When I was a little kid and I dreamed of heaven, I imagined it to be the place where I could safely do the things that I would never dare to do here on earth.
Take mountain climbing. I imagined that I would finally be able to try mountain climbing without fear of getting hurt when the inevitable fall would come.
Or take flying. I imagined that in heaven I would finally be able to fly and not fall to the ground like a heavy bag of meat.
I imagined heaven to be the place where I could try each of these things and more without getting into trouble. No more getting yelled at for standing on the top of the swing set; heaven is a place of peace after-all.
As fanciful as those daydreams were, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, he is not talking about that. He is not talking about an eternal realm...an eternal place…where all of our dreams finally come true. Rather, Jesus is talking about a time when all that God desires will finally control the earth; “thy kingdom come.”
Though Jesus' idea of the kingdom of heaven is not as fanciful as mine, it is similar in that it is quite different from the way things are today. In fact, the kingdom of heaven is very different. But, how could we describe it?
What about a mustard seed? The kingdom of heaven is like the seed of that noxious weed, the mustard plant. When it finds a place to get rooted, it spreads quickly and grows everywhere, ruining the garden of vegetables that you had carefully planted.
Yes, it ruins all of your vivid culinary vegetable dreams, but it is not all bad. Mustard can grow tall into full bushes that give the birds a place to live and build their nests.
The kingdom of heaven is not the fanciful imaginings of all that your heart has ever desired, rather the kingdom of heaven changes the world as we know it, and gives it new life.
Do you understand? Well, let us try flat bread. The kingdom of heaven…or the time when God gets to be in charge…is like a woman who is expected to make flatbread, but instead decides to sneak in a measure of yeast while she kneads the dough. When she bakes her “flatbread,” everyone around is horrified to find that it is rising all over the place. It is expanding everywhere, ruining all that they had planned, but providing something new, and in abundance.
You may have your plans of what the world should be, but God has God’s plans. You expect flatbread for yourself, and God ruins it in order to make loafs that can feed a multitude.
Do you understand? The kingdom of heaven is so precious that it is like a treasure that you found in your neighbor’s yard, in the middle of the night using the metal detector that you bought recently at a garage sale. After discovering the treasure, you cover it back up, and the next day offer a million dollars for that small chunk of yard knowing that what you will get in return will be worth even more.
The kingdom of heaven may be disruptive to the ways the world runs now, but to those who are forgotten in the way our world runs now, the disruption is so precious and so worth it.
Do you understand? The kingdom of heaven…or the time when God gets God's way…is so precious to the poor in spirit, the meek, the forgotten, the mourning, and those who seek justice that they are like someone who finds a pearl of great value, and they sell their house, their car, and even their food, just so that the pearl can be theirs.
What would you give to finally have peace in the world?
What would you give so that your neighbor might no longer be exploited by those with wealth and power?
What would you give so that women and children might not simply be thrown away or misused and mistreated as objects?
What would you give for all people to have a change of heart that would force them to forget about prospering themselves and would rather entice them to prosper God and prosper all the neighbors that God cares about?
What would you give for God’s rule to finally come to disrupt business as usual in order to create a new way of life where God’s children are not forgotten or neglected or abused in any way?
It seems like a pipe-dream, right? A word in which love of God and love of neighbor is the driving force of everything seems as unlikely as being able to climb mountains without the fear of getting hurt, or as impossible as humans flying around with their thin little arms.
It all seems to be pipe-dreams, because we know the reality.
The powerful always seem to get their way.
Those who look and act a little different in society are always treated with suspicion and are always pushed into the shadows.
The poor and poor in spirit are always blamed for their own misfortune and are forgotten.
Women and children always seem to get the short end of the stick somehow.
Anger and retaliation is seen as strong and forgiveness is seen as weak.
Nothing is done to reconcile enemies. Instead, people cheer when their enemies are defeated.
And, those who appear to be wonderful in pubic (those who are dressed well, speak well, pray well, and pay up well) are lifted up as great, while those who truly are great and loving are labeled as weak pansies.
I am not making up any of these examples either. These examples of the harsh reality of life do not come from my own desires and political motivations. Instead, Jesus addresses each one in the Sermon of the Mount. This is the sermon where Jesus teaches us to abandon the ways of the world and then teaches us how to live together as a people in the kingdom of heaven.
Taking seriously each of these examples and doing something about them really just boil down to one simple phrase that guides all that happens in the kingdom of heaven: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.”
That is what Jesus did after-all. God desires our total love and devotion, so God showed us total love and devotion on the cross. The same care for all, the same love of enemy and the same forgiveness that Jesus expects from us, Jesus showed to us when he died for us.
Even while we were still sinners, even while we did not care about God or those that God loves, Jesus still loved us and died for us. Jesus shows us what it is to live in God’s kingdom: we do to others as we would have them do to us.
God’s desire is that all might be able to experience this love, this concern, this forgiveness, this lifting up of one another in the kingdom of heaven. And, if God needs to go separate the good fish within us from the bad fish within us to do it, God will. Something needs to change in this world, and as the song by No Other Name declares, “let it start with me.”
Let it start with me
Open up my eyes
Fill my heart with your compassion
Free my mind from all distractions
Use my hand, to set the captive free
Move my feet to follow after you
Or change the world and let it start with me
The kingdom of heaven may not be a place where we can climb safely without falling, but it is a place where all of us who fall will be lifted up. This is what we call living in grace.