“(Jesus) went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 8:1). As I mentioned in my Cross Currents article this month, we are now in the long “Pentecost season” (which is not really a season at all, but simply a succession of Sundays stretching through the summer and fall from the Day of Pentecost to next Advent).
And, during this period, in church on Sundays, we learn more about the actual teaching and ministry of Jesus. So much of the core of the Church year – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter – covers what happened TO Jesus. The preparation for his birth and the birth itself; his experiences of baptism and transfiguration; fasting and temptation in the desert; and finally his death and resurrection.
Even in the Creeds, the emphasis is on those events… what happened TO Jesus, rather than what he did and taught during the three years of his earthly ministry. But if we are going to be followers of this man, that is precisely what we need to know – what did he teach and how did he live; and what does he expect from us?
Those are the themes we will be tracing for these next several months. And they are no where better summarized than in the verse I just quoted from Luke’s Gospel: “Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.”
The message of Jesus, like the message of the prophets and John the Baptist before him, was just this: the kingdom of God! What do you think about when you hear that phrase?
Many of us think of “heaven.” The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is where we go when we die. And there is no question but that eternal life with God is the culmination and destination of the Christian life. But there is so much more to “the kingdom of God” than that!
So many times in the Gospels we hear John the Baptist or Jesus say something like, “The kingdom of God is at hand” or “the kingdom of God is within you.” What did they mean by that? Well, first of all, it’s important to note that the word “kingdom” here really means “king-ship” or “reign” or “sovereignty.” So, when you hear the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” in the Bible, think “the king-ship of God” or, better, “the reign” of heaven or the “sovereignty” of God.
So we are not so much thinking of a “place” like a kingdom, but more a state of being, a relationship. Living in the kingdom of God really means consciously and faithfully living under the ‘kingship,” under the “reign,” under the “sovereignty” of God – and nobody else! Bishop Tom Wright suggests that proclaiming and living in the kingdom of God means saying to the “powers that be”’ in the world – God is my king…and you are not!
That means that nothing else should ever try to claim our ultimate allegiance – not money, not sex, not power; not other good things like country or work or even family! All these things have their place…but none of them must be put in the place of God! Why? Because God is sovereign…and these things are not
What happens when you begin to live under the sovereignty of God instead of cooperating with, and being coerced by, the principalities and powers of this world?
Well, for one thing, you may begin acting very strangely. At least strangely by this world’s standards!
For example, you might find yourself at a fancy dinner party when, out of the blue, a very unacceptable and perhaps even distasteful person latches on to you, desperately seeking your attention, and perhaps even your approval. Your embarrassment only grows when your host pulls you aside to whisper something like, “Don’t you know who that is? Why in the world are you putting up with this?”
And, at first you’re not so sure why you are! But then you remember an old story about a relative who cancelled the debt of one of his co-workers and ended up with a dear friend for life. You remember too what it felt like in high school always to be a little on the “outside,” never quite accepted by people (like your current dinner host) who were part of the “in crowd” and nearly worshipped by everyone. But how grateful you were one night at a party when his girlfriend sought you out for some conversation, and even danced with you a couple of times!
It also dawns on you that the first time your host has even spoken to you this evening was when he noticed your conversation with this poor, sad character who wanted nothing more than a little of your time. So you turn away from your host…take your strange little companion by the arm…and find a quiet spot in the corner where you both can have a little privacy.
Can you imagine yourself doing something like that? Have you ever done something like that? If you have, then actually “you may not be far,” as Jesus once said, “from the kingdom of God.” You may not be far from understanding that you really only have to serve God and God’s people…not the selfish bigotry of people like the “host” in my story…or the “Pharisee” in Luke’s.
You may be discovering the incredible freedom of not really caring what people think about you because your ultimate identity and sense of self-worth does not come from them. It comes from God and the security you have that you owe your existence entirely to him…that you are secure in that love and the grace of that forgiveness…and that your sole purpose in life is to do what God would have you do.
If you can see yourself in that picture, then you really are beginning to live in the kingdom. You really are beginning to be part of that “blessed company of all faithful people” the Prayer Book speaks of.
If you can’t see yourself doing something like that…
Well, this is a good day to ask yourself “why”…and then to begin again…