Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Building the Kingdom of God, now!

Advent is about the arrival of God into history
An arrival thousands of years ago
And about an arrival yet to come.

It is about God arriving and dramatically setting right a world gone wrong. 

We have the clear message in so many biblical passages,  that the way things currently are will not do.  That what is must give way to something else.  Stories from the prophets, Jesus, and even the people like Paul and Pete  all insist, that all is not right in our societies and that something has to change, radically.  The transformation anticipated is a monumental and all-encompassing upheaval. 

New heaven and a new earth!
Radical transformation

But, are all these passages “future talk” ?
Is all of this talk about the coming of the Christ, and the coming of the Kingdom of God simply a matter of something that will happen in the future, and take us, essential, out of this world?

Let’s think about this new age
And about the Biblical images of this new age.

First, these powerful images are all about transformation.
Think about Isaiah (40),  and that rough ground becoming level,  about old wine becoming new wine, swords being made into pruning hooks.  Think about injustice giving way to justice, and greed giving way to generosity

The new age is about radical change, about what is not working, being made right

We are told that at some point God is going to say “enough” to anything that threatens the peace (shalom) – that hinders what God intends for the world….The time will come when those things will go away.  Not only will the bad things go away, but the new, good, peaceful things, will become the norm.

But here is the second thing  it is important to notice.  For Jesus, and the people who followed him, the Kingdom, the new life, was going to be HERE.  They did not talk about a future life somewhere else, in a mystical place called heaven with gold streets and harps and robes… they anticipated a future where THIS world would be restored, renewed, redeemed - and there would be shalom on earth

This leads to the third thing we need to notice.  Not only is the Kingdom coming, it is near, it is emerging now, and God’s people are called to be engaged in the process of pulling that future into the present - the Kingdom of God into the Kingdom of earth.

Remember the rich young ruler, who asked how he could participate in the age to come?  Jesus told him.  “Sell all you have and give to the poor!”  Jesus took the question about life then, and made it about the kind of life the man was living now.  In short he dragged the future into the present.

Jesus often uses the phrase the Kingdom of Heaven.  But the reality is that Jesus, who as a Jew would not say the same of God, was probably substituting heaven for God.  So he was really talking about the Kingdom of God. And what Jesus tells us is that the time will come when earth and heaven… when the Kingdom of Earth and the Kingdom of God, will be in the same place… will be the same thing.  They will be one.  

People, this impacts how we live!!!  For many people faith is fire insurance.  They have faith and do what they so when they die and go to the other place it will be OK.  But there is a problem with this.  Rob Bell says it this way, “If we think only of that heaven, up there out there some place.  That other place… if we believe that we are going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world?” 

This is why there is a dearth of social concern among many Christians. They are focused on someplace else, and have functionally abandoned this world.  What they do in this world is only for the purpose of getting them to that someplace else.

This does not make Christians great citizens of the world.  Oh they get excited about a few pet issues.  But to a great degree many of the great social and economic ills are simply not on the radar screen.  Spirituality is all about the soul, and that other place where the soul goes.

But if Jesus really means what he says, than taking heaven, and the age to come, seriously means taking this world seriously. Because we have to believe that God has not abandoned human history, but is actively at work in it, and at some point is going to transform it -   then we don’t do what we do for the sake of heaven, for the sake our sure arrival at another place.  We do what we do, as God’s people for the sake of the Kingdom, which is also here…. In this world.

Think about it this way.  Around a billion people in the world today do not have access to clean water.  People will have access to clean water in the age to come, so working for clean water access for all now is working toward the age to come.

Again, our job as Christians is to drag the future into the present.”  It is trying, as we can, to bring heaving to earth right now.  A very biblical concept.  Remember that thing called the Lord’s Prayer, which we pray every Sunday?  What do we say….every week?  Your will be done “on earth as it is in heaven”

You can’t talk heaven and neglect earth.  You can’t focus on the earth and lose sight of heaven… they go together.  I really like this phrase from one author.  Our eschatology shapes our ethics.  Eschatology is about last things.  Ethics are about how we live.  Our eschatology, our view that heaven and earth will become one, should instruct how we behave in this world now.

So, we are to pursue the life of heaven now, anticipating the day, when earth and heaven are one.
Here is a list Bell comes up with of things that belong in the kingdom.  That reflect kingdom living.
Honest business
Sustainable living
Making a home
Tending a garden. 
These are all sacred tasks now to be done now because they will all be part of the kingdom to come!!

Being greedy
Hording resources, while allowing others to go hungry our without medical care
Nurturing hatred
Allowing injustice
Ignoring the vulnerable…

None of these are OK if we are living in anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they are in heaven…So we should be working to make them go away.

That is why I am sad when I think about the 1% and the .1% who control and horde so much of our wealth.  That is not kingdom living.  That won’t be in the kingdom.
But I am joyful
I am hopeful
When I think of all of you who are working, and living, in anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they are in heaven

I am hopeful, when I think of the things happening in Lostine, Oregon
the market,
The community garden
The community kitchen
Of sewing rooms
And the wellness program

I am hopeful when I see people working to raise money for the poor
And giving money to the poor
When I see wood being cut, split and delivered

I am hopeful when people are giving,
And loving,
And generous,
And forgiving,
When people have mercy on the wounded
And seek to help the vulnerable….

Because in this way we celebrate advent every day of our lives
And we drag the future into the present
And we begin to build the Kingdom of God

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