Peace Scriptures

Crossposted from The Search for Integrity
Psalm 46:9-10
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth.
He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear.
He burns the chariots in the fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Jim Wallis likes to point out the ironic fact that many people trained in teaching Bible in their churches seem to have missed the thousands of scripture texts that speak of God’s special concern for the poor. Similarly, many who have attended evangelical churches could easily, based on the teaching they hear, gain the patently false impression that the Bible rarely speaks of peace, and that the few places where it does do so, it is with disapproval. They repeatedly hear just a handful of seemingly relevant texts: “I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (in which Jesus is actually speaking, not of armed conflict but of the danger his teaching is to traditional family values); “They have healed the wound of my people slightly, saying “Peace” when there is no peace” (Jeremiah‘s assessment of the false hopes being raised by false prophets who, more interested in profits than real security, were insisting that theBabylonian army would fold up and go away if only the people kept up their armed resistance a little longer); and perhaps the incident in the temple where Jesus physically disrupts the profitable business of those who were taking advantage of the religious sincerity of others by spilling their carefully counted money on the floor and driving their merchandise (animals destined for slaughter) from the temple courts.
But in fact there are hundreds of texts throughout the Bible that teach about peace, its source and its place in God’s plan for the world, and it’s time that Christians everywhere stop being afraid of them. Below is a very small sample.
I’ll start with one that should be held at the ready whenever someone takes the saying of Jesus (Matthew 24:6-7) that “there will be wars and rumours of wars; see that you be not troubled, for the end is not yet“ as proof that war is inevitable and will always be with us (which only makes sense if the end is always going to be “not yet“). Once too often I have heard someone put that out as a final argument against peacemaking, since “I believe the Bible.”  Well, I believe the Bible, too, including:

Psalm 46, especially Psalm 46:9-10
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth.
He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear.
He burns the chariots in the fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Words In Red

Matthew 5:3-10
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:38-48
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 26:50-52
Then they came and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. 51 Behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, ”Put your sword back into its place, for all those who take the sword will die by the sword.”
Luke 10:3-6
3 Go your ways. Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no purse, nor wallet, nor sandals. Greet no one on the way. 5 Into whatever house you enter, first say, ”Peace be to this house.” 6 If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.
The Risen Christ’s Greeting : John 20:19-23, 26
19 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ”Peace be to you.”
20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.“ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit! 23 Whoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. Whoever’s sins you retain, they have been retained.“
26 After eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, ”Peace be to you.”
A Legacy of Peace —  John 14:27
27 Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.
From the song of Zacharias, Luke 1:76-79
76 And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways,
77 To give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins,
78 Because of the tender mercy of our God,
Whereby the dawn from on high will visit us,
79 To shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death;
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
Peaceful community, Acts 2:42-47:
42 They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. 43 Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together, and had all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. 46 Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.
The gospel of peace : Romans 10:12-15
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. 13 For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? 15 And how will they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things”
Christ is our peace: Ephesians 2:14-17
14 For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, 15 having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace; 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near.
The Kingdom of God: Romans 14:16-19
16 Then don’t let your good be slandered, 17 for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up.
Love is the law — Romans 13:8-10
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not give false testimony,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
Old Testament texts:
The peaceable kingdom: Isaiah 11:1-10
1 And there will come a rod out of the broken tree of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will give fruit. 2 And the spirit of the Lord will beresting on him, the spirit of wisdom and good sense, the spirit of wise guiding and strength, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; 3 And he will not be guided in his judging by what he sees, or give decisions by the hearing of his ears: 4 But he will do right in the cause of the poor, and give wise decisions for those in the land who are in need; and the rod of his mouth will come down on the cruel, and with the breath of his lips he will put an end to the evil-doer. 5 And righteousness will be the cord of his robe, and good faith the band round his breast. 6 And the wolf will be living with the lamb, and the leopard will take his rest with the young goat; and the lion will take grass for food like the ox; and the young lion will go with the young ones of the herd; and a little child will be their guide. 7 And the cow and the bear will be friends while their young ones are sleeping together. 8 And the child at the breast will be playing by the hole of the snake, and the older child will put his hand on the bright eye of the poison-snake. 9 There will be no cause of pain or destruction in all my holy mountain: for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is covered by the waters. 10 And in that day, the eyes of the nations will be turned to the root of Jesse which will be lifted up as the flag of the peoples; and his resting-place will be glory.
The coming prince: Isaiah 9:5-7
5 For every boot of the man of war with his sounding step, and the clothing rolled in blood, will be for burning, food for the fire.
6 For to us a child has come, to us a son is given; and the government has been placed in his hands; and he has been named Wise Guide, Strong God, Father for ever, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his rule and of peace there will be no end, on the seat of David, and in his kingdom; to make it strong, supporting it with wise decision and righteousness, now and for ever. By the fixed purpose of the Lord of armies this will be done.
As I said, from Genesis to Revelation there are texts, stories, commandments, prophecies and exhortations as well as illustrations and examples of peacemaking, the ministry of reconciliation. I challenge the reader to find more, and post your favorite one in a comment. The search for integrity is, after all, a peacemaking endeavor as well. We must be at peace with God, and within ourselves, with our neighbor, and with our enemy, in order to fully manifest the gospel of peace, the peace which is the fruit of the Spirit, and be guarded by the peace of God which is beyond understanding. Go ahead. Find your favorite peace passage and post it here, or on your own blog. Let’s change the discourse on peace, and rediscover its foundation in the way of Christ.

One Commandment

crossposted:  

Never mind fighting battles over posting the Ten Commandments in public places. There is one commandment that will take up a lot less space, makes no overtly religious statement, yet calls for an even more radical change in priorities, is common but not exclusive to all Abrahamic religions, yet especially revered in the founding documents of Christianity, and still promotes no sect of organized religion.

I’d like to see it on billboards all across the country, but I’d even more like to see it taken to heart by those who want to honor God.

How about the one thing that is agreed upon by Jesus and those who opposed him, as well as by the apostles Peter, Paul and James in their writings (not to mention John, who takes it even further)?

How about the only passage from the book of Leviticus that is quoted multiple times in the New Testament?

Jesus says it is “like” the Great Commandment, the one about loving God with all one’s heart, strength, soul and mind.

John agrees, when he suggests that a person who does not love a fellow human, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

Paul says that all of the commandments are summed up in this one saying. Elsewhere he says that it fulfills the law.

James calls it the Royal Law, and refers to it as the perfect law that gives liberty.

Love your neighbor as yourselfA greater commandment than all the Ten put together; and you know, it doesn’t even mention God.

Just God’s image.

Bless God, America!

What Jesus said: see Matthew 22:34-40Matthew 19:17-18, Mark 12:28-34Luke 10:25-37.

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 

— Paul (Romans 13:8-10)

 

Do not seek revenge, or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD(Leviticus 19:18)

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourselffor you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourselfGalatians 5:14 (Paul)

If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing right. — James 2:8

 

All Together, NOW!

The following thoughts were shared at the “Chew and Chat” held at the corners of Port Tobacco Road and Tayloe Neck Road, Nanjemoy, MD on July 31st, 2007.

 

I’m honored to be here and share a few thoughts with you today. We’re here to affirm and celebrate the value of community, to make it known that all of us understand the truth embodied in a certain passage of scripture. Paul the Apostle says in one place, that when one member suffers, all suffer together, and when one rejoices, all rejoice together. Just as this is organically true with a physical body, I’m here to tell you that for all of us this is not just something to think about, it is a fact.

Sometimes we don’t know why we suffer. We might have plenty of food, a safe place to sleep, good family, a well paying job, and we might feel like just so long as we keep these things, no matter what happens with anyone else, we’ll be fine. And we might even work to see to it that we keep what we have even if it means someone else doing without; but the result, the spiritual and dynamic fact is, that to the extent we contribute to someone else’s suffering, we increase our own. The Bible tells us that Jesus came with good news for the poor, but that good news benefits rich and poor alike, because all suffer together to the extent that any of us suffer.

Continue reading “All Together, NOW!”

US Christian flag?

Found this at another blog and thought it could use a bit more airtime. Blogger Phil Wilson comments as follows:

It’s at http://www.uschristianflag.com and the flag itself is very interesting.

I won’t bother explaining every aspect of the flag, but you can find that here. The thing that always interests me is simply the phenomenon of why people have this need to place America firmly in the place of God’s new chosen. I won’t bother to point out the sins committed to make America what it is today (Native American resettlement, dropping nuclear bombs, etc.); someone else would point out the ideology of people settling in America for religious freedom, as well as to proselytize the Native Americans. And I don’t think it’s wrong to want the best for the place where you live.

I do think the problem is that we become so focused on being Americans, that the Christianity takes a back seat. And even the ugly co-mingling of the two still tries to place them as equals, which is just as idolatrous.

Being an American is not a bad thing, just as for Paul being a Roman was not a bad thing, but something to be used for the advantage of spreading the Gospel of Jesus. In the same way, we can use our influence (waning as it might be) as Americans to do the same, whether that’s using our economic power to spread fair trade, or even refusing to buy materials made in sweatshops.

The United States of America is NOT a Christian nation. It might have been founded by men with some Christian principles. It might even be populated by Christians in the majority. But nation’s by their very nature are not Christian. Nations cannot sacrifice themselves for the good of others; nations generally seek their own preservation, but that preservation is not eternal. All of the great empires have fallen: Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, British, even the American Empire will fall.

My comment: It was perhaps an unfortunate naivety that was at work when fourth-century Christians looked to a secular emperor as the savior of the church, just because he was so kind as to officially end a policy of persecution, thus placing the churches under his personal imperial protection. We find, perhaps, a comparable naivety at work here. Ever since that time, from the Roman Empire under Constantine forward, the governments of Western civilization have been patrons and protectors of, or sought the patronage and protection of, Christianity: a state of affairs that, I would argue, has consistently compromised and weakened the effectiveness of the gospel message. The United States of America is perhaps a bit unique in that it suffers a collective amnesia in that regard, and many people in this country seem somehow persuaded (quite falsely) that America is the first, and perhaps only, specifically Christian nation in history; that Christianity and Democracy are one and the same (just as the nations of Christian Europe used to persuade themselves that Christianity and Monarchy went hand in glove; remember the Divine Right of kings?).

All that said, there seems in this particular effort an attempt at moderation, in that the emphasis on this flag does focus on the gospel being for all nations. But the question is one of method, and of what we think is meant by “this gospel of the Kingdom.” I am not encouraged by the association with Mr. Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, whose educational effort is called “Regent”: an indication of an idea that until the King comes, someone ought to be ruling in his stead. Who do you suppose they have in mind, and how does that square with what Jesus actually taught?

A Leadership Principle

A couple of thoughts on leadership vs. power.Jesus was training his disciples to be leaders. “You know that the kings of the gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority upon them,“ he said, “but not so with you: for whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” He is training them to be leaders of God’s people, encouraging them to greatness, and applauding in his own way their competitive desire to be first; but he needs to lay down some principles about what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God.Here are several ways of stating a key principle:

  • Leaders — true leaders in any organization — set it as a goal to make themselves unnecessary; whereas seekers of power have set a goal to make themselves indispensable.
  • Leaders seek to become superfluous to their organization.
    Power-seekers seek to become essential to their organization.
  • Leaders seek to help others lead.
    Power-seekers want followers.
  • The leader wants to help the organization achieve its goals.
    The Power-seeker wants to use the organization to achieve his own goals.

The things that flow out from this principle are legion.

Much more on this to come.

On “seeing the kingdom of God”

Words are so very important, and the right use of vocabulary is crucial to understanding what we or anyone else is talking about. One of my main interests is in trying to reclaim traditional, biblical language by pointing out what may be unfamiliar understandings of what it means — unfamiliar, but not novel, because what I’m wanting to do is clear away some popular misunderstandings.

The number of words needing such treatment are legion. The beginning-point is almost arbitrary, and the struggle to reclaim the traditional language for the power of a radical gospel it once represented is challenging indeed. We could start with that word “gospel,” for example: a simple word that means good news. It’s not, on its face, even a religious word; Continue reading “On “seeing the kingdom of God””

Decoding Dan Brown

Date: Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Time: 12:21:39 PM
Topic: Decoding Dan Brown

The following interview was cut and pasted from an e-mail distributed by Sojourners. Brian McLaren is the author of a new book, The Secret Message of Jesus.

[edit] At the time of this posting I hadn’t yet read McLaren’s book, nor Brown’s [but since obtained both from Amazon.com], nor yet anything from the Left Behind series (though I’ve since seen the second LB movie). However McLaren comes well recommended, and I am inclined to think he hits on some matters worth thinking about in the comments below.
— editor

Brian McLaren on The Da Vinci Code

An interview by Lisa Ann Cockrel

With The Da Vinci Code poised to go from bestseller list to the big screen on May 19, pastor and writer (and Sojourners board member) Brian McLaren talks about why he thinks there’s truth in the controversial book’s fiction.

What do you think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code reveals about pop culture attitudes toward Christianity and the church?

Brian McLaren: I think a lot of people have read the book, not just as a popular page-turner but also as an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown’s book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Why would so many people be disappointed to find that Brown’s version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church’s conventional version? Is it possible that, even though Brown’s fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church’s conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?

So you think The Da Vinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?

McLaren: For all the flaws of Brown’s book, I think what he’s doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that’s true. It’s my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith in America today has to realize that the Religious Right has polluted the air. The name “Jesus” and the word “Christianity” are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that’s distorted and false.

I also think that the whole issue of male domination is huge and that Brown’s suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has been is very attractive. Brown’s book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organized religion, and it is exposing organized religion’s grasping for power. Again, there’s something in that that people resonate with in the age of pedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus I resonate with their concerns as well.

Do you think the book contains any significantly detrimental distortions of the Christian faith?

McLaren: The book is fiction and it’s filled with a lot of fiction about a lot of things that a lot of people have already debunked. But frankly, I don’t think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels. And in a certain way, what the Left Behind novels do, the way they twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, I think Brown is twisting scripture, just to other political ends. But at the end of the day, the difference is I don’t think Brown really cares that much about theology. He just wanted to write a page-turner and he was very successful at that.

Many Christians are also reading this book and it’s rocking their preconceived notions – or lack of preconceived notions – about Christ’s life and the early years of the church. So many people don’t know how we got the canon, for example. Should this book be a clarion call to the church to say, “Hey, we need to have a body of believers who are much more literate in church history.” Is that something the church needs to be thinking about more strategically? Continue reading “Decoding Dan Brown”

New, Interactive format

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who publish peace!

Starting today, April 1, 2006, I have decided to take down the static front page (it’s not really down; you can see it by clicking on the welcome item in the sidebar) and move to a more “blog-style” format, where the first thing you see when you come here is… you guessed it… the last thing that I (or someone) posted here. I’m doing this for the shameless purpose of increasing traffic on the site; why would you want to come back to a page that always looks the same? But I’ll post a variety of thoughts, biblical meditations, news events and comments, and occasionally links to things I find interesting, and you, dear reader (still with me?) are encouraged to post comments and reactions as you see fit. The rules: if you want to comment, please do so. Comments are moderated for first-timers, which just means I will read your remarks before anyone else does. If you register and get a password (and I have an idea who you are), I can set it up so your comments can be seen immediately, and even so that you can post on your own.

Legitimate topics for discussion:

The kingdom of God, its present meaning, how God is at work in the world today.

Helpful interpretations of biblical or other texts.

The search for integrity.

Matters having to do with the life and ministry of the Marbury Church of God, where I am pastor.

Matters touching on the history, doctrine, and common life of the Church of God (Anderson, IN).

Humor.

Bits of poetry, from time to time.

Appropriate Christian response to current events (although I don’t really want to go off on political tangents).

I’ll try to post something new here at least once a week, so please bookmark it and come back often. I look forward to seeing you in the Conversation.

Love to all! — Pastor Bob

A Kingdom mandate — Rev. Darrell Hazard

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.

“A Kingdom Agenda”
(Matthew 3:1-3, Acts 1:1-3)
CDP Pulpit Exchange- Marbury COG, 1/15/06
 
 Today is an exciting day, because we are a part of something grand, something larger than just ourselves. Together with God’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.
 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 ‘unity’ 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?
 Is it how we do ‘church’? From my vantage point, I would say the answer is clearly and emphatically ‘no.’ 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 Lord’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.
 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 ‘church.’
 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?  
 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.
 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 God’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. Let’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.
 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.
 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 ‘institutional church is at hand’ or ‘Glory be, Anderson, Indiana is at hand’, but “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” 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 wouldn’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.
 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 don’t do, where we don’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.
 What are the dynamics of the Kingdom and how can we participate in this vision that calls us all to participate?
 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 John’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? It’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 know…
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!
 
 It’s high time we rediscover our Kingdom agenda- I don’t care whether you are black or white; 5th generation Church of God or new right off the street; I don’t care if you like upbeat gospel or country gospel music; I don’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.