Living the Kingdom

You know, when Pastor Donna called me and asked if I would preach this week she neglected to tell me what passages were up in the lectionary, she just gave me the chapter and verses, no explanation of what going on here.  When I looked at Deuteronomy I though hey, this, this could be rough, God sure is asking a lot here.  How about the Psalm?  Oh yeah, this, I see how this can connect to the Deuteronomy reading, walking in the ways of the LORD, makes it a bit easier to understand the Deuteronomy reading.  We should still be in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, lets see what is up next there, how will I be able to tie that in?  Whoa!  What on earth am I supposed to do with this?  Anger is Murder? Looking at someone lustfully is adultery?  Divorce is adultery? And making an oath appears to be an affront to God?  I have to admit; I almost called Donna back and said, “Oh heck no!  I can’t do this.”

Then I sat back and thought for some time I wrestled with the text, turned it over in my head, looked at it as many ways as I possibly could.  This is a passage that talks about what life looks like with God, not a life that any of us can live alone, but a life lived with God.
Looking at these texts there is a common question to ask, “How can this be done?”  In asking this question we begin a discussion with God.  God has told us how to live.  God told us as we were about to enter the Promised Land in Deuteronomy.  God asked us to choose life as we entered the Promised Land.  God asked us to stay in relationship with God and the question became for the people Israel, whom we are a part of, “how do we do this?”  See, it is not just each of us individually who ask, “How can I do this?”  We all ask this question with God’s support.  God has our back so to speak.  So this is relational, whenever we say “I”, “How can I do this?” we must remember that we are not alone and that God is there with us to.  So it is always, “How do we do this?” Or, “How is this done?”
Looking to the Deuteronomy text, Israel was able to be in this relationship because there was a total trust in the LORD God that stemmed from a time of wandering in the wilderness that lasted famously for 40 years.  To make the journey from Egypt into the Promised Land, they wandered with God for 40 years.  This forty year time period led to this passage of scripture today.  Stay in relationship with God, love God, follow the commandments, and you will prosper in the land that the LORD your God has promised you.  And it took the people Israel 40 years of wandering to understand the implications of this.  They could have crossed the Sinai Wilderness in less than a year, but God held them there, in the wilderness, teaching them constantly to rely upon God instead of themselves.  Teaching the people Israel that indeed God loves them and cherishes them, but God is jealous and if the people Israel bow down to other gods, that the people Israel will perish in the promised land.  Yes, indeed the choice was given, even in the land that is the Reign and Realm of God we have a choice to follow or not follow God, and in not following God, there is a promise of perishing.  And none of us would want to choose death over life now would we?
So, I have to do this, err, we have to do this, God has commanded me, us, the entire people Israel, all those who make the radical proclamation that God is the LORD.  This steps outside of national affiliations, which is why we who are here now in the United States of America in 2011, can claim the LORDship of God.  And when we walk blamelessly in the way of the LORD, that is when we live in the Reign and Realm of God, which is not defined by any human realm, we are walking in pure joy.  Pure happiness.  But as we know from wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, this is hard to do.  What appears to be a short trip from the land of hardship into God’s promised land is in actuality a journey that takes our whole lives.  We beg in the psalm for time to learn all the statues of the LORD God so that we may praise God with an upright heart and in so doing also be among those who are blameless and happily walk in the light of God.  Later in the same Psalm, the longest in the bible, we continue to lament for our lack of understanding and beg for clarity in understanding the precepts of God.  And at the end we ask God, to “seek out your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”
This Psalm was utilized as a teaching Psalm.  It is broken up into 22 sections, each section correlates to a letter in the Hebrew Aelph-Bet.  And each line in each section starts with the same letter.  It is a very long psalm, but was apparently very often memorized by those learning the ways of God.  That is, a God who was relational and loved them and wanted the best for them.  This God did not want to forget Israel.  This God, the LORD God could not forget God’s chosen people.  They had struggled with God for generations.  And everyone imagined themselves in the land of hardship, that is, Egypt.  And today, we remember, each and every time we come together, the journey we as a people have been on with God from our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the people as they fled Egypt into the wilderness where God formed them into the people Israel.  God’s chosen and anointed.
In Gospel reading the people of God had been living in the land promised them by God for generations.  The people were living in God’s realm, God’s Kingdom, under God’s reign.  But they thought it was a territorial issue.  They thought that the land they inhabited was the Promised Land.  The land though was not the Promised Land because they inhabited it.  It was the Promised Land, the Reign and Realm of God because God had said it was.  And generations later, in the time of Jesus, the people had ventured far away from this understanding.  They had been corroborating with the Greek and Roman authorities, trying to hold onto temporal power over the land they lived in.
This is the situation Jesus comes into.  Three weeks ago we heard Jesus say, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"  These were the first words of his own in his public ministry.  Jesus reminds us right away that the Kingdom of God, the Reign and Realm of God is here, it is now.  We know this to be the case because we have seen what the Kingdom of God looks like.  We have had the glimpses of what is going on in the Kingdom.  We have seen the response to natural disasters such as the Earthquake in Haiti, we have seen the love of a congressional staffer as he staunched the bleeding of his boss after she had been shot in Tucson, and we have seen what can happen when the people of God work together to throw off oppressive governments such as modern Egypt on Friday.  And here, in this very building, we have seen the Kingdom of God when we join together to take communion, when we hosted Project Home, when the scouts are outside in the parking lot roasting marshmallows on a bitterly cold Monday night in February, and when our gifts leave this building and support those around us who are hurting, who are hungry, who are sick, who are poor, that, brothers and sisters, this is truly the Kingdom of God.  We have seen it, we know its power to change lives, we know its power in our lives, our hopes, and our dreams.
The first time we heard of the Kingdom of God was when the people Israel left Egypt.  The people left the land of hardship, not knowing where they would end up, following some guy Moses, who’s identity was confusing in the least, and set out for the land promised them by God to their fathers Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac.  We see in the Ten Commandments we know what the Kingdom looks like.  I am the LORD your God.  Do not make idols and bow down to them.  Do not take the LORD’s name in vain.  Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.  Honor your father and mother.  Do not murder.  Do not commit adultery.  Do not steal.  Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.  Do not covet your neighbor’s wife.  Do not covet your neighbor’s property.  These all speak of what life is like in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God that is at hand.  And these are the same things that Jesus is speaking of in the Gospel text today.  Jesus speaks of what the Kingdom of God looks like.  Jesus reminds the people that they live in God’s Kingdom, not their own kingdom, or Rome’s kingdom, or even America’s Kingdom.

Jesus knows that we, as fallen humanity, cannot possibly fulfill all of these rules.  And yet Jesus tells us that these rules need to be fulfilled, and that in living in the Kingdom of God, they will be.  This is the tension of living in this world and in the Kingdom of God at the same time.  On one hand, I know that every person is a beloved child of God.  On the other though, I am human and I will be angry with people, and I will not be able to resolve that anger.  In the Kingdom of God, we love as God loves, we heal as God heals, we live as God lives.  And we are called to live this way every day of our lives.  We have been adopted as children into the family of God.  We are expected to live like it.  Now, go, live your life with God, go forth, you can do it.  This community forms you, God forms you, and you form yourself.  Live into the Kingdom of God; make it a reality upon the Earth, not just something to look forward upon death.


Sermon, The Lakes Lutheran Church Las Vegas NV 1.23.11

Did you hear the story of Jesus?  These past two weeks I have been with you here at the Lakes Church we have heard of the baptism of Jesus and the claim that Jesus is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world.  Today’s Gospel reading looks at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
Just prior to today’s reading we have Jesus in the wilderness being tempted.  Jesus was baptized by John in the wilderness and then went off into the desert.  Jesus had been led there by the Spirit, the Breath of God.  This is the same Spirit that led the Jews out of Egypt and into the wilderness.  Jesus now also travels into the wilderness and much like the ancient Israelites he is tempted in the wilderness.  The devil was there, asking Jesus to do things that would prove that Jesus was the Son of God.  These three things included
  • Make bread from a stone
  • Jump from atop the Temple, you will be safe
  • And worship the devil and gain all the kingdoms of the world

Each time he is tempted, he quotes the Hebrew scriptures illustrating understanding of the scripture and relationship with God.  Jesus, as we know survives these temptations and this is where we pick up the story for this week.  John the Baptist has been arrested.  The work that John was doing to further the Kingdom of God was interrupted by the powers that be.
Re-read the scripture
The Message
12-17When Jesus got word that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee. He moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulun and Naphtali hills. This move completed Isaiah's sermon:

   Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
      road to the sea, over Jordan,
         Galilee, crossroads for the nations.
   People sitting out their lives in the dark
         saw a huge light;
   Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
      they watched the sun come up.

   This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."
 18-20Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
 21-22A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee's sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.
 23-25From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God's kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God's government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives.
Jesus is tempted again.  He heads to Galilee, thirty miles from Jerusalem.  That distance would be the equivalent to driving in a car to Reno today.  Not a quick trip.  This distance from the seat of power allows for Jesus to hide.  Quite the temptation eh?  But we know that more was meant here.  The prophesies of Isaiah are fulfilled by this movement.
And it is it is declared by Jesus to repent, change your life, for the Reign and Realm of God are at Hand.
The temptations of the world and of the devil no longer have hold over us.  Not that they ever did.  Jesus has called for us to remember the promise of the Exodus.  The promise within the first commandment, have no other gods before God, the laws of God, not desiring the world, but living in relationship with God and one another.  Repent your reliance and desire for the things of the world.  The Reign and Realm of God is at hand.  We can reach out and touch it.  And shortly we will be doing just that.  The passing of the peace during communion is a sign of reconciliation between us and God and between each other.  It is key that we do this so that we come to the table without grievance, for there are no grievances between people within the Reign and Realm of God.
The Kingdom of God is doing what you do and following God.  Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John all were fishing and Jesus called them to do it for God.  In following Jesus they leave the old world of self reliance behind.  Just after Jesus declares the Reign and Realm of God is at hand, God, in Jesus, calls his first followers into relationship with Him.
A good part of the rest of the Gospel of Matthew is a collection of parables that Jesus uses to illustrate what the Reign and Realm of God looks like.  One of my favorites is the Pearl Merchant in Matthew 13:45:46
 45-46"God's kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.
These stories teach us what the Reign and Realm of Heaven looks like.  Just hearing the phrase Reign and Realm does not make clear what it is and neither does hearing each parable alone.  We must take the Gospel of Matthew in toto and have the parables interact with the Sermon on the Mount and with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
The contemporary Irish Theologian Peter Rollins has written a collection of parables called “The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.”  This collection of stories is great and all of them have begged me to reconsider the Reign and Realm of God.   One of my favorites is his retelling of the Pearl Merchant.
Read Parable here
Did you hear it?  The Reign and Realm of God is this pearl!  If you let go of all worldly desires of, profit, security, power, and embrace the Reign and Realm of God you will know the value of the pearl.  Put your faith entirely into God as God puts God’s faith into you.
In obtaining the pearl the merchant gave up all that is dear to him.  And in finding the Reign and Realm of God you give up all that you hold dear, most importantly the Gods of your own creation.  We all know what these gods are, Pride, money, status, none of that brings us closer to understanding the Reign and Realm of God.  Only when we loose everything and follow Jesus as the disciples do in the reading today do we understand what is meant by the Reign and Realm of God in Matthew.
This is not a life after death type of Kingdom.  This Reign and Realm is hear and now!  You can touch it. It is at Hand!  You can live in this Reign and Realm as you live here in Las Vegas Nevada.  In this place, the cars driving by outside, down on the Strip, we are being asked by Jesus to recognize the Reign and Realm.  Let what you do be an example to others and follow Jesus.  Jesus is asking for you to do what you do, and do it the best that you can for the Reign and Realm of God.  Do not focus on the desires and the goals of this world, but look at what you do as contributing to the building up of the Reign and Realm of God, and do it the best you can.