a message given Sunday, July 8, 2007
by Rev. Scott Summerville
Asbury UM Church
Here’s a puzzle for you:
At the center of Jesus’ ministry and at the heart of his teaching was something he called “the Kingdom of God.” That is what he preached about, and when he healed he proclaimed his healing to be a sign of the Kingdom of God. But he never exactly said what the Kingdom of God. So we have this mystery at the heart of the Gospel: the mystery of the Kingdom of God.
Where is it? What is it?
We read today in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus sent the disciples out on the road telling them what to bring, what not to bring, what to say, and where to stay:
“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter… remain in that house eating and drinking what they provide…..Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the Kingdom of God has come near.’”
For the Jesus, the Kingdom of God is connected to healing; it is connected to opening your house and letting strangers in; it has something to do with hospitality and generosity; it is connected to eating – to the sharing of bread.
Hmmm…. Interesting….. but still quite puzzling, isn’t it – this “Kingdom of God?”
The message of the Kingdom of God is carried by messengers who travel in pairs, always two by two – a buddy system. They offer healing and they ask for food and for shelter, and in this exchange – in the exchange of healing and hospitality – the Kingdom comes in – whishhhh… invisibly.
- The Kingdom of God is something that can come close to you, into your town, even right under your roof and at your supper table, but you might not perceive it.
- The Kingdom of God is nearby; it is so close – closer than our breath – but we can miss it.
- Where is the this mysterious Kingdom that comes near and some see it – and some don’t?
- What is this holy thing? Is it a presence? Is it a place? Is it an experience? Where will we find it?
- Is it in the mysterious smile on the face of the sleeping infant? Of course! It is there – it is right there.
- Is it in the quiet rhythms of the sea lapping the sands? Yes, yes – it is there. Of course. The Kingdom of God is there.
- Is it in that place that music touches – in the heart of the heart – in the ear of the soul? – yes it there – the Kingdom of God is there.
- But is the Kingdom of God also near in the home where love has slipped quietly out the door or perhaps slammed the door shut as it left? Well???
- Is the Kingdom of God close by in the emergency room amidst the broken limbs and pain and tearful faces? Well…? Is it?
- Is the Kingdom of God close at hand in a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge at the end of a hot summer weekend? Well????
- Is it in the funeral home amidst the flowers and mourners? Well???
Hmmm…. not so sure, are you?
But I say yes, yes; it is in all these places – its mystery is to available everywhere.
If we think the Kingdom of God is only near in the pure and beautiful moments of life, then we will miss it again and again.
I have sometimes asked myself in terms of my ministry – and in terms of my life– “What are you doing?” “What are you doing!! “
Sometimes the answer arises within me, “I am looking for the Kingdom of God.” I’m looking for it in you, and in me, and in a few other places. I am looking for it in hospital rooms, in the eyes of people – laughing, hurting, crying, questioning. I am looking for it in youth and old age and in middle age crisis. I am looking for it in myself. I am looking for it in the scriptures. I am looking for it in my back yard, and I am looking for it on the front page of the daily newspaper. I am looking all over the place for it, and sometimes without even knowing it, I might be a messenger of the Kingdom.
Have I found this Kingdom thing? O yes, many times; I have in fact found it quite often, and I have lost it many times, and keep looking for it, and sometimes it draws near in unexpected ways. And often, so often, it has come near and I was not even aware. It comes often in disguise.
On a warm summer night I was in my office working late. It was about nine o’clock. The phone rang. The voice on the phone was the voice of a child. I do not get many calls from children. The child asked, “Do you have Alateen meetings?” Alateen, as you may know, is a program related to Alcoholics Anonymous which counsels teenage children of alcoholics. I looked up the Alateen schedule and told her where she could find a meeting. She said, “Could I come?” I said “Yes, you can go to the meeting. Is your mother or father having trouble with drinking?” “Yes”, she said, “My dad.” I said, “Well, you come to the meeting, and I’m sure you’ll find some people that you can talk to.” She said, “I’m scared.” I said, “Are you afraid to come to the meeting?” “No,” she said, “I’m just scared.” I said, “How old are you?” “Twelve,” she said. We talked for a while about doing things when you’re scared to do them.
Something went whistling through my soul in that few moments – in that connection with that child in that moment – the Kingdom of God had come near in the scared voice of a little girl whose daddy was out of control.
The mystery of the divine – the sacred presence – the breath of God – human words and concepts cannot contain it – like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the wilderness, it cannot be stored away – it comes and goes – one can only open the door or close the door.
One more thing:
Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs – Jesus invites us to seek and to serve the Kingdom in partnership. The Kingdom of God is not for loners– it takes root in friendship; it comes forth in community, in relationships; it loves supper tables and wherever there is human contact and interaction.
If you are seeking the kingdom – and even more if you are interested in Jesus’ invitation to be a messenger of the kingdom – don’t head out alone – this is a group project . My hope for all of you in your Christian journey is that you will indeed open your door and let the kingdom blow in, and I hope each one of you will find a group of people here in the church that you can love and care about and be in solidarity with – people you can work side by side with to do the things the gospel calls us to do:
to comfort the sick, to instruct the young, lift up the broken hearted, remember those in prison, feed the hungry, house the homeless, speak for oppressed, and proclaim the good news of God – the good news that the Kingdom is indeed near to us.
We are worshipers together in this place – we are seekers together in this place – we are also called in Christ to be partners in ministry – serving one another and serving the Mystery.
Grace and peace to you