Jesus says “The Kingdom of God is at hand”. As we look around at headlines, web pages, tweets, etc, it seems that quite a few folks want to use the Kingdom of God as a means to control others. Even in some discussions this past week it seems that many folks want to decide who can get into the Kingdom, and who has to stay out. Some reduce the Kingdom to specified beliefs and practices, rules and regulations, so that if we stop doing them for whatever reason we are “leaving the faith”, turning our back on the kingdom.
Yet, when we look at Jesus we find he did not think this way. For him the Kingdom of God was relational, happening in and among folks as they lived their everyday lives. He showed folks they were important to God and his Father really loved them, often in and through the other folks in their lives. Because it is relational, the Kingdom is not a black and while affair. Human relations are rarely black and white, but mostly gray, and, at times, pastel, maybe even bloody. But it is all the Kingdom calling us to our necessary role in it. What do we do? How do we respond?
The Kingdom is not finding God through a system of practices and beliefs, but a matter of recognizing God in everything. Ideally systems and beliefs lead us to recognize God and are not ends in themselves. This can be hard for us to deal with, because it is difficult for us to give up our sense of knowing and being in control.
The Kingdom of God is people living their ordinary everyday lives with all the chaos, joy, and suffering that involves us all. From time to time we walk with different people in different times and places, and it is with and in these people that the kingdom happens with our openness and cooperation. A sense of the Kingdom reminds us time and again, that no matter what is going on in our lives we are not alone, and this is an important part of the Kingdom — none of us is ever alone. We may, from time to time, have to lay down our defenses, face our fears, and act.
Recently I responded to a call from a local ICU for a patient actively dying. Every time I have the privilege of being called to help in that ICU, I feel I am watching the Kingdom happen, watching God being God. I have no idea of the religious or non-religious preferences or lives of the ICU staff, because none of that matters. All that I see, and all that I think matters, is the way they care for the patients and their families, and care and support each other. The operative word is care. I feel humbled and privileged to be asked to help out up there. It truly is a wonderful place of God and grace and healing in its many forms.
The Kingdom of God is not identifiable as any particular religious tradition. It is too vast to be limited to one small (or large) group. Traditions get in the way of the Kingdom when they see themselves as the only way for everybody always, and have all the answers for how others should live. We are surrounded by this sort of thing today. We don’t make the Kingdom happen by ourselves. It is not a “God and me” affair. The Kingdom happens among the people in our life, not in our own head.
Our interest in the Kingdom might lead us to be aware of God present among us in people and situations we would not expect. When our prayer and our desire for the Kingdom lead us to be aware of God in our own life, we night move on to being aware of God all around us in everybody and everything, perhaps with some amazing surprises. This could mean we have to make some adjustment to how we think and what we value. Another word for this would be “repent”, change where we look for our happiness. We can’t make this happen, because if we try we are setting up conditions as to how we will and will not accept God. Instead, we ask for the grace of openness to what is and go where it takes us.
In the Story Jesus tells the fishermen to “Come, follow me”, and they do just that. This may be a hint as to the choices we are invited, not forced or commanded, to make about our openness and availability to the Kingdom. A legitimate question is how open am I to letting go of my own usual ways of seeing and acting and doing my best to be open to the Spirit in my everyday life? Is it something I just talk about for others but do not do myself? This is something that I have to give serious thought to. Jesus does not call us to know and to be in control and feel safe, but to trust, let go, be open to the Spirit and grow.
As was reinforced a lot lately in many places but especially in the ICU, I really believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in all that is going on in and around us. The involvement of so many good and qualified folks in attempts to renew life shows the Spirit’s involvement if we are willing to see it. These days are an opportunity for growth, for following the Gospel to a whole new depth and richness. Our role is desiring and working toward a serious prayer life with the openness and willingness to be surprised, and the courage to stop judging others as to whether or not they are living as we think they should. If we are able to arouse other people’s interest in God’s Kingdom, it will be because of how we live every day here and now, not what we say or how we judge. But first we have to believe in it and start living it ourselves.
Just sayin . . .