The Kingdom of God for Kindergarteners – a sermon

You can listen to today’s sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it here.

The people of Israel were hungry for the word of God. As
Father Keith mentioned in last week’s sermon, it had been more
than 400 years since God had raised up a prophet to speak on his
behalf. 400 years is a really long time for God to be silent, and
so the people of Israel, oppressed by the Romans and
overburdened by their own religious leaders were starving to
hear a word of hope from God when news of John the Baptist
started to swirl. Though Luke tells us it all happened “In the
fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius
Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee…
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,” John the
Baptist actually arrived on the scene way outside of the seat of
power. Down the mountain, deep in the valley, out in the
wilderness there was a man named John, clothed in camel hair,
with a left-over locust wing stuck in his honey-matted beard
who was preaching about a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins.
Did I mention that the people of Israel were hungry? It
seems like the only logical explanation for the crowds upon
crowds that came to hear John preach has to be that they were
delirious with hunger for God’s word. They were starving and
so they came by the thousands to listen to John preach, to be
dunked in the River, and to hear the promise that a savior was
soon to follow. Rich and poor, priests and lawyers, carpenters
and widows, tax-collectors and mercenaries, men, women, and
children they came hungry for God and they were met with
these terrifying words: “You brood of vipers! Who told you to
flee from the wrath to come? Don’t think you’re special because
you’re a descendant of Abraham. The axe is waiting for those
who do not bear fruit.”
The people of Israel were so hungry that not even the fireand-
brimstone preaching of the John the Baptist could push
them away. They knew that the world was not the way God
intended it to be. All they had to do was look at the people
around them to see that. Just over there was a gaggle of taxcollectors.
You could tell they were tax-collectors because of
the fine clothes they wore; that, and the fact that nobody would
stand near them. The Romans didn’t collect taxes themselves.
It was much more demeaning to an oppressed nation to have
their own people shake them down on behalf of Rome. To make
matters worse, the tax collectors had to collect their own salaries
as well. So if the tax was one shekel, maybe they would collect
one or two or three extra for themselves, depending on how
much they thought they could get. This alone was pretty bad,
but worst of all was that the tax had to be paid in Roman
currency, with coins that bore the image of the Emperor with the
title, “the Son of God.” Certainly, this was not what God had in
mind.
On the other side of the crowd was a company of soldiers,
mercenaries really, who had been hired by Rome to protect the
tax-collectors. These were the clean-up men. After the taxcollector
had taken more than he should, the soldier would
follow behind and extort protection money, drawing whatever
blood there might be left in the turnip by means of harassment
and threats of violence. Standing in the back was a group of
Scribes and Pharisees, arms crossed, with scowls tattooed on
their faces. Everybody knew they were in cahoots with the
Romans. The money changers, who turned Roman coins into
money suitable for the Temple were employed by the religious
powers-that-be. An ever more strict reading of the Law meant
more and more violations and more and more sacrifices. God’s
house had long since stopped being a house of prayer for all
people. The Temple, like Herod’s palace right next door to it,
was filled with thieves. God could not be happy with the way
things were.
Finally, the crowd took a long, hard look at themselves, and
realized that while the world outside wasn’t what God intended
it to be, neither was the world within themselves. They had
become desensitized to the need around them. They had passed
the beggar on the street for so long, that now they didn’t even
notice he was there. Life had become about getting everything
you could, protecting self and family, for fear that one day
something might happen and take it all away. Fear and mistrust
ran rampant, and as John preached, the people who were
starving for the word of God, realized that something had to
change.
As John exhorted the crowd, the Spirit of the Lord went to
work in their hearts and the people were stirred up. They looked
around at the tax-collectors, at the soldiers, at the scribes, and at
themselves and then they looked at John and with tears in their
eyes and torment in their souls they said, “What can we do?
How can we change? What will it take to bear good fruit?”
They asked, almost begging John for an answer, expecting that
this harsh reality would be met by a harsh punishment.
But John didn’t suggest Big Hairy Audacious Goals. He
didn’t tell them to sell everything they have and give it to the
poor. He didn’t suggest they live in a cave in the wilderness,
praying all day, and eating locusts and honey. He didn’t invite
them to fast for 40 days or to sacrifice a bull at the Temple or to
start a revolution. Instead, he offered them the Good News of
the Kingdom of God for Kindergarteners. “If you have two
coats, give one to the poor. If you have food to eat, share some
with the hungry.” We call that sharing. “Don’t collect more
taxes than the Romans tell you to.” That’s called being honest.
“Don’t extort money, and don’t accuse people of things you
know they didn’t do. And be content with your pay.” The
soldiers get two lessons, don’t be a bully and you get what you
get and you don’t pitch a fit. The Kingdom of God looks like
the rules in a Kindergarten classroom because the rules of the
Kingdom are simply about loving God and loving your neighbor
as yourself. In an instant, the people who were starving for a
word from the Lord realized they had received it. This odd
looking, fire-bellied preacher had called them to repentance and
then showed them what that new life should look like, and it
really was quite possible.
Two-thousand years later, the world isn’t that much
different. We are still a long way from fulfilling the prayer that
Jesus taught us, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on
earth as it is in heaven.” Fear mongers are still fear-mongering.
Children still go to bed hungry. The able bodied still can’t find
meaningful employment. Violence is still begetting violence.
The mentally ill are still cast aside and ignored. People are still
hoarding cash and ignoring the poor in their own neighborhoods.
I don’t know about you, but lately, I’ve found myself
particularly hungry for the word of God, searching desperately
for a prophet who will come to make straight the path of the
God. We look around at a world that is far from what God
intends it to be and have to wonder, “What should we do? What
can we do? Can we do anything that will really bear good fruit
and make a difference?”
The answer to that question is the same as it was two thousand
years ago. Absolutely yes. We can make a difference
because we are disciples of Jesus who came to show us how to
live Kingdom lives, loving God, loving neighbor, and as John
the Baptist so simply put it: by sharing, being honest and
satisfied, and by not being a bully. The world won’t become the
Kingdom of God by all of us standing around, waiting for Jesus
to come back and fix it. The world will change when each of us
decides to follow the rules of the Kingdom. The world will
change when, with God’s help, we decide to change ourselves,
to repent of our old ways and to live the Gospel life. Stir us up
Lord, whip us into shape, and send us out to do the work you
have given us to do that we might bear fruit worthy of
repentance and see your Kingdom come on earth as it is in
heaven. Amen.

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