The kingdom of God is like a little girl stung by a bee. She becomes so afraid of being stung again that she flees from the yard whenever a bee is spotted. Her parents encourage her to face her fears and in so doing she discovers that bees are valuable members of the community because of their pollination skills. She also discovers that they are dying off at an alarming rate due to the use of pesticides. So the little girl becomes an entrepreneur, making and bottling honey-sweetened lemonade, partnering with Whole Foods for its sale, and using the profits to ease the plight of the bees.
Parables are stories that have been told since ancient times to explain deep truths and offer hope to those who have experienced brokenness and those who need guidance. Both the Old Testament and the Gospel lesson this morning are parables. The parables we hear in today’s readings start with something so small”a gift of nature”that when allowed to do what it naturally does, it produces massive effects. A sprig taken from the top of a cedar can be rooted and become a massive tree for birds of every kind to roost upon. Seed scattered on the ground will bring about a harvest. A mustard seed, something so small, when planted can become the greatest of shrubs.
Parables are not limited to Biblical times, nor are they necessarily fictitious stories. Sometimes life mimics art and the true story becomes the parable, teaching us great truths and inspiring us to greater participation in the world such as in Mikaila Ulmer’s story.
Mikaila describes herself as a social entrepreneur, a bee ambassador, an educator, and a student. She is also 10 years old and founder of the company BeeSweet Lemonade. Mikaila’s bee sting at the age of four became a catalyst for doing something greater in the world. A seed was planted that day in the form of a bee sting and her life story became a parable”it is unexpected and hopeful and can act as a key to unlocking the mysteries we face by helping us ask the right questions: How are we to live in community? How do we determine what ultimately matters? How do we live the life God wants for us?
At the age of four, Mikaila planned to participate in Lemonade Day in Austin, TX. She says two things happened to her that would inspire and shape the course of events leading to BeeSweet Lemonade”she would be stung by a bee twice in one week and her great-grandmother would send her a cookbook from the 1940s that included her recipe for flaxseed lemonade. As Mikaila learned about bees and their need for an advocate, she decided to doctor her great grandmother’s recipe and substitute honey for sugar. Makaila now has four flavor varieties, a production factory, distributors, a website, and a facebook page all at the age of ten. She is quite the busy little bee.
But Mikaila is not simply interested in making money. Though she is a pretty sharp businesswoman who can talk projections and economics, she is passionate about teaching people how they can help the bees. Mikaila is fascinated with bees because she recognizes their vital importance in the food chain. Bees don’t simply make honey, they also cross pollinate crops and plants, helping to produce some of our favorite foods like apples and cantaloupes, almonds and cucumbers just to name a few. But they are declining in population due to pesticide use on commercial farms and in our own backyards. This is why Mikaila gives 20% of all profits to organizations like Heifer International in order that needy families around the world can receive a package of bees, the hive and box, and training in beekeeping, and to the Texas Beekeepers Association for on-going research and preservation of bees in Texas.
Now none of us like it when bad things happen to good people, but Mikaila’s bee sting became a seed sown in her heart that would burst forth into grain and harvest. Instead of getting stuck in a fear that would only bring darkness and shadow into her life, she has opened herself into new possibilities, become a new creation and is thus inspiring others to think about creation in a new way. That is the power of the parable”thinking about the kingdom of God in a new way.
In the parable of the sprig of cedar, Ezekiel introduced a new creation in which God had room enough for all people not just the Hebrew’s”On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade if its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.
The secret seed parable that Jesus tells regards a sower who scatters seed on the ground and though he watches it day and night when it sprouts and grows he doesn’t know how and, yet, it will produce a harvest. Notice that the sower must participate and have faith in his crop. His actions will matter to a certain extant, but at some point he has to realize he is not in control. He can only do so much and once his part of the task is complete, he must rely on faith that the seed will sprout and grow. To live in the Kingdom of Heaven is to live by faith and by action”what we do matters and what we allow God to do matters as well.
The mustard seed parable, despite all the flak it has gotten as it is not the smallest seed and nowhere near the largest shrub or tree, is told by Jesus to offer us a new way of thinking about abundance. Ancient Jews needed mustard less (as a spice) for Kosher hotdogs and more for medicinal purposes and Jesus’s parable connects them and us to the belief that the Kingdom of God is abundant in healing and in hope.
These stories, these parables, offer us insight into the way the world is, the way we want the world to be. When we read the parables or hear a story like Makaila’s we realize that the Kingdom of God is already present. These stories are God’s way of drawing back the shade and opening a window into our world, letting so much light in we cannot help but to see the kingdom. We pray Thy kingdom come, but what if it is already here? How different our lives must look if we knew we were already living in the Kingdom. To live in the Kingdom of God means we must look for it and we must act in ways that others can see it too.
Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Mikaila’s bees, Ezekiel’s cedar sprig, Jesus’s seeds are all agrarian stories”stories about the earth, about creation, stories about abundance, stories about things we might not understand but have enough faith to believe in. Because to be a Christian, to be a Jesus follower, to live in the Kingdom is not about knowledge, but about believing and trusting in that which we cannot see, that which we cannot understand. To be a believer is to sleep and rise night and day, dying to self and being raised to new life in Jesus Christ. Whether we are the one who sows the seeds or we are the seeds that are sown, it does not matter”what matters is that both require growth and nourishment, faith and action”because the Kingdom is coming with our help and without it.
The Kingdom of God sprouts and grows, we do not know how. Amen