(watch here: https://youtu.be/VVoogUxp2Fs)
24[Jesus] put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
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.’
34Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’
36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’
Our reading reminds me of the one about when God visited a preacher one night. The preacher had one question: “What is Heaven like?” God replied, “Heaven is like a city. It has the best of everything. For example, the French are the chefs, the Italians are the lovers, the English are the policeman, the Germans are the mechanics, and the Dutch are the politicians.” “Wow! Sounds great! Makes me wonder what hell is like,” the preacher responded. “Well,” God sighs, “the French are the mechanics, the Italians are the politicians, the English are the chefs, the Germans are the policemen, and the Dutch are the lovers.”
Can you only imagine?! Such an amazing heaven countered by such an awful hell! Of course, not all French food is delicious nor are all Germans bad policemen. It’s a joke catering to stereotypes and ethnic biases. No, heaven and hell are a little more complex than portrayed in that joke. Or simpler depending on your perspective. I don’t imagine nationalities and prejudices and stereotypes will be recognized in heaven. Our identities will transcend whatever nation we belonged to here in this world. I like to believe our identities will be formed by the faith we held in our brief pilgrimage here in this world. Faith matters in life if only to determine who and where and how we’ll be in the next life. In death we are defined by our faith, nothing more and nothing less, so faith is a pretty important thing to hold onto in this life. We need faith not only to overcome the obstacles of this life but also to help us in the next life. I feel sorry for those who have little to no faith in this life and I don’t want to imagine what awaits them in the next life.
But you’ll notice that I am careful not to tell you with certainty what life will be like after death. Heaven and hell are realities that we only get glimpses of in Scripture. There is no definitive, all-encompassing description of either reality in all of Scripture. Yes, we will either be forever in the presence of our God or forever separated from him. He will be sitting on the throne, surrounded by angels, and all will be praising him. There will be a magnificent light all around and shouts of joy will fill the air. These are the powerful images we gather for what heaven will be like. In contrary, hell is a place of “eternal fire,” (Matt. 25:41) reigned by “the One who can destroy both body and soul,” (Matt. 10:28) and its inhabitants are “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thess. 1:9) Both realities, heaven and hell, are magnificent and frightening and awesome, so much so that they are difficult to fully grasp. And yet they both encourage us to live faithful, God-fearing lives here in this world. Who wouldn’t want to spend all of eternity in the presence of God’s majesty? Better yet, who would want to spend the rest of eternity in the alternative? Heaven and hell are great motivators and encouragement for living lives of faith.
Along comes Jesus who teaches us three radically new understandings of heaven as we heard in our reading for this morning. The kingdom of heaven is like “someone who sowed good seed in his field.” The kingdom of heaven is like “a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.” 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.” All three understandings are quite different than imagery we hear elsewhere in Scripture. It’s hard to understand what exactly Jesus is saying with these three parables. That’s because he’s not describing a place but rather an unfolding reality. We should reconsider heaven as more of a process than a destination. It’s a becoming more aware of who God is. It’s a becoming one with God and a growing into something much larger than what we are in this world. It’s a connecting with all that is and was and will be. These are processes just as a germinating seed and activated yeast are processes. Jesus’ very teaching is a process! It sets in motion a process of understanding, a process that will come to fruition for some people yet remain a mystery for others.
Whether we understand his parables on the kingdom of heaven or not, there is an undeniable and readily apparent truth about them that we mustn’t forget…a truth most important to our reading. Jesus was simply teaching us about heaven. Jesus was teaching us about the kingdom of heaven. Whether you like to believe heaven is a destination or a process, heaven is a reality ruled by a king. There is only one king that reigns over heaven and if we want to be a part of it we must submit to his rule. Make no mistake about it, our God is the king of this world and heaven. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (8:6) When our lives in this world come to an end, we will begin our new lives and both the old and new lives were created by our loving and generous God. We live and die through Christ alone. Christ sits on that heavenly throne we hear about in Scripture. We come to God through him alone. Again, we hear Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:9-11) Perhaps heaven is a combination of a destination and a process. It is a place where we’ll grow to understand God better, undistracted by the evils of this world. It is a place ruled by a revealing king who gradually reveals all mysteries throughout all of eternity.
Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, both in this world and in heaven, of this we can be assured. He is a good and just and loving Lord. We are blessed to have him as our Lord. And we are blessed with his gift of heaven. Whether we believe it to be a destination or a process, faith in heaven ultimately creates the greatest gift of all, the gift of hope. Peter writes in his first letter, “But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.” (3:15) Christ, the ruler of heaven, gives us hope. Hope enables us to endure the greatest of sorrows, the deepest of despairs, the worst of suffering. Let us give thanks not only for his gift of heaven but also his gift of lordship. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.