It’s not the Kingdom of God, It’s the How

       I inherited the job of Chair of the Diocese of Kentucky’s General Convention deputation when Dean Matt had to step away due to the birth of his second child.  Until this role, I’d never met a gathering I didn’t want to be the chair of, but I’m here to tell you, I’d gladly give this one away.  Tracking down flight details, managing hotel reservations and per diem checks, and coordinating Zoom meetings across time zones is like herding cats.  By far, the most challenging part has been planning our deputation dinner.  As a natural introvert, I’m way better at planning dinner for one, than dinner for ten.  I’m making it happen though.

I grew up with a sister who has been a vegetarian since she was ten, and gluten allergies are all over my family, so one question I know to always ask is whether anyone has any dietary needs.  In our deputation, we’ve got a vegan, a vegetarian, a non-dairy non-egg non-fried food person, and one individual who prefers “non-mammalian meat.”  I was recounting this juggling act with a friend of mine who is a nationally renowned speaker on the intersection of food and faith.  We talked about how, in addition to the unique set of intestinal cards each of us is dealt in life, we all have to make our own ethical decisions on what kinds of foods we will eat.  Some avoid red meat because of concerns of water usage.  Some won’t eat eggs because of the conditions in which the chickens live.  Some will only eat locally sourced meats because they know the farmers and how the animals are treated.  “It’s not the cow,” she said to me, “it’s the how.”  Which is one of the most amazing sentences I’ve ever heard.

“It’s not the cow, it’s the how” works so well because of its meter and rhyme, but there are other iterations of it that, while they aren’t nearly as catchy, certainly could have merit.  I’d like to suggest one that is pertinent to our Gospel lesson this morning, “It’s not the Kingdom of God, It’s the how.” If I insert some Greek that I mispronounce, I can even make it rhyme.  “It’s not the basselia tou theou, it’s the how.”  While not nearly as fluid, it works as Jesus commissions the 70 to proclaim, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”  Last Sunday, we began a summer-long walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem.  As Luke nine came to an end, the author tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  For the next 18 Sundays, we will hear stories from portions of that journey.  This morning, we hear of the prep work that went into the trip.  Jesus sent 70 of his closest disciples ahead of him to determine which cities and towns might be receptive to his message.

To test a community’s receptivity, Jesus gives the disciples a simple trick, “First say, ‘Peace to this house!’  If anyone shares in peace, it will rest on them, but if not, it will return to you.”  In the places where peace is shared, Jesus tells them to stay, eat, drink heal the sick, and proclaim “The Kingdom of God has come near.”  If peace is not shared, and the disciples are not welcomed in a place, Jesus tells them to go out into the street and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you.”  It is worth pausing here for a moment because most of us probably don’t think of this as the “wipe the dust off your feet” passage, but rather the “shake the dust off your feet” one.

I dug into the Greek a bit this week, and the word translated here as “wipe off in protest” is long and I can’t pronounce it, but its meaning is somehow even more in your face: to smear, scrape away, or wipe off.  Think of it less like dust and more like wet red clay or fresh cow manure that clings to the bottom of your shoe.  To wipe this away requires something more than a simple swipe of the foot on the ground.  To get this all off your feet you’ll need to use considerable effort as scrub it in the grass, along a boot scraper, and maybe even get some help from a nearby hose.  It is an aggressive act.  One meant to make sure everybody knows that the disciples are rejecting every part of their community’s lack of welcome.  And yet, once they have scraped the ick off the bottom of their sandals, Jesus says, “tell them too, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near.’”  It is interesting to me that the same message is given to those who wish to receive it and those who don’t.  The arrival of the Kingdom of God is not dependent on whether it is received into the community, but it’s impact most certainly is.  It’s not the Kingdom of God, it’s the how.

It seems to me that it is human nature to be reticent to welcome in the Kingdom of God.  The presence of God’s kingdom is like one of those old school makeup mirrors some folks have in their bathrooms.  It both shines a bright light upon and magnifies all our imperfections, such that we would much prefer to cover them up than face their reality.  The Kingdom of God shines its light on our sinfulness, and sin doesn’t go down without a fight.  It is no wonder, then, that so many communities along the way from Galilee to Jerusalem were hesitant to share in the peace of God.  It is no wonder that so many communities of faith in our world today feel the same way.  We like benefits that come with following Jesus, but not the costs.  We like the grace, not the conviction.

It is going to be a long summer as we journey with Jesus to the Jerusalem.  We’ll hear all sorts of stories of him being welcomed and him being rejected.  We’ll be invited to consider for ourselves where we are willing to invite Christ to change us, and where we’d rather he not step into the muck of our lives, lest he have to scrape it off his sandal.  Sure, we all like to think we’d welcome the Kingdom of God in theory, but it’s not the Kingdom of God, it’s the how, and how requires a willingness for us to be challenged and changed.  Challenged to be open to God’s call to leave our sins behind.  Changed into people who are more compassionate, more loving, and more grace filled.  These changes don’t happen overnight.  They are minute by minute, incremental changes that we prayed for in our collect for today, that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we might be more and more devoted to God’s will with our whole heart, so that we might be more and more united to one another in pure affection.  If it’s not the Kingdom of God, it’s the how, then, dear friends, how is the Kingdom of God at work in your life today?  Amen.

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