“You’re going where?” I’ve been asked that more than a few times recently. Depending on the tone of the question, it can be loaded with shock, worry or confusion. “Is that near Egypt?” Is the common follow-up question.
“No, you might be thinking of Libya,” I say. “You know how Africa has a bump on the side? Liberia is sort on the bottom of that bump.”
“Are you going to be safe?” they ask. “Right now, the most dangerous things are the water and the mosquitoes. They’ve had peace since 2003, and a legitimate democratic government since 2006. Their president is a United Methodist.”
Some wonder why I’m going. Sometimes, especially now that it is so close, I wonder why I’m going. It really doesn’t make any sense. Why would I leave my home – a warm house, a comfortable bed, two daughters that light up when they see me, a wife who makes my heart leap when I hold her. Why would I leave all of this for two days, let alone two weeks?
Why would I travel 10,000 miles to live for two weeks in sweltering heat, without reliable electricity (sorry, no air-conditioning), without land-line telephones, without clean tap water? Why would I go to a place that is going to be 100 degree heat indexes, but is dangerous to wear short sleeves because the mosquitoes often carry malaria? It doesn’t make any sense.
I’m going for two weeks to do what? Paint a hospital – anyone can do that. Attend annual conference – really? I’m going 10,000 miles to sit at a budget approval meeting? Build a school in Monrovia – I don’t know anything about building a school. Why would I spend two weeks and $1,500 to do things that Liberians can do just as well – if not better – than me? It doesn’t make any sense.
You know what though? Sometimes the Kingdom of God doesn’t make sense. This is the parable of the mustard seed. It is one of the shortest parables of Jesus. This is Matthew 13:31-32 (NRSV).
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
Most people read this story hear only the part about a small seed turning into a large tree, but let’s look at this short parable a little closer. Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like someone taking a mustard seed and sowing it in a field. Really? Who would do that? If you had a field or a garden, and were hoping to grow something that produced a crop, would you really sow a mustard seed? The parable says that the seed turns into a shrub, and then a huge tree – big enough for birds to make nests. Drive through rural Illinois or Iowa – there are lush, green fields as far as the eye can see. How many huge trees are there in the midst of the corn and soybeans?
Think also about a garden. A huge tree – complete with birds and other small animals – is the last thing you would want in it. Sowing a mustard seed in a field just doens’t make sense. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to planting a tree in a field, or a weed in a garden. Today he might have said, “The Kingdom of God is like planting dandelions on your front lawn. One pops up, and before you know it, your whole yard is covered in them.”
It just doesn’t make sense. The Kingdom of God doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make any sense for me to go to Liberia, but sometimes the Kingdom of God is about doing something that doesn’t make sense. The Kingdom of God is about learning something totally new about “what makes sense.” When someone strikes you on the face, it doesn’t make any sense to turn the other cheek. When someone steals your cloak, it doesn’t make any sense to give him your cloak as well. It makes sense to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But Jesus told us that’s not how the Kingdom of God works.
Common sense tells us to work, accumulate, gain status, grow in stature and garner power. Common sense tells us to get revenge when we can, to punish when we are able and to win at all costs. The Kingdom of God isn’t about making sense. It didn’t make any sense for Jesus to forgive the tax collectors. It didn’t make any sense when Jesus healed the sick or fed the hungry. It didn’t make any sense for Jesus to allow himself to be put on a cross because of my sins. And it definately didn’t make any sense for him to conquer the grave and leave the tomb empty.
The Kingdom of God doesn’t make sense, and the only way we’re going to get there is if people are willing to do some things that don’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to fogive. It doesn’t make sense to seek reconciliation. It doesn’t make sense to be love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with your God.
It doesn’t make sense for me to go to Liberia. But I’m going anyway. I’m going to meet people, share stories, and build relationships. I am going to walk amongst a people that still proclaim “God is so good” even though it doesn’t make sense. I’m going to a place that faced 13 years of the most brutal war the world has ever seen. I’m going to a country that saw 200,000 people die, 2,000,000 become homeless. I’m going to a place where girls raped, kidnapped and turned into “brides” for brutal warlords. I’m going to a place where boys saw their parents murdered, were kidnapped, given heroine and guns and forced to become soldiers.
I’m going to a place that has no reason to have hope. It doesn’t make any sense for people to be kind and generous. It doesn’t make any sense for people to come to worship and declare “God is so good.” It doesn’t make any sense. And that’s why I’m going, because sometimes we all have to do something that just doesn’t make sense.