Over the last three weeks we have been steeped in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, receiving Jesus’ teaching in the form of parables. Parables are stories that disclose to us the kingdom of God, often in unexpected ways. These last few weeks these stories have been settling into our imaginations, opening our senses to the in-breaking of God's kingdom, God’s commonwealth, God’s domain or dream. This kingdom has been emerging as lived stories or, put differently, storied lives. The story of God’s good news has been breaking through in the everyday, opening up new possibilities, mashing together seemingly incompatible elements, making all things new.
And so, if I may be so bold as to suggest… the kingdom of God is like a series of experiences I had between Wednesday and Thursday of this week. My Wednesday was a busy, spirited workday between several energizing meetings and parish writing projects on a strict deadline. Attuned to the ongoing Senate machinations regarding Affordable Care Act, I had also learned about the President’s tweet regarding trans people in the military. When it came time to write my piece for the Flame, our weekly e-newsletter, I was struck by how apropos the gospel reading assigned by the daily lectionary felt: the story of the disciples on a boat with Jesus, tossed in a huge storm, terrified, and perplexed that Jesus had fallen asleep in the stern. When they woke him up and asked him to help them, he calmed the storm and asked them what they had been afraid of (Mark 4:35-41). By the time my day came to a close, I learned about a march in the Castro and the Tenderloin, pushing back against the President’ tweets as well as two other announcements about new interpretations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, impacting the LGBT community as a whole. Particularly since I hadn’t been able to attend the march, I was happy to be able to go to an event Thursday evening to support the National Center for Transgender Equality and hear Mara Keisling, its Executive Director. As I drove across town, I admit I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I hadn’t had time to change, so I was heading into this meeting in clericals, knowing that – for very understandable reasons—there is strong wariness in the trans community toward Christianity. As a relative newcomer to the city, I didn’t know anyone else at this event except for the speaker. But when I got there I met all sorts of people: an older couple, allies to the trans community, who asked me which church I served and immediately knew of St. Aidan’s; the woman who started Trans Day of Remembrance, a now international movement that was sparked by the death of a woman who lived a mile from the parish I once served in Massachusetts; a wonderful student I taught over ten years ago, now attending medical school here. Then there was Mara Keisling’s speech. She described a rally outside the capitol building in Washington D.C. at which she’d spoken on Wedneday. A legislator had taken her aside and said, sympathetically, "the trans community is going to have to weather this storm." But Mara had immediately replied, "we don’t need to weather this storm. We are the storm. We will continue to be the storm. We are not backing down. We are not going away. Those who would try to make us go away will have to weather us." As I listened to her, I immediately thought of the scene I had written about the day before. I thought of Jesus’ question to the disciples about their fear. And while I continue to think it perfectly reasonable for them to have been afraid, I now also found myself imagining Jesus speaking to the disciples with Mara’s words: you are the storm. The kingdom of God is like a marginalized and beleaguered community learning that it is not at the mercy of a storm. It is a storm.
The kingdom of God is like people who are very ill making a herculean effort to return to Washington D.C. from their sick beds to cast a vote in favor of preserving the Affordable Care Act—for now, at least. I am thinking, of course, of Senator John McCain of Arizona, who surprised and moved many people who weren’t sure how he would vote this week, especially after he voted earlier in the week to open up debate. There was something of God’s kingdom in his dramatic thumbs down. But it was also revealed in the much less noticed vote of senator Mazie Hirono who traveled from Hawaii to cast her no vote. She has stage four kidney cancer and is recovering from surgery that removed part of a rib. In her speech, she referenced being born in a rural home in Japan, of losing her sister to pneumonia as a child, a sibling who never had a chance to survive because she had no access to a hospital. She referenced her mother moving their family to Hawaii so they could have access to a more stable life. “I know what it’s like to run out of money at the end of the month. That’s what my life was like as an immigrant here,” she said. “And now here I am, a United States Senator. I am fighting kidney cancer, and I am just so grateful that I have health insurance so I can concentrate on the care that I needed rather than on wondering how the heck I was going to afford the care.” The commonwealth of God is manifested in the courage and the determination of senators such as her, in legislators such as Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who refused to be bullied away from their own no votes, even as they failed to receive nearly as much credit for their stances as their colleague Senator McCain.
The kingdom of God is like eleven women, Episcopalians who had been ordained to the transitional deaconate with the hope that by 1973 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church might finally, unambiguously affirm that women could be ordained to the priesthood if they were so called. And when the Convention again failed, narrowly, to take this step they were ordained forty-three years ago yesterday in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, in a service that the House of Bishops, in an emergency meeting shortly thereafter, termed “irregular”. “They were like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened” (Mt 13:33). The kingdom of God is like the ministry of a woman named Phyllis Edwards, one of the first women in the Episcopal Church to be ordained to the diaconate by Bishop James Pike here in this diocese in 1965, five years before the General Convention officially recognized women as deacons (as distinct from deaconesses) in 1970. Deacon Edwards became the first ordained woman to be put in charge of a congrgeation in the Episcopal Church in 1969, a little mission up in the Diamond Heights neighborhood of San Francisco that needed clergy leadership while its priest was on leave... Deacon Edwards almost decided to join what became known as the Washington Four, a group of women ordained to the priesthood in September of 1975 after the Philadelphia Eleven, but she opted to wait until after the General Convention resolved the ambiguity in 1976. Her priestly ordination took place in 1980.
The kingdom of God is like unexpected connection; like growth; like mixture; like spacious accommodation; like baking bread; like discovery of infinite value; like shedding extraneous possessions to possess one thing; to be possessed by one thing; like casting a net; like being caught in a net; like being thrown together with all manner of people. The kingdom of heaven is like being bombarded with stories, long and short, sensible and nonsensical, interpreted and unadorned. It is like a storm washing away the world as it has been, forging the landscape into something unexpected and new, blowing back patterns of tyranny. The kingdom of God is like people rising in resistance, coming to life, even amid sighs too deep for words, as so much pain and death presses against them. The kingdom of God is like a storm of stories that cannot be stopped.
The kingdom of God is to be observed in the love of God and neighbor, in healing, in clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, in visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger (Matthew 25:31-46). And if it is to be found in all of these things, in following Jesus as he invited us (Matthew 16:24-25), in doing what he taught, it is also to be found in the hearing and the telling of stories. For, as Verna Dozier explained in The Dream of God, which we read earlier this year, “Jesus taught them. That is what the title rabbi means – teacher. He taught them in the ancient way, by telling them stories. Since then the stories have been changed and twisted and allegorized out of their original impact, but at the time Jesus told them, they were startling stories, confrontational stories, stories of another way of life.” To follow Jesus, to be his disciples, is also to become storytellers of God's dream.
The kingdom of God is like tendrils of possibility surprising us in our despair. All of us, together and individually, are living into, are encountering it. If we were to receive and take up the challenge of the final portion of this morning’s passage—if we were to imagine ourselves as in some sense scribes “trained for the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:52), bringing out of our life’s treasure’s things both old and new, what stories might our lives write? What wonders might we tell?
 “In 1969, the Diocesan Press Service noted: “Deaconess Phyllis Edwards reportedly became the first woman in the history of the Diocese of California to be placed in charge of a local church when the Rt. Rev. C. Kilmer Myers named her acting vicar of St. Aidan's, San Francisco. She will serve while the vicar, the Rev. Robert Cromey is on leave, but will not celebrate the Holy Communion.” https://www.facebook.com/gracecathedralSF/posts/10152151167627121 I was surprised to come upon the notation in the St. Aidan’s parish register.
 “A fifth woman, Phyllis Edwards, had originally planned on taking part in the ordination but withdrew the week before. Edwards had been recognized as a deacon by James Pike in 1965, creating a corrective precedent for the many women who had been ordained to the diaconate long before who were still being called "deaconesses," and though "The Rev." correctly preceded their names, they were not consistently regarded as members of the clergy.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_Eleven#cite_ref-ordination1975_35-2
 Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return (New York: Seabury Classics, 2006 (1991)), 104.