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Content Not Context

Jody Winston
July 24, 2005

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1
While I was growing up, I was blessed by having two great-grandmothers.
Great-grandmother Heggen lived in her house in Lubbock, TX and Great-
grandmother Simons lived in what we would call today a retirement village in
Mercedes, TX. During my childhood, I had the ability to visit with both of these
women since I was fortunate enough to live in the Panhandle of Texas and in the
Rio Grande Valley.
I have wonderful memories about these visits. Great-grandmother Heggen al-
ways had a pot of strong coffee on and at least one homemade coffee cake for her
great-grandchildren to eat. As I remember it, her TV was always tuned to a soap
opera and we could not bother her when her favorite one, “As the World Turns,”
was on. Great-grandmother Simons normally had purchased something like fruit
or cookies for her great-grandchildren to eat since she did not cook anymore be-
cause her eyes hurt her.
Occasionally when I would visit my great-grandmothers, I would be given a
little gift. Sometimes this gift might be something that I really wanted like a toy
car or money. At other times, the gift was less desirable in my eyes. I mean,
what boy would want an afghan that was knit from red, orange, and blue yarn?
After this type of visit, my mother would always remind me, “It’s the thought that
counts.” Maybe you also have been told this little phrase when you have been
given something that you really do not want.
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians
1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.

As my great-grandmothers aged, it became more difficult for me to visit them.
Great-grandmother Heggen developed what was then called dementia. Visiting
her became work for me since she had to have someone to take care of her at
all times. She did not remember me even though she had taken care of me for
almost five years. She no longer could bake for me the cakes and cookies that I so
enjoyed. As Great-grandmother Simons became bedridden, she needed more care
than the retirement village could provide so she moved herself to a nursing home
in Austin. I did not enjoy visiting her there since the building smelled bad to me
and she always seemed to be in pain. After these difficult visits, my mother would
tell me, “It’s the thought that counts.” Perhaps you too have heard this maxim
after doing something that you really did not want to do.
For the longest time, I did not understand what this phrase meant because I
confused context with content. It really does not matter where any gift is given
because gifts can be given in all sorts of circumstances. In good health, my great-
grandmothers gave me love. While they were sick, my presence gave them some
measure of comfort. A gift’s content is literally the gift’s message. The signifi-
cance of my great-grandmothers’ gifts is their love for me. When I visited them,
in sickness and in health, my visit was also a gift of love. In other words, a gift’s
context is not as important as a gift’s content.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives us five different ways to look at the
Kingdom of Heaven, otherwise known as the Kingdom of God:
1. a mustard seed that grows to a shrub,

2. leaven that causes dough to rise,

3. a treasure that is accidentally found,

4. a pearl that is deliberately found,

5. and a dragnet that takes in everything.

For each of these examples on the Kingdom of Heaven, a list of circumstances or
context could be provided. We might say, as many have said in the past, that the
Kingdom of Heaven:
1. provides a place for us to rest,

2. is growing out of our sight,

3. is hidden from our view,

4. is worth everything that we have,

5. or that both good and bad currently exist in today’s Church.

While interesting, this information on Heaven’s environment is secondary to the

more important question: What does the Kingdom of Heaven really mean?
However, before we can answer this question, we must first be clear about
our current situation. We all have missed the mark in our relationship with God.
Every one of us has come short in our dealings with those around us. We all have
gone past God’s limits. These actions hurt ourselves and others. We all deserve
God’s justice, which is our death.
Given this understanding of ourselves, we can now answer the question of
content. What is the Kingdom of Heaven? It is not as simple as some people
might think. The message is not that we are bad and that the Kingdom somehow
makes the evil in our lives go away. If this was all that occurs in the Kingdom
of Heaven, why then did the author of Matthew devote all of this time to explain
the Kingdom of Heaven? By my count, Matthew brings this subject up thirty one
times.2 Also, why then are there the repeated questions asking if you understand
the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of Heaven?3 Even if we could answer these
questions using the simple but incorrect answer that we become good, then why
did Jesus come to the earth to live, to suffer, and to die?
The radical answer to this question of what is the Kingdom of Heaven is that
in our present condition Christ has transformed us and He has transformed all of
our relationships. That is why Christ came to the earth.
Before God’s plan to save us, we were as good as dead. We could not keep
the Law as God intended us to do nor could we take care of others as Jesus told
us to do. Into our miserable world, into each of our broken communities, into
every believer’s sinful life Christ came and gave us a new covenant in His blood.4
Because of God’s work, we have been given life as God intended and we are now
God’s children.5 God has adopted us into the family.
The result of this message is our conversion from dead into life. It is our
resurrection in Christ as God’s holy Children. This is the final Word on our lives
Matthew 3:2; 4:16; 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21; 8:11, 10:7; 11:11, 12; 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47,
52; 16:19, 18:1, 3, 4, 22; 19:12, 14, 23; 20:1, 22:2, 23:13, 25:1.
Matthew 13:51; 15:10.
I Corinthians 11:25; II Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 12:24; 13:20.
The Large Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer, The Second Petition, 50,Robert Kolb and Timo-
thy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,
(Fortress Press, 2000), p. 446.

from the only One who can speak it. It is the ultimate good news. This Heaven’s
content. Is it God pronouncing on us that we are forgiven due to Christ’s work
and not our own.
You would think that this message would be welcomed by all. But this is not
the case. There are at least as many reasons why people refuse this free gift from
God as there are descriptions about the Kingdom of Heaven in today’s Gospel
reading. Some of us might turn away from God because we think that Heaven
cannot be here.6 We tell others and we tell ourselves that this Kingdom must be
far, far away and if it happened to appeared here, it would not be ordinary but
instead it would be large and majestic. Others of us might believe that Heaven is
full of special ingredients.7 We are the type that turns down a God who transforms
moldy people into something completely new. Yet, others of us will hide Heaven
from all who are searching for it.8 This is what I did for almost fifteen years. I
was raised in the Church and I left it because of one the actions of one person.
When God asked me to speak the Word, I hid. I tried to place God’s Kingdom out
of everyone’s reach. Then there are some of us who cannot live with good and the
bad.9 We think that it is our job to select the keepers and to toss out those who we
disagree with.
Each of these rejections of God has a result, which affects all of us. They all
take a toll on us. Every one of these actions, whether intentional or not, has a
measurable cost that must be paid by someone. The price might be as little as a
night of restless sleep or it might be infinitely higher than that. It might be death
if we are the ones who cause the immature to reject God’s forgiveness.10
Jesus tells everyone that His Father in Heaven does not want anyone to have
to pay the ultimate price of being forgotten forever.11 Instead of costing us dearly,
this gift is free to all who do not turn Him away.
The forgiveness of our sin and the transformation of our lives have a dear cost
to God. Jesus, knowing full well of the price of the transaction, accepted it, came
into the earth as a child, lived among us, taught us, suffered for us, and died for
Don’t get me wrong; the context of Heaven is important because it gives us
a tiny glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is like. Today we have learned that
Matthew 13:31-32.
Matthew 13:33.
Matthew 11:44-46.
Matthew 13:47-50.
Matthew 18:6.
Matthew 18:13.

Heaven will be found in the least likely places, that stinky people will be found in
the midst of Heaven, that Heaven is right under our feet and it is also in the market
place, and that God is the One who decides who comes to Heaven. Each of these
attributes, while important in their own right, pales next to the real message of
God’s forgiveness for all of the world.
It is like me as a child trying to understand my great-grandmothers by looking
at their house, their mental or physical condition. This context, while significant
in some sort of way, cannot tell me of their love for me nor can it explain my love
for them. This message of love can only be experienced and for my mother this
was best expressed in the statement, “It’s the thought that counts.”
God’s love is like that. It too only can be experienced. God’s new idea of
sending His Son into the world so that we could be saved is the only thought that
God’s passion for us is part and parcel of everything that God does. God has
placed the Law onto every heart in order that we might become familiar with God.
God has given us the Word so that we might know God and feel God’s love in our
lives. God has forgiven us of our sin. Jesus has given us Baptism, the sacrament
both forgives sin and that welcomes us into the loving family. Jesus has also given
us Holy Communion a meal that reminds us of God’s passion for us, in the past,
today, and in eternity.
The content of the Kingdom of Heaven is the Gospel. The good news that God
forgives sin when we are still sinners.
So, what then are we to do with this message of radical acceptance? Jesus
clearly tells us at the end of today’s Gospel reading.12 We are to teach others as
we have been taught. We are to forgive others as we are forgiven. We are to bring
our priceless treasure, this new covenant between God and humanity, along with
God’s way of life to the entire world.
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”

Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert, eds.. The Book of Concord: The Con-
fessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fortress Press, 2000. ISBN

Matthew 13:52.