Friday, June 6, 2008

"Cockroach Theology" - Matthew 13:31-33

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward
June 8, 2008

Read Matthew 13:31-33.

Most of us probably miss the strangeness of these two little stories. Mustard and yeast seem pretty basic to us. Add some flour and some (American) beef, and you’ve got a good sandwich. But once again, Jesus surprises us here.

Mustard seeds were not just something to put on your hotdog or to use for a gourmet dip. For Jews mustard seeds were dangerous. Sure, they were little bitty seeds, but they were dangerous.

Jewish rabbis even had a basic rule: Never plant a mustard seed in your garden. If you want mustard, plant it in some out of the way place where you don’t care about what happens. The mustard seed looks small and innocent, but it keeps growing and growing and growing, and it will completely take over a little garden.

There’s another thing about mustard seeds that’s worth noting. Mustard is strong. It is potent! There’s a lot of power inside those little seeds. If you don’t believe me, just go home and eat a whole spoonful of mustard. It’ll make your nose burn!

Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed planted in a garden. It grows and grows and just takes over the place.

In a way, we are like those little mustard seeds. We are small people. None of us are very important or very big in the world, but the Kingdom of God lives in us, and we have power.

The point of these two little stories is simple: We are small, but we are powerful. The Kingdom of God starts small, but it is has powerful potential to take over the world.

But I want you to get involved in this. It’s not enough just for me to say it. You need to say it, so when I say, “What’s the point?” You say: “We’re small, but we’re powerful!”

Ready? Let’s practice.

“What’s the point?”

People: “We’re small, but we’re powerful!”

Then, we have to ask ourselves a question. If we’re so small and powerful, what would happen if God planted us? What would happen if we let God invest us in the world? So here’s the question: “What could God do with us?”

What’s the question?

People: “What could God do with us?”

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a little plant called carpetweed. When I was a teenager, it was my job to mow the grass at our house. We had some great big trees in our back yard, and in Texas, there is a special kind of weed that loves shady areas. It’s called carpetweed.

I hated carpetweed. It looked kind of innocent and small at the beginning. It was just start out small as just a patch in one corner of the yard. It was only about 6 inches (20 centimeters) high.

It had these little round seeds with little fuzzy hair on them. They would stick to anything that touched them: socks, shoes, shoelaces, leg hair. When I finished mowing the yard, they were all over me.

Mowing down carpetweed didn’t even help. It just spread the seeds all around the yard.

To make matters worse, I discovered that I am allergic to carpetweed. One time, I decided to defeat the carpetweed, and I spent an hour or two pulling up every last piece in our yard. By the end of the day, my arms, my neck, my legs, my hands were all covered in an itchy red rash.

That’s when I started calling it “devil-weed.” I hated it. I hated it with a passion. When I saw the first picture of carpetweed when I was doing my research this week, I actually felt bitterness in my heart. I hated it, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. It just kept growing and growing and growing.

The Kingdom of God is like carpetweed that takes over an entire lawn.

What’s the point?

People: “We’re small, but we’re powerful!”

That’s right. We are powerful, so we have to ask a question.

What’s the question?

People: “What could God do with us?”

The Kingdom of God is like a crazy monk named Telemachus. Telemachus was living a peaceful life in the desert, when he heard God call him to Rome. That was the first sign that he was crazy!

He obeyed God and went to Rome. The second sign that he was crazy!

You remember, Russell Crow in Gladiator? Well, the gladiators were still fighting in Rome, when Telemachus got there, so he went to the stadium. What’s a super-spiritual monk doing in a Roman Coliseum where tens of thousands gather to watch people kill each other? This is the third sign that he was crazy!

Well, old Telemachus couldn’t take it. He got up out of his seat, and he climbed into that arena, right into the middle where the gladiators were fighting. He stood between the two gladiators and begged them to stop. They pushed him aside again and again. But he was stubborn. He kept coming back. “Stop in the name of Christ! How can you just kill each other? Stop! Stop!”

OK, so this was the final sign that he was officially crazy.

The people were furious that he was stopping their show (and maybe that the gladiators didn’t just slice him open). The thousands of people had gathered there in the stadium to see people kill each other, and somebody was going to die! They picked up stones and stoned Telemachus right then and there in the middle of the Roman Coliseum.[1]

That was New Years Day, 404 A.D, and that was the last day the gladiators ever fought in Rome.[2] When the Roman Emperor heard the story of the crazy monk who tried to stop the gladiators, he banned all gladiatorial fights throughout the Roman Empire.

The Kingdom of God is like a crazy little monk who stops the gladiator games in the world’s largest empire.

What’s the point?

People: “We’re small, but we’re powerful!”

If we are as powerful as Telemachus, then we need to ask a question.

What’s the question?

People: “What could God do with us?”

“The Kingdom of God is like yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (Matthew 13:33).

Yeast is almost always bad in the Bible. Yeast became a symbol for some small bad thing that corrupted the whole batch of dough. Jesus told the disciples to be on guard against “the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Paul compared yeast to sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) and to false teaching (Galatians 5:9), and both times he warned them: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”

So this story about yeast is kind of scandalous. Jesus says the way the Kingdom of God works is very similar to the way sin works. Just a little bit of Kingdom goodness can work through the whole batch of dough. And just like sin, the Kingdom changes everything it touches.

And there’s one other surprise to this story. The woman mixes the yeast into “3 measures of flour.” These aren’t 3 little cups. This is enough flour to feed a small army. 3 measures of flour is nearly 40 liters of flour! It would make 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of bread! A little yeast really does go a long way!

What’s the point?

People: “We’re small, but we’re powerful!”

If we are as powerful as yeast, then we need to ask a question.

What’s the question?

People: “What could God do with us?”

The Kingdom of God is like cancer. It starts out small. It’s almost impossible to notice at first because it is so small.

Cancer can start with just one cell that becomes different, abnormal, counter-cultural. Usually, when this happens, our bodies push out that different cell and eliminate the rebel. But cancer cells are different in two ways.

First, they resist elimination. They resist the body’s normal immune system. They’re different and dangerous, but the body just can’t get rid of them.

Second, they multiply, and they spread. That’s the biggest problem with cancerous cells. There’s just more and more of them. The cancer reproduces faster than the body can deal with it.

Cancer can even jump from one part of your body to another. This is called “metastasizing.” Cancer that starts out in your stomach can jump to your liver. Cancer can start in your lungs and go to your bones.

The Kingdom of God is like cancer that starts out with one little cell that dared to be different and multiplies and grows and spreads until it takes over the whole body.

What’s the point?

People: “We’re small, but we’re powerful!”

If we are as powerful as cancer, then we need to ask a question.

What’s the question?

People: “What could God do with us?”

The Kingdom of God is like a colony of roaches.[3] I grew up in Texas, and everything’s bigger in Texas – including our roaches. We have these huge tree roaches, and they’ll come into your house at night. When you try to stomp on them, they’ll start flying around the room.

But in Texas, we have a saying, “Big roaches aren’t bad. Little roaches are.” The big roaches live outside and look really gross, but everybody gets them inside sometimes, no matter how clean your house is. It’s the little roaches that really mean you have a problem. If you don’t keep your house clean, or if your neighbors don’t keep their apartment clean (like not doing your dishes often enough, or leaving crumbs on the floor), you can get an infestation of the little roaches. Then, you’re in trouble.

One roach can live up to 18 months, and a single female can lay 300-400 eggs. They’re hard to find because they live in the walls, under the floors, in the backs of cabinets and under the furniture. Once they take root in a home, they can just keep reproducing. They multiply and multiply and multiply.

Roaches may be small and easy to stomp, but if you get enough roaches in one place, they can drive the owner out of the home.

The Kingdom of God is like a colony of roaches. It starts out small, and one by one, it’s easy to squash. But just give it time, and it will take over the house.

What’s the point?

People: “We’re small, but we’re powerful!”

If we are as powerful as roaches, then we need to ask a question.

What’s the question?

People: “What could God do with us?”

You are small. But you have so much power. The Kingdom of God lives in you. What could God do with you? What could God do with us? What if we let God plant us in our world like a mustard seed or a bit of yeast or a bit of Kingdom Cancer or a little roach? What would happen? What would happen?


[1] Monk Preston, “The Monk Who Ended the Coliseum Games,” http://prayerfoundation.org/favoritemonks/favorite_monks_telemachus_coliseum.htm, downloaded 6.5.08.

[2] “Saint Telemachus,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telemachus_(martyr), downloaded 6.5.08

[3] I am indebted to Shane Clairborne’s The Irresistible Revolution for the idea of Telemachus and the Kingdom of God being like a roach colony.

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