LIGHT IS POWERFUL.
It guides our paths, brightens our spirits, and causes new life to grow. Hearing Jesus call his followers to “be light” is both humbling and invigorating. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can each bring the light of hope to dark places, nurture creativity in difficult circumstances, and radiate contagious joy.
Bring hope. Nurture creativity. Radiate joy.
We have just traveled through the longest daylight hours in a day in the northern hemisphere; it still seems that our days have lost their illumination through the difficult pandemics of the Corona Virus and Systemic Racism. One is new to us all, thankfully the last worldwide pandemic occurring with the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago. But, the other “pandemic” of institutional racism has been embedded in our society since the first slaves were brought to these shores in 1619.
In the midst of these twin radical reckonings, we have a genuine opportunity for awakening and reconciliation. Our current socially distanced reality has brought into focus for me the need we have for each other, but in this moment, we can be an example of light of being a good neighbor through our care to wear masks and stay physically apart. We grieve this loss. We learn to cherish one another. The heart wrenching video of a police officer killing a black man, George Floyd, has shined a spotlight on the terrible injustices inflicted upon Black lives in America. People of all ages, races, ethnicities, socio-economic background have joined together to protest such systemic and pervasive abuses.
Will everything just go back to normal? I hope not, because normal wasn’t all that good to begin with. Jesus came to this world to vanquish normal. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth! Jesus came and shined a light to all the nations and demonstrated, once and for all, God’s intention for how humans are to live in relationship with God and each other. Salvation means wholeness. Jesus is offering the light of salvation, the light of being made whole. The powerful reality is that we don’t have to wait till we die to experience this wholeness – we are called to live out this wholeness now. That means that we do the hard work now, especially in hard times, to be light.
For me, this means that I am called to be light by:
“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!” (Matthew 5:14-16 – The Message)
This week, First Baptist Church of White Plains turns 149 years old. It was a handful of families who started meeting in a home and several months later, on June 16th, 1871 they officially incorporated as a church. Soon thereafter, they rented space from the Reformed Church of White Plains. By 1873, our church bought the building. The church would move two more times (in the early 1900’s and in the 1920’s) until finally buying the land that we currently occupy in 1958. That is a lot of moving around for a church! I recently heard someone say that the church has always had to contend with either being a memorial to the past or a movement into the future. Memorial or Movement: that is the question. We have answered, in our history, as a church unafraid to move.
As we all go through these trying times of the COVID pandemic, the devastating economic impact, and the needed reckoning of the cost of racism upon our nation – our society is on the move and we, as a church, have the responsibility to translate our life of faith in ways that inspire hope and love. We are endeavoring to do this work as a community Centered on Christ, Focused on Community, and Reaching out Globally. This is a common mission statement being drafted by our vision team, in collaboration with our sister church, Iglesia: Mision Bautista Hispana de Westchester. People all around us are starving for something to give their life to, to engage in, to create a better world. We see it in the protests. I’ve heard it said that “Protest is the highest form of patriotism, because it is calling upon our country to live up to its stated ideals.” When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven” – he was calling upon our every aspect of their lives (spiritual and physical) to protest the world as it was and create a better world, to bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth! We honor God when we endeavor to do the same and make God’s Kingdom known.
As we approach our 150th anniversary year, we are adopting the motto – “Remembering Our Past, Reshaping our Future.” Yes, we want to celebrate the past successes and people who had a hand in that, but know that God is calling us to be transformed in this transformative moment. We embrace the church as a movement, not a memorial. Not seeking to build a church that looks like it did in 1958, when we arrived at that sleepy country corner of North Street and Bryant Avenue! Our community is changing. God is doing a new thing in our midst. Do we have the courage to embrace this moment and the Holy Spirit who is bringing it about? What that will look like … well, I have some ideas, but more on that later. It’s kind of like Jesus’ response to his first disciples, after they were initially intrigued about him and his message, they asked where he was staying – he answered, “Come and see.” (John 1:39). It’s time to come and see what God is doing in our community. 149 years later, it is exciting to see that God is still on the move in our congregation! The remainder of the journey is not clear, but it could be the ride of your life! Won’t you, come and see?
The past three months living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for us all, to say the least. Can you believe it’s been three whole months??? Anyway, I came across this linked article that I wanted to share with you: “Quarantine has changed us — and it’s not all bad.” In our rush to get back to “normal” – let’s pause and take a moment to reflect on how we’ve been changed and what we want to keep about this new daily normal after quarantine. The author (Sigal Samuel) points to eight changes that her readers made and wish to continue after the time of quarantine ends. All eight of these changes resonated with me.
I would like you to read the article and see if any of you could add anything to this list for yourself? I would like to highlight couple that have been especially meaningful reminders to me to create a new normal for my life. First, being forced to slow down has been humbling, yet good. Being a Pastor can be stressful as many different people place different demands upon me and the church. Laying that down and trusting God in the midst of a pandemic has been restorative as I have been reminded, yet again, that God is with us / with me. It’s not all on our/my shoulders. Letting the pressure to “have it all together” in the midst of something none of us have ever gone through was a real relief that I came to understand early on in this time through listening to God in my prayer time.
Along with this point, I would like to add in that have been very dedicated in exercise during this time. Since my time is used differently, I find that running and other forms of exercise are no longer just good ideas or aspirational, but critical for me everyday. It clears my mind and I feel more energized and in the moment for the rest of the day. Yes, I don’t always feel like exercising, but I have made it a habit and without it, I don’t feel like myself. Just like you are told on an airplane, in the event of an emergency, to fix our own oxygen mask before helping others around us. I feel that if I am to be an effective pastor, I must first take care of myself. How can I be of help to others if I am not taking care of myself and practicing what I preach? So slowing down and exercising up are normal that I desire to continue.
I hope this article sparks your thinking and encourages a lasting resolution to create a new normal in your life. But as the article closes, it is okay if you don’t. Sometimes just surviving difficult times is everything! We scan get through this because God is our Everything!
On Pentecost, last Sunday, I talked about two models of ministry: Push and Pull. Congregations have been working steadily at the Pull model for most of its existence. This model is similar to the Field of Dreams – “Build it and they will come” idea. In the distant past, the Catholic Church was the sole arbiter of salvation, so if you wanted to get into heaven, you had better find yourself in church. Now, the notion is to create programs and experiences to attract people and draw them to your church. The pastor sits in their office and works on the sermon and meets with those who come to them. The Pull model of ministry of church has dominated every aspect of what it has meant to be church.
But there is another way and we see it on full display at Pentecost: the Push model. The Push model of ministry is going out. In the midst of this COVID-19 Pandemic, we are getting a needed refresher in this model of ministry. As you recall, the Holy Spirit came upon the gathered followers of Jesus, who could all fit inside a room, and then swept over them, bringing what appeared to be tongues of fire upon each of them. This “breath” of God (for the Greek word for Spirit means breath) empowers them to utter new speech, equipping the faithful with new languages to carry the message of God’s love and deeds into all the corners of the world. God pushes the church outside and into the world around them.
When I was a hospice chaplain, this Pull model of ministry was my model of as well. I went to where the patients and their families were. Whether it was in their homes, a nursing home, a caretaker's home, where the patient was, I went and cared for them on their terms and on their turf. I was embedded with them. There was no reciprocal notion that they had to come to me or my office, or my church. My total care and concern was for them.
Friends, the time of the Pull model of ministry is done.
No longer will the unaffiliated with Christianity assume that the followers of Jesus (that’s us) have something of value, or that we have something worth getting involved in. They aren’t even sure we care about them or have their best interest at heart! What a shame that is. But what an opportunity we are being shown in the midst of this pandemic – that the church really wasn’t all about the buildings. It’s about the relationships.
That is what Pentecost reminds us of as well: we are called to be a people who push out across cultures, differences, discomfort in order to learn about the needs of those around us and then do something about it. We can all see the pain of Black America with the horrendous video of the arrest and killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. His words of “I can’t breathe” etched on our souls. If the church is to be trusted and seen as a breath of fresh air instead of an agent of affixation, we must, must, must adopt the Push model of ministry. It is my fervent prayer that we each individually and as a church take these lessons from Pandemic and Pentecost and go out and listen first and also share in the life giving breath of God with all who long to breathe.
Cultural critic and wise professor, Gerald Early, once famously said, “I think there are only three things America will be known for in 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.” Three quintessential American creations. We can’t know Jesus’ thoughts on the Constitution and baseball (although I’d like to hope that he would approve, although both are imperfect), but I do think we have some insights into Jesus’ take on jazz. It all comes down to the Hebrew idea of midrash.
Let me take a step back for a second. Just in case you are not familiar, Jazz is a musical genre born of African Americans in New Orleans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Characterized by dynamic improvisational instrumental expression around many different and changing rhythms. A good jazz musician can hear the beat and the key and improvise in and out with beautiful and inventive ease. Take a moment and watch the video below of Mile Davis stunningly riffing and expanding upon the music around him in such a masterful way.
The Hebrew idea of midrash is similar, in that it takes the scriptural text, the context, the implications of the text, what is not said in the text, and what the possibilities of the text are and explores a dynamic dialogue with a holy text. The Talmud is a collection of Jewish scholars wrestling with the Hebrew Scriptures through the centuries and bringing new insights to their communities. When Jesus gathered with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion for the Passover feast, he was performing a new type of midrash! In Luke 22:15, Jesus says “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”. He then took the bread and wine and instead of talking about the lamb that would be slain and the blood being put on the doorposts of the house to protect the first born of the Jewish households in Egypt, he astonished them by making this imagery about himself! He is pronouncing a new midrash of meaning upon an old Hebrew story. He is taking the rhythm of the Torah and bringing a whole new innovative understanding to the word of God through Jesus, the Word of God.
The justice of God displayed in the rescue of the enslaved Israelite people, is now at work in Jesus, bringing liberation to all of humanity enslaved to sin through his death and resurrection. Then when the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, they discover the joy of God – the heart of God’s desire for how humans will interact with God and each other as found in the Ten Commandments. Back to the New Testament, fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter, we have Pentecost, where the Church is born and the joy of God’s desire for humanity is revealed in the equipping of people to share God’s love beyond cultural boundaries to the entire world. So the Passover and Jesus’ Last Supper display God’s JUSTICE and Mount Sinai and Pentecost bring clarity to God’s JOY for how humans are to live in relationship. Do you see it? The midrash, the jazz of God.
So, we don’t know if Jesus played a musical instrument, but he certainly played a beautiful and holy jazz improvisation on the scared, well known themes of the Hebrew Scriptures. To be a good jazz musician, you must first learn your instrument and know the traditional songs and how to play them before you improvise. The greatest of jazz musicians were always incredibly disciplined in their approach to their craft. Similarly, Jesus knew his tradition well. Remember when he was just twelve and amazed all the temple priests with his questions and understanding? (Luke 2:41-52) Later, when Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) Before he can fulfill the law in new and profound ways, he must know the law. Before he can improvise, he has to know his stuff! So, we too are also called to read, study and seek understanding of the Bible and Jesus’ life with disciplined dedication before we can be expected to riff on and explore how Jesus is alive in our own lives. And what a discovery that will be!
The music of the Spirit is out there. Can you hear it? It’s been playing since the dawn of creation and is waiting, beckoning for you to take up your instrument and join in with the band. Perhaps you need to work on your scales and chords, or maybe it’s your time to bravely share your creative improvisational skills in the ever changing, ever transforming, ever consuming, ever loving ballad of God. Jazz and Jesus – that would be something. Jazz, Jesus and you – well now, that’s what this whole thing is about!
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
This passage from Hebrews speaks to the power of faith. If you were to keep reading the entire chapter, you would see that the text goes on to inventory a long list of biblical hopers who have lived according to God's promises. These powerful promises of faith both have inward and outward dimensions. The “assurance of things hoped for” speaks to the inward ramifications and the “conviction of things not seen” tell of the outward realities of faith. Faith has power to totally transform our internal and external worlds.
Inwardly, the assurance of faith gives us confidence in troubled times that Divine promises for peace/shalom, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and God’s unwavering love for humanity can be trusted with your whole heart. Actually, the word assurance in the NRSV translation is taken from the Greek word hypostasis, which means the “very being.” The same word, later used to describe the nature of Jesus as both God and human. So: “faith is the very being of things hoped for”. We can have more than confidence, because the reality of these promises in the midst of our sinful and dark world is as if faith in God were an advancing force operating behind enemy lines.
Outwardly, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are the “Body of Christ.” This means that those who say they trust that Jesus is the Messiah and follow his teachings are to be the living manifestation of him in the world. Which leads us to be agents of peace/shalom, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and love for neighbors as for ourselves.
Inwardly – in faith, we sing We Shall Overcome
Outwardly – with faith, we march at Selma
Inwardly – in faith, we hold to God’s promises of direct action to bring about the end of all crying and mourning.
Outwardly – with faith, we pray with those who mourn, serve tenderly, those who weep, work tirelessly to ease pain and burdens of the wounded.
Inwardly – in faith, our hearts are moved.
Outwardly – with faith, we can move mountains.
Inwardly – we trust in the mysterious transcendence of God, that is beyond our greatest imaging.
Outwardly – we discover the immanence of God, that is intimately close to us and the desire to share it.
But, this two-fold dynamic of inward and outward faith can break down in our attempts to be faithful. We are human, after all. We can either let fear creep into our inward feelings and/or allow exhaustion to overwhelm our outward expressions of faith. Fear can lead to the futile attempt to overcome it by clinging to a sense of certainty, whereas exhaustion can lead to one to fall into indifference. Certainty and indifference, not doubt, are the polar opposites of faith. I have said many times before that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but an evidence of faith because it is a sign of meaningful wrestling. Like Jacob struggling with God until he got a blessing, we too do not struggle with things that we don’t care about. Struggle is part of the faith journey. Remember that the new name for Jacob, that God gave him, was Israel. It means: to struggle with God and humanity and to be spared.
So, if you have doubts, that is okay. It does not mean that you have failed as being a person of faith in Jesus Christ. It means you are wrestling with something. Pay attention to what blessing God may give to you.
If you have made certainty of biblical interpretation and faith your goal, you will be disappointed. Sure, it may alleviate some temporal anxiety, but it cannot encapsulate the whole of God’s purposes. You can never be 100% certain of anything in this life. In fact, even Jesus said that the angels in heaven and even he did not know the “day and hour” of his return (Matthew 24:36), so how can certainty be a goal of faith? It actually wouldn’t even be faith then, right? Faith is trust. Faith is a risk. Faith is personal. Faith is an inward movement of our spirit in tune with the Holy Spirit.
If you have told yourself that to be faithful it is up to you to outwardly solve all the societal problems, you will soon be exhausted. You will get overwhelmed. You will grow indifferent. Faith is also an outward movement of our spirit in time to the beat of God’s justice song. When we know we are not alone in the work of transforming and translating God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, we begin to discover that the journey of faith and growth is a daily one and the destination is unclear. But do you have the faith of a mustard seed? It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe you’ve been beaten down by situations and relationships in your life that were not what you needed. You’re tired, depressed, ready to let go. Please know that the invitation of Jesus to his first disciples still stands for you! They asked him where he was staying and he said to them (and to you), “Come and see” (John 1:39). Jesus did not offer them certainty, but the opportunity to be in a transformative relationship. He offers you the same with the gift of faith that will totally renovate your inward and outward lives.
We have all been on a harrowing journey this year as we all struggle to stay safe and work from home if we are privileged enough to do in the midst of this pandemic. So, I thought it would be important to get back to the basics of our faith and preach a sermon series on the “Road Trips of the Bible.” Who wouldn’t want to just get in a car and drive somewhere and leave all your cares behind? Obviously we can’t do that right now, but I did want to explore many of the stories of the Bible where God takes people on a journey of faith. So far, we started at the end of Easter, with the story of the risen Jesus on the Road to Emmaus with two disciples. Then we came back to the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph’s trip from being betrayed to becoming a blessing for the world. This Sunday, we start to take a look at the journey of Moses and the liberation of the Covenant People out of slavery.
I have been getting a good response from people and in the Zoom Bible Study on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM (ET). So, I’ve decided to expand this series to touch on many more journeys of ordinary people being called by God to live out the divine promise of blessing for the world. We are going to dive deep into these powerful stories throughout the Old and New Testaments that, I feel, gets at the whole meaning of what religion is supposed to mean. Let me explain.
The root word for “religion” comes from the Latin word for ligament: ligare. Ligaments are, as we all know, the connective tissue in our bodies that holds bones together. In its most elemental form, the word religion means to “bind back” or to “reconnect” that which has become disconnected. These stories of journey in the Bible display the passion in which God attempts to reconnect to us. The first eleven chapters of Genesis is all about how we are broken and disconnected from God – in the second creation account of Adam and Eve, the murder of Able by his brother Cain, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel. In all these stories, we see how we have become disconnected to God, to each other, to ourselves, and creation. Religion is the attempt to reconnect to God.
We probably all feel pretty disconnected right now, through staying at home and social distancing when we have to go out. We salute all our essential workers who are our healthcare workers, emergency responders, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, police and fire personnel, and so many more for their service to our society. We also know that many of them are struggling with all the suffering from risks that they are taking on our behalf. That sense of disconnection has always been with us, but now we just don’t have the thin veneers of cultural distraction to occupy our minds. We are like Adam and Eve hiding naked in the Garden after taking the fruit in the hopes to “see” as God does, desperate to cover ourselves.
God wants to journey with you though this crisis. The power of these ancient Road Trip stories found in the Bible is that they are so relevant to all our situations today. They involve a call to a promise from God that demands a response from humanity. Those brave enough to respond are not perfect, as the Bible attests to, but they embraced, struggled, and trusted in God even in the midst of the sometimes hidden nature of their call. Make no mistake; you too are being called by God to become what God’s dream for you can be. Maybe joining us as we dig into these ancient and timely stories of people responding to God can help you discover in a new way your own challenges, worries, and fears and know that you can overcome them with God at your side! That is what religion is about, anyway – finding God and learning who you can become.
Right now, it can feel like our world is a crashing tidal wave. Dousing us in the uncomfortable waters of uncertainty. We all feel more anxious for the future and are grieving the losses of what our lives were just a few short weeks ago. I pray that you are healthy, that your loved ones are well, and you have the privilege of working from home. But, many of us do not have that right now. Whatever is happening in your world right now, it is clear that feelings of depression and anxiety threatens to take many over the edge.
In many areas of our lives, talking about mental health has remained taboo (especially in the church.) This is wrong. We, as the church, need to know that none of us are perfected beings, but broken. To experience depression is not a reality that you should hide or feel ashamed. When your body is in pain, you go to a doctor. But somehow, we’ve lied to ourselves about our mental health and suffer alone with shame. Before this pandemic, back in normal times, so many were already at the edge. Now, so many are suffering and struggling, more alone than ever.
You’re not alone. We are seeing on our Road Trips of the Bible sermon series that God journeys with the afflicted, suffering, and struggling. Whether it’s the risen Christ with the dejected disciples along the Road to Emmaus, or with Jacob’s troubled past and conflicted call, or Joseph’s hidden call in the midst of rejection.
If you feel depression’s hold upon you, get help. My pastor, when I was in seminary, told me once, “We are made of dust and spirit. We are trained to provide spiritual care, but always encourage people to take care for their dust – physical or mental.” If you sense a growing depression in your mood, please know that it is, first of all, understandable and you do not have to suffer or live in fear. God is not punishing you. Please know that help is on the way! Be brave. Be a person of faith, who knows that your current situation will not hold sway over you forever. Faith is the willingness to relinquish your present situation to partake in God's dream for your future. God does not want you to suffer. It is not a sign of faithfulness to suffer in silence, only a misunderstanding of God’s love and hope for your life. The tidal wave of sadness and depression can recede. Talk with me. Talk with a counselor. Share your fears with God. You are not alone as this tidal wave strikes and batters you. Those waters will recede.
I came across this song by Adam Young, called Tidal Wave, which shares his struggle with depression and the help he received from God. Check it out! (Lyrics below) Help is on the way!
Owl City (Adam Young) - Tidal Wave
I wish I could cross my arms
And cross your mind 'cause I believe
You'd unfold your paper heart
And wear it on your sleeve
All my life I wish I broke mirrors Instead of promises
'Cause all I see is a shattered conscience
Staring right back at me
I wish I had covered all my tracks completely
'Cause I'm so afraid
Is that the light at the far end of the tunnel
Or just the train?
Lift your arms, only Heaven knows
Where the danger grows and it's safe to say
There's a bright light up ahead
And help is on the way, help is on the way
I forget the last time I felt brave
I just recall insecurity
'Cause it came down like a tidal wave
And sorrow swept over me
Depression, please cut to the chase
And cut a long story short
Oh, please be done, how much longer
Can this drama afford to run?
Fate looks sharp, severs all my ties
And breaks whatever doesn't bend
But sadly then, all my heavy hopes
Just pull me back down again
I forget the last time I felt brave
I just recall insecurity
'Cause it came down like a tidal wave
And sorrow swept over me
Then I was given grace and love
I was blind but now I can see
'Cause I found a new hope from above
And courage swept over me
It hurts just to wake up
Whenever you're wearing thin
Alone on the outside
So tired of looking in
The end is uncertain
And I've never been so afraid
But I don't need a telescope
To see that there's hope
And that makes me feel brave
In the midst of pandemic, and in self-isolation, our attention is naturally drawn to those post-apocalyptic dystopian future parallels; such as zombie cult or alien invasion films, or any portrayal of life, as we know it, ending. We long for a return to the normal life we knew. I long to see you all in worship, in gatherings, and events that our church holds for the community. We are social in our nature, humans need that connection as we are all an image of God’s Triune Community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God as Three and One. Yet, I know that many things will be different after this pandemic finally ceases to be a health threat. And that is okay. Perhaps we will awaken to the reality that the Heavens have always been invading our world and that just might change how we live in this heaven infested world!
We are looking at this phenomenon as we explore the “Road Trips of the Bible” in my sermons and Zoom Bible study (on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM). With just a few examples – Hagar and her son (the castoff concubine of Abraham), are heard by God and are provided water in their desperate hour to sustain them (Genesis 21:17-19). What about God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice, instead of his son? Thus, keeping the promise to Abraham of a great nation of blessing for the world. Jacob was running for his life and had a vision where he saw heaven and earth connected by a ladder or passageway. He awoke and said (my paraphrase): “God lives here! … I’ve stumbled into his house! This is the awesome entrance to Heaven” (Genesis 28:12-19). Moses and God have a conversation and receives the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) to show the people how to relate to God and our fellow humans – how to live in both heaven and earth!
These are just a few examples of heaven invading our earth. God refuses to leave us alone. I believe that Jesus is the fullest expression of heaven having come to humanity itself. On the Road to Emmaus, Jesus encounters the two disciples who do not recognize him until he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread. Heaven is present in our world; we just need to acknowledge that we are the taken/chosen, blessed beloved of God, who in our brokenness and vulnerability are able to be a gift of God’s heavenly presence in the world. Heaven invades our world through us!
Perhaps you have had an experience where you have known the closeness of God. When we were about to have our first child, Evie, I remember being in a diner with Doris and being overcome by actually seeing the faces of children in the people all around me. I was teary-eyed looking at all these people who were somebody’s son or daughter, receiving a heavenly reminder that we are all God’s children! I don’t know how long it lasted, but it had a profound effect upon my life as I experienced the expansive love of God in a new and tangible way. Perhaps, you have a story similar to Elijah, who did not hear the voice of God in the thunderstorm or the earthquake, but in the still, small voice – the tug of God upon your soul.
The Gospel of Matthew, written with a Jewish audience in mind, and therefore utilizes the phrase “the kingdom of the heavens” thirty-two times to underscore God’s rule and presence that is found over and over within the rich tradition of Old Testament. By looking back, Matthew shows us today that God is already here. Therefore, praying the Lord’s Prayer becomes a radical transformative cry for each of us to become “on earth, as it is in heaven!” Indeed, the heavens have invaded the earth – can you see the possibilities of how God can use you as an evidence of heaven/God’s presence in our dire world? What is God ready to awaken in you? Are you willing to find out?
Hope. It’s a word that’s loaded. In the midst of this pandemic, it can be hard to see or even get a glimpse of it. Or maybe, what we think we see isn’t it. Hope is not a naive wish or optimism that the future will just improve. At the other end of the spectrum, hope is not just some profane or deceptive idea to numb us to our very real struggles and pain. Hope, living with real hope as recognized in the Bible, is a profound trust that your present and future life is in and with God. That is what the Kingdom of God is: Hope.
Dallas Willard, in his book “The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God” makes the claim that the New Testament makes plain that this Kingdom of God that Jesus is always talking about is “not something to be ‘accepted’ now and enjoyed later, but something to be entered now (Matt. 5:20; 18:3; John 3:3, 5). It is something that already has flesh-and-blood citizens (John 18:36; Phil. 3:20) who have been transformed into it (Col. 1:13) and are fellow workers in it (Col. 4:11).” Our hope is not misguided, because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection demonstrate the presence of this new reality, and is our invitation to align our lives with and in it.
So, the Kingdom of God is already present with the presence of Jesus, but not yet fully realized because God does not choose to override our freedom of will. Jesus entered human history through the life of an ordinary family. Then this extraordinary life offers something unexpected. He inaugurates us into an eternal kind of life right now, that flows through him. He does this first by bringing that life to bear upon our needs, then spreading it through our deeds – deeds done with expectation that he, his Father, and Holy Spirit will act with and in our actions. We are no longer alone, like Adam and Eve hiding and covering themselves in the garden. We can now become active citizens of God’s Kingdom. Reality as it can and should be.
Becoming a citizen of this Kingdom of Light, means that we can leave behind those dark and lonely places where we have made valiant yet vain attempts to merely survive and come into God’s healing, joyous, hope-filled light. This is a journey that we must all make. The good news is that you don’t have to make it alone. God is with you! Our church is with you, as we endeavor to be who we are called to be: the Body of Christ. Examples of these journeys from hopelessness to hope are all over the Bible. In the weeks to come, I will be preaching about these stories in a sermon series I am calling Road Trips of the Bible. Check us out on Facebook Live at 10:30 AM on Sundays and on our Zoom Bible Study and Check-in on Wednesdays at 7 PM to join the journey.
So, hope is not just another four-letter profanity that is some kind of cruel joke in our dark times. It is, as Andy Dufresne said in his letter to Red at the end of The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of the things. And a good thing never dies.” Indeed, our hope is alive in Jesus! And he is alive in us, to bring hope to a hopeless world! Let’s make it so.
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)