Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sermon for November 14th - Flesherton Pastoral Charge

We say it every week ... Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name – THY KINGDOM COME ... Thy Kingdom Come – is simply a succinct proclamation of Jesus thology and understanding of the world. The coming of the Kingdom was foundational to all that Jesus was about and all that he believed. The pending Kingdom of God informed everything from Jesus’ approach and attitude towards the temple through to his understanding of the Messianic Banquet that would bring an end to all of time and space in Jesus’ eschatology.

The Kingdom was far more than just the apocalyptic vision of history drawing to a close – it was and remains an active and involved process. The Kingdom will come when ALL of God’s children embrace, accept, live and celebrate the values of the Kingdom and share them with one another. Jesus teachings and parables were ALL about the kingdom – a time and place not unlike that envisioned centuries earlier by prophetic voices like Isaiah’s.

Jesus proclamations about The Kingdom of God are offered in a time and place where apocalyptic voices were proclaiming the end of time was at hand, while other voices were advocating for the creation of the end times by actively engaging in violence and uprisings to help encourage its creation ... Jesus stood and said – “the Kingdom of God is like ...” and used mundane everyday examples to illuminate the need to care for one another, and to create a place of compassion, acceptance and loving faith where all people belong.

Jesus’ vision of the kingdom was not about a violent cataclyism that ends history ... but was about every day actions being offered in faith to create the world the WAY GOD WANTS IT TO BE.

For Jesus, the Kingdom was about to reveal itself – but not through some light show worthy of a 21st Century Hollywood blockbuster – but through simple individual actions of people like you and me ... The Kingdom of God and its existence or its destruction ultimately was placed in OUR hands. We would decide if it was to happen or not ... our actions would herald it or deny it ... our faith would be the determinent for its arrival or departure. The Kingdom of God was what we would or wouldn’t do.

This notion of the pending Kingdom played a significant role in Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica. Like most of his epistles, Paul wrote this letter in response to crisis unfolding in the heart of the faith community. In this case, it was a strong notion that the apocalypse was about to come. As I read commentaries about this letter, I envisioned a community with a number of folks walking about with the “end is nigh” signs on their back, warning others that the end was about to come.

The members of the Church in Thessalonica were so convinced that these doomsayers were right, that they began to neglect other aspects of their lives ... the description of this early church reminded me of the 18th Century movement that would become known as the Shakers.

So convinced that the end was at hand, members of this sect sold everything they owned, donned white cotton garments and climbed tot he top of a mountain in the Eastern US to await the rapture ... the next morning, cold, tired, hungry and poor, they came back down and tried to make sense of their apparent error ... Three times, this sect announced a date and climbed to the top of a mountain and waiting, and three times they returned the next morning to try and figure out what had happened.

Back in the 80’s I remember being handed a newspaper that proclaimed that the end of time was at hand ... the date was something like the 17th of November 1989 ... then again when I was in Theology College a Church out of Korea made the same assertion ... and if we look back to 1999, we’ll remember the Y2K phenomena that foresaw the demise of life as we know it because programmers had failed to add two digits to their computers ... and today, we have many who believe the Mayan Calendar points to the end of time in 2012 ... we can cite example after example of apocalyptic visions, and the use of fear to convince people that the end is truly at hand ...

Our reading from Isaiah arises in a time and place that seemed like the end times. The people of Israel had experienced war after war after war ... they had watched the temple fall ... they knew that just over the next hill lay yet another army ready to crush them militarily, and it was just a matter of time before ALL that they knew would be wiped away. Yet, here is Isaiah, standing before the people saying – “Don’t be afraid ... it may seem like the end of time, but God is with us ... God will restore us, God will guide us back to the place where swords are forged into plough shares, spears are reshaped into pruning hooks, and God’s Shalom is poured out upon all people ...”

Isaiah, wasn’t speaking from a place of comfort and security – but was standing in the midst of a era full of fear and apprehension and uncertainty ... there was no comfort and no security ... just fear of what was going to be ... and he stood and said – “DO NOT BE AFRAID” offering a reminder to the people that God’s presence promises a transformation in the face of this fear ...

It was fear that gripped the people of Isaiah’s world ... it was fear that gripped the people of Jesus and Paul’s world ... and ultimately, if we are wholly honest, it is fear that grips our world ... We are really no different than the folks in Isaiah’s world, or in Jesus’ world, or in the church at Thessalonica ... they ALL had the same ideas ebbing through their community, convincing people the end was at hand.

And so for the Thessalonians, Paul sat down and penned a letter to try and convince the church people of their mistake ... he wanted them to come back to some rational expression of faith ...

The greatest irony in ALL of this though, is how similar the circumstances faced by the early church is to the context in which we live ... we live in a time where many voices counsel us that the ‘end is nigh’, and want us to live in a place of selfish fear more worried about where we’re gonna end up, then about what we’re doing with our faith.

In the US in recent months, Conservative Commentator Glenn Beck has tried repeatedly to take Jim Wallis of the Sojourners Community to task for being unfaithful. Beck has said that social activism has no place in the Church, and has dubbed Churches and preachers who emphasis social action as unfaithful ... and yet, if we turn back to the words of Jesus himself – even the prayer he taught his followers, we find that social action – making a difference in THIS world was fundamental to everything Jesus proclaimed, preached, taught and was about.

Folks like Beck who denounce social action, and those who are so focused on the end times that they look BEYOND this present moment are missing a significant component of our faith ... living our faith today, in today’s world, addressing today’s issues and challenges.

Ultimately the counter balance to the uncertainty and the fear is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom of God is about living our lives with faith and integrity, trusting in the very presence of God to transform the fear of this moment into the hopeful certainty of being sustained and held by the holy presence of God.

Yesterday at Presbytery we talked for a time about the need for Stewardship in the Church. We noted that often the idea of Stewardship is the annual campaign to raise money to address a need, or a budgetary short fall. We talked about becoming more aware of stewardship issues and how our faith connects to the church in more ways than just putting a few dollars on the collection plate.

I shared with a colleague my view of stewardship that when we embrace the ideas put forward by Jesus himself of the Kingdom of God found within each of us, our need for stewardship campaigns diminishes. Instead of having to appeal for time, talent and treasures each week in the Church, we instead live the notions of transformation that are foundational to our faith.

A good steward makes EVERY decision about finances and resources by considering the full impact of their decision ... as an example, the simple act of buying coffee is an act of stewardship ... we can buy the cheapest brand name, or the no-name store brand, OR we can commit to being good stewards and buy a fair trade brand that ensures 25% of our purchase price goes directly to the grower ... moreover, the fair trade companies invest in local business in the coffee growing regions, so another percentage of our purchase helps the friends and neighbours of the grower find a better life. Most fair trade companies also emphasis the use of shade grown coffee, which produces a better product, maintains more of the natural forest cover, AND encourages the presence of wildlife alongside the coffee plantations. Shade grown coffee also means fewer human interventions to prevent disease and pests, AND it offers spin off products like fruit for the grower’s family, and dried fruit or jam to be marketed and sold beyond the community ... AND many of the fair trade companies invest their profits in foundations that provide education and training for the children in these areas. In one case, the company prioritized the education of girls and young women offering them a chance at something they had never had before – a university education.

So, when we stand in the aisle of the grocery store and have to decide which coffee to buy, ALL of the factors from economic and social through to environmental should come into play, and as educated and faithful stewards we should make our decisions accordingly ...

As good stewards standing firmly in the Kingdom of God, every decision we make should be done from a perspective of faith that accepts and understands and proclaims the certainty that God’s transformation is at hand.

Unfortunately, too often we’ve gotten good at limiting, restricting, protecting and gatekeeping our faith when what we are called to do and to be, is LIVING our faith.

Living our faith out there in the real world, every day, not just here one day a week. Good stewardship begins here (heart), by embracing the idea that our faith and our compassion and our care can and will transform the world – not just our little corner – but the world.

Ultimately, we are called to become engaged believers. The idea – ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is a call to live out our faith by being good stewards of all that God has given to us ... it’s about being active and involved, not cowering in fear waiting for the end times ... Behold the Kingdom of God is at hand – and it is you and I and what we do with our faith ...

Go into the world and BE the Kingdom of God in all that you do ...
May it be so, thanks be to God, let us pray ...

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