Tag Archives: Kingdom of God on earth

Merit Badge Religion

Most of us think that in some way we must do something to earn God’s love and forgiveness in order to become a Christian and qualify for heaven after we die.  I like to refer to that as “Merit Badge” religion and  it has little to do with what Jesus taught and lived.  When I was a Boy Scout leader, the boys who won the coveted rank of Eagle Scout were those who won a large number of  merit badges and completed a useful project for the community. It was what they knew and what they were able to do that won the award.  “Merit badge religion” is the result of the church being taken over by the American culture.   In this culture we attain superiority  by competing well: by being the most knowledgeable and highest educated; by improved morality and improved behavior.  We worship success in our culture  and believe that we get what  we deserve  by what we work hard for and therefore are worthy of.

We have transferred these same principles to our churches.  So to have the right informed knowledge about God; to  know the Bible through deep study  and to  behave morally and ethically according to its perceived teachings;   and to practice the  correct rites  of worship,  communion,  baptism,  plus giving our money in acts of  stewardship we will competitively qualify for heaven . We earn it.  It  is by what we know and what we do  that qualifies us.    And therein is the problem .Note I refer to it as “religion”  not “Christianity”

 

Our Christian spiritual lives and our churches are too often  based on this same sort of religious meritocracy. For example:

  • Being able to recite Bible memory verses
  • Going to church every Sunday
  • Attending Sunday school
  • Having the “correct beliefs” by understanding and defending the church’s creed
  • Being a “good” person
  •  Praying
  • Being baptized in the “correct” way
  • Taking communion
  • t These are admirable, I will concede, but none will earn us a seat at the Lord’s table in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus makes it very clear that ONLY GOD’S GRACE can do that and it has already been given to us.  All we need to do is be aware of God’s saving love and forgiveness.   It is freely given and there is no way God’s Grace can be earned.

The problem with “Merit Badge” Christianity is that it bases our entry into God’s Kingdom on what we do  and as the New Testament says and Jesus proclaimed it is all up to God’s grace.   “Merit Badge” Christianity says we must work, labor, sweat and learn, and do more to gain a place in God’s Kingdom. The opposite is true! God gives us his Kingdom. Nothing we do on our own can gain us entrance.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are the brightest and the best”

He said:   “Blessed are the poor for to them is the Kingdom of God”.

What the World Needs Now is Love

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love;  it’s the only thing there is just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  No, not just for some, but for everyone….”      Diana Ross sang this top selling record in 1965  as the nation was deep in the quagmire of Vietnam and  the nation was being ripped apart by internal disagreements over the war and the Civil Rights Movement.   This was the decade that saw the assassinations of  John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. It was a turbulent decade.   It was a violent decade.   It was much like the decade of which we are now a part.

I think about death a lot these days.   It seems it is always lurking around the corner and ready to pounce on me when I least expect it.  But I do not fear it because I believe in a loving God who will receive me as a father receives his child—with open arms and unconditional love.  In the Parable of the Prodigal  Son Jesus  told of this kind of love and in the Sermon on the Mount he tells how we need to love others unconditionally in the same way the Father (God) loved the Prodigal Son.  In the Sermon he says:

“You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and  hate your enemy’, but I say to you ‘ Love your enemies  and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your father in Heaven.'”   (Matthew 5:43-44)

In a world torn by hatred and violence; divided by LGBT gender issues; fearful of each othere to mass shootings and listening to the prophets of hatred and gloom;  where the rich grow richer at the expense of the poor; where children go to bed hungry every night while surrounded by plenty; torn by differences in religion and race—-the solution of love is the only solution.

The word ‘love’ in English can have many definitions.   The Greek and Hebrew languages do a much better job in defining a more precise meaning.   The  Hebrew word ‘hesed’ is always used to express God’s unconditional love for his children.  In Greek there are several words we translate in English as love.  

In Greek, eros is the word for physical love and sexual love.   philos is the Greek for love of brother and sister— love for family members.  The Greek word  agape is translated “love”  and is the Greek word for unconditional love—love that loves with no expectation of return.  This is unconditional love-— the love that loves us  regardless of any return of love by us.   This is the way God loves us and the way we are told by Jesus to love our neighbor in the Great Commandment:   You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul,mind and strength; and your neighbor as yourself.    

What we need in this fractured and torn world today is LOVE.   UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.    We have tried the other ways—power  as military  and economic might;   hatred;   exclusion by building walls to shut others out; arming everyone to carry guns. How have they worked for us?   Not well!    The only solution we have not tried is  Unconditional Love.  Such Love put into action is a mighty force.    Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahtma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, St. Francis of Assissi and Jesus all lived by this kind of love and were a mighty force for change in their time.  They practiced agape love to the best of their ability.   Although severely and hurtfully opposed by the forces of power, in some cases jailed, beaten, and finally for King and Ghandi assassination and death—their lives and work remain a testament that love in action is a mighty force to change a fractured and torn world toward a more just and peaceful world.

Love is important!  It is what the dangerous, hurting, hatred and strife-turned world needs.   Have you ever considered what would happen if the United States used even half of the billions and billions spent on maintaining our military might and developing the means to kill our enemies to show  our love to them ?   Never underestimate the power of love to change enemies to friends.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love;

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. 

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

No, not just for some, but for everyone!!

Needed: A Cultural Sea-Change

In a recent post written about the mass shootings in America and the escalation of violence in our country,  I wrote that every time there is a shooting those who are leaders—mayors, police chiefs, governors, all the way up to the President of the United States say:   “This is enough —this must stop.”  But it does not stop—-and it won’t  stop until there is a sea-change in our culture.  What might that cultural change look like?  I’d like for you to think about that with me today….

One of the major changes must be in how we define success.  WE MUST HAVE A NEW DEFINTION OF SUCCESS.

Our current culture defines success as power.  It scorns failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty.  It rejects all human vulnerability and seeks dominance instead.  Our definition and image of success is POWER.  Our political leaders in the current election are seeking to project a strong, secure, invulnerable image of power and control.   Dominance is what the American people are demanding and what Trump is exploiting  when he calls for “making America great again.”

What is the change in definition of success that we need?   It is found in the Gospel—the good news that Jesus brought, taught, and modeled for the world through his life and ministry.  We have thoroughly missed the gospel message about the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought as seen, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (cf Matthew 6 and 7).  He brought his message to a culture like ours that was dominated by Rome.   The Romans worshiped power and maintained their power with the sword and with fear.   They punished those who rebelled against them by hanging them on crosses for days until they died by sword.   They called Caesar their god and among the gods they worshiped were Jupiter—the god of the thunderbolt and Mars, the god of war.  Into this harsh and fearful world Jesus brought a different way to live as a society.

The Sermon on the Mount praises those who his society looked down on.   “Blessed are the Poor”  he taught—not the rich but those on the bottom of the social ladder.  “Blessed are the Meek”—not the strong and powerful but those who are weak and vulnerable.   “Blessed are the merciful” —those who show mercy to the poor and vulnerable rather than trampling them under foot.  “Blessed are the peacemakers”—not the generals who wage war but those who seek peace over the destructiveness of war and strife in society.   “You have heard that it was said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you;  Do not resist an evildoer  If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also.’ ”  You have heard that it was said ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I say go you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

This is a completely different way of living and turns strength and domination way on its head. It is a sea change in the status quo. True success would be a nation where poverty ceases to exist; where there are no children going to bed hungry; where people receive adequate medical care as needed; where laws are passed to benefit the common good and not just the few who are rich; where civility is practiced and people listen to each other; where color of skin and language spoken and religion practiced make no difference; where those who lead are servants of all and people are honored for strength of character and not for the money they make or the power they have;  where love and compassion are freely practiced; and where people help others rather than scorn their helplessness.

We today have thoroughly missed the point as did Jesus’ followers .   That is why Jesus says in Matthew 21:31 that “prostitutes, drunkards, and  tax collectors (hated in Jesus’ time) are getting into the Kingdom of God before the chief priests and religious elders.”

This is not an easy prescription to heal a hurting and hostile world. It will be achieved gradually and only as we turn to God for God’s strength and aid.  Jesus warned his disciples of the difficulty of the changes needed to live in the Kingdom of God on earth when he said “the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction and many take it,  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and few there there are who find it”. But Jesus also told his disciples “with God, nothing is impossible.”

Churches Survive by Saying “Yes” to new ideas

If you want your church to survive and see the next decade, figure out how to say “yes” to new ideas.  

I still receive newsletters from many of the churches I’ve served, and when I do I always check two things:  (1)  The calendar of activities ; and (2) the attendance figures, if given.

As I look at the calendar of activities I am saddened to see the same things that they were doing when I was there—10, 15, 20 years ago are being done today.   Same old, same old. year after year after year!   As I look at attendance, it is steadily dwindling for these churches  And church membership rolls are losing more to death than gaining new Christians.

There is a connection between the above two.  I believe that the only way to turn things around is for the church to start saying “yes” to some new ideas.    Actually the ideas are not new at all.    Somehow between now and the time Jesus spent on earth the church has forgotten the message that Jesus brought. Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming something new—The Kingdom of God on earth—a new and transforming way to live according to the principles found in the gospels  and his life and ministry that was summarized in the Beatitudes in Mathew.   His message about living in the Kingdom was a complete turning upside down of all the rules and regulations and greed and hatred and exclusiveness of the temple religion and the way people related to each other at his time —it was the  good news,  a gospel of love of God, neighbor.  Jesus message proclaimed that God loved all peoples, especially the poor, the widow, the outsider, the excluded, the homeless, the sick,, the mentally ill, foreigners, those at the “bottom of the barrel in society.

Those disciples and early Christians who followed Jesus attempted to live out these ideas.    That is why we read in Acts that religious authorities were complaining about them—“these Christians have turned the world upside down.

Groups of followers of Jesus gathered together and received the Holy Spirit and then were guided by that Spirit of God in all that they did.      They gathered often  to help each other live out the “Great Commandment” that Jesus said summed up all the foregoing law and prophets:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;  and your neighbor as yourself!.    They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts speaks often of Jesus’s followers being “filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples that  would come after he departed the earth and would be their counselor and their guide and inspiration.     Filled with this Spirit, from the day of Pentecost,    the disciples and the early church  did things that seemed impossible, for example—Peter, who had denied Jesus in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial,  boldly proclaimed  the resurrection and the Kingdom of God at the risk of his life.   Followers of Jesus  endured persecution and death in order to stay faithful to this one, Jesus, who had changed and transformed their lives, and worked together to spread the good news of God’s transforming love and the new way of living in the Kingdom of God.

What we need to say “yes”  to is the Holy Spirit.   We need to say “yes” to welcoming the Spirit into our lives individually.   We need churches who say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and look toward the Spirit’s guidance.   The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and churches  that are full of the Spirit of God are churches that survive and grow because they are not into religion but into transformation.

In a world full of challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion.   We cannot contain God’s Spirit in such boxes as we build and call churches.     They are not churches—-they are buildings.  Jesus did not come to build a new religion, but that is what we have done.   Instead of following him on the Way we have turned Jesus into a religion.   As Rohr says:   ” We worshipped Jesus instead of following Him on the same path”

Jesus transformed lives on a hillside,  in a house, wherever people gathered.   He reached out to ALL people and told them and showed them that God loved them not just in words but in actions showing the love..  To be loved by God is to be transformed, and to be transformed is to reach out to others in God’s name and seek their transformation.

When the church accepts the “new” idea that their mission is one of changing and transforming lives and sees it’s mission as one of changing and transforming the lives of those around them by  following the teachings and example of Jesus, then, as in Acts:   “the Lord will add daily to their numbersl

Congregations that are full of God’s Spirit are full of people!

Who Do YOU Say I Am?

 Scripture: Mark 8:11-28

The final command that Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension was to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded….” We call it the Great Commission.   Luke reports it a little differently in Acts 1:8 and has Jesus final words to his disciples being this:   “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Different words—same essential message.   Disciples of Jesus are to tell the world about Jesus the Risen Messiah and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

The basic question is:   How do we go a about doing that in a world that seems uninterested?

We’ve tried inviting them to church.   No longer works well in the present day of millennials and younger folks.

We’ve tried advertising.   Doesn’t seem to work well any more.

We’ve tried scaring people with messages of eHell and damnation and God’s wrath. They were just turned off– -We have found that and faith and fear doesn’t seem to fit together.   In fact, faith is what cancels out fearo.   And the scare tactics do not attract but drive peopleaway. They don’t have much to do with telling people about Jesus.   So scare tactics are counterproductive.

We’ve tried TV and the social media, including web-pages and blogs.   Not working.

We’ve tried changing our music and worship services to “contemporary” rather than “traditional”.   We’ve tried praise bands and loud music while throwing our pipe organs out the back door.   Turns out it didn’t make much of a difference.

 

WHAT WE HAVE NOT TRIED IS PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM OF GOD THE WAY JESUS DID IT.   What way is that?   Let’s look again at our text for today to answer that question:

            When Jesus asked his disciples the questions in the text today:   Who do people say I am?   And who do you say I am?—-it was near the close of his earthly ministry.   These disciples had followed him, lived with him on a daily basis,   ate with him, shared ministry with him, listened to his teachings.   In the gospel of Mark, Jesus does not ever refer to himself as the Messiah.

            Jesus had kept a low profile on being the Messiah up to this point.   He wasn’t interested in self-promotion and big advertisements in the local papers & Tv..   He published no bumper stickers to place cars advertising who he was.   He hadn’t handed out t-shirts or hats with his face on them.   Jesus, according to Mark’s account, had kept a strict “don’t tell a soul” policy. Jesus referred to himself in Mark as “the son of man”.  

So Peter’s response was based on one thing only—-his experience of JesusWhat Jesus did.   How he acted.  What he taught by his daily life.     From his daily experience of being Jesus follower, Peter discovered who Jesus was—-from his actions more than his words.   When Peter said:   “You are the Messiah!”   it was based on Jesus actions—not just his words. It was based on what Peter had seen as he followed Jesus.

            When Jesus heard Peter’s words, he then began to explain to Peter and the disciples what it meant to be the Messiah   Peter still didn’t fully understand.   He saw Jesus as the messiah—but according to Peter’s definition of “messiah.”   What does “messiah” mean? It harkens back to the Jewish understanding of an “anointed one”.   Anointed by God for a special purpose.   Peter got the word right but substituted his own definition of messiah for the one that Jesus was. It is the Hebrew word for “Christ” (christos) in Greek.

            In the O.T. “messiah” was used to refer to Kings as God’s anointed ones.   As such, in many people’s minds that meant one who God anointed as a conquering hero like David, flushed with success.   But Isaiah gives the word a “different meaning” as he describes the Messiah as being a “suffering servant”.   For Jesus, the “suffering servant” is the vision that is given in Isaiah was the one he sought to fulfill by his life and work.  

           I think in far too many of our churches today we see Jesus in a third way that we have concocted.   Jesus has become a religious market product in today’s world.   There are “Jesus Loves you” smiley beanbag babies; little plastic cross-shaped containers filled with bubbles;   religious pencils; “Jesus is the Light” key chains; “Jesus Lives” rolls of stickers; Lamb of God resin lambs; God erases sin erasers; religious tattoos; pens, posters, etc.   There are bumper stickers saying:

Warning¨ In case of Rapture this car will be driverless; or

“Got God?”

Eternity: smoking or non-smoking?

Jesus is coming, everyone look busy.

There are billboard signs beside our roads advertising Jesus.

 We think we are spreading the word about Jesus with these, but really the only result is they serve to make money for those who sell them. That is because they –do not define the Messiah, God’s suffering servant, God’s anointed   Is it any wonder that people are turned off by all of this?   His “marketing approach” is not a good one for telling the world about Jesus and Gode.  

 We don’t seem to be doing a very good job of telling people about Jesus and God with all the media and paraphanalia we are distributing.

 

Increasingly we hear from the younger generations but more and more from the older generations, that they are searching for God in our churches and not finding God there. They want to deepen their relationship with God.   They say they are “spiritual” not “religious”.   Remember the statistic I gave you last week—-90 of churchgoing adults report that they have never experienced God in church!

So What Do We Do??  

            There are two ways that we can get the word out about Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one of God and the gospel or good news that Jesus brought to humankind about God and his Kingdom:

            The first is by word.   If you were asked what the gospel is, what would your answer be?   If you were asked why it is good news for all people, how would you explain it?? Would you say that Jesus was sent from God with the revelation that God loves all of his creation and that God is not like some person “out there somewhere” but is present in nature and in our daily lives—-whether we recognize God’s presence or not.   Would we say that Jesus revealed a God of love?   Would we say that God is a forgiving God and is like a Father to his children?

            We have to know what we believe about Jesus and God before we can effectively communicate about them to others?

            The second way, and best way is by how we live in God’s Kingdom on earth that Jesus came to proclaim.  

            The sermon on the mount in Matthew communicates “the way” of Jesus.   That’s how we are supposed to be living   Nothing spreads the word better about Jesus’   proclamation of the Kingdom of God on earth and his revelation of God as a God of love and forgiveness than when we as his followers live according to the rules of that Kingdom.     We do this by loving the unlovely; by going the extra mile; by turning the other cheek; by feeding the hungry; by sheltering the homeless; by tending the ill and visiting the dying.

The early church spread rapidly because its followers practiced their beliefs and didn’t just preach!!

As Francis of Assisi said to his monks:   preach constantly, using words only when necessary.

 

I want to close with this story about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time you sped up and went by a car that had cut in on you too quickly and gave him “the universal sign of human friendship”.   Then at the next stoplight you banged your hands on the steering wheel in frustration and honked because the car in front of you didn’t leave quickly enough when the light turned green, then you sped by someone you thought was going to slow and yelled obscenities at them.    

            The lady said—“But officer, none of those are illegal.   I still don’t know why you stopped me!”

            The officer replied:   “Ma’am, I saw the bumper sticker on the back of your car that said “God loves you and so do I”   and I thought that this must be a stolen car.

 

OUR ACTIONS SPEAK SO LOUDLY AT TIMES THAT OTHERS CAN’T HEAR WHAT WE ARE SAYING!   Amen.  

 


 

 

 

 

Crazy Churches!!

One of the things that Jesus was accused of was being crazy. Here was a homeless, self-made rabbi from Nazareth, with no authentic credentials from a Rabbinic school, who  was challenging the religious leaders by his actions that flaunted the laws of the Torah by reaping on the Sabbath and healing the sick on the Sabbath.   This man was  advocating for the poor by speaking against the economic domination of the poor by the rich in his society.      He was touching the “untouchable lepers” and healing them.  He was restoring sight to the blind. He was referring to himself as Son of God, which was one of the specific titles of the Roman Emperor.   He was healing people and casting out demons and talking about a Kingdom of God that he taught and modeled in his life.  That Kingdom of God  was completely different from the present conditions—it was  ruled by God and not by the emperor or king.  And the Kingdom of God was one of justice and fairness to all.    I really believe if Jesus came and  said and did similar things today in our world we would think he was crazy also.   You see, when anyone is truly filled with the Spirit of God as Jesus was, they will always disturb and disrupt our sane and structured world by their words and actions.   Jesus was filled with the Spirit and he did exactly that!

By what he said and by his actions Jesus was drawing an uncomfortable amount of attention to himself.   As a result,  two groups —those closest to him (his family) — and those most threatened by him (scribes and Pharisees)  began to ask the same question:   “Is this guy crazy?”  “Has he lost his mind?”   In the third chapter of Mark we read  that  Jesus’ family showed up while he was teaching large crowds and asked to see him.   They had come seeking “to restrain him, for people were saying ‘he’s gone out of his mind!'”   (Mark 3:21)

The other group, the scribes and Pharisees accused him of being demon-possessed and doing his work through the prince of demons—Beelzebul.   In their minds he was crazy and dangerous and should be put away.

It makes me wonder what would happen if the church, referred to as the “body of Christ”  by the Apostle Paul would go “crazy” like the one who is their head—Jesus the Christ?    And then I ask myself—-what would that “crazy church look like?”    What if the church today embraced the craziness of the gospel as shown in the life and teachings of Jesus?   What if,  rather than worrying about fitting in with the society they are apart of, the church didn’t care what society thought of them and instead were bearers of the message that Jesus brought through their actions?   What would that church look like?

What if some of the churches sold their beautiful buildings and sound and projection equipment, their comfortable air conditioning and heat, and their padded pews and utilized  the money to aid the poor, to minister to the sick and outcasts of society,  as Jesus did to his own society.   What if churches began to meet in   old buildings downtown that were vacant so that they could encourage each other and spend their time serving the homeless, the poor, etc instead of spending their time keeping up their building and paying huge utility bills?    Crazy!!!

What if the church started ministries that did more than entertain the children and educate the adults, but that pursued the prostitutes and help them out of their business by working with them to rid themselves of their addictions.  What if the church focused on rescuing addicts with no regard for their own church’s reputation?    Crazy!!!!

What if the church used their buildings and moneys to feed and house the homeless,  to offer clothing to the poor,  to provide dental and medical care to those who can’t afford it?      Crazy!!!

What if the church became politically active and demanded changes in the economic and political domination systems of our day, where the few dominate the many economically and politically.   What if churches descended on legislatures en masse  at state and national levels and demanded specific justice and fairness for all and not just for the privileged few?   What if the church demanded new laws that paid workers a living wage as a minimum wage?   What if the churches demanded that laws  treat the indigent with respect?     Crazy!!!

What if the church sent its members out into the community to pick up and bring to the church for worship those wandering the streets in their city on Sunday morning?  What if they gave them a special place down front, and then  invited them to their individual homes for dinner after church? Or to a fellowship dinner at their church?    Crazy!!!

If churches started doing the above, our society would think they were “out of their minds”, “crazy”  and just plain nuts!    May God give the church the will to be as crazy as Christ!!   Amen

Post-Resurrection Christians in a Pre-Christian World

 

Text:     Luke 3: 1-6

 

Charles Dickens began his novel about the French Revolution:  A Tale of Two Cities, with the words:    “These were the best of times, these were the worst of times….”

Luke, the gospel that is every historians favorite, might have began his gospel with similar words.     If we could go back and see how life was lived in those times we might agree that they were “the worst of times”, while the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, signaled the coming of the  “best of times” with the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed.

Into the  “worst of times” came John the Baptizer—-preaching a “message of repentance” to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  We might ask how  a “message of repentance” prepared the way for Jesus?    Was it because people were so bad and sinful?    No—–it is because we misunderstand the word “repentance” these days.   We have come to understand it as “feeling sorry for having disobeyed God” or “regretting the bad things we have done.   That was not the meaning of repentance in John’s day.   In the Greek the word is metanoia— and it’s meaning is “turning around”.    John was urging people to be willing to turn around and go in a different direction—the direction Jesus was coming to proclaim— to turn toward the Kingdom of God.    The Kingdom of God was breaking in on earth—-this Kingdom is not “heaven” or “pie in the sky bye and bye”—-the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was a new way of living—-a very different way of living.   We see glimpses of   the way of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed  throughout  the gospels .   Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God set  the business of living in this world in the conventional way on its head in many ways: 

  In God’s Kingdom, Jesus said:

  • Blessed are the poor”—-not the rich.
  • Blessed are the meek”—-not the powerful. The meek will inherit the earth instead of the conventional expectation that the powerful and rich will do so and then pass it on to their heirs.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—-they, not the army generals as in Jesus time, will be called children of God
  • You have heard ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WHAT THE WORLD WOULD BE LIKE IF GOD RULED IN EVERYONE’S LIFE.

These are descriptions Jesus gives and many more of the way life in the Kingdom of God will be different.

The gospel writer, Luke, carefully dated the coming of the Christ by referring to who ruled at the time.   Let’s start our examination of “bad times in Palestine” by looking at those who ruled:

  • Emperor Tiberius:   The stepson of the great Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. He was never accepted by other Roman leaders because he was not considered a natural heir. He was neither well-loved nor respected.
  • Pontius Pilate:   had risen from a “middle-management” position to become procurator of Judea in 26 A.D.   He had a gift for antagonizing his Jewish subjects. He knew his hold on Judea was tenuous, so Pilate made up for that weakness by periodically unleashing his soldiers on the citizenry, crucifying hundreds at a time of those who challenged him.   He was feared and despised.
  • Herod Antipas:   A dangerous ruler, designated “King of the Jews” but ruling only with the power of Rome behind him.   He spent a lot money on building cities and pagan temples to impress the Romans—levying high taxes on the Jewish peasants to pay for them. . A paranoid ruler—-feeling everyone was out to get him—he murdered many of those around him he suspected of treachery or even those who spoke out against his evil ways such as John the Baptist whom he beheaded at this wife’s request and gave the head to her on a platter.
  • Caiphas and Annas:   Caiphas was Annas’ son-in-law and together their loyalties lay more with maintaining their shared place of power and wealth they had won from the Romans who appointed them rather than loyalty to God and God’s people.

These rulers in these “worst of times” for the Jews ruled over a culture that:

  • was organized into political entities that included city officials, territorial governors, and heads of state—-all of whom drew their support from the high taxes levied on the peasants
  • Was organized around the worship of many pagan gods.
  • Was designed to support the political and economic power of those who were rich and powerful who lived by different rules and standards than the common people.   Among those rich and powerful were the temple priests and the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  • A culture where about 1 to 2% the population of the Empire were rich and powerful; those who worked for and supported them about 5%  and the other 93% were peasants living a subsistence life or below—just enough to barely live on and survive.   [When Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying—–“Give us this day our daily bread” and “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” he was speaking of the two most constant worries of the peasant class—-food and freedom from debt. If you had no food, you starved.   If you couldn’t pay your debts, including your high taxes, you were thrown in prison and if you had land it was seized by your creditor to satisfy the debt.
  • A Culture where the religious structure and leaders worked in concert with the political/governmental power of Rome to maintain their wealth and power and carry out their temple agenda that kept them wealthy.
  • A culture where many people were lost and perished every day—a violent culture.

 

DOES IT SOUND FAMILIAR?   The similarities to our country today are apparent:

  • We also are a country where the rich and powerful live by different rules and standards than the common people and where those with money and power have become popular status figures.
  • A country where 10% of the people have 60% of the total income with the other 40% of the money divided among the other 90% of the population.
  • A country that worships many pagan gods—-we just call them by different names—-money, power, pleasure, comfort, sports, etc.
  • A country where people with no conscience kill and rob on a daily basis.   Where life is cheap.   A country whose children kill and maim their teachers and fellow classmates. A country where multiple murders are committed in movie theaters and at marathons. We live in a country where violence is commonplace.
  • A country where the wealth of a Beverly Hills exists in stark contrast to the filth and poverty of a Watts in the same city of Los Angeles.
  • A country where the lonely and the aged, the poor and the mentally challenged, the children with no access to health care and not enough to eat, the homeless, and the misfits of society remain largely unseen and uncared about.   Programs to help them, such as affordable health care and extension of Medicaid benefits are the first ones cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.   We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to reduce the federal deficit—–while huge corporations that contribute to re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits they do not need.
  • We live in Kansas—-also a place where children go to bed hungry, without health care, and are homeless even though both parents work—-but for indecently low wages that can’t support their families—and we still support those who have made the lives of these vulnerable people worse and fail to speak out about the lack of fairness and the injustice of the wage system that gives business CEO’s 250% higher wages than those who work for them.
  • A place where religious leaders are too often in close collusion with political and governmental powers in order to get their limited negative agendas taken care of legally.
  • This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary to stay in power, whether right or wrong does not matter, —-like modern day Herod’s and Pilates

THE SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP GROUP OF MY CHURCH RECENTLY DISCUSSED OUR NEED FOR A VISION FOR THE CHURCH.   SURELY PART OF THAT VISION MUST BE A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS LIKE THAT OF JOHN THE BAPTIST SAYING “TURN AROUND FOR THERE IS A BETTER WAY THAN THIS WAY OF GREED AND SUFFERING THAT YOU ARE WALKING”—-IT IS THE WAY OF JESUS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD THAT JESUS PROCLAIMED.” 

  IT IS THE MISSION OF OUR POST-RESURRECTION CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY TO PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD THROUGH WHAT WE DO AND WHO WE ARE AS GOD’S PEOPLE.    We need to show them that better way through the lives we lead as Christians. .

There are many people wondering in the wilderness of drug abuse, of broken relationships, of too little income, of homelessness.   There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in the wilderness are young and old, rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy. They are trying to raise families in this world where even the schools are unsafe for their children. They are not aware of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.   They are waiting for someone to show them, not tell them, a different way—-a way that will give them and their children hope and happiness and a new beginning. They are waiting for us to show them by our lives how to follow the Great Commandment of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.   That is a vision for the church—-To live the Great Commandment in the community that surrounds us.

For people are wandering around in this wilderness today, having lost their moral, emotional and economic way—–yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.   They are yearning for Jesus to show them the way—-a different way of living that leads to a society where all of God’s people are treated equally, fairly, and lovingly.   Jesus proclaimed that way.   He lived that way.   THE CHURCH IS JESUS’ BODY AND NEEDS TO SHOW THAT WAY TODAY.    AND WE CAN’T JUST “TALK ABOUT IT” WE NEED TO “WALK THE WAY!”

Listen to what one of the Millenial Generation wrote to you and me….Post-Resurrection Christians……

Do you know, Do you Understand

That you represent Jesus to me?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you treat me with gentleness,

It raises the question in my mind that maybe Jesus is gentle, too?

Maybe he isn’t someone who laughs when I’m hurt?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you listen to my questions and you don’t laugh,

I think, “What if Jesus is interested in my questions, also?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict and scars from your past

That I think, “Maybe I am just a regular person

Instead of a bad, no-good person who deserves abuse?”

 

If you care, I think maybe God cares—

And then there’s this flame of hope that burns inside me,

And for a while, I’m afraid to breathe

Because it might go out.

 

Do you know, do you understand

That your words are His words?

Your face, His face to someone like me?

 

Please be who you say you are.

Please, God, don’t let this be another trick.

Please, let this be real.

Please….

 

Do you know, do you understand

That you represent Jesus to me?