Sunday 7th August 2022
Sermon at 8am & 10am
Luke 12:32-40, Isaiah 1:11,15-17
Heavenly Father, open our minds and our hearts to your word and to your presence, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
One of my habits is to watch the 10 o’clock evening news on TV, although that’s possibly not the best programme to watch before retiring for the night. As my gran would have said, “there’s a lot of doom and gloom around”. And yes, there certainly is a lot to be concerned about, and quite rightly so – terrorism, war, the economy, global warming, poverty, Covid, and I’ve not even mentioned politics yet. It’s impossible to escape – walk the streets, drive around, signs are everywhere. It’s on the tv, radio and social media – newscasters proclaim the bad news, information updates flash on our web browsers, spam emails announce that we are doomed if we don’t buy the right products immediately. If we weren’t worried before, we are certainly encouraged by the media and our culture to be afraid now.
Yet into our fears, across centuries of human experience, Jesus’ teaching offers extraordinary words of comfort in an increasingly threatening world. “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Lk 12:32). “Do not be afraid little flock…” – this is not a God who, after creating the universe, sits back and dispassionately watches it all unfold. This is a God who attends to sparrows and lilies, a God whose concern for humankind extends to the very hairs on our head, a God whose desire is to give the treasures of heaven.
So, I ask you – what does it mean to be given the Kingdom? Have you ever sat down and really thought about that?
Perhaps easily overlooked is that four letter word “give”. Jesus does not say sell you the Kingdom, he doesn’t say trade you the Kingdom, rather he says it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. God gives the Kingdom, it is his gift to us – this cannot be bought, or bartered, we can never earn it or merit it. Perhaps the biggest questions are what is this bounteous gift, what do we and what should we understand as the Kingdom of God, and how do we recognise it?
When asked when the Kingdom of God is coming, Jesus replies in Luke 17:21 that it is already “among you”. Yet he also speaks of a future time, Mark tells us that at the Last Supper Jesus spoke of looking forward to drinking new wine with his disciples in the Kingdom of God (Mk 14:25). In a series of parables in Mark 4 and Matthew 5 Jesus explains more about the “mystery of the Kingdom of God”. It isn’t visible to all, but only to those with God-given eyes to see. We are told that God has already established his rule in the coming of Jesus, yet it is still to work itself out to its full potential. In the meantime, it remains a secret, a paradox, rejected by some, but for others the one great treasure for which they will sell all they have.
I have not personally checked this, but one commentary states that Jesus mentions the Kingdom of God 126 times in the Gospels, so, regardless of the accuracy of the number itself, Jesus clearly wanted to draw attention to it.
The phrase “Kingdom of God” isn’t about an entity, a “thing” called the Kingdom, but rather it is about God himself, that God is King. To enter the Kingdom of God is to come under his rule, to accept him as King. As Jesus’ teaching announces the arrival of the Kingdom of God, we are shown that the Kingdom refers more to a power than to a place, more to a reign than to a realm. Perhaps “kingship of God” or “reign of God” is a better way to describe it.
God offers us this gift, to enter into his kingship, to come under his reign, yet we have been given the freedom of choice – we are not compelled to accept, it is freely offered to us. Perhaps this gift should come with a warning a health warning, because God’s kinship divides people, even in the Anglican Communion. The Sermon on the Mount might be described as a manifesto for life in the Kingdom. When Jesus instructs his disciples on the revolutionary values by which he expects them to live, it’s the phrase “Kingdom of God” that repeatedly sums up the alternative lifestyle. His teaching leads up to the paradox where the power structures of this world are contrasted with a regime in which the first are last and the last are first. I found it interesting that in his 2nd keynote address at the Lambeth Conference, Justin Welby stated that revolution should be part of the institutional life of those who proclaim Christ, and that this Christian revolution must be one of mercy and forgiveness, generosity and engagement.
During his lifetime, Jesus gathered around himself a community of followers who were taught and expected to live out the principles of God’s Kingdom. These followers, as they made new disciples, could eventually demonstrate God’s will for the wider world concerning human life in community and society. God rules, but he rules through his Son, and in turn through those who have chosen to accept the gift of his kingship. An important point to emphasise perhaps is that the Kingdom does not equate to the Church. The Church is the group of believers in all ages over whom God reigns, who are charged to demonstrate to the world the presence of his Kingdom.
How should we strive to live our lives, to demonstrate to the world that we are members of God’s Kingdom? Well, as Isaiah has told us this morning, we must give of ourselves; there is no point in offering bulls as sacrifices if we ignore those in need. Isaiah sets a good example with his list of specifics that the people of God should do if they wish to learn to do good. Writers of best-selling books decrying the evils of religion may not have noticed that the bible is ahead of them. The first and most furious critic of religion is God. The present attack in Isaiah is on the illogical and bizarre disconnection of people praising God while desecrating God’s commandment to love.
Our gospel passage ends with the call for us to be constantly on the alert for the presence of God. Yet, who can manage to be ever on the alert and never dozing off? Is there a healthier, more practical and perhaps more fruitful understanding of watchful waiting? Being “on high alert” and “being asleep at the watch” are not our only alternatives. Too much unremitting attention in seeking something can be counterproductive. Certainly scientists, artists, composers – even preachers – testify that “breakthroughs” of insight often come when (and sometimes only when) they’ve “taken a break” from extended periods of concentration. Perhaps we should nurture what has been termed “disciplined awareness over time”, and rather than constantly looking for something to happen, we should position ourselves to be surprised. Through this type of awareness fresh insight can come, while, and from where, we are not looking. As Rowen Williams beautifully put it, we are invited to know that “creation around you, within you, the creation that you are, the creation that you are part of, is all God acting, God loving, God inviting, here and now”. And we accept that invitation by getting out of the way: rather than looking for anything to happen, we open ourselves to what is always happening, to what is so close, so intimate, that to look for it is to overlook it. It is all a gift, a matter of grace.
As the 14th century Dominican Meister Eckhart is quoted as saying “Our joy and peace comes through encountering God naked, directly, without trying to clothe God with our ideas and concepts, without placing ourselves in the way”.
So, let us be ready to expect the presence of God, to have faith in his promises, to give of ourselves, to be revolutionaries for God, and in all humility to accept the gift of his kingdom.