Almost all of us have some sort of dream of some kind of utopia or paradise where all things are happy and good. It is that fantasy or day dream we have when things are a bit bleak or when we are sitting in the garden or in a comfy chair recovering from a hard day. Is the kingdom of God some kind of utopia or paradise? The Gospel text is about the Kingdom of God. I want us to think about what it means to you and me today.
First, what is the kingdom of God? It is not some tangible realm where a ruler has some empire. It is not the new heaven and earth that is to come. It is not a place. It is a way of being.
The problem is in a monarchy when someone mentions the word kingdom, we have a vision of some queen or king ruling over their kingdom. But the phrase we translate, KofG, is actually more verbal. It would be better translated as the reign of God or God’s reign. It is the reality of God reigning over our lives and creation; God ruling or governing over all things. It is the taking back of the world and humankind from the influence of selfishness (thinking we can do it all without God) and from the influence of evil forces and impulses (call it the devil, Satan or whatever).
St Paul in one of the extremely rare comments about the KofG outside the Gospels states, For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. St Paul describes the effect of God reigning in the lives of a Christian as righteousness, peace and joy. But the KofG is more than just an inner spiritual reality. The reign of God affects the earth and all powers and principalities. So Jesus can speak of his mission as preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, releasing the oppressed, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. Wherever God’s reign is established things are transformed, turned upside down or right side up, back into their rightful and God designed purpose. Where God is king, things are put right, justice reigns, the needy are cared for, the oppressed are set free. The Kingdom of God is God’s rule in our hearts but also God’s transforming rule in the world, a social and political reality.
In sum, when we think of the Kingdom of God we are not thinking of a specific place and concrete realm, but God’s reign over our hearts and lives and over the church and all creation.
Secondly, Jesus inaugurated the KofG. You can kind of say that Jesus’ incarnation, coming to be with us in flesh and walking among us, was a reclaiming mission. Jesus’ specific message about the Kingdom of God is recorded as, ‘repent for the KofG has come near’. Another way to say this is: the KofG is in your midst. In Jesus, the reign of God was being established in a new way. It was being inaugurated or instated by Jesus’ message of God’s love and grace and of God’s judgment. It was being initiated by Jesus’ actions, his healing, exorcisms, miracles, meals with sinners, touching the untouchables. In Jesus’ life, message and actions the KofG is began in a new way. In Jesus’ life, message and actions, we see what the reign of God looks like.
Thirdly, what do we learn about the KofG from these parables we heard? First we learn that God causes the growth. Our responsibility is not to bring in the KofG. God has done that in Jesus Christ. We are to witness to the KofG, that is to point it out to others in word and deed. We are to live out the KofG in our lives and in the mission and ministry of the Church. We display the reign of God in our lives by the way we live and by our words and deeds. The church by the way it is and by what it does on Sunday and throughout the week, displays the reign of God to others in our community and beyond. One thing we can be asking ourselves is how are we revealing the reign of God or the KofG in our lives and in the life of our church.
Habitat for Humanity was founded by a Christian who believed that everyone had the right to a roof over their head. He formed an organisation in which teams of people go to many different countries, mostly in Africa and South America, but even in Europe. Through volunteer labour they build homes and people are able then to buy them at cost with no interest loans. If they help build it as well this counts as payment toward the home. One man put his faith into action and now thousands of families now have a simple basic home which they own and helped build with others. This is the KofG on display.
The parable of the mustard seed says we need to recognise that KofG starts small and grows into something large. We don’t always notice the growth but it is happening even while we are sleeping.
In one sense, the KofG began with Jesus, one person in Palestine and has slowly grown to be one of the most significant religious and faith movements in the history of humankind. It is still growing even if in some places it is in decline. In parts of Asia it is one of the fastest growing religious movements. It is still growing rapidly in parts of Africa and South America.
In another sense, the reign of God on display can begin where we are. It can start small but grow into something amazing. In a parish in Birmingham, there was an old school house. Someone in the parish got the idea that the church could use it as a church hall and maybe to have a place for community groups. The parish was able to obtain it and fix it up. It grew to become one of the largest and most active community centres in Birmingham, Centre 13. A small idea grew into a city-wide and flourishing ministry. This is a sign and symbol of the KofG.
The way we participate in the KofG is not by striving to do all the right things, not by struggling to make things happen. Nor is this a passive role, of sitting down and waiting and watching. No, it is an active role of living out our faith with humility, integrity and action. Living out our faith personally and as a church will mean sometimes we need to discern what God wants us to do (MAP). We must pray and tune ourselves into God’s ways and God’s will. We must then act as we believe God is calling us to act. We may at times get it wrong and even fail in our efforts. But God calls us to be faithful.
In conclusion, the kingdom of God is God’s reign, God’s rule, God’s lordship being established over each of us and over all of creation. God will bring it to fulfilment just like the little mustard seed grows into a large mustard shrub. As children of God who have been brought into the KofG by faith in Jesus Christ, we bear witness to God’s reign. Our lives and the life of the church is a sign post, a large billboard of God’s reign. We share in and partake of the KofG and its fulfilment by letting our lives be transformed and by bearing fruit that reveals God’s transforming power in our homes, in our communities and in our churches. May God help our life and the life of the church to witness and to display the KofG in word and deed.