June 14, 2021
“What does the kingdom of God mean to you?”
This was the question that launched our discussion at Street Church this past Sunday. Throughout the congregation, responses rang out through the speakers, “The kingdom is God’s house;” “God’s kingdom is eternal;” Chris, our Street Church attendee who is one of our deep thinkers responded with, “At first, I wanted to say that it is in heaven…but then I realized it is also something that’s happening here too,” he said. Another neighbor concluded with, “the kingdom of God is home.”
[image: Tomato plants and Dahlias have been growing in the gardens alongside the Meeting House/Street Church yard in partnership with volunteers and neighbors growing together]
One of the things I love about preaching in the collective and participatory format that we lean into at Street Church is that the pressure is lifted off of the preacher to produce prophetic imagery. Instead we let the Holy Spirit do the talking through our people. Like a midwife who aides in the birth of another, my role is to guide the conversation for a successful delivery of God’s word speaking in and through the beloved Church.
As we wrestled with the Markan parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:26-34), this novice preacher tried very hard not to “give the answer” to the story. The parables are often a tricky pericope (scripture text) to preach on because they are intentionally mysterious. Oftentimes, parables are watered down into children’s stories to give a clean takeaway, but these stories are not fables with a clean denouement at the end. The beauty of Jesus’s parables is that they are complex and depending on the listener, there are nuances that are illuminated in the story each time you hear them. We took the time to wrestle with this scripture and in listening to our neighbors reflections, we came away with a new perspective about how to understand "the kingdom of God."
[image: our friends Ariel and Larry brought their family to Church and we set up a "pray-ground" for him to play and be at church]
How can we even define the kingdom of God?
According to the Markan gospel, the kingdom of God is (I’m paraphrasing here) like a free spirit sower who scatters seeds and trusts that wherever the seeds fall, they will grow in their own time or be used in different ways. Whether day or night, it grows naturally. We do not control or “preach” growth into action. Somehow in the kingdom of God, growth occurs without any other labor than sowing the seed (Mark 4:26-29). There is assurance in the process that has been put into place by the divine order. We rest in knowing that God is in control and that we will know, by the fruit of Spirit, when it is time for harvest.
[image: mustard tree in the middle east]
The kingdom of God is also, according to Jesus, like a mustard seed. A seed that is the notorious underdog, but rises to the occasion despite its size or the climate it has been scattered into (by no choice of their own). Despite the conditions it was born into, it can still become one of the largest bushes or trees. With sustained growth, it can then provide protection for other vulnerable creatures trusted in its care. Through this scrappy seed’s story of resilience, it is able to care for the least and the lost in its branches, shade, and even in its root system.
[Image: Street Church Growing and Gleaning through the Holy Spirit]
Could it be then, that the kingdom of God is both the sower who is working before the seed has sprouted, and is also the shelter and protection found after the tree has come to fruition? God is both the Creator, the grower, and the protector, three in one. God is working in the past, the present, and the future for the “kin-dom” nestled in the dominion of God’s care.
God’s “kin-dom” is expansive! It includes all of God’s creatures and does not discriminate against those who were not “chosen” in the past. In the historical context, this could be Mark’s way of referencing those who had been proclaimed under the protection of Caesar. In today’s context, the radical inclusive nature of God makes up all those who have previously been ostracized. Our “kin-dom” at Street Church seeks to welcome and embody all those who may have been excluded in the past. Those who are a part of marginalized populations that are covered in God’s grace and eternal care.
God works past the margins of exclusivity and birth-rites and moves actively towards those who have been deemed "worthless" or “too far gone.” God makes gardens in the darkest alleyways, places where people said, “there is no use in sowing seeds over there…that ground is hopeless.” God’s kingdom is like the sower who says, “watch me.”
[Image: Pastor Chelsea leads church in a movement exercise to "Spirit of the Living God Fall Afresh On me"]
Street Church has been working on creating fertile, holy soil for seeds to be scattered and grow in our midst. Our motto of “Gather-Sow-Grow” is the recognition that when we gather together, God sows seeds of faith, and we have the opportunity to grow when we respond as a community. While we do not have control of how fast the seeds will germinate or when they will take root, we do know that God has placed us here for a reason and we have neighbors entrusted to our care.
[Image: Rev. Carey Connors farewell service under the Magnolia Tree off the Canal path]
Like the mustard tree in our parable, or even the giant magnolia tree we started under last year, God’s kingdom is personified in the sanctuary found on the holy ground of Street Church. Our role is to provide inclusive shelter and protection to the most vulnerable in our midst. Our goal is to harbor “safe space” to those who have often been demoralized from the community or even the Church. Finally, our hope is that all (and we mean all), who are recognized in the “kin-dom” of God, will find and know the love of Jesus through our supportive community and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Through this universal love, we pray that they may grow resiliently, like the mustard seed, through the grace that is found in this place and our beloved community.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
[Image: Prayers for this week, please continue to pray for our community]