Giving birth to the Kingdom of God

Yme Woensdregt

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column entitled “Bad ideas about God are dangerous”. The column included an angry rant about the heartless and faithless policies of President Trump, and also those evangelical Christian leaders who continue to support him, even though his policies are clearly opposed to the teachings and life of Jesus.

It’s important to name the evil we see in the world around us. That includes the policies of any government which denigrate others and particularly those which are aimed at minorities.

But I’m also aware that doing that is a negative thing. I’d rather do something positive. An angry rant, no matter how necessary and well deserved it may be, doesn’t contribute to good in the world.

So this week, I want to turn that around. I ended that column with a reminder that Jesus lived among the poor, reached out to everyone and welcomed them, ate and drank with sinners, claimed that God’s love is for everyone without exception. I mentioned that Jesus proclaimed above all that the kingdom of God is drawing near to us, a reign which is marked by radical welcome and the inclusion of all people.

What is this “kingdom of God”? Many Christians interpret it as if Jesus was talking about a time and place at the end of the world when God’s kingdom will be ushered in. In their minds, the “kingdom of God” is not a reality for today; it is a description of a heaven which waits for us after we die.

I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant. Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God is among us here and now. It is in our midst. Jesus understood that God is present and active in our world, and we live within the reign of God when we recognize God’s full and active presence. We pray for it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.”

So what is this “kingdom of God”?

It’s a good question, because it reminds us that we need to seek God’s reign among us. So many things in life distract us from living within God’s reign. So many things in our public and private lives run counter to God’s reign. We are tempted to find all kinds of ways to insulate and anaesthetize ourselves to the demands of God’s reign. So we need reminders.

Here’s the beginning of a list. It illustrates places where we can seek God’s reign among us. But it’s only a beginning. There are many other possibilities.

The kingdom of God always chooses love and compassion over rules. That is clear when Jesus heals a man on the sabbath (Mark 3). You weren’t supposed to do anything on the sabbath, but Jesus reminds his opponents that human lives always take precedence over laws.

In the kingdom of God, all boundaries and borders are dissolved. Rather than building walls, Ephesians 2 reminds us that Jesus came to break down every dividing wall between people. The kingdom of God reaches out in compassion and love to break down every wall and build bridges.

In Galatians 3, Paul reminds us that in the kingdom of God, all human distinctions are of no account—“In Christ, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek”. It’s a vision of radical equality. All are one in God’s economy. There is neither immigrant nor longterm resident. There is neither gay nor straight. There is neither white nor coloured. All are one.

The kingdom of God does not define us primarily by our nationality or our gender or our wealth. Rather, we are all held within the love of God, who loves without limits or boundaries.

The kingdom of God welcomes all people, from the very young to the very old. There’s a story about the disciples wanting to shoo the children away (Matthew 19). After all, Jesus was an important man, too important for such childish pursuits. But Jesus scolds the disciples and embraces the children. Indeed, Jesus holds the children up as models for us.

The kingdom of God doesn’t honour the rich or powerful as models of Jesus. Rather, Matthew 25 reminds us that when we welcome the least and the lowest of our brothers and sisters, we are welcoming Jesus. In today’s world, that includes immigrants and refugees, drug addicts and alcoholics, the poor and the homeless. In fact, Jesus teaches us over and over again that the first will be last; the rich and powerful stand at the end of the line in the kingdom.

In the kingdom of God, it’s not true that God helps those who help themselves. God, through us, helps those who are in desperate need, those who cannot help themselves.

I could go on. But you get the point. Those who claim to be followers of Jesus are called to look at the world through gospel eyes, through kingdom eyes.

It’s not a theoretical thing—it’s meant to become reality in our lives and in our world.

It’s not a sentimental notion—it’s meant to be part of our daily lives.

It’s not a normal thing—it’s powerfully countercultural, especially as the divisions between us seemingly become more powerful.

Jesus calls us to embody that kingdom. The kingdom becomes real in us. God claims us, and we respond by speaking words of hope, reaching out in compassion, and living with a deep love which includes all people.

When we begin to do that, when we begin to act on the faith we claim to hold, then the kingdom of God begins to be born in us. Then we can truly pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.”

Yme Woensdregt is pastor of Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

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