In the 1991 movie City Slickers, on his 39th birthday, Mitch Robbins (played by Billy Crystal) asks his boss:
His wife insists that he go with his buddies on a cattle drive to ‘Find his smile.’ On the cattle drive, Mitch has a moment with the cattle drive foreman, a crusty, burly, and very non-social, cowboy named Curly (Jack Palance).
Curly : Do you know what the secret of life is? [Curly holds up one finger] This.
Mitch : Your finger?
Curly : One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean (expletive).
Mitch : But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly : [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.
This, in different forms, is the question we all ask – ‘What is my one thing?’
Jesus had come to the close of the first two parables of Matthew 13. Much of the crowds left shaking their heads, muttering ‘Darn Hippee!. The remaining 6 parable, however are for his followers, those who have made the decision to listen and understand. The crowds had largely rejected the message of Christ – the followers had recognize the truth in his words.
Jesus begins by taking us, to a sower who is sowing a tiny mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds yet will grow the largest of bushes that basically be a tree. In its, soon to be, tree state, it will serve as a home to birds and their nests, at the same time, this small mustard seed will also be a source an essential spice for cooking and nutrition. Within this tiny seed is everything it needs to do all it will be called to do and be.
A woman is making bread, a lot of bread – probably for a celebration. She has 60 pounds of flour which will make about 60 loafs of bread. She mixes the elements required by her recipe, including a small amount of leaven in with the flour. Over night, the life in the leaven, rises the dough sufficiently for the bread to be ready for the celebration. A tiny amount of leaven enables the dough, and the cook, to be ready for a feast.
A treasure hunter finds a treasure chest in a field, it is the treasure he has sought his entire career. The hunter went and sold everything that he owned using all the proceeds to purchase the field, and indirectly, the treasure. Nothing he owned held any value compared to the treasure in the field. He has sacrificed everything, now he sits in his field with his treasure. The field with the treasure is truly sufficient.
Another individual is a merchant who searches for, and sells, exquisite fine pearls, finds a single pearl which has a great value. He sells everything that he has in order to purchase the pearl. He is done, he has sacrificed everything he owned in order to do the greatest thing he could do. He now stands and watches the world with the pearl in his pocket.
A large dragnet is thrown into the sea and dragged along in order to catch all fish. When the huge full net, containing fish of every kind, is dragged to shore, the destructive fish, those that would destroy the entire catch, are discarded & destroyed. The net, has done its job, it has gathered all the fish.
The job of the scribe is to find & interpret the law & truth. He is not only passionate his job, but he is passionate about he truth itself, it is his treasure. He pursuit is not just academic, it is life.
The problem with the question, ‘What is our one thing?’ is that it is too narrow, too shallow. It merely seeks an answer for our survival. ‘If I can just get through this day, this week, this year, this pandemic, these protests, the election, this phase, this feeling, this crisis, this…..’ It is merely a survival technique designed to get through life. Jesus’ parables paint a picture of life that is not one of survival.
In Romans 8, the apostle Paul wrote very non survivalist statements to the churches in Rome:
‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.’
‘You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.’
‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness’.
‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’
‘If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?’
‘we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’
The question is not about our passion, our goal, our hopes, our dreams, our fulfillment, our dependency, our escape, our plan B, who are we, who do we want to be, what do others think of us, our success, it is not really about a ‘one thing.’ The question is a treasure question, a pearl question, a leaven question, a mustard question, a good and evil question, a pursuit of truth question.
It is a,
‘Where am I?’ &
‘Is it where I need to be?’,
‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’Matthew 6:21
As Jesus was asked to teach the ‘how’ of praying, he did not send them to their knees with eyes closed and head bowed, no, instead he took them to where they needed to be as they began to speak to God.
Pray this, ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Matthew 6:10
He took them to a place where prayers begin, with God at his place, the place where a making a request is accepting the responsibility and willingness to be the hands and feet of the answer to the prayer.
It is not a location that can be identified by our GPS, it is much more real and pertinent than that. We are called to live, IN, the Kingdom of Heaven now.
Jesus said to Martha, ‘I AM the resurrection, I AM the Life.’
He told his disciples, ‘I came so that you may have life abundantly.’
He said to those who were attacking him, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’
and, he said to Martha, ‘You are worried and distracted by so many things.’
Jesus invitation is much more than a ‘one thing’, it is not a ‘what’ question but a ‘where’ question. He is calling us to a life lived in his Kingdom now so that we can reveal the Kingdom to a world that has become at home with the evil in the net.
So, he prayed,
‘God, may your Kingdom come here.’
Jesus tells us these metaphors, these parables, to help us understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is, the location of the Kingdom here on earth. It is in the dirt, it is in the kitchen, it is in the field, it is in the pocket, it is in the net, it is in truth.
We are called to the same place Jesus lived on this earth, the Kingdom of Heaven, a place where he frequently suffered but was never despondent, where he was rejected but always held his resolve, a place where he was always at peace even in the midst of chaos and turmoil, a place where he was consistently attacked but never without hope, a place where he was applauded but never arrogant, a place where sacrifice was his calling not survival, a place where he was a conqueror even though it looked like defeat.
In the Jewish tradition – when a boy or a girl reaches the age of 13 they are ready to be a full part of the Jewish community, they are ready to take part in the religious practices and traditions. This is officially recognized at the celebration of Ba(z)mitzvah for the girls, and Barmitzvah for the boys. It is at this time that their elders will proclaim to them ‘You are now a Woman,’ ‘You are now a Man!’ Much preparation has taken place before this celebration. The paradox sets in two days later as they return to school where their teacher is still treating them as a child with rules and restrictions that are for children. Here they are, a Man, a Woman, and yet they are still stuck in the world of their childhood. They are now an adult, yet their adolescent body is screaming ‘I’m barely a teenager!’ They now begin their journey, a journey of an adult in a world of children.
This is what living now in the Kingdom of Heaven is, living in an imperfect world, that ultimately cannot harm us eternally, yet the impacts and restrictions all around intertwine into our life.
We have been caught up in the net, but the evil is still in there with us. We are constantly making the choice of which world we live in.
We choose to be the adult on the playground in the kickball game of life.
As we have journeyed through the prophetic ministries of Isaiah and Jeremiah, I have been horrified by the correlation between then and now. These prophets were screaming truth, at the top of their lungs, and no one was listening. They were yelling that the religious leaders and the oppressive politicians were in collusion with each other at the expense of all humanity. The people had settled in and accepted it, they believed the false prophets that were selected, honored, and adored by the religious and political leaders. These false prophets knew that their position could change in a moment if they failed to affirm the leaders decisions, statements, and agendas. The people stood firm in their support of this deception and danger because it was what the way of the leaders were leading. All the while, disaster loomed heavy outside the broken down walls of Jerusalem.
As I have immersed myself in the absurdity of this historical reality, which can be impossible not to see that the same tragic absurdity that Isaiah and Jeremiah were addressing is still a dangerous absurdity in our world today. We have religious leaders who have been selected and appointed by the politicians. We have politicians afraid to step out of line or they will be humiliatingly discarded by their own system. We have words, and concepts, like life, unity, strength and force, safety, military, science, law enforcement, God, Bible, Constitution, Love, and faith used to nurture hate, death, disrespect for life, division, hopelessness, non-accountability, racisim, degradation of human life around the globe, and so much more…it is all waiting for us right outside the gates.
We label those as liberals who do not use our exact words about God’s truth while failing to ponder the depth of God’s greatest call on us. We label those as radicals who do not conform to our exact interpretations of creation yet we refuse to make the sacrifices needed to care for God’s creation. We reject those who don’t interpret God’s concern for children in the same way as we do, yet we refuse to accept the personal sacrifice of time, resources, and money required to fully take care of children and, for that matter, all humans. We have called heretics those who are not in agreement with us on constitutional issues and interpretations, even when those views are often in direct opposition to God’s truth and to the revelation of God seen in Jesus.
Quite honesty, as I have seen this, it has worn on me. Beginning last fall, I could physically feel it. Last thanksgiving my son Isaiah made the comment to me that he felt like he had an anxiety knot in his chest. I realized that was what I had. Add to that, a God given blessing of seeing first hand the situation at the border, the pandemic, the protests, the division and arrogance – I allowed my roots to tangle with the roots of the evil inside the net. I have been hesitant to mention these correlations on Sunday mornings to you, and you guys are wonderful! God has often kept me awake all Friday and Saturday nights, or awakened me early Sunday morning, until I very changed the message to the very message he had been calling me to all week. I had allowed the roots of the weeds and my roots to become very tangled, and I was physically feeling it.
As believers, our dwelling place is in the Kingdom of Heaven now, we are the hands and feet of the Lord’s prayer that God’s will be done on earth – NOW. Not in an arrogant, hateful, judgmental, condemning way – but in a fruits of the spirit way, in a Micah 6:8 way, in the greatest two commandments way.
We are at the plate, but now as an adult on the childrens’ playground, we know we have the power to conquer, heck, we have the power to kick the ball up to the playground teachers holding their coffee at the other end of the playground, however, we also know that Joey, in right field looking at his phone, will get a bloody nose if we kick it over the first baseline with all the power we know we have, so we act with mercy, justice, love, showing fruits of the spirit, and kick with an intentionality that allows Joey, who hasn’t yet realized that we are an adult and that we are no longer the child, who yesterday, forgot the difference between 1st and 2nd base – we kick it so Joey will have time to realize the ball is slowly rolling his way, put his phone in his back pocket, and run to pick it up throwing it majestically to second base, were Elizabeth, the strongest, coolest, and best athlete in the fifth grade catches the ball, giving Joey his moment as she yells, ‘Good throw, Joey!’ So as the whistle is blown, Joey walks back for afternoon classes, he has had a moment of glory even while the evil is still in the net, not knowing it was thanks to us, but knowing it was a great already a great day. A moment that will sustain him through the coming humiliation of not remembering that his notebook, containing his homework now being collected, is scattered all over the playground where he left his binder behind the backstop.
We live as we would like others to live, we live in the Kingdom of Heaven while in the midst of the elementary playground.
We suffer in this world that does not match up with where we really live. We can choose to ignore the realities of this world, the evil that is still in the net, we can live with our noses in the air refusing to soften our power at the plate – because, quite frankly everyone else enjoys the cheers of a homer at the expense of Joey in right field. Or, we can notice Joey and have mercy and love, we can act with justice for Elizabeth who sometimes does the opposite of yelling ‘good catch, Joey’ , we can show them both, and everyone else on the playground, where we live by how we live in the midst of the net full of evil….Just like Jesus did.
So, as I have struggled with the ‘anxiety knot’ God has been working with me. Reminding me as I observe the the evil still in the net, I must not forget where I live, I must not let my roots get tangled in with the roots of the weeds. The weeds live there, I do not, our weeds do not belong intertwined. My politics, my vocation, my education, my life must not tangle with the roots of the weeds, tangled roots pull us away from where we really live. In the end, our politics, our education, our vocation, our relationships, all the stuff of life, must be directed by where we live, in the Kingdom – we can’t allow those things to dictate that we live in the net.
The apostle Paul called this ‘Suffering with Christ’ – living in a world that does not match up with where we truly live.
It is the difference between surviving and conquering.
Paul, a resident of the Kingdom of Heaven, living on the planet earth, put it this way:
‘I am convinced 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.’Romans 8:38-39
Let us pray.