I ask your prayers this morning in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy ghost. Amen.
I returned home from my summer vacatio, just this past Monday. My family and I drove West for three days to our cabin in the collegiate peaks wilderness of central Colorado. For those of you in the know, it’s up the Chalk Creek Canyon outside of point of Vista at 9,100 feet. Trust me, this is no second home. It doesn’t have an indoor shower, a television or a cable lifeline to the internet, but it does have a 1950s working kitchen and lots of rustic charm. It’s as off the grid as I’ll ever get. The first four nights we were there, the moon was intrusive. My husband quipped that he could read a book by its light and without fail, I would wake up around 2:30 AM and not be able to get back to sleep. My mind would race. I would worry about things I had no control over, or imagine doomsday scenarios about things left undone here at work. I couldn’t settle myself or relax enough just to be. Like you, I’ve been going like this since mid-March, when the bottom fell out of our lives.
Finally, by the third night I opened the curtains and decided that I would surrender and bathe in the moon’s glow. My pillow was just under the window sill. You’ve heard of forest bathing, right? Well, I decided on the spot that I would invent moon bathing and luxuriate in it. I’m not one who meditates. So this is as close to meditating is I’ll ever come. I am a prayer though. So I prayed myself to sleep while moon bathing. Rather than be angry and frustrated at my insomnia, I was able to actually let myself go in the moon’s light.
When I woke up on the fourth morning though, I raised my head from the pillow and I looked out the window. After I could focus and put on my glasses, the first thing that I could see was Mount Antero, a 14,000 foot peak. Directly above it, like a crown, set of glowing chubby rainbow. Perfect. From end to end. I mean, who sees a rainbow at seven in the morning when there hasn’t been rain? I freaked. I’m not even sure is it is meteorologically possible for this to happen, but it did. I haven’t told anyone about this miracle until now. I felt at the time like Mary, after the shepherds came to see the baby Messiah at the manger, she secretly treasured these words, pondering them in her heart. Mary knew the truth. I know the truth too. That rainbow was meant for me. It was a sign, a dramatic one that God was with me and knew that I was struggling. It was as if this rainbow were a billboard that red TRUST in all caps. It’s presence enabled me to put my feelings of uncertainty and fear into God’s hands and even allow them to dissipate with the refracted light of its droplets. More than that though, I saw the rainbow as a sign of God’s presence and the power of God’s kingdom. If anything, these last five months have taught us, it should be that we are not in control. Life can turn on a dime, and it has, but what should ground us now more than ever is that the kingdom of God is real and it’s undergirding. It’s lifeblood. It’s very being is shrouded in hope. God’s kingdom come, is that the heart of Jesus’s message. We tend to skim over his parables because they were meant for a first century Palestinian audience, and they don’t seem relevant to us. Regardless, it doesn’t negate the fact that kingdom living gives hope. It calls for repentance. It offers renewal. It demands obedience to the will of God. And it summons us to love one another and see beyond ourselves.
I tend to think we can recognize the empire of God, much easier than we can define it. We certainly know what is not kingdom living. The renowned Methodist theologian, Georgia Harkness, describes the kingdom as the righteous rule of God, where God is above and beyond us, an utter holiness. Yet God is with us and within us, in never failing love. The kingdom is both present with us and it is coming. Yet it comes not by observation, and no one knows the hour of it’s coming. It comes gradually like a mustard seed’s growth into a mighty shade tree. It comes suddenly like a thief in the night and is to be anticipated with watchfulness like a long expected bridal procession, or even a protest march. “The kingdom is no solitary matter,” she wrote. “It comes in community, which is nothing short of the family of God.”
What is interesting – Jesus did not say that it is our job to build the kingdom. Rather, our role is to be the good ground on which the seed thrown by the sower can find root and bring forth fruit. Well, this may sound contradictory. We do not transform the world into the kingdom by our activism. This doesn’t mean that there is no labor for us as kingdom people. As we labor, it is for the justice of the kingdom, not some worldly ideology or political ambition. Our job is to pray for it, to work for it and to save for it. We cannot begin to put a price on its worth or to sell all that we have in order to buy that field with hidden treasure or a single priceless pearl. You see the kingdom is not the merchant or the pearl. It’s finding something so amazing and unexpected that you do everything in your power to obtain it.
And the kingdom’s extravagance extends to our daily needs. Especially, when a woman at her village oven secretly adds sourdough starter to 60 pounds of flour, baking enough bread to stock a food pantry or to accompany the 60 gallons of good wine served well into the night at that wedding in Cana of Galilee. God’s empire is always at work. small, secretive, invisible and even extravagant at times. We live in faith knowing that it is here and knowing that it will always overcome. This is not to say that it doesn’t meet opposition at every step. You know this, you witnessed this most days just by watching the news. Evil is always shooting arrows at the light. It’s assaults may come from the devil or from the demonic powers of history or from our ever present sin – ignorance and apathy. The principalities and powers will always confront God’s sovereignty.
For Paul writes to the Romans, “for your sake, we are being killed all day long. We are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered,” but then Paul asks rhetorically who will separate us from the love of Christ. He then offers a verbal fuselage of every evil that he can think of that consumes and destroys human life, asking whether any of it can have the final victory over us. Can one’s unemployment and anxiety, a pandemic, systemic racism, or homelessness, a looming climate catastrophe, even a presidential election or the ravages of war, can any of this separate us from the love of Christ? No. No, my friends, they will not snatch our hope. They will not trap us in despair. Paul though, was one of the first to speak truth to power, and he paid for it with his life.
There are of course consequences and reckonings. Jesus makes this clear with this parable of the Dragnet that snags all types of fish. Jesus, never a purest as to who was welcome at his table, attracted both the bad and the good. But he warns though, that at the end of the age, those who do not repent or offer restitution will be thrown into the furnace of fire. It’s plain and simple. Friends, life in God’s empire has no place for halfway measures. It costs all that we have. I’m struck by the serendipity of our Old Testament passage this morning from first Kings. Yahweh asks Solomon in a dream how he would like to build his own kingdom. And with humility, Solomon responds, “give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil for who can govern this, your great people.” Because Solomon asks to be able to discern what is right, rather than secure his own longevity, riches or the demise of his enemies, his wish is granted. This is actually kind of hard to imagine. God responds to him, “I will give you a wise and discerning mind. No one like you has been before you and no one like you shall rise after you.” But of course, many a great leader has followed Solomon over these millennia. But one in particular comes to mind now.
Congressman John Lewis labored faith and love for God’s kingdom on earth. For him, the beloved community was both presence and promise, both within and beyond human history. It was a love in action. From the age of 23, he saw the beloved community as God’s gift and his calling. He tilled it. He fought for it. He called out those who tried to dismantle it even up until his last breath. He said that freedom is not a state. It is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take. And each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society. John Lewis was a builder of a future not his own. To pray thy kingdom come is to pray that his legacy will be carried forward and realized by a younger generation. But also by those of us who are repentant and owe him a debt of gratitude, if not our own lives. I want to close by asking you to consider what you can do to bring even a hint or a slice of heaven into God’s kingdom. How do you do this in your part of the world? How can you make it visible and a balm for those who suffer? While we must pray for the coming of God’s kingdom at this very moment, without tilling it, without saving for it, without nurturing, is frankly blasphemy. It dishonors the life and memory of John Lewis and those who have gone before. Lewis was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things. We can do it too. He knew what it would take to possess the pearl of justice. So I ask you, what is your pearl? What would you sacrifice to obtain something so extraordinary, so precious, something so beautiful that it’s worth also blesses the divine spark of your neighbor. In the end, the kingdom of God is God’s gift to us. It’s not our own achievement. This was made clear to me when the rainbow appeared over the mountain, seemingly as close to me as the front doors of this cathedral. I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve that vision. It was God’s initiative, born of the love that is the source of divine grace. We enter the kingdom by accepting God’s rule and with it, the demands of love and respect and all of our relationships. Our faith in the kingdom life requires trust in God and the recognition that our ultimate destiny is in God’s hands. My friends, wake up, look out, believe in the unbelievable. There are signs of hope everywhere. The kingdom is beautiful, kind and gracious. We dishonor the saints of light when we don’t recognize it in the rainbows that awaken us from slumber. Amen.