“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32
We made it to Ordinary Time (my favorite time of the year)! And Ordinary Time means we get a whole lot of readings with parables on the kingdom of God. Sometimes I think we throw around the word kingdom of God so much that we forget what it even means, or maybe we were never quite sure what it meant. Theologians argue over whether the Kingdom of God is referring to a kingdom being built on earth or in heaven.
When I think about the Kingdom of God, my mind immediately goes to the Our Father. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One of my favorite tools for teaching the Our Father is to do ‘popcorn prayer’. I say, “Our Father” and let the kids pop up one by one to say their own meaning. “Daddy!” “Abba!” “God over us all,” “Loving parent,” they excitedly say. It’s always funny when we get to “Hallowed be thy name,” and the kids start talking about how God is “hollow”. I try to teach this line around Halloween to make the connection and make sure they see the difference in spelling! But my favorite part is when we say, “Thy kingdom come.” Inevitably the popcorn prayers begin to move from “Bring your kingdom” to “help US bring your kingdom” by the end of the prayer.
The kids have beautiful ideas about what that should look like: picking up each others’ pencils when they fall on the floor, apologizing when we mess up, sharing our snack with each other. But as adults, sometimes we are unsure of where to even start. Building an entire kingdom feels like a mighty, overwhelming task to take on by ourselves. Sometimes I’m not sure where to start, but this Sunday’s readings give me a taste. The readings say that it is supposed to look like that tree that has soaked up every bit of nutrients it can get to bloom the greenest leaves, a tree that is so inviting that all the birds come to sit in its branches, a tree that provides shelter and shade for the weary.
I’m not sure what this looks like in your life. I know what it is in mine. I hope that my branches extend much needed furniture and clothing and gifts to refugees who are searching for a tree to extend nourishment. I hope that my leaves shelter the foster child who just needs a place to rest his head. I hope that my trunk provides stability for the student who feels lost and confused. I hope that my tree stays green and doesn’t wither when the summer heat really comes down.
I’ve seen choir members’ trees doing the same. Your branches lift up your aging family members. Your trunk stays strong for your emotionally exhausted child. Your green leaves spread cheer and joy to those around you. Your branches hug those in need so well. The wind moves through your leaves so that your voice calms the friends around you. Birds find shelter in your tree.
Let’s not underestimate our ability to build God’s kingdom here on earth! We’ve already been growing it for years! When you are discouraged, remember that your tree is already providing love and care to those around you. And when God calls you to extend that branch a little further, remember that a bird needs your shelter. Sometimes God even calls us to grow another branch. Don’t be overwhelmed. A few extra leaves are not going to take all the nutrients away. This Sunday when I look out over the congregation, I’ll be picturing a bunch of trees sitting in the pews, trees that extend, grow, provide shelter, share beauty and strength and nourishment to those around them.