God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2005 Anthony J. Godlefski