Getting Heaven Into Us (Kingdom Living #1)
Kingdom Living #1 - Getting Heaven Into Us
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Sept 20, 2015 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Lead Pastor
Good morning and welcome! I’m so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th time, we are grateful that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search or you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here. And our prayer for you today is that that you would experience welcome, acceptance, space. And we pray that you encounter the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
What We Presently Believe Is Not True. - An Invitation to Leave the Ordinary World
What we presently believe about the kingdom of God is not true. Some of us might imagine harps, clouds, and angel choirs when we hear the “kingdom of God” because we have been trained to only think of heaven or the kingdom of God as the place we go when we die. But for Jesus, the kingdom of God was the place where God ruled and reigned. It’s not the place we go, it’s the place that comes to us.
“But Pastor Donnell, We live, work, and play in the ordinary world,” you say.
This is why I like the concept of the Hero’s Journey that I introduced last week. It’s this framework that we have all already been exposed to, which invites us to imagine a new reality; a reality that’s always been present, but not always seen—a reality that’s full of new possibilities. When Jesus invites us to follow him into the kingdom of God, it’s not a condemnation of the ordinary world, it’s an invitation to live our best lives.
When we answer Jesus’ call to live within the kingdom, the first obstacle we encounter is our blindness to the Kingdom’s existence. When we follow Jesus into the Kingdom of God, we do so by faith.The first thing that happens is we are healed of our blindness to the reality of the Kingdom. Quickly thereafter, we have to make a decision, are we going to live by the false values of the Empire or are we going to surrender to the plan that Jesus lays out in his Gospel announcement?
Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)
Following Jesus into the kingdom of God isn’t about our righteousness as much as it is about our willingness: Are you willing? This is another stage in the Hero’s Journey, answering the call, often when we are called to leave the ordinary world, we are reluctant. We think, “This world, I know how it operates, I know what I have to do to get ahead.” Why leave the comfort that this world offers me?
Friends, we don’t enter the Kingdom as perfect people. We enter the kingdom by faith. We enter as we are; broken, needy, wounded. This is why Jesus starts off by saying, “Repent, and believe the good news of the kingdom.” This is an invitation to reconsider the way we think life is supposed to work.
And we need faith because the kingdom is not like anything we’ve experienced. I hear Jesus saying, “Where we are going and what you are going to experience won’t fit into your neat picture of God, the world, and life. I’m going to show you the way, but you have to do something first, you have to repent and believe the good news of the kingdom.”
The Kingdom of God - We Enter by Faith & Repentance
Jesus’s original hearers, living in the Promised Land, being ruled by someone other than God, heard so much more in Jesus’ simple Gospel announcement.
For the original hearers, Jesus was invoking the prophet Isaiah. Declaring that the creator God was finally, at long last, acting on behalf of his people. He was going to make all things right. He was coming with his rule and reign. This was indeed Good News!
The announcement of the Gospel of the kingdom of God was based on God’s forgiveness, anchored in Isaiah’s prophesies. This pronouncement included deliverance from oppression and injustice; deliverance from guilt and death; deliverance from war and slavery. This was a declaration that Israel’s long exile was finally coming to an end. It was anchored in the hope that God would send his representative, a Messiah, someone who would usher in the rescue God’s people.
This was a promise of salvation for not just Israel, but ultimately for the whole creation; for nations, for families, and individuals. This hope for salvation wasn’t a hope for some kind of disembodied escape to another place–the heavenly realm–nor was it was a hope for physical justice without the living presence of God in our everyday. This was the hope in the return from exile, a restoration of the relationship with ourselves, with each other, and with God.
Tend the Garden, Unlock the Hidden Potential in Creation
All of this takes us back to a garden. After preparing this garden, God placed the first humans in it. He gave them a job: tend the garden, unlock the hidden potential in creation.
“Humanity was created and blessed with the tremendous freedom and responsibility to see that every glorious potential in creation, every cultural activity, every artistic imagination, every ordinary labor would find full expression in relationship to our Creator’s character and the unfolding of the Kingdom in our midst.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
Sadly, in response, we told the Creator that we knew better than he did and we weren’t interested in his mission, his vocational calling for us. We decided we had a better way. This idea that “we could do it better by ourselves,” was disastrous. The good creation suffered under the consequences of our rebellion. We know this to be true because we see that human life is plagued by violence, injustice, unrighteousness, and misery.
And God could have responded with, “You made your bed, so sleep in it.”
Yet even in the midst of our rebellion, God didn’t abandon his dream for creation. He promised to extinguish the evil forces we unleashed in his good creation.
Jesus becomes the fulfillment of this promise and as he takes up his vocational calling. He lays out the agenda that the King established,: a rescue mission to end our suffering,;to remove our shame; and to restore us again as his image bearers in his good creation.
Jesus inaugurates this dream when he proclaims the gospel of the Kingdom.
He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing...”
“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:16-19, 21, 43)
So What Exactly Is the Kingdom of God?
It’s the reversal of a way of thinking about oneself in the world. Without Jesus’s declaration that the kingdom of God was breaking into the world, we were left to assume that God was okay with the world as it was broken, violent, unjust, despairing.
How could Jesus claim that in himself the reign of God had come, and yet evil had not yet been defeated and eradicated?
I think Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed is helpful here:
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
The kingdom is in tension, it’s all ready, but not fully come.
DEMONSTRATION: I need two volunteers.
Jesus taught that we do not have the whole mustard bush, but we do have the seeds. The kingdom was unfolding in God’s presence through Jesus: in the justice of feeding the hungry welcoming the outcasts & traitors; healing the sick; paying attention to and affirming the wisdom of children. The kingdom was unfolding in the peacemaking of forgiveness and of the welcome of those on the outside, at the margins of society; in healing of the blind, lame, and demon-possessed; and in the affirmation of women who had been largely ignored.
As I was working on this sermon, I had a conversation with one of my sermon readers about how hard this sermon has been and she said, “It would be easier if you could just demonstrate the in-breaking of the kingdom–that’s what Jesus did.” As we chatted that the best demonstration of the in-breaking of the kingdom would be raising someone from the dead.
Do we have any takers this morning? Of course, I’m only joking.
But I find it interesting that even though Jesus was demonstrating the in-breaking of the kingdom during his public ministry there were those around him that didn’t believe signs of the kingdom meant that the God’s presence was unfolding in their midsts.
Why? Because the kingdom of God meant that the King was coming to reign and rule, and certainly that would involve the overthrow of the Roman occupiers.
Take this interaction between John the Baptist, his disciples, and Jesus.
“John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ” ... So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Luke 7:18-23)
I don’t want to pit John and Jesus against each other, I just want to expose that we all have different expectations of the kingdom. This is why I think Jesus calls for us to repent and believe the good news as he launches the kingdom of God.
If we go back to Luke 4 for a moment, we discover that right after Jesus announces the Gospel of Kingdom those who heard it sought to kill him.
Why? Because he was welcoming all the wrong folks into the Kingdom. He wasn’t saying the right things, his kingdom announcement didn’t line up with their expectations.
If we have in mind the marks of the kingdom as God’s deliverance, presence, justice, peace, healing, and joy, we recognize that the mustard seeds planted within us, and within the world,carry those characteristics, it helps understand the unfolding of the Kingdom. The presence of the kingdom in the person of Jesus meant that the kingdom of God was of a radically different order from people’s expectations. It was not “the overthrow of the hated Roman Empire.”
It was present in Jesus as he performed the practices of the kingdom that Isaiah prophesied: deliverance, salvation, justice, healing, peace, joy. “What has been fulfilled, according to Jesus, was that in his own ministry the time of God’s favor toward the poor had come. As he healed the sick, cast out of demons, and ate with sinners, he showed them God’s unlimited mercy. The people were to understand that God’s dream for humanity was finally unfolding.”
The Gospel of the Kingdom is About Getting Heaven into You, Not You Getting Into Heaven
We falsely believe that the kingdom of God is about getting us into heaven, in fact the kingdom of God is about getting heaven into us.
It is possible for us to live within the kingdom of God everyday. We enter the kingdom when we believe that the God of the kingdom is alive and invites us to live differently to reset the “way the world works.”
How do we dispense with violence, how do we enthrone justice, how does love reign supreme? Through our willingness to leave the world as we know and imagine a new world, a new reality. When we do this, and put into practice the virtues and values that Jesus teaches us, we enter into and learn to live within the kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated. Next week, we will turn to the Sermon on the Mount for instructions.
Ask the Lord to show you the Kingdom in your midsts