Life in the kingdom

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. As well as a green cloth for the current church season, find something that inspires your imagination, like a cross or an icon. This week, you may also like to include a some seeds, a plant or pearl jewellery to help you reflect on today’s theme.

Opening Prayer

(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.35)

Where will faith be found?
Not in the rights-denying,
scarcity-mongering policies
of our governments…
Where will faith be found?
Not in the strategy-driven,
rule-keeping efforts
of our institutions…
Where will faith be found?
Not in the desperate,
programme-centric flailing
of our churches…
Where will faith be found?
In the acts of everyday people,
who see and respond to an opportunity,
to make a difference in their neighbourhood;
those who create beauty, and who choose to:
to take risks, to make music, to dance,
to respond to the rhythm that is all around…
Attuned to the rhythm of God,
our senses are awakened:
to the gifts and the needs
of our neighbour.
And there, will faith be found.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 (NRSV) Parables of the Kingdom

31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it 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.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “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.”

Reflecting on the Word

“The kingdom of heaven is like…”

Today’s reading is another round of parables that attempt to describe something of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven held an obvious fascination for Matthew – he refers to it over fifty times in his Gospel. In this Gospel, Jesus often speaks about the nature and progress of the kingdom of God, especially in the parables. In fact, in the midst of the five parables in our reading today (a verse left out of the lectionary) we find the pronouncement that Jesus spoke to the crowd on this topic only in parables (v34).

Clearly it was an important part of Matthew’s theology. But what did he mean by it? And how does it relate to us today?

Matthew believed that spreading Jesus’ teachings would spread the kingdom. From a tiny seed, it would grow and spread until it resembled a large, strong tree. This parable depicts the tree as the church it represents the growing number of believers in Jesus. So the kingdom of heaven is like the church.

As the church then, the closest we can come to appropriating the kingdom for ourselves is to remember that the inheritors of the kingdom, the righteous, have clearly defined ethical behaviour laid out for them to follow. More is required of them than mere faith in Jesus: they are exhorted to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, help the poor and be mindful of the will of God (Matthew 25:31-42).

So we could therefore say that the kingdom of God can be furthered here on earth today by people of courage, compassion and grace. The modern view, taken by many today, that we should look after ourselves first and foremost is absent or diminished among kingdom people. Kingdom people believe that the kingdom of heaven can only be said to be present here on earth when there is enough food, clean water and shelter for all, when there is equal opportunity and rights for all, and when no one lives in fear or war, torture or oppression.

Such blessings should be available to every person. Jesus’ words are meant to jolt us out of acceptance of the status quo and challenge any complacency we have regarding what are acceptable norms. They challenge us to reassess our priorities and to look outside of ourselves to those around us. They invite us to find ways of extending the attitudes of Jesus into our modern life. By such actions, we signal the in-breaking of the kingdom into our world, and the faint dawn of a new age of righteousness and justice upon the earth.

Reflecting on the passage

Jesus often teaches his lessons through the use of parables; stories with little hidden and not so hidden meanings. As many of us continue to worship in our homes due to the current crisis, what is hidden in this new experience for you?

Is there some kingdom act of kindness you can do? A quick phone call to a fellow church member? A wave and thumbs up to someone passing your window? A little message sent by text to say “God bless”?

Try to find the hidden treasure amidst these strange times in an encounter you have this week in person or online, and appreciate the part that person plays in your life. Take the chance to acknowledge the other person and how thankful you are for knowing them. When you find the hidden treasure, give thanks.

Prayer for ourselves and others

(from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)

God, in every time and season,
you are teaching us more about ourselves and about you.
May we always be open to discovering new ways of seeing,
and new ways of serving you, God of all the ages.
May we know that nothing is hidden from you, and that nothing is foreign.
You know and embrace the ordinary times and the extraordinary times.
And what is more, you lead us through whatever we face.
God, in the midst of chaos and fear, may we see you quietly at work and calling us to follow.
May we lighten one another’s burden however we can:
by connecting, by listening, by being the neighbours you invite us to be.
May we bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s grief.
And, in time, may we rejoice together in your love.
Lord, we may not know the way ahead,
but we do know that you are with us and will never leave us.
May that assurance help us to face all that we must face,
and strengthen us to continue to step out in faith, holding the Christ light for one another,
knowing that you are with us and you go before us always. Amen.

Blessing

(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)

Lord, teach us we are never so small,
so insignificant, as to be of low value to you.
Help us to know how precious we are.
As we go, cast us into the world;
and show us where to go
that we might meet the world’s need,
with grace, compassion and love.
Bless us as we go about
the work of your kingdom in the coming week. Amen.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth was minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, between 2018 and 2023. Elizabeth retired in December 2023 and has moved to Dungog in the Hunter valley, with her husband Rev Dr John Squires.

Over the years, Elizabeth has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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