On January 15, 2006, as part of a district-wide pulpit exchange, Pastor Darrell Hazard delivered the following message at the Marbury Church of God.
â€œA Kingdom Agendaâ€
(Matthew 3:1-3, Acts 1:1-3)
CDP Pulpit Exchange- Marbury COG, 1/15/06
Â Today is an exciting day, because we are a part of something grand, something larger than just ourselves. Together with Godâ€™s people all over CDP, we are allowing ourselves to be part of a small but powerful witness about what the church should look like, and are opening ourselves to the great possibilities of what we can be as the Body of Christ.
Â There are over 40 recognized churches in the CDP District of the Church of God. They are all different in makeup, constitution, polity, worship styles and preferences. There are predominantly Caucasian churches; predominantly African-American churches. There are Hispanic churches and Haitian churches; churches with male pastors; churches with female pastors; large churches, small churches; rural churches and ones in the city. We are part of a faith tradition that holds â€˜unityâ€™ as one of its hallmark tenets and doctrines. What is it, though, that unites us here in CDP? What is it exactly that we have in common?
Â Is it how we do â€˜churchâ€™? From my vantage point, I would say the answer is clearly and emphatically â€˜no.â€™ In addition to the differences I just highlighted, there are deeper differences that are present in our district. There are theological differences on certain matters- such as the place of the gifts of the Spirit in the life of the believer; how often we should share in the Lordâ€™s Table; the specifics on the Second Coming of Christ; the limits (or lack of them) on the authority that pastors and church leaders can wield in the life of the church.
Â We could list and name many others, but our task today is not to catalog the areas where we might have differences, but to discover what it is that unites us across this broad spectrum. If we can discover what we have in common, we can stop bickering and competing among ourselves; we can stop being inefficient as we often put our energies into the wrong things; and most importantly, we can be an effective witness to a world and society that often hears our message and sees the inconsistency in what we do and wants no part of the â€˜church.â€™
Â So I ask again- what is it that binds us together? What is it that unites us today on this historic occasion? Is it how we do church? Or, dear friends, is it the call to a Kingdom agenda? Â
Â To many, church and kingdom are one in the same, but I beg to differ, and I believe I have a solid biblical foundation to stand on this morning. It is a true statement that not everyone in the church is a part of the Kingdom, but everyone who has entered the Kingdom is a part of the church. I use the word church today in the institutional sense- a place that is open on Sundays and perhaps Wednesdays where programs are available to the interested passerby. Many go to church, and think that God somehow gets a tear in his eye because we decide to show up and put a few dollars into the plate and give at least one ear to the preacher.
Â Let me press my case a little further- many think of church as an end in itself; that a building with pews and a steeple and a choir and a preacher is the pinnacle of Godâ€™s self-disclosure and our responsibility as Christian disciples. The Scriptures and its recording of the life and ministry of Jesus do not bear witness to that myopic view that is strangling the life out of many churches. Letâ€™s pause for a brief test: How many times do the gospel writers record Jesus using the word church? And how many times do they record him either using the word kingdom or referring to it by example or parable? The results might surprise you this morning- Jesus is recorded saying the word church just twice (Mt. 16:18, 18:17), but uses the word kingdom or refers to the kingdom over 100 times in the gospels.
Â The Kingdom is quite simply the rule/reign of God, that is never static or stationary, but advances and takes territory. The rule/reign of God, though, is sort of an abstract understanding, since no one has ever seen God and lived. How, then, does God accomplish this non-stationary, ever advancing entity? The church is the vehicle for Kingdom advancement, not an end to itself- the mission of the church is not to preach to itself, to sing to itself, or to congratulate itself for hanging around for a number of years.
Â The text(s) that we have read this morning are powerful and dynamic witnesses to this fact, and may we be challenged and changed by both the logos and rhema dimensions of Holy Writ. John comes on the scene with one message- not the â€˜institutional church is at handâ€™ or â€˜Glory be, Anderson, Indiana is at handâ€™, but â€œRepent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!â€ He is asking us to hearken to a new reality of relating to God, and by implication, says that if the old system were sufficient, I wouldnâ€™t need to be out here in a loincloth, eating locusts and honey, and infuriating the religious leaders of the day. If the old system were sufficient, then a man named Nicodemus would have been just fine in his flowing robes and seats at the head of the table and the Rich young ruler would have been just fine with his Cadillac Escalade and house in a gated community.
Â How often do we as the church stop with going to church instead of being the church? How often do we insist on the old way when a new and better way has come available? The church often enslaves and holds back, while the Kingdom promises freedom and liberty. The church often talks about what we donâ€™t do, where we donâ€™t go, who we are not, while the Kingdom inspires us to know who we can be. The church often separates and discriminates, but the Kingdom comes with a promise of destroying the middle wall of partition and making the two one, even when they had no knowledge of one another or desire to know one another.
Â What are the dynamics of the Kingdom and how can we participate in this vision that calls us all to participate?
Â The Kingdom is Announced: John went through the countryside heralding the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus appears to thousands, gave convincing proofs of his resurrection and spoke about all things concerning the Kingdom. The gospel and the good news of the Kingdom can only be received when it is heard, and it can only be heard when it is announced- we are to be the voice, the instrument by which the Kingdom is announced in a confused, pluralistic, even politically correct world.
The Kingdom is Advanced: Jesus said that from Johnâ€™s time until the present, the Kingdom is being forcefully advanced and forceful people lay hold of it. This kingdom is not of this world, so it is not advanced by the sharp edge of a bayonet or at the barrel of a submachine gun or an atomic weapon, but through the greatest force available known as the Love of God. Are you a radical lover or are you satisfied with going to church? Itâ€™s something to think about seriously- are you advancing or are you retreating? Are you moving at the behest of the Commander-in-Chief or are you consumed with your own counsel? Enquiring minds want to knowâ€¦
The Kingdom is Observed: Jesus- tell John what you see (Mt. 11); the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Paul- for the Kingdom of God is neither meat nor drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost! If we are involved in Kingdom work, it will be obvious and evident to those around us- this is not a secret society, but we are call to be light and salt, and light and salt are best observed in dark and stale places!
Â Itâ€™s high time we rediscover our Kingdom agenda- I donâ€™t care whether you are black or white; 5th generation Church of God or new right off the street; I donâ€™t care if you like upbeat gospel or country gospel music; I donâ€™t care whether or not you think speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the Holy Spirit- John came with an inauguration message, and it was about the Kingdom of God; Jesus came with a resurrection message, and it was about the Kingdom of God. Our message in this selfish, hedonistic, materialistic world must be the same- the Kingdom of God, for it is what we all have in common.