By Linda Rex
July 26, 2020, PROPER 12—If we were to examine the many apocalyptic films of the last few decades, we would probably find a common thread. Many of these films begin with people living their everyday lives oblivious to the reality that their world is just about to come to a cataclysmic end. Whether by horrific natural disaster, invasion of evil aliens, or angry divine intervention, the result is often the destruction of all the things we value as humans, leaving only a few people behind struggling to survive.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we as followers of Christ often assume things about the end of the world that are based more in our culturally held beliefs than they are in what Jesus actually said about how things would end. We read the book of Revelation as a literal reference book on end-time events rather than as what it is—an apocalyptic book of inspiration and encouragement for believers in the midst of persecution and suffering. When someone dares to question our opinion on how things will end, we become upset and angry—we expect God to come and destroy all the sinners, often forgetting that sinner is a good description of everyone on the earth, including us.
We really are no different than the leaders of Jesus’ day. They and the Jewish people had looked for divine intervention for their people for centuries and believed it would come with the destruction of their oppressors. In Jesus’ time, it was the Roman overlords who needed to be conquered so that the kingdom of God would come—and it was the Messiah who was to come and do this. They expectantly awaited the age of the Spirit, when all would bow the knee to God—and this new age of righteousness, they believed, would be brought in by the conquering Messiah, a Jewish deliverer, who would destroy all their enemies and make their people once again a powerful, blessed nation.
When Jesus began to talk about the kingdom of God, he was set up against some deeply engrained views which needed to be corrected. He needed his people to recognize the Messiah for who he really was, rather than them insisting that he fit their preconceived ideas of what he would be like when he came. Because of their wrong view of how deliverance would arrive, they rejected Jesus. He was God in human flesh, the Messiah they longed for, but because he was not bringing in the kingdom in the way they expected, he ended up suffering a horrific death at the hands of those he came to save.
But none of this was a surprise to God. It was in God’s mind before time began to include all of humanity in his love and life no matter how they might respond to his gift. The eternally existing Word, Jesus Christ, is the Creator of everything. He sustains it all, so that like the yeast in dough, he permeates every part of our existence. The yeast creates small pockets of carbon dioxide (like the divine Breath which gives us life), which when heated, causes the dough to rise, and makes the loaf of bread soft and spongy. Jesus explained that the kingdom of God present in his person, was a hidden mystery, like the yeast hidden in dough, and like a tiny mustard seed, which was progressively filling the world and would eventually be fully manifest in glory in the new heavens and new earth, a large tree in which the birds could find safety and rest.
The way that the kingdom of God would be entered into was much different that the expected view of that day. Jesus used the imagery of a treasure buried in a field and a pearl hidden away in his kingdom parables. These are apt pictures of burial, something which he knew would be part of the process of the mystery of the kingdom of God being worked out in his person as the suffering-servant Messiah. The value of all God had made was more than worth the price Jesus would pay in his death at the hands of his people.
But this brings us up against the hardest question of all—are we willing to share in Christ’s death and resurrection? For the only way to participate in the kingdom of God is by participating in Jesus Christ by faith. Any other path only leads to death. Life, real life, is life in relationship with God through Christ by the Spirit—and we are given this gift by faith in Jesus. What are we willing to give up to follow Jesus?
This means that judgment is set on a totally different basis. We don’t judge who is good and who is evil—God does. And he does this in and through Jesus, the one who died humanity’s death and rose bearing humanity into the presence of the Father, sending the Spirit so we could participate in his intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit now and forever. Like the seine which is drawn through the sea drawing everything to shore, God’s love and grace sweeps everything into a new place—slowly, inexorably drawing all towards the climactic ushering in of the new heavens and new earth.
In Jesus’ parable, the net draws everything in the ocean onto the shore. This may include an old shoe, a broken bicycle, hundreds of plastic bottles, and every different type of sea life. In the same way, God is inevitably moving all he has made to an end, bringing about the culmination of his divine purpose and plan and ushering in the new heavens and new earth. Because Christ has been raised from death, every human being will be raised—to face the sorting of the fish who will be thrown back in the ocean or the fish who will join Jesus in eternal life. The one making the decision of who stays and who goes is Jesus, and his angels carry out his divine will. It’s obvious that trash does not belong in the ocean—there is a lot of evil and junk which never belonged in this world—it must be burned up and gotten rid of.
But the fish and other sea life dependent upon the salt water are a different story. Sea life of this kind if left on the shore, will die. In order to be a part of what the fishermen are doing in this parable though, the fish or sea animal has to remain on shore, be placed in a container and carried away, and by extrapolation—die. In the same way, the only way we can have eternal life is to participate in Christ’s death. If we insist on continuing our existence on our own terms, on staying in the ocean and swimming about to our heart’s content, we will miss out on real life—on the new life created for us in Christ Jesus which is only possible through sharing in his death and resurrection.
We must die in Christ to sin, self, and Satan, and share in Christ’s resurrected life—living in the truth of who we are as God’s adopted children. We are members of a new household now. All that was before is gone, having gone to the grave with Jesus. We have new life in him. We are members of Christ’s body, the universal church of believers, who follow Jesus wherever he leads. What we believe is essential, then, and will determine how we face our eternal future.
The kingdom of God, then, is not a political kingdom. It is not a place which honors power, authority, privilege, or any of the temporary human values we venerate, but values humility, service, love, grace, and sharing. The judgment of who is worthy to participate in this kingdom isn’t based on performance, but on grace—on the compassion and mercy of the One who believed each of us valuable enough that he was willing to set aside the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity to bring us into life with himself. This kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and it is even at work in our world today by the Spirit—a hidden mystery which will be fully revealed when Jesus returns in glory. And may that day come soon!
When we look at the kingdom of God in this way, we do not need to be afraid. We can joyously anticipate the day when all Christ accomplished for us is fully manifested. We look forward to when we will shine as stars in the new heavens and new earth. And we live in the kingdom of God now, as citizens of God’s new city, following Jesus wherever he leads, trusting him to finish what he has begun in us. For he will not rest until he has accomplished what he intended before time began. Praise God!
We may need to ask ourselves, then, what is it we believe about the kingdom of God? What do we believe abut Jesus Christ? Do we need to reframe our reference when we think of the end of the world? If everything erupted in nuclear war tomorrow, what would be our response? Would it be fear, anxiety, depression, anger? Or would we remember that God is still at work in this world, death has no power any longer to create fear, and we have hope for a glorious future in and through Jesus our Lord?
Lord, you are the king of the kingdom, and you have drawn us to yourself, to be citizens in your kingdom. Taken from the kingdom of darkness, you have set us in the kingdom of light. Grant us the grace to live fully in the light of your love and grace, to walk in your paths, to give ourselves fully to your will and purposes. We know this is all in and through you, Jesus, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NASB
See also Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52.
By Linda Rex
September 29, Proper 21— On the streets of Nashville I often see well-dressed people driving Mercedes, Jaguars, and BMWs at the same intersection with people in ragged clothing holding signs that say “homeless” or “help me”. At Good News Fellowship, we are often faced with the challenge, and the blessing, of helping those who cannot or will not help themselves.
One of the marks of a healthy community is the way it handles the radical difference between those who have and those who do not. The early Christian church handled these profound differences in a way which was counter to their Roman culture—a culture in which those who were wealthy were given a more elevated status than those who did not. It was not unusual for a wealthy person to sponsor or support someone less fortunate than themselves, but that person wasn’t normally elevated to a place of equal status with their benefactor. The believers in the early church, however, understood that in Christ, we are all equals, all members of one body.
God’s way of doing things is so different than ours. Today, when it comes to money and being rich, we often see extremes among people of the Christian faith. Wealth may be seen either as an evil to be rejected or as a sign of one’s favor with God because of one’s obedience and goodness. Either extreme is not how God meant us to view wealth. Wealth is given, the Word of God says, to be enjoyed, but also for the purpose of doing good and sharing with others.
Having wealth or nice things is great—it makes life pleasant and enables us to do a lot of things we could not do otherwise. But the problem with being rich is that often our focus turns away from the God who gives the wealth and blessings and turns to the riches themselves. People can get so absorbed in accumulating and maintaining their wealth, and enjoying it, that they miss the whole point of it all—they are a beloved child of a generous and loving heavenly Father, a dad who wants to share all of his blessings with them.
If we took the time to turn away from our abundance and wealth for a moment and to turn to Jesus, we would see a wealthy, abundantly blessed Son, who did not for a moment count any of his good stuff worth holding on to. We read in Philippians 2:5-11 how the Word of God, the divine Son of God, temporarily set aside the privileges of his divinity for our sake. He knew we would be and were caught in the poverty and darkness of our sin, and evil had us in its grip. Death was the result of our stubborn willfulness and pride. Because of this, he set it all aside to join us where we were to bring us to be where he was.
The one gift above all others the Son of God wished to share with us, which supersedes any physical blessing or gift he could give us, is the ability to participate in his perfect, intimate relationship with his Abba. He and the Father always have been, are, and always will be, one in the Spirit. This is the relationship we were created to participate in and which we seem to always trade in for the tangible things of this life.
In this culture, at least in this country today, we are surrounded with so much abundance, that it is hard to see beyond our human existence. We have so many human solutions to our problems that we lose site of the role God is meant to play in all of this.
We may believe we don’t really need God’s healing when we can go see a doctor, or a specialty surgeon, visit a hospital, or even see a psychotherapist. All of these are excellent ways to take care of our health, and yes, we should do them when we can, but what about starting the whole process with the one Being who has created us, given us life, and who can heal us, however others may or may not be involved in the healing process? Wouldn’t it be more important to have our heavenly Daddy with us through the whole circumstance, walking with us and guiding us, helping the doctors and nurses as they give us care?
Many people grew up in families where the only food available was eggs from the chickens, milk from the cow, and food from the garden. They survived quite well on the little that they had because they had an implicit faith in God and in his provision. Today if we don’t have our favorite foods on the table or in the fridge, we think we are starving. The blessings we have so easily become more important than our relationship with the God who provides them. What has happened to us that we have lost this simple connection between ourselves and God, and knowing that we are his beloved children and he is our loving Father?
What about filling our cupboards and refrigerators with food? I do meet people who are lucky to have one good meal a week. I rarely ever hear them say that they asked God for their daily bread—to take care of this simple need. Strangely enough, we often expect other people to take care of us rather than simply calling on and trusting in our Abba Father to provide. I’ve heard many stories from people over the years who told about how God provided for them in a variety of ways—often through other people, but without them being asked to do it—it was solely a work of the Spirit. Wouldn’t that build your trust in and love for your Abba if you saw him provide for you without you first asking other people to take care of you?
Getting back to my point, I see that we are so blessed with so much, but it is never quite enough. We experience life in this world as a glass half empty rather than half full when our focus is on what we do or don’t have rather than on the One who gives it to us to enjoy and to share. Jesus came so we could have life abundant—not with overflowing coffers of wealth, but with an abundant overflow of God’s love and grace and the ability to participate individually, and as brothers and sisters, in a personal relationship with our heavenly Father through Jesus in the Spirit.
By all means, we should enjoy those blessings God gives us. We can enjoy the benefits of living in America, experiencing an ease and pleasure so many in the world wish they could share in, and do so without guilt and shame. These are God’s gifts to us.
But God says to us that the greatest treasure of all is that which is stored up for us in heaven when we take the abundance we have and share it with those less fortunate than us. We, along with Jesus, join others in their poverty and darkness to bring them up into fellowship with us, into a place of equality and unity in our uniqueness. We share what we have been given, not because we are asked to or expected to, but because Christ is at work in us, in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, giving us a desire to share what we have been given with those around us and to share in our Abba’s generous heart toward his beloved children.
The divine life we are called into involves both receiving and giving. There is an ever-flowing pouring out and pouring into that are part of the perichoretic love of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and we are included in that life as we trust in Christ and follow the leading of the Spirit. All we have, all we are, we receive as a gift from Abba. Do we receive these gifts with joy and gratitude, as gifts from a loving Father? Do we bless our Abba with love and fellowship in response? And, today, how would Abba want us to share his abundant gifts with others? Are we being obedient to the Spirit’s promptings to share?
Dear Abba, thank you for all your many gifts and blessings, and most of all, for including us in your life with Jesus in the Spirit. Give us a heart of generosity and an understanding of the transience of physical wealth so we will hold these things loosely and freely share them with others. Keep our eyes on you and our hearts enraptured with your love, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NASB
See also Luke 16:19–31.