Sunday, March 8, 2020 “Thy Kingdom Come”
The message for Sunday, March 8, 2020, “Thy Kingdom Come” by Pastor Erik Goehner, heard during the 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00 Worship service.
Thy Kingdom Come MARK 4:26-32 March 8, 2020
Many of you may be aware that my wife’s parents were in a bad car accident last November. The impact affected my father-in-law so harshly that it broke his neck and he had to have emergency surgery. Fortunately, there was an outstanding surgeon on call at Los Robles hospital and my father-in-law was okay, but there was a long recovery ahead. After a week, he was released from the hospital and we brought him to our house to get through the first couple of months, when he would need the most help.
When my father in law came into our home, it was the week before Thanksgiving. Needless, to say at that point we were not thinking about purchasing a turkey or getting all the right fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner. We were not thinking about it, but our neighbors were. They were determined that we would have a proper Thanksgiving and so they approached us with the idea of bringing food over so we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking. We were a little hesitant to receive such a generous offer at first, but they assured us it would be a joint effort and not too much work for any one person so we accepted.
The morning of Thanksgiving, the food began to arrive. One neighbor brought over green beans, another mashed potatoes, another salad and dessert and another, a large turkey. We had not requested this gift, we had done nothing to earn it. All we had to do was receive it. As we prepared to eat we did our tradition of saying something we were thankful for. Several of us were choking up as we gave thanks for the recovery of my father- in-law and thanks for neighbors who cared enough to reach out so that we could have Thanksgiving dinner.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the second part of the Lord’s prayer. Martin Luther says that God’s kingdom comes on its own even without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us. A sign of God’s kingdom came to us as our neighbors came to our house, bearing the gift of food that not only nourished or bodies, but nourished our souls with gratitude. It was just a small act of kindness, but as Jesus talks about, small things can have a big impact.
One of the favorite images that Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of God in the Bible is that of a seed. He says, “God’s kingdom is like what happens when a farmer scatters seed in a field. The farmer sleeps at night and is up and around during the day. Yet the seeds keep sprouting and growing, (first slide) and he doesn’t understand how. It is like what happens when a mustard seed is planted in the ground. (next slide) Once it is planted, it grows larger than any garden plant. It even puts out branches that are big enough for birds to nest in its shade.
God’s kingdom is not so much a place as it is a movement of growth. (blank slide) The word, kingdom, both in the Aramaic, that Jesus spoke and in the Greek of the New Testament actually means kingship. It refers to the ruling or reigning activity of God in rescuing people from sin and bringing about a new creation. When we pray “Thy kingdom come…” we are asking God’s reign to grow in our lives. We are asking God’s reign to become bigger within us so that it reaches out and brings shelter to others like branches on a tree.
Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk and spiritual writer once said, “Grace, which is charity, contains in itself all virtues in a hidden and potential manner,(next slide) like the leaves and the branches of the oak, hidden in the seed of an acorn. To be an acorn is to have a taste for being an oak tree. (next slide) Habitual grace brings with it the seed of all the Christian virtues.”
To be an acorn is to have a taste for being an oak tree. I think this is a great phrase to describe how God’s reign works within us. (blank slide) When we receive the seed of the kingdom, we are getting a vision that gives us a glimpse of how God wants humanity to grow into a kind of community that is strong and beautiful. I believe this is what Jesus is getting at as he teaches us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He is reminding us of the heavenly vision that God is calling us too and saying we are to be a part of bringing that vision to earth.
So what are some of the characteristics that are a part of the heavenly vision of God’s rule? One part of the Bible where we see this vision clearly described is in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah talks about a time in the future when everyone will be included in God’s reign as all the nations will come to God’s holy mountain. He talks about a time of peace when all of God’s diverse creatures will get along. The wolf will lie done with the lamb. Swords will be beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and people will study war no more. It is a time when there will be enough resources for everyone and all will share in the bounty in a universal banquet. It will be for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
It is this last image that Jesus seems to enact in particular way during his ministry as much of his time is spent engaging with people around table fellowship. It is around a table that he eats with tax collectors and sinners, where he welcomes the outcast. It is around a table where Christ’s presence moves Zacchaeus to pay back all that he had stolen and give half he had to the poor. It is around a table where a woman moved by forgiveness enters to wash the feet of Jesus as a sign of her love and gratitude. It is around a table where the healing presence of God is revealed through a relationship with Christ.
But this simple sign of God’s presence may not have matched up with people’s expectations of what the kingdom of God would be like. They may have thought that it would represent God’s intervention in our world in order to the right the wrongs that so many people experience. To those who first heard the proclamation of the kingdom’s presence it may have sounded absurd. Where, they might have asked Jesus, is God’s transfigured world to be seen? How had anything changed in a world of peasant poverty, local injustice, and imperial oppression from Rome?
Jesus had said the kingdom of God has come near (Mark 1:14-15) so what did he mean? The response we see that emerges in reading the Gospels is as if Jesus may have been saying, “You have been waiting for God while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.
This is why Jesus did not settle down in Nazareth or Capernaum and have his companions bring others to him. Instead, he sent them out to do exactly what he himself was doing: healing the sick, eating with all kinds of folks, rich and poor, men and women, young and old, engaging the diverse community of God’s people. Jesus revealed that the kingdom movement was not about intervention by God, but about participation with God. God’s rule does not become a reality without divinely empowered participation and Spirit-driven collaboration. (The Greatest Prayer, by, John Crossan, pp. 89 and 90)
The Rev. Christie Melby-Gibbons felt called to collaborate with the kingdom of God through a ministry of the Moravian church called the “Trickle Bee Café”. (next slide) It is a working restaurant with the mission of providing healthy meals and spiritual nourishment to an area in need. Rev. Christie says,
“I served a church in L.A. for six years, and one of the biggest things we did was a meal ministry where we rescued food from grocery stores and we’d make these big meals. We served neighbors who were homeless, who were drug addicted. It was for anyone who wanted to come and eat. We decided that we wanted to come back to the Midwest and keep the momentum of that going. So, I said, how about a café where people pay-what-they-can to eat and the focus is nourishing spirits?”
Settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2015, (next slide) Rev. Christies and her husband used demographics to determine where their presence would have the greatest impact, eventually selecting Sherman Park as its location. One of the poorest areas in Milwaukee, Sherman Park lacks grocery stores and restaurants providing healthy, affordable options. Initially, members of the community weren’t sure what to expect, but the ministry was ultimately embraced by the neighborhood. Rev. Christie says, “There are people who have lived here their entire lives and they’re discovering new foods that they’ve never heard of before. Many of our neighbors are excited to learn that there is delicious, healthy food here”. (next slide)
True to its promise, some patrons pay and some do not, but no one is turned away. There is, however, a suggested payment range for meals, which factors in the cost of utilities, rent, paying a living wage to their employees, the offset of donations and the purchase of local, organic food. The current suggested payment range is $5.70 to $6.50 per meal.
“Nobody knows who’s paying and who’s not, so there is this equalizing effect that happens,” says Rev. Christie. (next slide) “People come in and there might not be enough room for them to sit at their own table, so they have to join another table, and they end up talking and sometimes exchanging information. Boundaries come down that were maybe there before like ethnicity or economic status, and it kind of disappears when they walk through the door. And to foster that sort kindness and compassion on a small scale is really a joy.” (blank slide)
Fostering community where people with different backgrounds engage with one other, and equality is promoted. Sounds like a sign of the kingdom of God. This reign of God is coming near you. This seed of God’s vision is planted in you and like a seed planted in the right soil it can grow into something beautiful. You are called to be a co-collaborator with God in the re-making of the world towards justice and mercy. Will you receive this seed and answer this call? O Lord, let thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.