“The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”
Jesus’ parables are a wonderful way to wonder. They are not intended as a rulebook, telling us what we should and should not do. They do not provide direct answers to some of our biggest questions about life and faith. Parables instead invite us to wonder and curiosity. This is a perfect place to engage worshipers of all ages.
A song by Rain for Roots asks God to “Open up our ears to listen, open up our eyes to see. Plant the seeds of understanding and grow them up like the tallest tree” (see p. 12). Parables encourage us to be both storytellers and story listeners as we together engage the work of God’s kingdom here on earth.
This seven-week series by pastor Theresa Cho is based on Jesus’ parables in the book of Matthew. It could be used anytime in the liturgical year but might be especially useful in the spring or summer because of the intergenerational activities of planting and growing. Each week, worshipers are invited to draw images or write about the kingdom of heaven. As the series progresses, the drawings are used to make seed paper, which can then be planted in the ground with curiosity to see what will grow. This accompanying activity is one with flexibility to include worshipers both at church and at home. Additional slips of paper could be gathered from church education classes, home devotions, and midweek Bible studies. As your church explores parables, may you find wonder and delight in the many ways we see and experience the kingdom of heaven. —RW
Parable of the Soils
The disciples came to [Jesus] and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”
Invite worshipers to tend to the soils of their hearts by considering the following questions: How are God’s words falling on you? Is your heart like good soil where God’s words can take root, or like rocky soil where God’s words cannot sprout?
Ask worshipers to imagine what the kingdom of heaven is like. Then have them draw or write what they imagine on the blank page provided in the worship bulletin. Next, ask them to put their page in the offering basket as a sign of their commitment to tending the soil of their hearts. Save the pages so they can be used in the paper-making activity later in the series.
We believe in the love-kingdom of God, through Christ upon us, within us, beyond us.
We believe the love-kingdom is like a mustard seed: sown in apparent insignificance, growing into magnificence for the greening of the world.
We believe the love-kingdom is like yeast: inserted in humble insignificance into the dough of life, expanding into enough bread for the world.
We believe the love-kingdom of God is like a treasure: lost and rendered insignificant under the ground, now found with joy and thanksgiving.
We believe the love-kingdom of God is like pearls: all others become insignificant when the largest, most beautiful pearl of all is found.
We believe the love-kingdom of God is like a net full of fish: where even insignificant sardines are saved but worm-ridden barracuda are thrown away.
We believe in the love-kingdom of God, through Christ upon us, within us, beyond us; where the meek and the poor, the merciful and the hungry rejoice with the angels of God.
Loving God, we believe; scatter our unbelief.
—© Bruce Prewer, bruceprewer.com. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Churches are given permission to reprint or reproduce this Affirmation Creed for noncommercial use in worship services with proper credit.
Invite the children of the congregation to come forward and show them a houseplant. Ask them to consider what kind of care the plant will need in order to keep growing. Then invite them to help with the following activities:
- Cut the plant back and move it to a slightly larger pot with good drainage, adding new potting soil to fill the extra space.
- Add water so that the soil is moist but not soggy.
- Feed with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.
- Place the pot in a location that gets plenty of light.
“Blessed Jesus, at Your Word” Clausnitzer, LUYH 763, GtG 395
“Thy Word Is a Lamp Unto My Feet” Grant and Smith, GtG 458, SNC 86
“Seed, Scattered and Sown” Feiten, GtG 531
“Open Our Eyes” Rain for Roots, see page 12
“Come to Me” Rain for Roots, see page 11
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE SOMEONE WHO PLANTED GOOD SEED IN HIS FIELD
Parables of the Weeds and the Mustard Seed,
Matthew 13:24–32, 36–43
Though [the mustard seed] is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.
Ask worshipers to evaluate how much energy and compassion they have right now. God calls us to engage in God’s creation, yet we may feel too exhausted to do so. Are there things in our lives that we can let go of so that we can engage more energetically with the things God calls us to? On the blank page provided in the worship bulletin, invite worshipers to write down the things they will let go of. Next, ask them to put their pages in the offering basket as a sign of their commitment to freeing up energy for the things God is calling them to. Save the pages so they can be used in the paper-making activity later in the series.
See sidebar on p. 4
Invite children forward for a reading of The Marvelous Mustard Seed, a picture book by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. After reading the story aloud, explain that God wants us to nurture and take care of people around us so that they can flourish, just as we nurture and take care of seeds so they can grow into hearty plants. Invite the kids to practice “planting seeds” using the ingredients below as a way to remember the story of the mustard seed. In some contexts it may work best to assemble just one and then invite everyone to create this edible delight after worship as an intergenerational activity or provide kits to take and assemble at home.
- cake ice cream cones or waffle bowls for the pot
- chocolate pudding for the dirt
- crushed Oreo cookies for the topsoil
- candied sunflower seeds
- gummy worms
“Mustard Seed” Rain for Roots
“God the Sculptor of the Mountains” Thornburg, GtG 5, SNC 78
“A Sower Came from Ancient Hills” Stuempfle, GtG 171
“Faith as Small as a Mustard Seed” Horley, duggiedugdug.org
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE YEAST . . . TREASURE . . . A MERCHANT . . . A NET . . .
Parables of the Yeast, the Treasure, the Merchant, the Net
Matthew 13:33, 44–52
[Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Invite worshipers to reflect on the seed of a dream, hope, project, or thought that is germinating within them. Although that seed may be small now, it has potential that is worth nurturing. How might that seed grow into something that they could use to honor God and help build God’s kingdom? Next, invite worshipers to draw or write about their “seed” on the blank page provided in the worship bulletin. Then ask them to put their pages in the offering basket as a prayer for these seeds to grow and bear fruit. Save the pages so that they can be used in the paper-making activity later in the series.
See sidebar on p. 4
Invite children to come forward with an older friend or parent to help with a science experiment. Give each pair a balloon, a plastic bottle filled with warm water, a packet of yeast, and a packet of sugar. Instruct the children to pour the yeast and sugar into the bottle of warm water and then to stretch the mouth of the balloon over bottle top. Next, ask the kids to find a warm spot in the sanctuary and observe their bottle carefully. Tell them that when they notice something happening to their bottle, they should bring it forward. (The reaction between the water, yeast, and sugar usually takes about twenty minutes, the length of a sermon.) Toward the end of the sermon, the kids will start coming forward. When they do, ask them to share their observations.
“You Are My Strength When I Am Weak” Jernigan, GtG 519, SSS 335
“What Is the World Like” Tice, GtG 771
“Leaven Bread” Rain for Roots
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE A KING WHO WANTED TO SETTLE ACCOUNTS WITH HIS SERVANTS
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Take the pages that worshipers have placed in the offering baskets in previous weeks and place them in a large basin of water. Invite everyone to reflect on the sacrament of baptism as a symbol of God’s forgiveness of our sin. You may also want to ask them to reflect on questions like: For what do I need to be forgiven, and to whom do I need to extend forgiveness?
See sidebar on p. 4
Explain to children in the congregation that in today’s Scripture reading, Jesus tells a story about forgiveness. Jesus says it is important to forgive one another. When we receive forgiveness, it feels as though we are set free.
Ask the kids, “Have you ever blown bubbles and watched them float freely in the air?” Explain that forgiveness can feel like that.
Then invite the children to do some bubble painting. (If you are unfamiliar with bubble painting do a quick Google or Pinterest search to find lots of ideas.) Ask them to choose a color and blow bubble paints onto a pieces of paper. Encourage them to watch the bubbles float and to notice the colorful marks that the bubbles make on the paper. Explain that Jesus “marks” us with his love, forgiveness, and grace. At the end of the activity, invite the kids to place their paintings in the basin of water alongside all the other pages from previous weeks’ offerings. (Younger children may struggle to give up their painting, so you may want to have all the children use one bigger piece of paper and then put that larger piece in the basin.)
After the service ends, turn the wet pages into pulp in preparation for next week’s service.
“Help Us Accept Each Other” Kaan, LUYH 318, GtG 754
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE A KING WHO PREPARED A WEDDING PARTY FOR HIS SON
Parable of the Wedding Party
“‘So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’”
Take the pulp that was created last week from pages immersed in water. Place the pulp in a few bowls near the front of the sanctuary. Invite worshipers to come forward and infuse color into the pulp by squeezing paint from tubes or droppers. God’s creation is filled with color, beauty, and good things. God calls us to join in celebrating all the good in this world and add to it until the world more closely resembles the kingdom of heaven.
See sidebar on p. 4
“Wedding Banquet” Rain for Roots
“Lord, We Have Come at Your Own Invitation” Green, GtG 503
“I’m Gonna Eat at the Welcome Table” Spiritual, GtG 770
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE A LANDOWNER WHO WENT OUT EARLY IN THE MORNING TO HIRE WORKERS FOR HIS VINEYARD
Parable of Workers in the Vineyard
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Invite worshipers to consider how God might have gifted them to help build God’s kingdom. Explain that we are called to be faithful and willing workers in God’s kingdom, planting the seeds of the gospel wherever we go. Then invite people to come forward to sprinkle wildflower seeds onto the colored paper pulp.
After the service ends, save the seeded pulp. Place it in a deckle, which is a frame for making paper by hand. Press the excess water out of the deckle with a sponge. Let the newly made seed paper dry. (For more detailed instructions on how to transform pulp into paper, see tinyurl.com/RWpapermaking. An internet search will also reveal variations on this step that do not require a deckle.)
See sidebar on p. 4
“For the Fruit of All Creation” Green, LUYH 396, GtG 36
“You Are the Vine” Daniels and Rigby
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE TEN BRIDESMAIDS WHO TOOK THEIR LAMPS AND WENT OUT TO MEET THE GROOM
Parable of the Bridesmaids
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
Review the themes that have been covered throughout the series. Below are some suggested talking points:
We began with Jesus’ parable about a farmer who sowed seeds. Some of those seeds fell on good soil and took root. Some seeds fell on rocky soil and were eaten by birds, dried up by the heat, or blown away by the wind. As we listened to this parable, we examined the soil of our own hearts and minds and reflected on how God’s words take root in us. We then imagined what we think the kingdom of heaven is like, and wrote or drew our ideas on blank pages. To spark our imaginations, we read how the kingdom of heaven can seem small at first, like a mustard seed or a bit of yeast, yet it can grow into a tree large enough to house birds or spread through a batch of dough large enough to feed hundreds of people. We also read that the kingdom of heaven is precious like a pearl or a treasure buried in a vast field—so valuable that a person would be willing to dig up the whole field to find it.
The kingdom of heaven is also counterintuitive compared to the world we live in. The kingdom of heaven asks us not to punish, but to practice extravagant forgiveness instead. We reflected on that by immersing all our drawings in water. As our images soaked in the water, we were reminded of our baptism and of its significance—that God loves us just as we are and has already forgiven and accepted us before we did anything to deserve or not deserve God’s love.
Moving on through the parables, we learned that in God’s kingdom, everyone is invited to the wedding party—no matter how they dress, where they live, or how prepared or unprepared they are. Because of this, we are called to embody this kingdom of heaven. To remember how colorful and abundant God’s creation and community is, we took our images of the kingdom of heaven that had been soaking in water and turned them into pulp. Everyone was then invited to add color to the pulp.
Finally, we learned that God’s kingdom is generous and just—not a justice that produces envy and division, but a justice that results in wholeness and healed relationships. By contrast, the world we live in can be harsh, demanding our allegiance and attention and diminishing our perspective so that we are driven by a sense of scarcity. Yet that is not the creation that God made and called good. God invites us to be one of his workers, to tend the soil of our hearts and minds so that God’s words take root in us and move us to help build God’s kingdom wherever we go. To illustrate this truth, we sprinkled wildflower seeds in our colored pulp.
Today, our seeded paper is complete. While the concept of the kingdom of heaven may still seem unclear to many of us, let us close by reading the rest of Matthew 25. In this passage, Jesus gets unusually concrete, telling us clearly what we must do to embody the kingdom of heaven.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:34–40).
Here, Jesus doesn’t say you must love the vulnerable. Jesus says, “I am them.” It’s not possible to love Jesus and be OK with inequity. It’s not possible to follow Jesus and be OK with injustice. How do we embody the kingdom of heaven? We do so by loving God. How do we love God? We do so by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting those who are sick and imprisoned.
What aspect of the kingdom of heaven are you being called to embody, either now or in the months ahead? Maybe you feel called to pray for and participate in our church food pantry, or in our immigrant support work, or in community programs that serve “the least of these.” Listen to what God is calling you to. As a tangible reminder of God’s calling, you are invited to take a piece of the seeded paper we’ve created and write a word or phrase on it that represents God’s call to you. Then take the seeded paper home, plant it, and see what blooms. Let the flowers be a reminder to you that God is ever present and is calling us to embody God’s kingdom.
See sidebar on p. 4
“Light Dawns on a Weary World” Bringle, GtG 79
“This Little Light of Mine” Spiritual, LUYH 930, SSS 257