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The Kingdom of God – Part 2

December 11, 2013

God intends to show all creation his plan for cosmic reconciliation through the reconciled body of believers in Jesus (Ephesians 3:9-11). His design is to form us into a transformed community, indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, that will be used by Him to help transform this world,undoing the dire effects of sin, bringing reconciliation between mankind and Himself, and extending that reconciliation to all creation. This is the kingdom of God, appearing with the advent of Jesus on Earth, and building toward a crescendo when everything will be subject to God’s rule.

 

But I believe it is a serious error to relegate God’s kingdom to the future.  Some, I believe, misconstrue Jesus’ words to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” to mean that His kingdom is exclusively otherworldly.  I hear Him differently, as saying that it is not the location of His kingdom, but rather the source of His royal authority, that is “not of this world.”  Jesus’ teaching clearly indicates that the kingdom of God encompasses both the here and the there, Earth and heaven.  The kingdom also encompasses both the now and the then, the present and the future.  It arrived with the advent of Jesus and is with us today even if its complete fulfillment, God’s will being fully done on earth “as it is in heaven,” still awaits us in the future.

 

Perhaps the difficulty of understanding these ideas is due to our being, unlike God, captives of space and time.  God knows no here and there, but rather is present everywhere in His Creation, as well as outside of it.  He knows not past, present or future, but only eternity.   As best I can understand it, God sees His kingdom as existing in the eternal now and the omnipresent here, at all times and in all places at the same time.

 

This kingdom is political and radically subversive, introducing a startling change, a true volte-face, of worldly values.  It exposes the futility of all the world holds dear—earthly riches, success, power, recognition, status, authority and ultimately ego.  It confronts, resists and rejects the worldly preoccupation with that which is visible, carnal and temporal, uncompromisingly favouring an alignment with God’s value system, that which is invisible, spiritual and eternal.  What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:14)  As He speaks the words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ennobles suffering, meekness, humility, poverty, forgiveness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking, thankfulness and faith.

 

For the reluctant, the skeptical, those not convinced such a life is practical or even possible, it’s easy to tip-toe around the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, spiritualizing what Jesus’ said and interpreting His words in ways that blunt His message.  But it is much harder to avoid the humanitarian intent of the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6.  Luke’s gritty down-to-earth style puts things in simple, concise language that makes Jesus’ concrete and this-worldly intent impossible to avoid.  He is not talking about the poor in spirit, but the poor.  Here His concern is not those who hunger after justice, it is those whose stomachs are empty.  We are not dealing with those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, but with all who are persecuted.  Jesus is talking about real needs in the here and now.

 

But the contemporary church, especially in North America, is so largely enculturated to the ethos of consumerism, so invested in the maintenance of the worldly systems that support it, and either so oblivious to or in denial of our complicity, that it has become for us extremely difficult to accept the radical and revolutionary social reality of Jesus’ words, words that demand something of us.  Thus Matthew’s framing of Jesus’ sermon is preferred, read in the abstract and ethereal, fudging the boundaries between the divine and the worldly aspirations of comfort, safety, security and prosperity. 

 

I would be among the first to grant that the church is often outstanding in its efforts to care for the poor and oppressed.  However I do not shy away from admitting that it does very little to address the causes of poverty and oppression, but sadly, often contributes to those causes.  Long ago the church abdicated primary responsibility for care of the less fortunate to governments, and now adopts a largely hands-off attitude, hiding behind misguidedideas of separation of church and state. 

 

But like it or not, if we truly share Jesus’ concerns, we cannot retreat from the political sphere.  We must work to dismantle the politics of oppression and exploitation by countering it with a politics of justice and compassion.  Throughout the ages, God’s prophets have been crying out for His people to do this very thing. 

 

Lest anyone think that I am finger pointing, let me dispel that notion.  I freely confess that I have as much blood on my hands as anyone in these matters.  It is my belief that, as any Twelve Stepper will point out, admitting one’s problems, acknowledging one’s shortcomings, is the first step toward recovery, an idea surely not foreign to any Christian.  So it is in hope of recovery of sanity (for the world is truly insane), of righteousness, of the mission of God to advance His kingdom, that I write these things.

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