Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17; Mark 4: 26-34
June 14, 2015
The kingdom of God is a common theme in the gospels. It is also spoken of as the kingdom of heaven. I wondered how common it was and I counted these two terms used 89 times in the four gospels. That's a lot. So if it is used that often, it is probably pretty important that we understand what it means. Most of us probably have a vague understanding of the terms. Heaven. The new Jerusalem. Israel restored. Here and now or somewhere future. I felt it was important to truly get to the heart of the Kingdom's meaning...so I Googled it. There were 204 million entries for the Kingdom of God. So I read through them all and will summarize them for you now....I seriously did google it but I didn't read all the responses to “What is the Kingdom of God?” But I will share some important answers. More importantly, when I was done with the Google, I went a more traditional route looking for a doctrinally correct answer. I looked it up in hard copy of our Book of Confessions. I will share from there later.
In the years after David, the kingdom of Israel split into the north and south kingdoms; Israel and Judah and both these kingdoms were overtaken by...Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and finally, Rome. In the time of Jesus, the citizens of Israel longed to defeat the Romans and reestablish the kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of David once again. And when you read the scriptures, you can't help but notice the many mentions of their longing for that earthly kingdom.
But the kingdom of God is not the kingdom of Israel. In fact it is evident from his illustrations that Jesus sees the kingdom of God as quite different from any earthly kingdom. Maybe now is a good time to just glance at some of the illustrations he used. Two illustrations today, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground” and then” It is like a mustard seed”. Others, “It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”(Luke 13: 21) Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) and “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.(Luke 6: 20) “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)and one final one, I won't read all 89, “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Some of these sayings were and remain a mystery in their full meaning...we know only in part as Paul wrote. But Jesus said on more than one occasion that the kingdom is close, or as I just read, is among you. Again, this is a mystery, but I believe that Jesus is teaching that the kingdom of God was ushered in when he walked the earth. “It is among you”...that's not a future occurrence but a present reality. And in his walk upon the earth, he demonstrated the kingdom by his actions; actions we are called to emulate. “He healed the sick, fed the hungry, opened blind eyes, broke bread with outcasts and sinners and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom”. Those words are from one of our communion prayers. We are called to share these properties of the kingdom. Some other properties Jesus demonstrated are forgiveness, compassion, challenging injustices, loving the brokenhearted. These are the kinds of actions that are full expressions of the kingdom of God here on earth. This is definitely not the kind of kingdom the people of Jesus' time were looking for. They wanted Rome thrown out and a Godly king reigning over Israel. And so they failed, most of them failed, to recognize the kingdom Jesus was proclaiming; a kingdom of peace, justice, harmony, reconciliation, wholeness. And here 2000 years later, we still don't see that vision realized in its fullness. But know that the kingdom is among us. When we share our goods with those in need, we demonstrate the kingdom. When we share a kind word with a stranger, when we challenge injustice or visit the sick or share the love of Christ in any way, we are living out the vision of the kingdom of God here and now. That does not come naturally to many of us. We are to submit to the Lordship of Christ and follow in obedience—much as the subjects in the kingdom follow their king. We are called to make a conscious decision to submit to Christ, to welcome Jesus into our lives and act in obedience. Not an easy path to take and one we will continue to struggle with on this earth. But Paul assured us in today's reading and our verse of the month, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” We are no longer subjects to the earthly kingdom of sin and self-seeking but are new creatures, enabled as servants of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
But we also have the promise in scriptures of the kingdom of God fully fulfilled. This present earth is not all there is, Jesus has promised to return and establish his kingdom fully on the redeemed earth. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. (Rev. 21: 1) God’s dwelling place [will be] among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away.”(Rev. 21:3-4) We who are God's children anticipate that day even as we live in a fallen world today. We live with the hope that Jesus conquers all and we will live in peace on that new earth.
Until then, we work to bring God's kingdom to reality in our day to day world. The kingdom lives within us as Jesus reigns in our hearts. The kingdom comes future as our eternal dwelling place with our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
I said I'd get to a more doctrinal source, our Book of Confessions which is one half of our denomination's constitution. This passage comes from the Theological Declaration of Barmen: (you'll note the use of male pronouns which indicates the age of the document) “The kingdom (of God) represents the triumph of God over all that resists his will and disrupts his creation. Already God's reign is present as a ferment in the world, stirring hope in men and preparing the world to receive its ultimate judgment and redemption. With an urgency born of this hope the church applies itself to present tasks and strives for a better world. It does not...despair in the face of disappointment and defeat. In steadfast hope the church looks beyond all partial achievement to the final triumph of God.”
We acknowledge this morning that the kingdom is not complete; the document says it is a ferment in the world which reminds us of the earlier bible quote that it is like yeast. Our gospel today uses seeds; another indication that the kingdom is not a finished product yet. The seed has been scattered and has sprouted but is not finished growing. The start was very small in a tiny village in a tiny country in the Middle East, but it has grown and is growing until it becomes like a giant tree. We, each one of us, are called to be part of the process. Live out the love and mercy and grace of Christ and we do our part to grow the kingdom until it is completed at our Lord's coming.
What is the Kingdom of God? It is the reign of Jesus Christ in our hearts today being lived out in love to our neighbors. It is also the ultimate rule and reign of God through Jesus over the new heaven and the new earth as Jesus redeems us and the earth in the final judgment. Let's do our part each day to bring God's kingdom to our corner of the world and then live in the hope of the promise of an eternal kingdom. May we live this out in the power of God's Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hymn: Crown Him With Many Crowns 151 PH