The Kingdom in Stories
2 Kings 6: 8-17; Matthew 13: 33
The Kingdom in Stories
We’re continuing our sermon series today on seeing the tales of God and the story of God in the midst of the stories we tell each other by looking at the various types of stories we tell each other, such as trying to conquer a monster, or the rags to riches story, or the Gospel story, or a fantasy story.
Today were going to be focusing on the fantasy story. A fantasy story is defined in my mind as the story where you begin on earth, or someplace very similar to earth; so for instance in Lord of the Rings we began in a fictional place called Middle Earth and The Shire, but it looks like a quiet little village in real earth, it doesn’t have any of the otherworldly stuff that will be coming later. So we begin on earth and then someone comes to the main character and invites them to see a world just beyond what they know, just be on what is familiar to us the reader, a world that exists just out of sight. Maybe it’s just too small to be seen normally and we have to learn how to see it, or maybe we have to know which two platforms at Kings Cross that we have to walk into the wall between in order to get where to the world. Maybe we have to find the right wardrobe that leads to the great and powerful Narnia, or we have to be able to fly with pixie dust past the third star on the right. Something happens where this world is opened up to our main character and we’re introduced to this beautiful new world.
Never is this done better than in the movie Black Panther. Black Panther is a mine for lessons to be shown. I could’ve used Black Panther in any of the sermon so far in this series. But in Black Panther we see that all the characters know where we’re going, but the movie makes the characters become the one that’s bringing us, the audience, out into this new world: into Wakanda, this technological marvel where there really is, thanks to the technology, no more real pain, there’s no more real suffering, there’s no more real death. This is a paradise. And in a lot of ways when these worlds are shown to us, that is what we’re meant to feel: we’re meant to feel this is a better world than the one we know, a better world that is right underneath our feet, and if only we could see like the main character now does, we too could experience this new world.
The New World is fantastical, a word which shares a root with the word fantasy. This is the idea behind it: that it is better than the world in which we are in, or at the very least the world is amazingly interesting. And we long to be there. When this world is opened up to us, we long to go and experience it. And, at least in the very beginning, the story is all about exploring the world the main character brings us on an adventure in. This new and exciting place exists right next to us, maybe we can catch a glimpse of it in our own world.
The Bible tells a similar story. We read one of those similar stories today. It is the story of Elisha. Elisha was a prophet in early Israel. The Assyrians had come, and they were going to try and conquer Israel, but every time they would go to a place where Israel was weak, all of a sudden Israel would strengthen themselves there. It was as if they knew what was happening. And the king of the Assyrians believed there was a trader in there midst, but he was told, “no, there’s no traitor. We just have a really good prophet in Israel.” So the King dispatches the entire army to go arrest one man. And one morning the prophet’s assistant gets up and looks outside and the entire Assyrian army is arrayed in front of him with weapons drawn. And he looks around and all he can see is him and the old man. And understandably he gets a little scared.
What does Elisha say? “There are more of us than there are of them.” And he prays that the servant’s eyes would be opened to see what he can see. And when that happens they see this massive, spiritual army arrayed against the Assyrans. It’s an army made of chariots of fire, which remind us back to when Elisha took over from Elijah. At Elijah‘s death Elisha sought to go with him as far as he could, and then he saw Elijah being raised up into the sky on chariots of fire. It was the same kind of spiritual vision; the ability to see something spiritual that is right next to us that you couldn’t normally see. An entire fantastical world of the Godly Kingdom right next to us, if only we had eyes able to see.
There are other stories in the Old Testament similar to this. You have the story of Balaam, which you probably know Balaam’s donkey more than you know Balaam. But Balaam tries to get the donkey to move and the donkey won’t move. And he’s trying to beat the donkey into moving and the donkey finally turnes around to talk to him, which is why you know the story. But through the donkey’s talking to him, his eyes are opened and he sees the Warrior of God standing in the path ready to strike him down.
Or David. David, as King, decides to take a census of Israel, which he is expressly forbidden from doing. And God decides to punish Israel. So for three days the wrath of God comes on Israel, and David stands in Jerusalem and begs for it to stop. And his eyes are opened and he can see the Warrior of God with his sword outstretched against Jerusalem. And actually the temple was to be built on the spot the Warrior of God was standing, because that’s where David saw that there was something around him that he couldn’t quite see; a spiritual realm around him that was just beyond his normal vision.
We actually still talk about this. We talk about this all the time when we have things like a guardian angel; the idea that there is something around us that protects us, something that we can’t ever see, but is there. Of course Jesus talked about this. Jesus all but confirmed that there is actually something there; that the Kingdom of God does exist in the present. It hasn’t come in it’s fullness yet, but the Kingdom of God, Heaven, Paradise, that which we are anticipating does exist right around us. And you can feel it. You can catch glimpses of what it is going to be like to live in heaven if you’re attentive enough to catch the things on the edge of your vision, if you look through the wardrobes.
We long to have this experience of something greater. We believe it to be there, if we can just find that right wardrobe, or find the right rainbow, or get to the third star on the right, or find Wakanda. I believe that feeling is present with the result that it points us toward the Kingdom of Heaven. It makes us long and strive for that thing around us which is the Kingdom. And every time we see it, every time we show it to someone else, the more we long for it. It’s addictive, and it’s contagious.
In our second reading we see Jesus trying to help us see the Kingdom around us, trying to play that part for us. And he shows us an image of what the Kingdom is doing in our world. He says it’s like leaven that is been mixed into dough. Now when leaven mixes into bread dough, you can no longer determine what is leaven and what is bread. Once the leaven has been mixed in, you can’t take it back out. But what it does, if you let it sit there for long enough, it begins to change the bread around it to make the bread around it rise when you cook it, as opposed to cooking flat. It changes the things around it in order to make those things better. It is difficult to see leaven, but it is easy to tell that it’s been there.
And if you extend that out to the Kingdom, then that’s what the Kingdom would look like. It’s difficult to see the Kingdom if you’re looking directly at it, but it’s easy to tell when the Kingdom has done something, when the Kingdom has made something better, when the Kingdom has been someplace. It’s easy to feel it. If the Kingdom exists in this world, than what it does is it seeps through the world, slowly making the world a better place by its mere presence. The Kingdom influences everything that is around it, helping everything around it to become more than it had been, and helps at all to rise.
I believe that the Church is the Kingdom of God in this world. I believe that when we are truly the Church, when we are doing what Jesus told us to do, then we are the Kingdom, we are the leaven, we make the world around us a better place. And we make it rise to be something greater than it was before. We are the Kingdom.
And I still use that word Kingdom. I know some pastors have switched over to the word Kindom, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s not a gender related thing, at least to me, I mean the word Kingdom is pretty gender-neutral in terms of the person on the throne. We don’t call it now the Queendom of England just because a queen is on the throne. It’s still a Kingdom. Rather the switch over to the word Kindom is a sense of saying that the Rule of God is not like the Kingdom of England, but the Rule of God is something different. It is closer to family. And so we bring up that word Kindom to express and emphasize the familial nature of it, that it’s not like a political structure that we have here.
But I like a different aspect of that word Kingdom. That is the fact that kingdoms have ambassadors. The Kingdom of England (and Northern Ireland and Wales and Scotland) has an ambassador to the United States. And that person is not the Queen, it’s an ordinary person from those places. But that person comes to the United States and is the representative of the Kingdom. That person goes and meets with the US government to express the desires of the British government. That person lives in a foreign land in order to represent the Queen or the prime minister. And I’ve used that as a very useful image for what we are supposed to be. The Kingdom of God exists around us, and we are ambassadors of that Kingdom: we represent God to the world around us, to the foreign land that we are in. For our citizenship, spiritually speaking at least, is in the Kingdom of God, not in the United States of America. We have physical citizenship in the United States, if you can, but spiritually we have our citizenship elsewhere. And we are in a foreign land called the world. And we are to represent God to the world.
So be in ambassador of the Kingdom. See the Kingdom around you. Help others to see the Kingdom around you. And spread the Good News to all you meet, because we all long to see the fantastical world of the Kingdom spread throughout this world. Amen.