'Kudzu Jesus' and the Kingdom of God
Not infrequently, Jesus shows up in some pretty surprising places. According to recent news reports, the face of Jesus has been seen in a pizza sold in Australia, a poppy petal in the high desert of California, and in the swirling images on a tie-dyed T-shirt in Cleveland. But the Jesus sighting that most piqued my interest occurred in Kinston, North Carolina. There, a Mr. Kent Hardison was about to spray herbicide on kudzu hanging from a utility pole and electrical cable. But as Mr. Hardison peered at the vine, he saw an image of Jesus hanging on the cross. "It looks like Jesus!" he exclaimed. And then the sobering realization hit home: "You can't spray Roundup on Jesus!"
Now as a preacher, always on the lookout for new material, I appreciate Mr. Hardison's keen eye for signs of God's Kingdom in the world. The theological word for such postings of the eternal in time is a "sacrament." A sacrament is something that points beyond itself to the Divine and/or becomes a channel of God's presence to believers. Even so, this kudzu-draped utility pole in the Tarheel state has become a sacrament to many. As Mr. Hardison observed in the local paper, "It doesn't matter what you do, kudzu is going to be around. Ain't that a lot like Jesus?"
Meanwhile, back at the top of Poplar, we are unpacking the parables of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday. And one of the most striking features of Jesus’ parables are all the places Jesus sees God's truth, God's kingdom, poking through in the most surprising of places: in seed and soil, weeds and wheat, leaven and flour, booty hidden in a field, a glowing pearl, and all kinds of fish dragged up in a net! And all that's just in Matthew chapter 13! Continue traipsing after Jesus in the Gospels and you'll see him discover the kingdom in even more shocking places: a crooked accountant (Lk 16:1-9), a nosy neighbor (Lk 11:5-8), and an indigent with a sign that says, "Will work for food" (Lk 16:19-31). With Jesus, it seems, there is no place and nobody where God is not already present, quietly, mysteriously at work.
Granted, there will come a time, says Jesus, where God will separate the wheat from the weeds (Mt 13:40-42), the good fish from the bad (Mt 13:47-50), and the sheep from the goats (Mt 25:31-46). But that time is not yet, and when that time comes, God, not us, will do the judging. Our job as followers of Jesus is not to judge the world, but to point with irrepressible, heart-thumping glee at all the places, all the people, where God is already at work in wild and wonderful ways (often without our help, thank you very much!). And sometimes, this Good News helps someone see the living God is near.
So keep looking for the living God in the sparrows, the stranger, the enemy, and maybe even in the kudzu. You never know where Jesus is going to show up next.