Once upon a time…
It is a brilliant phrase. It invites our attention. It awakens our curiosity. It sparks our imagination.
Upon encountering those words, once upon a time, we know in our very being that a story is near.
Stories offer us opportunities of escape, of entertainment, of surprise, of challenge, of insight.
Stories invite us to moments of connection – to new understandings of others or perhaps affirmations of being understood ourselves.
Stories can teach us. Stories can shape us. Stories can be prophetic, healing, and revelatory.
Stories are how we share the experiences of life with each other – through the act of storytelling.
It is through storytelling, the acts of sharing and receiving stories, that we begin to explore and make meaning of our life experiences. Storytelling helps us transform the mundane into the meaningful.
That’s why I love it when the lectionary cycle brings us around to these types of passages in the Gospels. To the passages where we get to experience Jesus as a storyteller. To experience the profoundly human act of storytelling put into action in a way that reminds us that there is so much more to the world, to life and love, than we know, understand, or have experienced. Jesus as a storyteller invites us to expansive living and loving. Jesus as storyteller invites us to expand our imaginations as a way of making space for God’s expansive love to move in and through us.
Today’s selection of parables is an excellent example of this invitation to expansive imagination. Through these short stories, we get to experience five different images of the Kin-dom of Heaven. I’m going to pause here and be clear about that word choice – I am using the word Kindom on purpose today – and I often do. I most often use the word Kindom when talking about God’s ways in the world because it reminds me (and hopefully extends an invitation to those who encounter it) to remember that the ways of God in the world are first and foremost about relationship – kinship – and not about power structures which is what the word Kingdom would point us towards.
I also want to make note here that I am really grateful to Mitchell for taking on the topic of Kingdom, with a g, when preaching a few weeks ago and helping us consider the use of the word Kingdom in relationship to the cultural context of historical times in ways that might help us embrace it as more of a revolutionary/social justice/provision term instead of the monarchy power structure that we are less attached to in our current age. So I am not opposed to the term Kingdom of Heaven – and yet, I choose to use Kindom more often because I want to remember and reinforce the primacy of relationship when we consider God’s ways in the world.
And that’s what I see this phrase: The Kindom of Heaven being about – the ways of God in the world; now. Not a future kindom that we only join in and become part of after death – instead I understand Jesus to be inviting us to expand our understanding of how the Kindom of Heaven – the Kindom of God – how Love is present among us now – flowing into the world in and through our living.
Jesus’ comparisons invite us to consider God’s ways in the world as:
A tiny mustard seed, yeast, a hidden treasure, a merchant, and a net.
Or perhaps another way we could consider these examples is to say that God’s ways in the world:
- May be perceived as insignificant, yet blossom into abundance and provision
- are transformative and move us towards expansive living
- spark hope and fill us with joy
- invite our participation – an investment of energy and effort for the sake of something that is valuable
- and that God’s ways are diverse, inclusive, and lifegiving
And these are just five of the ways Jesus invites people to learn about, explore and begin to understand the Kindom of Heaven. Storytelling Jesus understands that humans are diverse and have different contexts – different life experiences and perspectives that may cause each to respond uniquely to invitations or images. We may not be able to relate to, connect with, or embrace every story that attempts to reveal pieces of God to us. So Jesus is committed to a multitude of imagery – Jesus is all about tapping into the power of imagination to come up with yet another way of exploring and inviting people to seek and find God’s love in the world.
I like to think about Jesus gathered together with the disciples, or even a crowd of people and after sharing one story – looking around and finding bewildered faces. He understands and realizes that the illustration didn’t connect for them and so he tries again – seeking to offer a pool of stories so that something within one of the stories might spark recognition and connection within each person so that no one misses out on the invitation to expansive life and love that he is offering:
“To what can we compare the kindom of heaven?” “What is is like?” “How can I begin to explain it?” he asks these questions over and over, stretching his own imagination further with each example that he comes up with. And thereby stretching the imaginations of those who encounter these stories by inviting us to understand that God’s Kindom, The Kindom of Heaven, isn’t bound by a single answer, illustration or way of being in the world – God’s Kindom is, yes, and it is also beyond whatever we initially might understand it to be.
Last week during Children’s Church, those gathered together explored these five parables and then we followed the example of Jesus and invited ourselves into a space of imagination. To consider the diversity of ways we might think about and understand the Kindom of God and to draw pictures or tell our own short stories of what the Kindom of Heaven is like.
I invite you now to consider these additional reflections of the ways of God in the world:
What a joy to experience this widespread net of imagination from some of the kids of this congregation – thank you to those who helped create this collection of imagery.
A collection made possible because we choose to be in community together in this place; to manifest a piece of the Kindom of heaven. We choose to come together to share and receive each other’s stories. To learn with and from each other. To care for and receive care from each other. To celebrate and grieve together when our stories call for it. To challenge and be challenged by each other. To pool our resources and energy and inspire and participate in acts of care and resistance beyond the walls of this body as needed. And to keep on stretching our imaginations together so that we can continuously remember that God’s love is more and more and more expansive – a practice which takes a compilation of imaginations. A collective pool of stories, storytellers, and story receivers making space and more space together to learn about, be transformed by, and participate in seeking, finding, and manifesting Love in the world.
Today marks 18 months since we have returned to in-person worship after almost two full years of gathering together for worship virtually through Zoom. When the pandemic began we were quickly thrown into what felt like a strange story. We witnessed first hand the power of something teeny tiny – a virus particle – to have tremendous impact. Instead of having access to shared spaces of storytelling and imagination – we found ourselves in the unfamiliar space of separation and sometimes isolation. It stretched our imaginations to consider what the Kindom of Heaven was like in the midst of a global pandemic – in the presence of social upheaval, suffering, loss, and disparity of experience. It stretched our imaginations to learn how to share stories, to connect, care for each other, and make meaning in the world together when we couldn’t gather together in-person.
And our imaginations did stretch. We learned how to use technology in new ways. We worshiped collectively from far flung places. We imagined new ways of sharing stories and being community. We welcomed new participants and members into the fold. We imagined a day when we might return to the church building to share space and our stories together again in person. And we imagined what it might be like for those who still needed to join virtually, for a variety of reasons, to continue to be able to participate in the gathering of the community from separate places. As individuals and as a collective we were and continue to be transformed by the experiences of the pandemic. The story is still unfolding.
The journey alongside each other, at a distance for many months, and now in a combination of in-person and distance participation continues to stretch our understandings of the ways of God in the world. The journey has created story upon story of experiences that live in relationship with each other – none replacing or erasing what has been. At the end of the scripture we hear that the scribe’s job – and I’m thinking of scribes as those who are scholars those who seek to understand what it is to be in the kindom of God – like all of us gathered here learning about and seeking God’s love and ways in the world are called to hold both the old and the new. Embracing both and expanding ourselves so that, instead of any new story erasing or replacing what has been, the layers of story intertwine, weaving a tapestry of witness and context for the stories yet to be.
Through it all, and even now, we are still imagining what the Kindom of Heaven looks like and seeking to be storytellers of that Kindom in and through our living. Storytellers that share our experiences of love in the world with each other and receive and honor the stories others share with us so that we can continuously expand our understanding and imaginations as we make space for, seek, find, and participate in the ways of love in the world.