This is an 8-Sunday series, I did on the Kingdom of Heaven parables in Matthew. What strung these Sundays together was a making paper activity. Below are highlights of what was done each Sunday.
Scripture: Parable of the Soils
“Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?’ Jesus replied, ‘Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have.'” (Matthew 13:3-17)
During worship, worshippers were invited to tend to the soils of their hearts. How are God’s words falling on you? Are they received like good soil where God’s words take root in you or like rocky soil where God’s words can not sprout?
While reflecting on those questions, worshippers were invited to imagine what the Kingdom of Heaven is like and draw or write what they imagine on the blank space in front of the worship bulletin. They then tore off the page and put it in the offering basket as their offering to commit to tending to the condition of the soil of their hearts.
This was the first Sunday after the Christmas season. I showed them a poinsettia plant and had them consider what care needs to be done throughout the year for the poinsettia to bloom again. I, then, asked them to help me follow the care instructions to prepare the plant.
- Cut it back to 4 to 6 inches tall and move it to a slightly larger pot with good drainage. Add new potting soil to fill the extra space.
- Keep the soil moist, but never soggy.
- Provide bright light.
- Feed weekly with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength.
- Every 3 to 4 weeks from spring until early September, pinch back the growing shoots, leaving only 5 to 6 green leaves per stem. After that, just let the stems grow.
- Bring the poinsettia into the house in October, before your first frost. In order to set flower buds, it will need 14 hours of complete darkness per day for about 6 weeks.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field.
Scripture: Parable of the Weeds and Mustard Seed
“‘It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.’” (Matthew 13:24-32, 36-43)
During worship, worshippers were invited to consider their energy and compassion level. This was inspired by Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act episode on “How to survive 2020.” God calls us to engage in God’s creation and yet we may find ourselves already exhausted. Are their things in our lives that we can let go of so that we can double down and engage more readily to the things God calls us to participate in?
While reflecting on those questions, worshippers were invited to write those things they will let go of on the blank space in front of the worship bulletin. They then tore off the page and put it in the offering basket as their offering to free up energy in order to better commit to their passions.
I also showed a video of how St. John’s already has embodied the Kingdom of Heaven in 2019.
I read The Marvelous Mustard Seed by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Inspired by the story, we then “planted seeds” using the ingredients below as a way to remember how God wants us to daily take care of people around us with love and kindness so that they can grow to be loving and kind people – just like we nurture and take care of seeds to grow into hearty plants.
cake ice cream cones or waffle bowls for the pot
chocolate pudding for the soil
crushed Oreo cookies for the dirt
candied sunflower seeds for the seeds
gummy worms for the worms
The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast . . . treasure . . . a merchant . . . a net . . .
Scripture: Parable of the Yeast, the Treasure, the Merchant, the Net
“’Therefore, every legal expert who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest.’” (Matthew 13:33, 44-52)
During worship, worshippers were invited to reflect on what seeds of a dream, hope, project, or thought is germinating in them. It may be small now, but has an essence of value that is worth considering.
While reflecting on those questions, worshippers were invited to draw or write those “seeds” and consider how it embodies the Kingdom of Heaven on the blank space in front of the worship bulletin. They then tore off the page and put it in the offering basket as their prayer for these seeds to grow and take fruit.
I invited the kids to help me with a science experiment. Following these instructions, I gave each kid a balloon, plastic bottle, yeast, and sugar packet. We poured the warm water in the bottle along with the yeast and sugar. We placed the balloon over the mouth of the bottle. They were then instructed to find a warm spot in the sanctuary and observe what happens. When they notice something happening, bring their bottle forward. This takes about 15-20 minutes (the length of the sermon.) As I was ending my sermon time, the kids started coming up and we shared our observations.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who wanted to sell accounts with his servants.
Scripture: Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21-35)
It just so happened that we had a baptism on this day. I took the collected “bulletin covers” of the past few Sundays and placed them in water. As we remember this sacrament, worshippers were also invited to reflect on “what undoing do we need to do that the church has done and kept us trapped?” or “with whom, and to what systems, do we bind ourselves each day?”
Jesus tells a story about forgiveness. Jesus says it is important to forgive one another. When we receive forgiveness it feels like we are set free. I asked the kids, “Have you blown bubbles before and watched it float freely in the air?” Forgiveness can feel like that.
They then were able to do some bubble painting. They were instructed to choose a color and blow bubble paints onto a piece of paper. Watch them float and see what markings they leave on the paper. Jesus leaves marks on us with his love, forgiveness, and grace. Kids were then invited to place their drawings in the water with the other “bulletin covers.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
Scripture: Parable of Workers in the Vineyard
“So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)
The “bulletin covers” in the water from the previous Sunday was pulped and put into a bowl. This Sunday was communion Sunday, so as worshippers came up for communion, they were also invited to squirt color onto the pulp. Just as God’s creation is colorful and good, God calls us to engage in the world to make it resemble the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son.
Scripture: Parable of the Wedding Party
“Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.” (Matthew 22:1-14)
At the end of my sermon, I recapped the past few Sundays and invited worshippers to once again consider how God’s words like seeds fall on our ears and hearts. As we are called to look at our world with critical eyes in order to see what God wants us to see, they were instructed to sprinkle seeds onto the wet and colored paper pulp.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.
“Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:1-13)
Before this particular Sunday, there was some prep work involved. I’ve posted more detailed instructions in previous posts.
During worship, I once again recapped the previous Sundays:
We began by Jesus telling a 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 was eaten by the birds, shriveled up in the heat, or was blown away by the wind. As readers, we were to examine the soil of our own hearts and minds and determine how God’s words take root in us. We were then invited to imagine in different ways what we think the kingdom of heaven is like and write, draw, or blankly imagine them on the cover of the bulletin, which we gathered. To spark our imagine, we read how the kingdom of heaven can begin in small ways like a mustard seed or yeast yet grow like a weed into the biggest mustard tree large enough to house birds or spread through a batch of dough enough to feed hundreds of people. We also read that the kingdom of heaven is precious like a pearl or treasure buried in a vast field – so valuable that the whole field will be dug up to find it.
The kingdom of heaven is also illogical, upside down, and counter-intuitive that it is nothing like what we would naturally conceive or how the world we live in functions. The kingdom of heaven does not hold the same things of value or importance. It is the kind of kingdom that calls us not to seek punishment first, but forgiveness in the amount worth to pay of 150,000 years worth of debt. We reflected on that by putting our images and ideas of the kingdom of heaven that we collected over the last few Sundays in the baptismal water. As our images soaked in the water, we were reminded how 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.
We moved on to learn that God’s kingdom is generous and just, but not a justice that produces envy and division but a justice that results in wholeness and healed relationships. The kingdom of heaven that Jesus describes exposes how cruel the world we live in can be – demanding our allegiance and attention – causing us to function out of scarcity rather than abundance. Yet that is not the world or creation that God created and called good. To remember how colorful God’s creation and community is we took our images of the kingdom of heaven that had been soaking in baptismal water and pulped it. You all were invited then to drop colors of paint on to the pulp.
Finally, in God’s kingdom, everyone is invited to the wedding party – no matter how they dress, where they live, or how prepared and unprepared they are. Because of this, we are called to embody this kingdom of heaven but it is going to call us to behave and act and see the world not as the world sees it, but as God sees – illogical, upside down, and counter-intuitive. It’s not easy, but if we continue to tend the soil of our hearts and minds, we may find God’s words taking root in us. Last Sunday, we seeded our paper pulp of kingdom of heaven images.
Today, our seeded paper is complete and done. While the kingdom of heaven may still seem unclear to many of us, let me close by reading the rest of chapter 25. In the rest of chapter 25, Jesus gets unusually concrete – no imagination needed on what is required of us to embody the kingdom of heaven.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ 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 okay 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. (Matthew 25:34-40)
Worshippers were then invited to write a word on the seeded paper that they would like to nurture. Then take it home to plant to see what blooms. Let the flowers be a reminder to you that God is ever-present calling us to embody God’s kingdom.