The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…

Did you know that there is only one thing in the gospels that Jesus talks about more than money, wealth, or possessions? That one thing that Jesus talks about most is not heaven, hell, or eternal life. No. That one thing that Jesus talks about most, is the kingdom. The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven.

You might be wondering why I am thinking about this today. But I just have to share something that has been burning on my heart these past few weeks.

Jesus waxes poetically and sometimes not so poetically but more directly and prophetically, about the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed. Like the kingdom of heaven being like the finest of pearls. Like the return of a lost son. Like a perfect stranger of different ethnicity helping another in need along the side of the road. And even the kingdom of heaven being like a widow who contributes her last two coins to the treasury.

Those are all somewhat dramatic moments and examples. And the kingdom is often dramatic. But the kingdom of heaven or Kingdom of God also breaks in bit by bit in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life that seem unexpected and perhaps simple and overlooked in the moment until only after, when taking some time to reflect, one might sense that God indeed was and is up to something in, around, through, and for us.

In late August my family finally was able to carve out time for what we hoped was a safe and healthy vacation during this hard and strange pandemic time. Like for everyone else, nothing has gone as planned this year. None of our planned trips and vacations this summer happened. But all in all, these are matters of more inconveninence and caution for our own health and our neighbors’ health. So to be finally able to get away was a blessing and a needed time of refreshing change of pace, scenery, and sabbath.

Who knew that these three pool balls would be the ticket to experiences of the kingdom of heaven a couple weeks ago?

What I didn’t expect amid this time of rejuvenation would be to so deeply wonder if I would have just seen and felt the kingdom of heaven breaking in bit by bit all around me. The place we stayed at had good rules for physical distancing, and did a great job keeping things clean. Reservations were required to use the pool space, and chairs and tables were all spaced out well. But after a couple days of different pool times, I sensed I missed something in not having a ball or two to play with at the pool. So I found a couple at a local store, and brought them to the pool. Who knew that a couple pool balls might be the ticket to a story that would sit with me ever since?

You see, when you have a ball or two or three (as in my case) at a pool, you invite others to see that you are willing to share a little and have some conversation. You can still pass around a ball and be good physically distanced. And so that happened.

The first day, I remember that there were a few minutes left in our pool time. And a young girl who said she played football asked, “hey, can I play catch with you?” So my family and me and her played catch and tossed around a football for a few minutes together. It was the first time really that I had played much of any game or had any sort of interaction with a stranger in such a way, except for perhaps seeing a stranger at the store behind a mask or at the gas station, since the pandemic. At the end of the hour, it was time to get out and take the ball and dry it off. But I saw a smile on her face and an appreciative look from her parents.

The kingdom of heaven is like this.

On another day during the course of that week of vacation, I found myself playing catch with my dad and uncle. It was a brief but wonderful moment of fun spending an hour or so when not helping my daughter learn how to swim. (That in and of itself was a kingdom of heaven moment, but it took longer over the course of the week). But this day, while playing catch, it led to the chance to play catch with some kids and teenagers. I have to give one young boy credit especially. He asked, “could I play catch with you?” Of course we said “yes,” and then he invited his brothers. Soon we were playing catch with three African American young boys, just enjoying each other’s company and imagining for a moment that we were Russel Wilson tossing a football, or Ken Griffey Junior tracking down fly balls.

It wasn’t in that moment that I thought anything of it. I just wanted to make sure we gave ourselves good distance to be safe with COVID. But after getting out of the pool, it hit me. In a world where fear is rampant, where injustice is real, and where people are so worried about being in relationship with those who might be different than themselves, here I was spending an hour hanging out with three perfect strangers and their family in and around a pool through the gift of simple throwing and catching of a ball.

The kingdom of heaven is like this. Indeed.

Over the course of the week of vacation, I didn’t see these three again. But I am so grateful for that time together. It opened me up to also spending some time later in the week playing catch with another young dad, who asked, “hey, want to catch?” He was in the pool holding his one year old in one hand, and clearly just itching for some sense of normal human and adult interaction with another. So I started throwing and playing catch with this other young dad for the better course of an hour. He was impressive. I think he only dropped three balls (and they were probably because of bad throws I made), and never once dropped his darling little daughter. He was catching and throwing one-handed. There wasn’t much conversation that happened between us, but I knew, in that moment, it was just good to spend some time and be present. I asked how he got so good at one-handed throwing and catching. He said simply, “baseball.” I knew exactly what he meant. I imagine, like me, he grew up playing especially in the infield. To have some time to help another young dad out through simply playing catch.

The kingdom of heaven is like this. Indeed.

I am recalling this today, as I heard an NPR report about Pastor Lenny Duncan and Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington. Messiah is where my wife Allison served her pastoral internship, and where I served as part-time mission developer for a year. It’s a great congregation and community, and like most everyone else, one striving to be faithful but perhaps wondering what that might mean and look like now. We had our ups and downs there, which I believe is probably typical of any pastoral intern family. But I am so grateful for the relationships formed and lessons learned, and even more so, for hearing about how God is moving and up to something through, with, and around that congregation and community now.

The kingdom of heaven is like this. Indeed.

So amid this pandemic time and time of high anxiety and upheaval, I wonder, how have you seen, witnessed, and experienced the in-breaking of the kingdom? Where have you glimpsed the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God coming near?

My hope is that you are finding some space amid the questions, inconvenience, annoyance, and challenges of this day to be able to step back and reflect. My hope is that in doing that, you too are able to glimpse that the Kingdom of Heaven has indeed come near and is around you like I believe and know it is around me. God is active and up to something. I believe that more now than ever. In my moments of uncertainty and despair during this pandemic and time of high anxiety in our world, this especially gives me hope. May it do so for you too.

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