kingdom

Prayer as Participation

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By Linda Rex

Last night I watched one of the episodes of “A.D.” in which the disciples were gathered together praying on Pentecost. The movie showed them repeating over and over the words of the prayer Jesus gave them.

I found this quite disturbing because I have a really hard time believing after walking and talking with Jesus for three years they had nothing else to say to God other than this. Surely they witnessed many conversations between Jesus and his heavenly Father. And the intimacy in that relationship could not have been hidden from them, especially when Jesus spoke about how the Father was in him and he was in the Father.

Inherent within this prayer though is the one lesson Jesus taught his disciples over and over: The kingdom of God was not going to be the kingdom they expected it to be. In other words, the kingdom to come would not be a restoration of the human kingdom of Israel, but rather a kingdom formed without hands—God’s kingdom of heaven established on earth through the Messiah Jesus, an eternal kingdom of divine rule, of God’s will being done, in every part of our human existence.

Sometimes when it is hard to find anything to say to God, it is helpful to be able to recite a prayer from memory. This is why these written prayers, or the prayers given to us in the Bible, are helpful. They provide a way for us to reach out to God in some way, even when our hearts are resisting the relationship.

In truth, prayer is an integral part of our relationship with God. Praying, in whatever form it may take, is our conversation with God. It can be as natural as breathing, as we go through our day and include God in every moment. It can be a spiritual discipline, being expressed in many forms both privately and publically, in which we take our concerns to God and intercede on behalf of others.

But in prayer, we must always remember the direction Jesus gave us—it is God’s kingdom and God’s will we seek to be done here on earth. In other words, we release our personal expectations and desires and allow God to do whatever he believes is best in the situation we are praying about.

God has a lot of unique ways in which he deals with problems. We tend to take a pretty direct approach, asking God to fix things and fix people. But often instead of changing the thing we think needs to be changed in a situation, God opts to change something completely different. And in doing so, he succeeds in bringing about what really matters—the transformation of human hearts and the restoration of relationships.

God’s heart is expressed through and in loving relationships. It is his nature to build, heal and restore. Sometimes God will tear something down so he can build it up again in a new way, or so he can build something entirely different. His wisdom surpasses us so much—we need to trust him to do the right and loving thing in every situation. We need to believe that he is indeed good and that his heart is full of everlasting love and grace for us.

The main thing that the disciples were doing that day of Pentecost was waiting. They were waiting on God, on Jesus to send the Holy Spirit from the Father. Their participation in what God was doing through Jesus was prayer. They prayed and they waited. When the Holy Spirit came and Jesus began to give them direction, then they acted.

Because they were living and walking in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the empowering, transforming Holy Spirit was made evident in a dramatic way whenever the disciples prayed. Their prayers were effective as they were prayed in accordance with the will and purposes of God. They prayed as Jesus directed them to pray and as they were led by the Holy Spirit to pray. So when they prayed, awesome things happened.

When we pray today in agreement with God through Jesus and in the Spirit, things happen—God works in new ways. Through prayer, we participate in God’s work in the world. We are included in his missionary work of bringing his kingdom to earth and accomplishing his will in the world. May we each be diligent in prayer, participating by the Spirit in Jesus’ perfect relationship with the Father, and seeking God’s will to be done in all things through Jesus our Lord and by his Spirit. Amen.

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’” Mt 6:9–13 NASB

Death of a Kingdom

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Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex
Stream Scene from trip to AR, taken by Linda Rex

By Linda Rex

I was reading in some Karl Barth tomes this morning and got caught up in his writings regarding the kingdom of God. I agree with Barth that if any of us truly caught the vision of the kingdom Jesus brought and illustrated for us here on earth and began to live it, we would turn the world upside down—or more likely, end up dead because we so radically opposed all that society stands for.

Indeed, as Barth pointed out, it would be almost suicidal in our society to live in the way Jesus lived—always turning the other cheek, living free to move about rather than owning things, caring for the outcasts and rejects, and refusing to conform to the religious and cultural traditions of his people. He honored the governments and institutions of his time, but at the same time, he never yielded up his position as Lord of the cosmos and his right to rewrite the God-concepts and societal norms of his peers.

Thinking about all this makes me wonder if we have ever truly come to grips with what it means that Jesus came to this earth as the king of a divine kingdom. What does it mean that someone who is other than us became one of us, lived as we did, and yet lived and died in a way none of us would or could live and die, so that one day we could share the world he came from?

Seriously, that almost sounds like a script from “Ancient Aliens” (no criticism or ridicule intended). Indeed, while his followers were anxiously preparing for the invasion of a political kingdom, Jesus had something totally different in mind. While they were thinking in terms of positions of power and who would be the greatest, Jesus was hammering out what it would take to transform a human being into the image of God he or she was meant to reflect. Jesus was working on a transformation of our very being while everyone else was thinking about getting ahead in the human sphere.

Our culture today for the most part is wrapped around our marketplace, whatever form that may take. What we own, or what we want to own and how we will pay for it, consumes our attention. Our culture is money and power driven, whether we like it or not.

I can almost see Jesus with his scourge chasing out our cash cows and other financial obsessions. It has infected the church, just as it did many centuries ago, and has created so much grief in the process. How often we have had to be pained by the sight of another Christian leader infected with greed, falling from grace! It breaks my heart, especially since I know the capability of my own human heart to fall prey to that disease.

I’m thrilled to see and hear that God through the Spirit is calling people everywhere into relationship. Relationships should always supersede the demands of the marketplace. If we can keep the reality of who we are and who we were created to reflect foremost in our minds, then surely all the rest will fall into perspective.

Maybe, instead of constantly collecting more things for ourselves, we could follow the lifestyle of a friend of mine. Her policy was that whenever she was given something, or something nice came her way, it was because God had someone in mind for her to give it to. Believe me—I saw this in action and it was a beautiful sight to see!

This is like the kingdom of God as expressed in the early Christian church. The believers shared so that no one was in need. No, it wasn’t a communal society. But it was a fellowship, a communion. They loved and cared for one another so much and so well that no one had to go without. In the process, others noticed and became caught up in the experience with them.

Jesus’ effort to change the world was accomplished through the changing of our very being as humans. His work through his life, death, resurrection and ascension has been and is life-changing. The kingdom of God is a kingdom that crosses all human kingdoms and cultural boundaries. It is open to each and every person because the gift of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus sent to transform human hearts and minds, is available to everyone.

Perhaps if we were less willing to content ourselves with the trappings of this human life and sought instead to embrace the gift of radical grace in the Holy Spirit, we might find ourselves experiencing in fuller measure the kingdom of God now in our lives and in our culture. Bonhoeffer, in his book “Ethics” talked about how important it is that the body of Christ influence its culture and the government of the world in which it lives. We don’t try to create a theocracy so much as we live out the kingdom of God in our being, and that living it out in all we think, say and do will dramatically transform the world around us.

The path to the death of our human kingdoms and the darkness in our world is the path that Jesus took on our behalf. Through death and resurrection, Jesus ended the kingdom of darkness and in its place, inaugurated the kingdom of God.

At some point we’re going to need to release our grip upon the things of this human existence and begin to embrace the values and lifestyles of God’s kingdom. And the only way that will happen is through our sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection. We express this symbolically through water baptism, and we partake of Christ’s life in an ongoing way as we eat the bread and wine of the eucharist table. As we daily turn away from all the things we depend upon and idolize, and turn to Christ instead, we experience the life and death of Jesus in our human existence.

Living in the reality that there is a world or kingdom that is ours that is beyond this life enables us to hold loosely to the things of this human existence. Accepting that one day they will all be gone and all that will be left is what has been built in the spiritual sphere, in our relationships with God and others, helps us to stay focused on what really matters.

One day this will all be gone—and it could happen in this next moment—and what will be left? Just ashes? Or a beautiful being refined by suffering and glowing with love and grace? It’s worth considering.

Father, thank you for sending your Son Jesus to establish a new, glorious kingdom that includes all of humanity. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to dwell in human hearts and to bring to pass a transformation of our lives and our world. Forgive us, God that we resist you and deny you entrance to our hearts and lives, and instead fill them up with clutter of every shape and size and shut you out. Grant us the grace turn to you and to reject anything that may stand in the way of a loving relationship with you and with others. May we trust you to finish what you have begun in us through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15

The Kingdom, the Baker and Breadmaking

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Main ingredients of basic bread recipes include water, flour, salt and yeast.
Main ingredients of basic bread recipes include water, flour, salt and yeast.

by Linda Rex

Jesus had this way of taking the most everyday tasks and events and turning them into a deeply spiritual concept, especially when he started talking about the kingdom of God. One of those unique parables of Jesus was brought to my attention in a new way this week as I prepared for Sunday’s sermon.

Previously, I hadn’t given much focused thought on the idea that Jesus described God as a baker. And not just a baker, but a woman who baked bread. And she wasn’t a wimpy woman at that—she was able to handle a large amount of dough at once. Three pecks of flour is the equivalent of 16 five-pound bags—enough with about 42 cups of water to make about 101 pounds of dough. That’s a lot of dough!(1)

So, here I see pictured a woman who is doing an everyday task—making bread, and she is physically strong and capable. I like that. How often we women are called on to be physically strong and capable!

I think sometimes that we assume that the Bible and Jesus portray God as being male since most of the language used in relation to him is masculine. But there is a significant difference between human gender and the gender of human language. We have to keep that in mind when we begin to think seriously about the nature of God.

I know that many men are good bakers. In fact, I remember my dad being fond of making unleavened bread. It was something he took up doing late in life that I never expected to find him doing. I tasted some of his products and they were pretty good. But perhaps the culture in Jesus’ day expected a baker to be female—so here God is pictured as a woman.

Breadmaking is something I enjoy doing. In fact, at one point in my life, I started making all our bread by hand because the motion of kneading the dough helped me to heal from an injury to my wrist. It became a therapy that prevented me from having to have surgery. And it worked. And it’s a creative process. I love being creative—I take after the Creator in that way.

But, back to the Breadmaker. The woman with all that flour hides leaven in the flour and it all becomes leavened. One of the simplest recipes I’ve used is for making pizza dough, and it probably resembles pretty closely how bread was made centuries ago. And it got me to thinking about how hiding leaven in flour is related to the kingdom of God.

Most all of the recipes that I can think of for bread start with yeast and water (or milk), a touch of salt and oil. All of that comes first. It is possible that what is meant by leaven in this parable was sourdough starter, which is a small batch of dough that is full of active yeast cultures. Either way, the ingredients that we start bread with—oil, salt, water—along with the yeast, are often used in the Word to describe God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is worth giving meditative thought to.

In fact, I go back to the beginning of the world and find there hovering over the deep waters, the Spirit of God, who when the Word spoke the will of the Father, brought about our existence. God breathed the Breath of life into all that lives and breathes. All the animals and humans breathe oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. It is carbon dioxide that is created when the yeast in bread begins the fermentation process. And this is what causes the dough to rise. Thought-provoking.

Once these leavening ingredients are blended with the flour, there is no separating of them. The leavening process begins to fill the whole wad of dough, especially when the strong, capable baker begins to knead the dough. I’m not even sure she could stop the process once she started. The leaven is an intimate part of the dough, and this becomes evident as the dough begins to rise, and when it is baked into bread.

The kingdom of God is not something that just appeared when Jesus came to earth. For he was in the person of the Word, present in the beginning with the Father and the Spirit when all was made. The purposes and plans of God have not been derailed, but are gradually being kneaded into the dough. In time the heat of the fire will reveal an awesome loaf of bread.

In the meantime though, we find that the dough isn’t always compliant and responsive to the baker. As she pushes the dough down with her hands, the dough pushes back. The working of the dough and its response both positive and negative are a part of the bread-making process.

We tend to think God’s goal right now is to get rid of everything bad in the world. Just slay all these dragons, Lord! But the thing is that God is allowing the evil here for the moment—though he hates what it does to his children—so that he can accomplish the kingdom work he’s trying to do. He’s allowing us to resist him—though it’s foolish to do so—because he knows that it is a part of the free will and growing up process. He’s big enough, clever enough, perfect enough to deal with evil summarily and completely in his own time and way. But he doesn’t always do it right this minute when we think he should.

The baker decides what the end loaf is going to look like. Dough can be used for many things. In fact it can be divided up and used as individual little loafs we call dinner rolls. It can be used as a base for pizza. It can be broiled, boiled and baked as bagels. It can be fried as fritters or sweetened and spiced as cinnamon rolls. Or it can just be made into a plain, old loaf of bread. That’s the baker’s call.

We don’t know what the kingdom of God is going to look like in the end. We’re not really sure what the divine Baker is doing right now or why he is doing it. But one thing is sure—the leaven is filling the whole loaf. And all that God has created shares his Breath of life and participates in his kingdom life. And God’s not going to quit until he has a perfect loaf of bread. I can’t wait to see how it turns out and what it tastes like. I have a feeling it might taste a lot like the bread on Sunday morning’s communion plate.

Holy God, our Heavenly Baker, we are so thankful that you know what you are doing. We’re grateful that we can trust you to do everything necessary to complete the breadmaking process and to bring to pass the fullness of your kingdom. We trust you to finish what you have begun, and we look forward to sharing the bread of heaven with you in eternal communion. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

”He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.’” Matt 13:33 NASB

(1) Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. Pg. 100.

Expectancy

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by Linda Rex

One of the things that I enjoyed when my children were younger was buying them gifts for a special occasion. Months before the event I would be listening to them as we did things together, trying to see what kind of things they enjoyed and what they might be interested in having. We would walk through a store while I was getting some household items, and I would watch them linger over a toy or game that caught their eye.

I’d watch them plan out the number of chores they would have to do or how much allowance they would have to save up to buy it. Often it would be more than what they could manage immediately. They’d talk about it occasionally, maybe even hint around about it, but for them it was just a dream—their heart’s desire that they couldn’t see their way to achieving.

So it was with much secret delight that I would find a way to purchase the item and wrap it up so I could give it to them on a special occasion. Then I would expectantly look forward to the day when I could watch their face light up with joy as they opened their gift.

Can you imagine with what expectancy God awaits to reveal his Son to us in all his glory? And how he joyfully anticipates the day when you and I along with all his children will be revealed in the full glory he has given us in Jesus Christ—a glory that is already ours, but is for now, hidden with Christ in God? (Col. 3:3-4)

The ascension, which we will celebrate this Sunday, is so significant an event!

Jesus brings each and every one of us into the presence of the Father in the Spirit, so that our redemption is secure. And each and every moment, as a living Lord bearing our humanity, Jesus Christ intercedes for us and intervenes in our lives day by day.

He is actively working, building his temple, the dwelling place of God, even now—working for the day when everything he accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension into glory will be worked out in our human sphere, when his kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven.

And we get to participate in what he is doing in bringing his kingdom here on earth! We can stand expectantly waiting and doing nothing. Or in our expectant waiting, we can be busy participating in his work of bringing his kingdom to earth.

We can respond to the lead of his Holy Spirit as God shows us ways to love God and love others. God has given each of us a way to participate in what he is doing in the world—let us do it in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit and with one another day by day.

And let’s do it in expectant joy! Our ascended King rules even now and is handing us the gift we’ve only dreamed of having. He’s saying to you and to me: “Open it! It’s yours! I bought it, made it, just for you! You’ll love it!”

Thank you, Daddy-God, for the great gift you’ve planned from before time and have prepared for us. You gave everything up so we could have this gift. And you gave us your Son and now you’ve given us your Spirit. We have been given all we need for life and godliness. What a gift! Thank you so much! We receive it with great joy and gratitude. Amen.

“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11