God is not a 'best before' God

The Revd Canon Dr Alvyn Pettersen
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity


Sung Eucharist

Romans 8.26-39     Matthew 13.31-33,44-52

The kingdom of heaven, the Jesus of Matthew’s gospel suggested, is like a grain of mustard seed. Proverbially the smallest of all seeds; so light that the lightest of breezes will, if you are not careful, blow it from even your cupped hand. Yet, when this tiny grain is planted, Matthew’s Jesus continued, it grows into the greatest of shrubs, even, though with this the experts of RHS, Wisley may not wholly agree, even into . . . a tree, so large that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. The kingdom of heaven, the same Jesus then further added, is like leaven, like yeast, the smallest amount of which will leaven a mass of dough.

Interestingly, although the gospel reading opens with these two similes, it is the contrasts within these two similes which are central to our understanding them. So, mark the contrasts in these similes between the very small and the very large, between the tiniest of seeds and the most expansive of bushes, between a minute amount of leaven and the mass of dough which it may leaven; and then note their point. Their point is that the kingdom of heaven, with which the mustard seed and the leaven is likened, may find its beginnings in the smallest, the insignificant, the all too easy to overlook. However, because the kingdom is not just any kingdom, but God’s kingdom, the kingdom of the One who is Lord of lords, the reign of the King of all, the rule of the One who cannot be curtailed, though the kingdom of heaven may find its beginnings in the smallest, ultimately it cannot be limited, nor will it be limited by its small beginnings. And so, it finds its fulfilment in that which is anything but small and insignificant. The kingdom of the illimitable One is illimitable. Witness but a few examples of such small beginnings which were not limited: a young woman whose “be it unto me according to your word,”[2] led to her becoming the Mother of God; a young Jew whose “not my will, but yours, be done”[3]led to his being the saviour of the world; the one who, at a table in the village of Emmaeus, blessed and broke bread, and the “eyes” of those at table with him “were opened,”[4] who, their minds now opened, not that much later, then “opened the minds” of others so that they too “understood” the ways and words of God.[5] In each and all of these cases, and in many others besides, the kingdom of God insinuated itself into this life or that; and this life grew and blossomed; and that mind was opened, leavened.

That was then; and it is still the case now. For the kingdom of heaven still will insinuate itself into this life or that. For it is not like a ‘out-of-date’ seed which increasingly will not germinate, nor like leaven, not like yeast which gradually loses its efficacy to cause dough to rise. For God is not a “best before” God. The kingdom of heaven still is being sown. It still is being hidden deep within communities, that they may be leavened, and that others through them in turn may be lifted by the kingdom of God into the kingdom of heaven. So, like an experienced gardener, look out for even the tenderest shoots of the kingdom, even in the most unpromising soil; and when you spot them, nurture them; cultivate them; celebrate them. If you notice “unleavened” lives, become God’s master baker, assisting in God’s leavening lives presently flat. And, as you gaze upon the world through the lens of the kingdom of heaven, always be mindful that it may be the Church and not just wider society which needs leavening. In short, join in with God’s work, whenever and wherever.

Some may yet say, but we are still not certain for what we are looking. To these, we might reply, look afresh on the unleavened bread soon to be placed in our hands. Blessed by God, it is leavened. Raised, it becomes for us and for the whole world, the Bread of Life. Take it. And then, feasting your eyes upon it, lift your eyes and look for it also in lives of individuals here, in societies there, even in this our church – in, for example, the community foodbank, a collection point for which traditionally is in the De Brome chapel here in this church, in the extension of free school meals across this summer’s school holidays, in the increasing care for the homeless across our cities, in the so long heard but only now beginning to be heeded cry, black lives matter, in the Church, shaken awake by the recent lock-down to attend, with all others, to guarding creation’s integrity – and having looked and discerned the kingdom of heaven even in these comparatively small things, nurture, cultivate, celebrate these small ‘seeds’. Delight in the kingdom as it is allowed to extend itself, as it is permitted to leaven lives formerly unrisen. Increasingly become God’s Amen to our praying, thy kingdom come.

Whatever else, do not hinder – not even by simply neglecting – do not hinder the kingdom’s coming even in the smallest of things. For to do so would be the most thankless, the least eucharistic, the most inappropriate thing for those who would pray the Lord’s prayer to do. But then, being the thankful, eucharistic, praying people of God, we wouldn’t do that, would we?


[1] Matthew 13:31

[2] Luke 1:38

[3] Luke 22.42

[4] Luke 24.31

[5] Luke 24.45