Kingdom of God

Who wears the crown?

Jesus says about his kingdom, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."

Jesus' Kingdom of God is real. 1) God has chosen a process that involves our participation. For now, we have to choose Jesus to be the king of our lives. Where Jesus is loved, he is king. 2) Transparency and truthfulness are core values in the Christian gospel. 3) The justice of God's kingdom involves embracing even those who believe differently, are of a different ethnicity or national origin, or choose their life-partners differently than we do.

Sunday, November 25, 2018
Christ the King
Pentecost 29

When Ambition becomes Sinful

[James and John] said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

We expect Jesus’ business to be organized the same as our businesses here on earth. Our organizations are structured to be pyramids, you have one person at the top (call them king, or president, or Jesus), then you have the two below them (call them princes, Ivanka and Jared, or James and John). The pyramid then spreads out and so how high an ambitious person goes depends upon how willing they are to shove the rest of us down a few levels. So, when the other disciples complain about James and John, we know just how they feel.

Sunday, October 21, 2018
Pentecost 22

A Busy Week

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is always busy doing good, but he’s never in a hurry. Obstacles are placed in his way, but he exudes confidence that the kingdom of God will not be delayed. The people he meets, themselves, face incredible challenges. In one week alone; he helps his disciples deal with a storm (crossing Galilee twice in a small boat), confronts a man enslaved to mental illness (a legion of demons), heals a woman with a persistent illness (bleeding), and raises a twelve year old child from the dead. At the end of this hectic time (Mark 4:35-6:3), he goes to church and gets heckled by people because of his humble origins (the illegitimate child of Joseph the carpenter). Everything Jesus does, though, is summed up by what he taught at the week’s beginning; the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, growing among us. Even when it looks small, it is persistent (Mark 4:30-32).

So when we read stories like raising Jairus’s daughter, we shouldn’t say “Look how powerful Jesus is” (Mark 5:21-43). Instead, look at what surrounds these miracles. Jesus teaches how the kingdom of God is among us. Then Jesus sends the disciples (and us) out to do the same things he was doing, always working to forward the good that God has planned for this world (Mark 6:7-13).

Sunday, July 1, 2018
Pentecost 8

You're the One

It’s like something out of Star Wars or the Matrix. God (or the Force) hovers over a fourteen year old girl. She’s the one. Something evil has taken over the galaxy. Mary is our only hope. So the story is very old, and very new. Its familiarity makes us forget what lies at the core. The world is in the hands of powerful people (mostly old white men). The wealthy pass themselves lavish tax breaks. The Romans rule Palestine. The 1% deny children healthcare (CHIP program). As much as things change, they remain the same.

So what do we know?

  1. God is willing to enter into our world. Hope means looking for what God is doing and aligning yourself with it. There is no hope, unless we look for God and trust that He will come. We each will see God somewhere. Watch. Do what God is doing. Take His side.
  2. God has forsaken the powerful and chosen the insignificant to be his instruments. There was nothing less likely to succeed than a peasant girl from Nazareth. Who am I to doubt that God can use me?
  3. The fact that our world is so similar to the one we read of in the Bible does not mean that God’s rebellion has failed. It means that hope is as relevant now as it was then. Our parents may have lost hope. We must not.  

Oh, and like I say every week, choose to be compassionate.
 

Sunday, December 24, 2017
Advent 4
Christmas Eve

Don't underestimate the Lord

There is a thread that runs through most Bible stories. Someone is always underestimating God. The prophetess Deborah tells the Israelites that God has their back. They should fight against the Canaanite king and his general Sisera, who are keeping the nation hostage. People underestimate Deborah and Jael, because they are women. In doing so they underestimate God. God gives to Deborah the wisdom to lead the battle. God gives to Jael the strength to drive a tent peg through the sleeping head of General Sisera — you try lifting a sledge and using blunt stick to pierce a watermelon (Judges 4:21).

In Jesus’ famous story of the servants and the silver coins (called “Talents”), the servant with one talent underestimates the expectations the master has of him (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus urges us to make use of whatever resources God has placed within us to serve his kingdom. Just because you can’t play cello like Yo Yo Ma or play ball like Michael Jordan, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t expect great things from you.

The ultimate story relating to people underestimating God is found in places like Zephaniah 1:7-18 and the book of Revelations. People always underestimate the Day of the Lord — not just how quickly it is coming, but how much they personally will be called to account for. There is a day coming when all who have ever lived on this planet will be called to judgement. The test question then we be, have we used the time and position that God has given us to do good and show compassion to our fellow man?

Sunday, November 19, 2017
Pentecost 24

The Latent Christ

Back in the days of film, I was very aware of what it meant to say that something was latent. I would take a series of twenty-four pictures in my camera, then carefully wind the film back into its cassette. Perhaps that night, or a week later, I’d go down to the dark room and process the film. In total darkness, I would carefully wind the film onto a spool in the developing tank. Setting the timer, I’d pour in the chemicals. Each little grain of silver-chloride that had been struck by three photons of light in my camera, fixed itself in place and formed a dark image. The other silver-chloride grains are washed away, down the drain. Only then could the film be held up to the light and the images seen.

 

Sunday, January 15, 2017
Epiphany 2

It’s not good to be the king

I have a friend who is the president of the board of a small non-profit organization. He’s having a difficult time. A while back there was an issue where he acted on his own without consulting the board. “I’m the president and I’m more knowledgable than anyone else on this. I want it done this way,” he said. A conflict arose. It was true that he had expertise in the subject, but he was also disrupting the group process. This is not what a good leader does.

 

Jesus takes his role as Messiah very seriously. He stays true to his leadership position all the way to the cross. Pontus Pilate is confused by Jesus becoming the head of a populous organization, but refusing to wear kingly garb or behave as other rich people do. Jesus is known to do great miracles and speak with authority, but nothing that he does puts money in his pocket or a crown on his head. Jesus is humble to a fault. You are the silliest king of the Jews I’ve ever met, Pilate thinks. He has Jesus crucified wearing an ironic crown of thorns.

Sunday, November 20, 2016
Pentecost 29

You have not, because you ask not

I often get frustrated with my mother. I know, I deserve some grief considering all that I put her through. My mother is loving, kind, fun, in good health, and becoming increasingly independent as she heads towards 90. The problem is, she refuses to ask us for anything. I say, “Mom, let me help you order tickets for your upcoming flight.” She says, “I don’t want to bother you. I’m willing to call United on the phone.”  Then she grabs the yellow pages and her old black rotary phone. She also insists on finding her own way to and from the airport. I say to her, “Let me help.” She refuses to ask for what she needs.

 

Jesus teaches us to pray:

Sunday, July 24, 2016
Pentecost 12

Not my time, not my wine

Jesus seems to be disrespecting his mother at the wedding in Cana (John 2:4). She asks him to do a miracle in front of everyone. “Jesus this is your cue,” Mary says. “The wine has run out and our family is responsible.” His response is, “Not my wine, not my time.” Later in John 7, he will tell his disciples that everyone expects him to do miracles on cue, but it really isn’t his time, yet. There is a messianic kingdom coming. We won’t always be scrambling to keep our kids fed. In the world to come, the lion will lay down with the lamb, we will feast in the presence of our enemies, and death shall be no more. That time hasn’t come yet.

 

Sunday, January 17, 2016
Epiphany 2

The Kingdom is Near

There is a difference between our current culture, and the people described in Mark  Chapter 1. People today do not expect God to intervene in their personal lives, nor do they expect God or Jesus to suddenly appear in the sky and kick their oppressors to hell and bring his faithful into a new kingdom of peace and justice. We have become un-apocalyptic as a culture, in spite of social media’s trending of fake stories about zombies, ebola, and the muslims in burkas.  The hope that underlays Jesus (and John the Baptist’s) message is that God’s kingdom is near.

 

It is good news, however, to know that God is at hand, literally as close as our fingers. He refuses to allow our apathy, or our secret sins, to chase him away. The good news is this loving presence that is simply there. I spent the past few days in Big Bend National Park — a place of impressive silence. When the sun sets behind the mountains, and another day ends in peace, having been spent distant from cell phone reception, TV, and traffic, it is hard to ignore the quiet one at my side. The conversation on the lodge porch is in whispers. Everyone seems mindful of an ineffable spiritual presence.

Sunday, January 25, 2015
Epiphany 3

A Little Easter Before Christmas

Last weekend I was walking through the local mall when I get passed by Santa Claus. He’s being escorted by mall security and greeting people as he goes by. Looks a little thin this year, I think. Already my mind is turning to the task of buying Christmas presents. I notice that the mall is full, even though I’m there while the Steelers are playing (bless me, for I have sinned). Santa is headed towards his seat, beside which his elves are keeping in order a long line of expectant children. All of this, and we haven’t had Thanksgiving yet. My sense of calendar has become disoriented.

 

The calendar of our spiritual lives is oriented around a single point. Jesus is on the cross, dying. The thief beside him begs, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The thing we know now, and which needs to be preached, is that his kingdom is fully there at that moment. The kids on St Nick’s lap say, “Santa remember me when you come upon the 24th of December.” They look for a future event, when what they hope for becomes realized. Santa does not say, “Oh Tommy, you don’t have to wait. I’ve got your fire truck toy right here.” But Jesus says to the thief, “Amen. Today, you are with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Dodd calls this ‘realized eschatology.’

 

Sunday, November 24, 2013
Christ the King
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