Our family once had a neighbor who sometimes wanted to stay inside her home with peace and quiet for herself — unless there was a real emergency. She would put her three small children into the backyard, which had a good fence around it, and give a simple instruction. “Don’t call me to the door unless you’re bleeding.” She was serious.
Jesus was serious, too, when he sent his 70 assistants into the villages with instructions to focus on their message as an emergency. They were to go into the villages saying “The kingdom of God is at hand,” not outside or next week, but right here right now. Their instructions might be compared to a fireman pounding on doors: “Get out, get out. Don’t stop for anything!”
Some would head for the stairs. Some would hesitate, suspicious, thinking there might be another motive for wanting them out. But the person knocking on doors must go on, giving the message to as many as possible, sounding the alarm, hoping that some will believe and be saved. Others will argue, delay, or just not believe.
We all know about excuses, and reasons, for not doing something or for not getting involved. We can always blame somebody else for not wanting to do our part, not willing to pull our part of the load. Every congregation I served had so-called inactive members. My uncle who was statistical secretary of Synod for many years told me, “There’s no such thing as an inactive member. Anybody who wants to be a member has to come to worship, at least once in a while. ” Just as a sinking ship does not permit the luxury of debate, Jesus asked for a decision. “Focus on the kingdom,” he said.
“Stay wherever you can in a village and don’t make a commotion about their hospitality. Concentrate on healing the sick. Announce the coming of the kingdom.” Wouldn’t the world be vastly different if all church members who claim to be followers of Christ were energized with that kind of urgency? Jesus did not invite his followers to beds of ease. And there is no record of a complaint from the seventy who were sent out. When they returned, they reported to Jesus, “Even the demons submit to us.” What they reported was the immediate effect of their witness. Jesus looked beyond that effect to translate those results into cosmic proportions.
He said, “Yes, but what I saw in those healings was Satan falling from heaven like a flash of lightning.” Can we imagine the outpouring of power and love if we Christians concentrated on our real mission with a do-or-die effort? What if we were on the other side of the situation, having heard the announcement of the kingdom? The arrival of the kingdom as preached by Jesus Christ is the greatest on-going event we shall ever know. Do we respond to the announcement of the kingdom as though the house is on fire and we must sound the alarm, or as though a child is bleeding and we must take action?
In Jesus’ time, sickness was a catastrophe of dreadful proportion. In the popular mind, if the kingdom could overcome sickness and disease, then no other power would be able to stand against it.
When Jesus discussed his kingdom in terms of the church on earth, he said that even the powers of death shall not prevail. If words like love and forgiveness and commitment are translated into action, they can overcome a multitude of sins and in that victory, the kingdom can become a reality, right here, right now.
We are the present day disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. He has commissioned us to live as in the reality of the Kingdom. Jesus expects the kingdom to be the center of our attention, including not just Sunday but especially our daily life and work. Martin Luther would have us believe that what we do for a living or what we do as a retired stay-at-home, single or married is our calling in the kingdom. We have already encountered the kingdom in our baptism, and from that beginning we branch out into all the activities of living. At the same time, we keep on affirming and renewing that relationship in worship.
We keep on meeting Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, in our reading and praying, our singing and listening, and especially in the sacramental meal of celebration. God is at work in and through the ordinary church member, announcing his kingdom. And just as unmistakably, we meet him in the needs of our fellow human beings who kneel or stand with us, both symbolically and realistically, at God’s table. Then we go out to meet him in those individuals who cross our path in the crowded ways of life.
When the first messengers went out, they had one thing on their minds, to announce the kingdom. Just so, our citizenship in the kingdom should set our priorities. When we have decisions before us, whether of buying or recreation or career, or how to handle our friends who fail us or our enemies who distract us, we are always citizens of the kingdom. We need to ask ourselves what it means that we also have been sent out by the Risen Savior to announce the kingdom. The call of the kingdom is not that we should all become Puritans or street preachers.
We may think a Puritan is a sour-faced fellow who is opposed to playing cards or dancing or drinking or recreation in general. In other words, against having a good time.
But that would be a caricature. The chief thing, the redeeming thing, is that a true Puritan believed everything is accountable to God.
He didn’t see entertainment or games or socializing as evil, but in view of the immense work of the kingdom to be done, these were of lower priority. This age of “I’ll do it if it feels good” could use a stout dose of Puritanism. For ourselves, we would do well to start with the premise that because God’s kingdom is at hand, there are urgencies that demand attention.
Our overarching concern is to be responsible citizens of the kingdom. If we put our priorities there, the first result might be to have different expectations of God. W. H. Auden wrote that our usual prayer is for God to help Willie with his homework, help sister meet an attractive naval officer, and keep baby from crying. If we had the right understanding of the kingdom, then our expectations of God would deal more with the issues of the kingdom and less our individual often petty troubles.
Then, where should our citizenship take hold of us and make a difference? First, in the simple things, like paying attention to the words of a hymn, or joining in the prayers, or concentrating on the liturgy. As our spiritual life is nourished, we should look for opportunities to visit someone who is sick or shut-in, or simply in need of friendly, personal attention. How can we help our neighbors, near or far? We might begin to see our whole life as a response to God’s grace. In our worship, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what God has first given us — our selves, our time, and our possessions. These are signs of God’s gracious love for us.
Whatever we have, in God’s sight we are merely temporary keepers. Since God alone is the creator, he possesses everything including ourselves. We can manage his possessions, but God alone owns this world and the solar system.
If God were not generous to us in the first place, we would have no time or possessions to offer to him in thanksgiving for his love. God receives our gifts for the sake of Jesus Christ who offered himself for us. It is here that we touch one of the deepest meanings of being modern-day disciples of Christ. Because Christ was acceptable to God, we are acceptable to God. For the sake of Christ, God looks on us with forgiveness and love. He forgives our sins. Is anyone burdened with guilt by what happened or should not have happened perhaps even years ago? Who among us does not regret deeds we pray God will forgive?
God forgives every sin, all sins, especially those for which we cannot forgive ourselves. He doesn’t ask whether we deserve his love or whether we have earned his grace by what we have done. Instead, God looks at the willing self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ who rose from death, and gives us the benefits of his victory.
The mission and resurrection of Jesus Christ raise us to be associates with God. He has not called us to share in a work that he himself was unwilling to undertake. But with the life of Jesus Christ as our pattern, we are called to be co-workers with God. There is no greater honor in life than to be called day by day as being on a mission from God. We are his people!
We are partners with Jesus Christ! And the kingdom has come and is coming to us!.
The kingdom is alive in us!
THANKS BE TO GOD!