Our Gospel reading continues the series of parables that we have heard for the last two weeks. But unlike the last two weeks, this morning we don’t get a single long-ish parable, with Jesus’ own interpretation of what it means. Instead, we get five short parables, all teaching about the kingdom of heaven, without additional explanation.
Jesus tells us the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, yeast in a loaf of bread, buried treasure, a pearl, and a net thrown into the sea.
Each image gives us a slightly different perspective on God’s kingdom, and each deserves its own sermon. But I want to focus on what all five have in common. All five of our parables portray God’s kingdom as something hidden, at least at first. The kingdom is like the smallest of all seeds, or yeast bubbling away beneath the surface, or hidden treasure, or an unnoticed pearl.
That’s surprising. It’s still surprising today, and we’ve had these parables to think about for two thousand years. It must have been positively shocking for the people who first heard these parables. They expected God’s kingdom to come in the form of a great war of deliverance from the Romans. Nothing hidden or subtle about that!
It is true that eventually the kingdom bursts forth. The tiny seed becomes the greatest of shrubs. The yeast transforms the entire loaf. The man sells all that he has to get the treasure or the pearl. The righteous will be identified and rewarded. That’s still not the full drama people expected of the kingdom in the first-century, and that a lot of us expect still today. But it’s closer.
And that is where we are headed, to the fulfillment of all God’s promises when God’s kingdom will be established in its power and glory, and we will enjoy eternal life with God.
But we are not to the fullness of Gods kingdom yet. In case you need a reminder of that obvious fact, all we have to do is look around or read the news. The world we live in is not everything we hope for in God’s kingdom.
The best we can possibly say about our world today is that the seed of the kingdom is still pretty small. The yeast of the kingdom has only just begun its work. The treasure of the kingdom remains hidden away. We often can’t find the pearl of the kingdom. The evil and the righteous are still mixed together in confusing ways, in our world and in ourselves.
That’s the best we can say. And that is good news.
In all five of our parables, Jesus assures us that, even if the kingdom is not yet fully established, still God is working away in the world. Better yet, in some small, almost invisible ways, God’s kingdom is already here. Despite all the problems in our world, God’s kingdom is here and is growing, all around us, transforming everything.
In his quite different way, Paul makes the same point.
Paul asks, who or what “will separate us from the love of Christ?” Can “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” do it? Can political divisions or pandemics, or racial injustice, or climate change, or war separate us from the love of Christ? Can financial struggles, or personal loss, or illness separate us from the love of Christ? Can our own sin or death separate us from the love of Christ? Can all the bad things in our world separate us from the love of Christ?
Paul’s answer is a resounding, “No!” “In all these things,” he says, and in anything else we can imagine, “we are more than conquerors through [God] who loved us. For I am convinced,” Paul continues, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not ever.
That divine love is what it means to say the kingdom is present here and now, however hidden it may be. And that divine love is the seed of the kingdom to come.
Our readings are an invitation to look more attentively for God around us and in us, knowing always that God is here and that God is love. And if we still can’t quite glimpse God, to trust that God is here anyway.
Our readings are also a summons. As Christian people, we are called not simply to take comfort in the good news of God’s love and kingdom. We are called to serve as agents of God’s kingdom, spreading the good news that God is with us, that good things are happening all the time, that we have grounds to hope for a better future. We are called to be tenders of the seeds of the kingdom, to be yeast in the loaf, to point towards the hidden treasure or the great pearl, to share the news of God’s unshakable love.
And—I say this a lot—our world needs to hear that good news.
Not long ago, according to an article I read in the newspaper, the Surgeon General warned that loneliness is becoming an epidemic in our nation and called “addressing the crisis of loneliness and isolation” “one of our generation’s greatest challenges.” Apparently more than 20 percent of Americans over 18 describe themselves as lonely not just occasionally, but “often or always.”
Deep loneliness is bad enough, but it also tends to come with a host of related ailments, including depression, social anxiety, and increased risk of heart disease as well as dementia.
I suspect that all of us feel lonely at least some of the time. But think what a comfort it is to know that God is with us always, that God loves us always. And think how welcome that news would be to people who struggle with loneliness but don’t know God’s love.
At the end of my article on loneliness, a scientist described what she takes to be the solution to the loneliness crisis. She is a biologist working at the University of Chicago, not a theologian and not someone who identifies publicly as religious. But the acronym she chose for her answer to loneliness is GRACE.
The letters stand for gratitude, reciprocity, altruism, choice, and enjoyment. That is, we are less likely to be lonely if we are thankful, in loving relationships with people around us, inclined to help others, able to exercise our free will, I would add, with God’s help, and joyful.
That should sound familiar! That is the gospel. That is what we hear every week. And that, says the scientist, is what the American people need to hear if we are going to address the current epidemic of loneliness.
Our world can be hard. So, we come together on Sunday mornings to hear the good news of God’s love and God’s kingdom. And then we go out into our hard world to share the good news of God’s love and God’s kingdom with people who desperately need it.
My prayer for us is that we can hear the invitation to see seeds of God’s kingdom around us, that we can hold onto the promise of God’s eternal love, and that we can work for God’s kingdom in our world. In Christ’s name. Amen.
 For this and what follows, see “If Loneliness is an Epidemic, How Do We Treat It?” New York Times Week in Review, Sunday, July 16, page 6-7.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan