Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Kingdom of God has Come Near You

The Kingdom of God has Come Near You
Psalm 102:15-22
Isaiah 52:7-10
Philippians 2:1-5
Luke 10:1-9

In our text today (Philippians 2:1-5) Paul tells us to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”… “having the same love, being in full accord … do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves… look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Luke (10:8-9) tells us:
“Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, … cure the sick who are there and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near you.”

What do you suppose the kingdom of God is?
We hear elsewhere in Scripture that it is “like”
A mustard seed
A treasure
A pearl
A farmer
And so on…

But what is it really?

Do you remember the What Would Jesus Do craze?  People wore wrist-bands and tee shirts that said WWWJD – and encouraged us all to think about what Jesus would do.  It was a good idea that ended up being kind of patronizing and a little silly.

There is a cartoon going around the internet lately that parodies the What Would Jesus Do campaign.  The cartoon depicts Jesus on a hillside and lists things Jesus would NOT do.  The list includes:
            Harass a single mother
            Shoot a doctor – shoot anyone- own a weapon
Hate his enemies
Attack the poor
And my personal favorite…Run for President

It’s not too hard to define the kingdom of God in the negative.  We know what it isn’t.
But how can we know what it is?

At our Women’s Retreat this past weekend, a member joking declared that the manna- that mysterious and miraculous sustenance which was offered to the Israelites as they crossed the desert in Exodus- that the manna was actually Diet Coke.  We discussed this idea at some length and decided that manna would taste different to each individual, for some it would be crème Brule and for others guacamole and chips. This being a women’s retreat the consensus was that manna would likely taste like chocolate.

Accepting this unorthodox but not entirely theologically unsound premise, the kingdom of God might look like different things to different people.
It might look like clothing to an impoverished mother
It might look like food to a starving Somali
It might look like enfranchisement to a Chinese dissident
It might look like reunion to the spouse of a deployed soldier
It might look like health to a person in pain

It would without a doubt look like arms outstretched and hands open

Today we celebrate the life and work of Thomas Bray, an 18th Century priest and missionary to the American Colonies. Here are some of the things he did:
He radically reorganized and renewed the Church in Maryland.
He arranged for the instruction of children there
He re-organized the process of discernment and training of priests and pastors
He opened 31 libraries and a number of schools
He defended – from the pulpit both in England and the U.S. – the rights of enslaved Africans and displaced Native Americans
He persuaded Governor Oglethorpe to found the colony of Georgia as a as an alternative to debtors prison
He founded the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, both of which survive two hundred and fifty years later.
(He was in America exactly 10 weeks)

Here are things he didn’t do:
He didn’t force the Gospel on anyone – he offered them a chance to hear and learn it themselves.
He increased the presence of the Church – not by building buildings, but by propagating servants
He didn’t seek to punish those who had fallen on hard times, he sought to alleviate their suffering
He didn’t turn the other way when he saw the oppression of marginalized, enslaved, exiled people – he spoke from the pulpit at considerable personal risk – in their defense

Thomas Bray had a list of things he wanted to accomplish in this life.
We all have a list of things we want to accomplish in this life. 
What makes Thomas Bray exceptional is not what he accomplished, but how:

He did nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility
He looked not to his own interests but to the interests of others
He clearly tried to let the same mind be in him that was in Christ Jesus.

Oh, on the list of things Thomas Bray DID do, I forgot to mention:
He brought the Kingdom of God closer to us.

Now, only Christ, when he returns, can bring the Kingdom of God finally and completely to us all. 

But in the mean time, while we are waiting, we are asked in our texts today to bring the Kingdom of God “closer.”  It almost doesn’t matter what you do. If you are in the same mind as Christ, if you let yourself be motivated by a desire to be of like mind to Christ… you are bringing the Kingdom closer to us.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
Who brings good news,
Who announces salvation
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”