“Once there was a man who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things that people began to follow him. The man talked about a kingdom, but it was not like any kingdom they had ever been to or heard of, so they had to ask him, ‘What is the kingdom of heaven like?'”So begins our introduction to parables in children’s ministry, built on the wonder-filled foundation of Godly Play. We heard the parable of the mustard seed in both children’s chapels yesterday and wondered together what Jesus meant in these few short sentences.
Children were quick to point out that a seed grows with soil, water, sunlight, and people to care for it. I asked them what God’s kingdom takes to grow. One young person pointed out that people might be able to grow God’s kingdom, like a farmer tends to a seed. Another quickly said, “God’s kingdom grows with love!”
In the Beatitudes, which the third graders are learning right now, the kingdom of heaven is promised to both those who are “poor in spirit,” and “those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” Jesus turns human understanding of blessing upside down. In God’s kingdom, it is not money or things or power that make us happy. In the Beatitudes, we hear God’s concern and promises for the merciful, the pure in heart, the meek, and the grieving. In the mustard seed we see life-giving potential not in an iron-fisted king, but in the vulnerable seed.
Sometimes, the kingdom of God feels as close as the love we hold in our hearts. Other times God’s peace and justice seem to be too far away to imagine—a place we have never been. That is the mysterious nature of God’s kingdom which is simultaneously already here and not yet fully present. The beauty of the parables is that they stretch our imagination toward God’s mysterious and seemingly upside-down purpose for creation.
At the end of chapel, I challenged the children to look for the ways our schools, our towns, and our nation are both like and not like how God intends them to be. I hope you will join them in discussing when God’s kingdom feels close this week.
Discuss with your family: How do you imagine God’s kingdom? What do you see that is like God’s kingdom? What do you see that is unlike it? A brief introduction to parables can be found here.