Our friend and colleague Dick Toll preached on 30 July at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland OR. We invite you to consider how working towards the kingdom of God as Dick sets out in his sermon might move us towards that more costly discipleship as we work for justice.
Sermon, July 30th, Gospel Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 – 52
Today Jesus speaks to us about the kingdom of God.
It is like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree.
It is like a yeast that adds to flour and makes a large amount of bread.
It is like a treasure hidden but when it is found, provides for the future.
It is like a merchant in search of fine pearls who finds the ultimate pearl and gives up all to purchase it.
It is like a net catching many fish good and bad recognizing our choices as to how people choose good or evil.
In the Gospels the most important theme for the ministry of Jesus relates to the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God in the past? What is it in the present? What is it in the future?
The word “kingdom” usually makes us think of a physical place…a palace, a country, or a king or queen. That is how we know history. Kingdoms have come and gone over many centuries. We have watched the histories of countries and how kings and queens have been chosen. Kingdoms usually relate to a physical space with borders and armies and all the attachments of power.
But as followers of Jesus took on the role of being disciples, they went out into the world in the early centuries and they believed that the kingdom Jesus spoke of was very different and people were called to be in a relationship with the creator of the world and the universe and to live in community together. The kingdom of God was all encompassing. The kingdom was seen as here and now and included all of what the future would unfold for the purpose of God. And the early followers of Jesus discovered that worship was a part of that relationship and over the centuries huge churches and cathedrals were built to express that relationship of being within the kingdom of God.
An interesting person in history around the issues of relationships to the kingdom of God was St. Francis. Francis was a crusader in the 12th century. He answered the call of the Pope to rescue the holy sites in Jerusalem. At that point in time he was young and brash. He went to war for the purposes of God. He learned from his experiences that the crusades were not good for him or the church and went through a personal crisis. He came back from the crusades, took all of his clothes off and became naked, gave his horse away, placed all of his personal items on the altar of the church in Assisi and became a solitary person wandering from place to place. He would preach, teach, and speak about the love of God, the kingdom of God, and the person of Jesus. Before long, others joined him and the movement began. It was a movement within and speaking to the kingdom of God. It later became an order of the Catholic Church that we know today as the Franciscans.
We have often confused our understanding of the kingdom of God with the temporal kingdoms of this world. As history unfolded the Roman empire became Christian under Constantine, the Moslem world after Mohammed in the 7th century took on a powerful image of what became the Ottoman Empire between the 14th & 20th century. We watch history unfold in Catholic Spain, Protestant Germany, Protestant England…. all the Catholic and Protestant battles that occurred after the Reformation. The battle lines of history reflect an understanding of Christianity that is empire based, land based and border based. Colonialism expressed these same issues as slavery was promoted and western countries colonized South America, America, Africa and other places throughout the world. This colonial system helped destroy existing cultures and religious systems. Something was found to be wrong in the way the church was establishing it’s relationship with new cultures and today we are trying to reflect a better way of presenting Christ to the world. We are recovering an image of the kingdom of God without borders and once again finding relationships with others as the building block of our common humanity. Human rights have become a rallying cry for those seeking a way forward to the issues of nationalism and war.
I believe that the kingdom of God is not just a Christian understanding. All religions play their part in furthering the kingdom of God. Jewish, Moslem, and many other major religions are relating to a God of creation and bring their own stories and relationships with them. Often secular humanists are more further advanced in the understanding of human rights than many Christian fundamentalists are able to understand.
Somehow we in our ignorance fail to recognize the work of God in others.
I see this happening in the old city of Jerusalem today. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site for Islam. It is also on the site of the first temple of Solomon in the 10th century BC. The Dome of the Rock was built in the early 600s. Religious settlers in the West Bank and in Israel are convinced that they must build a new temple to reestablish Jewish sacrificial worship at the site of the present day Dome of the Rock. In other words, to build a new temple would involve the destruction of the Dome of the Rock that has been there since the 7th century. A model of that new temple can be seen in the Old City within the Jewish Quarter. The volatility of the situation has been on display for the past two weeks in Jerusalem. This particular issue is probably as dangerous as any issue in the world.
If it continues to explode, it will cause great issues for Israel, Palestinians and Moslems throughout the world.
Where is the kingdom of God in this? Violence is not a part of the image of the kingdom of God. Violence is what our humanity does to one another. We often choose violence as our answers. How do we share our lives, our differences, our own uniqueness rather than take part in Holy Wars? We are far from the image of the kingdom of God.
Can we return to the mustard seed and what comes from it, the pearl of great value, the yeast that yields more bread, the kingdom that is life giving and not death dealing?
If we could only have eyes to see. If we could only have ears to hear. If we could only speak as Francis did to share our humanity and share our gifts to allow God’s kingdom to flourish in our present day.
And the future of the kingdom of God? That becomes the definition of the kingdom. All of the future belongs to God. What it will be and how it will flourish depends on our allowing God to work through us to make the kingdom available for those who come after us. God is the future. The scary thing about that is that God has trusted us with the gift to choose. We can choose life or death, good or evil. So our commitment to the future is that we have the ways and means to destroy ourselves, our planet, our future. We can also choose God’s purposes as discovered in the New Testament.
So here we are today. Our hope has always been the future which is our understanding of God but how do we respond today in order for that future to unfold. I would submit that God has given us the person of Jesus to help us fully integrate our humanity with the kingdom of God…..now. So as the future unfolds so does the kingdom of God.
The here and now was with our friend Francis in the 12th century. The following prayer is attributed to St. Francis. Even though he may not have written it, it expresses all of who he was. I would like to ask all of you to turn to page 833 in the prayer book and offer the prayer together. It is certainly an expression of who Francis was and expresses the past, present and future of the kingdom of God.
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”