Sometimes the Kingdom of God is like… (Sermon for Proper 14B)

You can listen here – or read on.

Last week, Father Keith challenged us not to accept the cheap stuff.  Sure, God will provide us with our daily bread, but what he longs to give us is the bread that brings with it the fullness of a life lived in him.  The Israelites ate manna in the wilderness, as our gospel lessons tells us, but ultimately they died having never reached the Promised Land.  Keith used the example of holding on to a knock-off string of pearls when God has in mind to give us the real thing.  That got me thinking this week, what is it like to live in the Kingdom of God?  What does it look like?  What does it feel like?  What does it smell like?  What does it taste like?  What does it sound like?  What is it like to live in the Kingdom of God?

The first thing we’ll note is that Jesus promises the crowd that the Kingdom of God is available today.  Even as he spoke, ahead of his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus is clear that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  In the midst of a tired, sweaty, hungry, stinky crowd of on-again, off-again believers and out right hostile Jewish leadership, the Kingdom of God was available.  How much more so now, after his exultation on the cross, after his rising from the dead, after his return to the right hand of the Father, is the Kingdom of God available to us?  Believe me, I get the longing for a future heavenly reward, but I am fully convinced that that simply cannot be the goal of the Christian life because eternal life is already happening.  Right now!

In fact, the Kingdom of God has been present from the very beginning.  In the Garden of Eden, God’s full dream for creation was alive and well.  Humanity walked with God, talked with God, lived alongside God in perfect relationship.  After the fall, though humankind found itself expelled from the Garden, the Kingdom was still available to those who would look for it.  Take Elijah for example.

Elijah was a prophet of God.  Throughout the Books of Kings, he performed all sorts of amazing miracles: he brought down fire from heaven, he raised a boy from the dead, and he is one of two people who scripture says didn’t die, but rather was taken up to heaven.  As a prophet, he also made some people angry, most notably was Jezebel who, just prior to today’s story, threatened in a rage to kill the great prophet.  Elijah is in the depths of despair as he makes the day’s journey out into the wilderness and finds shade under a solitary broom tree.  In his mind, he has failed.  He has given up his high calling out of fear for his life and fled from his sacred duty.  He is as worthless as a broken pot.  But in the Kingdom of God, despite his fear, despite his sin, despite his turning from the Lord, despite all of his short comings, Elijah is a beloved child of God and worthy of redemption.

Elijah says, “Take my life, I’m done,” and lays down, fully expecting to die there in the wilderness, but God says, “Get up and eat, for I want your help.”  In the midst of his hopelessness, God sustains Elijah.  He is sustained physically with bread and water, but that is a fleeting sustenance.  More so, Elijah is sustained in the Lord by his care and compassion.  God looks down, sees a beloved child suffering, and reaches out to take care of him.  The Kingdom of God is like that.

Our world is full of people who are suffering.  Refuges hide in caves in Sudan.  Capable men and women remain unemployed for years here in the US.  People get sick.  Families fall apart.  Feelings get hurt.  The rug gets pulled out from underneath all of us from time to time.  Who of us, gathered here this morning to offer our praise and thanksgiving to God, hasn’t at least once in their lives thought, “Surely this is the end.  God cannot redeem this.  God cannot make this right.”  And who of us, gathered here this morning to offer praise and thanksgiving to God, hasn’t found God eager to save and overflowing with plenteous redemption? Maybe it came in the form of a phone call from a friend.  Maybe it was a surprise refund in the mail.  Maybe it was the seemingly insignificant smile and nod from a stranger.  God makes his Kingdom present on earth in a myriad of ways.  Sometimes it is as simple as a small helping of bread and water.

Sometimes, God makes his Kingdom present on earth through complicated geopolitical machinations.  The Psalm that we prayed this morning was a portion of Psalm 34 which is inscribed as “A Psalm ff David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away,” a complicated and confused summation of an even more complicated story from First Samuel.  David, having been spared his life by his friend, Jonathan, escapes to Nob where he runs into a priest named Abimelech who feeds him and offers him Goliath’s sword for protection on his journey.  He then heads to Gath where he stands before King Achish only to be recognized by one of the king’s servants.  David, a well known solider and much feared adversary, fears for his own life now and begins to act insane, “making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”  Achish, disgusted by a crazy David, sends him away.

In thanksgiving for God saving his life, David writes Psalm 34, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth… I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror… I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my troubles… Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him.”  David will go on from Gath to defeat Saul and be the greatest king Israel will ever know.  But if, in a series of odd events early in his life, God had not been present for the young king, there would be no house of David, no Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem, no savior born in a lowly manger.  David acted crazy before the King of Gath, sometimes the Kingdom of God is like that.

Other times, the Kingdom of God is found in one human being’s simple acts of compassion.  One of my favorite sets of commercials is for Liberty Mutual Insurance.  They begin with a stranger happening upon a random act of kindness.  The woman stops the hurried courier from stepping out into traffic.  A stranger in a restaurant across the street sees it and helps a mother lift her stroller off the bus.  A stranger at the bus stop sees it and helps someone pull something off the top shelf in his restaurant kitchen.  The sous chef sees it and, though her hands are full, keeps some kids from losing their ball in the street.  A guy in a pickup passing by sees it and the story goes on until finally, the series of events cycles back to the woman and the courier on the street corner.  Some call these coincidences.  Some chalk it up to the butterfly effect.  I see the Kingdom of God being present in small events that can ultimately change the world.

Sometimes, the Kingdom of God looks like a bread and water.  Sometimes, it comes in complicated stories of power and prestige.  Sometimes, it is manifested in small acts of generosity that carry on long beyond their fleeting existence.  And once, the Kingdom of God looked like a first century Rabbi names Jesus.

Often, the Kingdom of God is hard to see.  John tells us that the crowd that followed Jesus as he traversed the Sea of Galilee had a hard time seeing the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus.  “Isn’t this Mary’s boy?” they asked.  “He’s the carpenter’s son, how can he be so bold as to say that he has come down from heaven?”  They had “seen” Jesus do plenty of things, but that had yet to “see” Jesus at all.  They had come for cheap tricks and free bread, but Jesus tells them, “if you really want to see me, if you really want to see the Kingdom of God, then my Father will have to call you, draw you, and even drag you.”

If we really want to see what God has in store for humanity, then we have to eat the bread that came down from heaven, we have to taste God’s abundance, smell the beauty of his creation, feel his love, see his compassion, and hear his voice.  If we really want to understand the Kingdom of God, then we have to be in a relationship with his Son, receive his Spirit, and join in his work of redeeming the world, rebuilding the garden, and setting up his Kingdom.  That Kingdom work is sometimes small, like a can of spam for EMI.  Sometimes, Kingdom work is as simple as a smile for the overworked server at your favorite restaurant.  Occasionally, Kingdom work is as scary as a room full of kindergarteners, but when the work is for the kingdom and not a vain attempt to perpetuate the cheap stuff, it is always life changing.

Taste, touch, smell, hear, feel that the Lord is good, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and receive eternal life.  Amen.

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