Driving through Texas, a New Yorker collided with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. “How can you now claim to have all these injuries?” asked the insurance company’s lawyer. “According to the police report, at the time you said you were not hurt.” “Look,” replied the New Yorker. “I was lying on the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The next thing I know this Texas Ranger pulls out his gun and shoots the horse. Then he turns to me, looks me straight in the eyes, and asks, “Are you hurt anywhere?” That’s a very wise white lie. Once in a while perhaps everyone tells a white lie. We do these so the other person’s feelings don’t get hurt. There’s a little untruth we tell ourselves that we need to stop listening to. It’s the lie that says we don’t matter. Now I’m not talking this morning about this hurtful phrase when it comes to self-esteem. You do matter, for sure, in this sense. But you also matter in another sense: what you do or don’t do for God’s kingdom matters. I’m going to spend much of this message trying to get us to accept that God’s kingdom has a certain content to it. But first I want to show you a clip from Jesus of Nazareth. In it, Jesus doesn’t teach about the kingdom of God per se, nor does he perform a miracle in order to reveal the kingdom. I want you to notice how Jesus mentions the kingdom of God right before the main part of the scene begins, so we know that what come next has to do with God’s kingdom in some essential way. Our scene clearly contrasted the kingdom in power or the kingdom of the powerful vs. the kingdom of God or of the powerless. It’s one of many wonderful scenes in this movie. The thing is, we want it both ways, right? We want to be the woman who even though is quite a bit less than perfect is totally accepted by God, forgiven by Christ, loved beyond measure, and loves unconditionally the goodness of Jesus. We want to turn to God to hear and know we are fully embraced and included. You see, we all have this idea and image of ourselves as being hurt, having suffered, been an outcast in some way, impoverished perhaps even, and powerless against others who have held a measure of control over us. But we really also hope to be like those rabbis, to live in the world where they get to have some power. We don’t want to get hurt any longer; we want to make some of the rules. We want to be able to do well enough to be included in important conversations, not to be at the mercy of others, and to be looked up to and respected. We want to make something of ourselves. We have one foot in each kingdom. We understand well the one, so let’s talk about the kingdom of God, the one Christ showed to Mary Magdalene, and would change the rest of her life. For anyone who has been a Christian for even a small amount of time the question, “What is the kingdom of God” may seem strange. But if you were asked to define what the kingdom of God is, could you do it? In one or two sentences could you tell a co-worker or neighbor what Christians mean when they talk about “the kingdom of God or of heaven?” The term “kingdom of God” doesn’t appear in the Old Testament, although “his kingdom” and “your kingdom” are used in some cases when referring to God. However, the kingdom of God (the Matthean equivalent being “kingdom of heaven”) is a prominent phrase in the Synoptic Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels, being the key element of Jesus’ teachings. Even though the presence and coming of the kingdom of God was Jesus’ central message what the kingdom is about remains elusive. And I’m talking about among today’s teachers and pastors. I will give you an example from one author who said this about the kingdom of God: “(Jesus’) teaching was designed to show men how they might enter the Kingdom of God. His mighty works were intended to prove that the Kingdom of God had come upon them. His parables illustrated to His disciples the truth about the Kingdom of God. When He taught His followers to pray, at the heart of their petition were the words, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ On the eve of His death, He assured His disciples that He would yet share with them the happiness and the fellowship of the Kingdom. And He promised that He would appear again on the earth in glory to bring the blessedness of the Kingdom to those for whom it was prepared.” In all of this there isn’t any word about what God’s kingdom is. This is a problem. If we don’t know the shape, format, reality, feel, activities of God’s kingdom, how will we ever know if it’s come close to us or whether we’re close to it? How will we know what to do or not to do if we don’t know what the kingdom is and isn’t? This one person is not alone. So many others seem unwilling or unable to tell us what the kingdom of God is. Now of course Jesus used parables to talk about the kingdom of God, and they weren’t always the easiest to follow but that was in his teachings.
What he did in his miracles was much easier to see and understand: Jesus heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, feeds the hungry, exorcises demons, heals a paralytic and a woman with menstruation flow of a dozen years; he brings back to life two children, one to a grieving widow and another to a grieving father—all are people who exist outside of the kingdom of the powerful. Clearly the kingdom of God has everything to do with these people and their needs. Perhaps describing the kingdom of God is easier than we first thought. Now there is one thing that’s talked about a lot when it comes to the kingdom of God: power. Many people, a lot of authors and pastors, say Jesus’ miracles show Jesus’ power, or the kingdom’s power. This is true. Jesus was clearly powerful. But there’s a problem with this. Actually, it’s a danger. In this view, it’s as if Jesus did these wonderful things but what they were doesn’t really mean anything. All that matters is that Jesus had power to do powerful things. The nature of his miracles aren’t taken into consideration as to the content of the kingdom. Jesus was powerful therefore the kingdom is about power. I mean after all, it’s not like Jesus’ miracles included spinning hay into gold. He didn’t create a stronger metal or the first gun so that his kingdom would have more advanced weaponry with which to defeat the Romans. When power is elevated but not the goodness surrounding its use, power can then be used for any purpose. This is wrong. The truth is in this view Jesus might easily have done wrong and evil with his power if what he did really didn’t matter. As you can tell, that’s ludicrous. There can be no separation of the power revealed through Jesus’ miracles from the purpose revealed through Jesus’ miracles. God’s power always has a purpose, and that purpose is the meaning of Christ’s miracles. Miracles reveal God’s power and purpose. They reveal God’s kingdom is for the sake of the blind, the cripple, the hungry, the deaf, the unhealthy woman, the grieving mother, the father of the possessed son, the prostitute. They show God’s power is for those who are powerless in the world, in the present kingdom, in the way things are arranged politically, socially, and economically. For those who have basically no place in the present order, the kingdom of God relieves suffering. For those who have lost their way or never had a chance, to have hope finally is to be given a miracle. The forgotten are not forgotten in God’s kingdom. The impoverished are not poor in God’s kingdom. The weary are not without strength in God’s kingdom. The voiceless get to be heard in God’s kingdom. The fearful find their courage in God’s kingdom. The perishing are given their life back in God’s kingdom. For those who the world refuses to include, God builds a kingdom. For the little ones the world doesn’t look out for or value, God offers a savior. For the lost toward whom the world holds such little mercy, God gives a shepherd. To talk of God’s kingdom without declaring who and what is included in that kingdom is to deny the power of and purpose for Christ’s ministry, mission, and teachings. It is to deny the miracles ever happened to real people who are clearly outside of the kingdom of the powerful. A new pastor went to visit the home of two congregation members, Adam and Steve. The minister discovered they were avid gardeners, and were only too delighted to show her around the garden, a magnificent sea of greens, purples, blues, whites, yellows and pinks. Wanting to set the relationship off on a strong, positive note, the pastor said, “Praise God for the beauty of this garden.” But Steve replied quickly, “Now pastor, don’t go giving all the credit to God. You should have seen this garden before we got here, when the Almighty had it to himself!” The gardener in fact had very good theology. It’s kingdom theology. The Lord needs partners. It’s not God’s failure to bring about the kingdom. It’s our failure to claim and cultivate it. This is the meaning behind Jesus’ continual assertion that the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is near. God has brought it this close, but as for the rest of way it must travel, we have to carry it. You do matter. You matter to God. You matter to God’s kingdom. If it’s ever to come, what we do and don’t do really matters. One day a young woman was walking home from work when she saw a sight: a little girl standing on the street corner, begging. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, her hair matted and unclean, and her cheeks red from the cold. The young woman dropped a dollar in the begging bowl, gave the girl a smile and walked on. As she walked she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street. The young woman also began to feel angry, angry with God. She let her feeling be known in a prayer of protest. “God, how can you let these sort of things happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?” And then, to her surprise God answered, “I did do something. I created you.” Jesus’ life, teachings, and miracles reveal the kingdom of God, whose power and purpose is to relieve suffering and tell those who have such little hope that they belong to God. Jesus’ church exists to continue this ministry, mission, and message. That’s us. Can the church say Amen?
- New Here
- Online Giving