Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at Hand! (Sermon)

As prepared for delivery for Preaching course, BTSR, March 28, 2016

Luke 21:25-36

         One of my favorite movies of the last year is decidedly apocalyptic: Mad Max: Fury Road.  Like all the other movies in the Mad Max franchise, Fury Road takes place in a world that’s burned up.  The actual nature and events of the apocalypse are never explicitly stated and only hinted at.  But what is clear is that the biosphere has collapsed, probably because of human actions and human nature, and with it all of human civilization.  Humanity has re-entered a period of barbarity with marauding bands of “war boys,” actually, physically warped and broken by the fall of nature, fighting for whatever petty strongman can command their loyalty, in the process oppressing the vast majority of what is left of humanity.  This world is presented to us as simply the way the world is, there is no changing it, and you simply must do what you can to survive, including descending into barbarity yourself.

I don’t know about you, but this is not really a hopeful image!  And on first glance, the passage from Luke for today is the same.  Describing the world as coming apart at the seams.  The environment rebelling.  Cataclysm.  Death.  Not a pretty picture.

And yet there is Hope.  Just as we eventually see in Mad Max, this Hope is grounded in the immutable truth that the way things are is not the way they have to be.  As we celebrated yesterday, there is life after death.  There is Resurrection.

Christian hope, our hope, is grounded in the eschaton, in God’s final act in history.  It is the belief, the faith, that all is going to be put right in the end.  Not now, not next week, but in the end.  It is a hope predicated on the idea that we are not just moving randomly through the universe, but that we are and should be moving toward SOMETHING, that there is some goal towards which we are striving.  The scripture calls this end, this goal, the Kingdom of God.  Clarence Jordan, the 20th century Georgia Baptist prophet, called it the God Movement.

Earlier I read from the English Standard Version.  But now, I would like to read it again, this time from the Cotton Patch Gospels, the translation that Clarence Jordan did in the 1960s.  Jordan was a biblical Greek scholar with a PhD from Southern Seminary, and he translated a significant portion of the Greek text into South Georgia Vernacular.

         And there will be signs on the sun and the moon and the stars, and throughout the land there will be tension of races in confusion like the roaring of the boiling sea, with people passing out from fear and anticipation of what’s happening to civilization.  For the powers of the higher-ups will be shaken.  And then they’ll see the son of man leading a Movement with great strength and authority.  When these preliminary things happen, hold up your heads and throw back you shoulders, because your freedom is arriving. 

       And he told them a Comparison: “Take a look at the pear tree and all the other trees.  When they are far advanced, you can look and see for yourself that warm weather is here.  Likewise, when you see things like these happening, you can know that the God Movement is here.  I truly tell you that the present generation will not be gone before all these things happen.  Land and sky will pass away, but what I’m telling you won’t.  Check up on yourselves to see that you sensitivity isn’t dulled by fast living and drunkenness and worry over making a living. Otherwise, the time might catch you suddenly like a trap, for they’ll confront everybody in the world.  So stay on your toes all the time, praying that you’ll have the strength to break loose from that situation and to stand up and be counted for the Son of Man.

Let me quickly locate us in the Lucan narrative.  Jesus has just come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, entering on the back of a donkey that his disciples have “barrowed.”  Almost immediately after entering the city, Jesus makes his way to the Temple, and overwhelmed by the corruption and worldliness that has settled into this holy place, he drives the commercialism from the temple, causing quite a scene, flipping tables and scourging the moneychangers with a whip.  Then, he has the audacity to install himself in the temple as a teacher. Jesus overhears “some” (the scripture isn’t clear if these are his followers or others) talking about how “nice” the temple is, with its “beautiful stones” and “gifts dedicated to God.”  Jesus responds with a monologue about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.  For Luke and others of the first century CE, these were powerful symbols, representing the Jewish people.  Then Jesus gets to the passage we are looking at tonight.  Here the message shifts from simply being a message about and to the Jews, to being for the whole world, about not just the “pear trees” but “all the trees”.

The coming of the Son of Man is to be a global event, not simply one isolated within certain geographic parameters and the God Movement is open and welcoming of all people, not just some.

That the Kingdom of God is open to all who desire to participate, to not have it be some sort of exclusive little country club that requires you to be a certain race, or have a certain income, or to be privy to some specific and secret knowledge is something that we SHOULD rejoice in, something that we, as hopeful members of the God Movement, should find great comfort in.

But the true totality of the hope that we find in this passage can not be found in the particularities of the Kingdom.  These are certainly VERY important and we should not, in anyway, ignore them.  These particularities let us know what we should strive for.  They inform us as to how we should treat “the least of these.”  Nor is the totality of our hope intertwined with how to get there.  The answer to that is simple.  All through the Gospels when folks ask Jesus how the enter the Kingdom, he always gives some variation of the same answer “Love God.  Love Other.”  It is fairly straight forward.

So if our hope is not to be found only in the specifics of what the Kingdom is, nor if it is to be found in the how of entering the Kingdom, what is the base of our hope?  What possibly could be more important than the whats and the hows and the whos of the Kingdom?  Simply this: the Kingdom of God is at Hand!  Our hope rests and is grounded in the fact that the Kingdom is, and that no matter how crazy and screwy and hectic and weird the world gets, there is a promise of another way, that this crazy world with its boiling seas and fear and doubt and crosses and tombs is not the only way that things have to be!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Truly this is the “evangel,” the good news.  There is another way, a better way.  The ways of this world are not the only way that things have to be, the Kingdom is at hand.  The coming of God’s Kingdom is not simply to be understood as a single frozen moment, but as a continual, already and not yet,  unfolding, to be celebrated, day after day, month after month, year after year, always looking, always moving, always focusing, always striving forward toward and into God’s promise.

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

When things seem like they are spinning out of control, it is easy to be drawn inward, to retreat into our own little cliquish bubbles.  These are things that can encourage us to focus on the past, on the way that things have been, or our false memory of how they were.  But God’s promise, our Hope, is not rooted in what was, but in what can be!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

I would like each and every one of us to stop for a second and really ask if we believe that there in another way?  Do we really and truly believe that the Kingdom of God is possible?  Or do we think the ways of the world, the ways that are “realistic,” the ways that are “safe,” the ways that “just are that way” are the only options?  I think that we would ALL have to admit, myself especially, that we don’t really believe that there is another way most of the time.  At least that we don’t live like there is another.  We go along to get along.  We buy into the lie that we should be scared of this or that or the other thing. We buy into systems of violence and oppression, themselves manifestations of the taint of sin and brokenness in the world. We buy the lie that this is just the way the World works.  Well maybe it is the way the world works, but it isn’t the way God’s Kingdom works!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Over the last year, we have been witness to extreme acts of violence and sin.  Just in the last week the whole world has been rocked by explosions and death.  However, we have also been witness to amazing, beautiful expressions of God’s Kingdom as well.  When ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians on a beach in Libya a little over a year ago, what we heard and saw from the Egyptian Christian community was not fear and violence or threats of it, but earnest, heartfelt prayers for their enemies and invitations to the terrorists to come and sit in their homes and break bread.  When Dylan Roof shot and killed 9 people at Mother Emanuel AME we saw not only from the families, but from the congregation and from the City of Charleston an amazing expression of the potential of God’s transforming grace.

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

But let us be clear.  These examples shine out to us because they are so rare, so exceptional.  We have been conditioned by the world to demand retribution, more violence, more pain, more brokenness.  But what if we didn’t?  What if we lived liked we truly believed that another way was possible?  What if we got out there and truly lived like we were the God Movement, like we were the Kingdom of God?  What if, while we were living this, we invited people to join us, to live this way together, in community?  What if we lived and shared the “evangel” like we actually believed it?  If this community, if every person in this room and in this seminary went out and did this, if we challenged our congregations to do this, if we challenged the dominant paradigm by simply refusing to acknowledge it and by living according to the way that God has called us to, we would radically change Richmond and Henrico and Petersburg and Chester, and Central Virginia within a year.  This is the promise of the Kingdom!  This is our Hope!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

I am not saying that it would be easy, and in fact scripture tells us that it won’t.  Living into this radical hope has been known to the dangerous to your health.  The Christ we claim to follow preached that there was another way, and he was executed.  In this century, people such as Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero have preached this new way, and were killed for it.  The powers and principalities don’t want us to believe that there is another way.  They want to confine the God Movement to what is “safe” and “realistic” and to “the way that things are.”  But what if, instead of simply capitulating to the “way things are” instead of simply allowing business as usual to proceed in the temple, instead allowing our “sensitivity [to be] dulled by fast living and drunkenness and worry over making a living” what if instead of all of that, we lived in the expectant hope of the promise of God, in the promissory note of the resurrection?  What if the Kingdom of God is at hand?

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

May we live as if it is.



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