True fans of college sports, not the occasional person watching a football game with a passing interest or the one who tunes into March Madness only because this year some colleagues convinced them to fill out a bracket, no, true fans. The kinds of people who paint their faces and have lucky socks. The ones who show up early to tailgate with the same old crew and scream at the top of their lungs until they lose their voices. The ones whose loyalty is displayed proudly on their vehicles and worn with pride on their chests. Those sorts of fans are a wonderful treasure. See, they display boldly on the outside what the rest of us all experience on the inside. You can clearly see on their faces as the game unfolds the deep longing for victory. They are invested. They want to be associated with winning. And that is something we all desire, we want to be winners. No matter what it is we are engaged in, we want our time, our passion, our dedication, to be validated by victory. We want everyone else to see we were right all along.
As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” To pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God is one of the most fervent and regular prayers of the people of God. To speak about the Kingdom of God is to speak about His authority and rule. To be under His Kingdom is to be under His lordship. That is a place of blessing and assurance, a place of hope and confidence in the gift of salvation. Such a place must be a place of peace and rest, a place which calms our anxious hearts and sooths our souls. So, where do we find such a kingdom? Do we know where to look? We pray for the Kingdom, we long for the Kingdom, but do we know it when we see it?
If we are looking for the Kingdom of God, we most likely begin by going where God’s people are. We look where His Word is read, where His promises continue to be made. If we are seeking the rule and reign of God, it makes sense to start where people have found it for many generations before we came along. So, you go. You go to church and take in the spectacle that is the Kingdom of God on earth. With, “Thy Kingdom come,” in your hearts you step foot into the sanctuary and behold the coming of His kingdom. I know what you are thinking. It is all a bit underwhelming is it not. I mean, sure these are people who claim to be His children, this is a place where His Word is preached but it if you want to be on the winning team, this does not really look like it. I mean, where are the miracles and the power and the glory? Where is the excitement and the jubilation? This is just a bunch of sinners going through the motions, practicing old rituals, and singing old hymns. Is this really the Kingdom of God? Is it found here? Or should we look somewhere else?
The thing is most of the parables our Lord tells His disciples are an attempt to describe the Kingdom of God. They use something from the common experience of man, some story about planting or harvesting to convey some truth about the Kingdom of God. They do not necessarily tell us the total scope and reach and contours of the Kingdom, but they do give us a bit of clarity about what is happening and perhaps what we ought to expect about the Kingdom. “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed spouts and grown, he knows not how.” The Kingdom of God grows like seeds planted in the ground. We do not have to know how it happens. We do not have to know the genetic makeup of the seed and the soil or the pH level of the water. The seed is planted, and it grows. Without asking us for our input or guidance, without our cheers and support, the Kingdom does precisely what the Kingdom will do.
Jesus goes on, “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed…” This Kingdom which grows and reaches its full harvest without our prayer or aid is now compared to a mustard seed. Now again, this is not a botany lesson. This is trying to tell us something about the Kingdom of God, and this one is fairly easy to understand. Seeds can be small, so small, in fact, it can seem impossible anything worthy could ever come from it. So small and insignificant you might just toss them away, ignore them all together, and continue your search for something of more substance, something that will make you a winner, something which promotes victory.
Lingering in this image is what we find when we come to church. It is our disappointment and frustration with what appears to be a weak and foolish kingdom. It is full of the doubts we all share. We wonder if this can really be it. Is there nothing more to look for? Where is the strength? Where is the wisdom? Where is the vision of beauty and power and prestige worthy of the Kingdom of God? Where are the healings and the answered prayers and the triumphant lives? In the face of all that is going on in our world, in the face of poverty and racism and environmental disasters, before complex and broken systems of human governance, this Kingdom does not look like much of a Kingdom. Even before our own personal crises, before our own depression and anxiety, our own fears and confusions, our own sorrow and loneliness, this Kingdom can often feel very foolish.
Yet, this small mustard seed Kingdom is not finished growing. Our Lord describes a mustard seed that grows to be the largest of all the garden plants. It grows to such a magnitude that all the birds of the air can make their nests in the shade of its branches. All the nations of the earth, all the people wandering lost and confused will have peace, will have shade, will have a home in the branches of this Kingdom. This very Kingdom which looks foolish and small, this Kingdom most would simply walk by and ignore, this is the rule and reign of God in our midst.
Therefore, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of promise. It is the promise of rest, the promise of peace with the Father, the promise of forgiveness and life and salvation. And the promise is already given. It is already handed over here and now. We find the promise of God in His Word, a Word that exposes your sin and reveals how you have fallen from the glory of God. It shows in sharp detail how you have misused His blessings. In fact, the Word of God first tells you how you are unworthy of the Kingdom of God. But the Word of God is just beginning to do its work. For it then promises something greater. It promises salvation in Christ alone. It promises that you who are dead in your sins are now made alive in Christ. As the Kingdom grows you find there is a place for you in this Kingdom. There is something coming far greater than what we can see with our eyes.
And those promises are given to you through means, through a preacher of the Word, through the washing of baptism, through the giving of our Lord’s own body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins; in, with and under the bread and wine. These gifts may seem small, they may seem insignificant and unworthy of our time and devotion. But here in these lowly things are the promises of the Kingdom. Here is the foretaste of the feast to come. As the promises echo in your ears, as the comfort of Christ’s work settles upon you, you are given a glimpse of that reassuring shade, that place of peace and hope and joy.
Sure, it may not look like much, it may even be deemed as foolish by our world, but the promises are here. Forgiveness is here. Salvation is here. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.