Thy Kingdom Come—Please!
“Then the disciples came and asked [Jesus], ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.’” (Matthew 13:10-11, NRSV)
I begin a new sermon series this Sunday on "Thy Kingdom Come." It is based on the 13th chapter of Matthew's gospel. This chapter is filled with parables about the Kingdom of God because the assumption is that the Kingdom of God cannot be explained—it must be experienced. So, throughout the 13th chapter, Jesus says things like, "The Kingdom of God can be compared to…" or "The Kingdom of God is like…" This can be frustrating because we like simple and concrete definitions. If Jesus had said, "The Kingdom of God is 'this' or it's 'that,' then we could have developed a blueprint for achieving the Kingdom of God, implemented the plan, and checked it off our list, moving on to our next task. Unfortunately, the Kingdom of God is more abstract than concrete. Thus, there is no way to define the Kingdom of God—we can know what it's like and what it is not—but what it is, is so outside of the norm that we can only get a partial picture or a sideways glance of its existence.
Furthermore, the theologians and the Bible scholars tell us that the Kingdom of God is already here; but not yet fully here. How can something be "here," but not "fully here?" It's one of those theological paradoxes that vexes our minds and makes us want to go back and read the comics section of the newspaper instead of struggling with the nuance and the complexity of God's vision for this world.
God expects us to play a part in the fulfillment of His Kingdom—making it a complete and full reality in the here and now. We have competing affections at play in determining the extent to which we're willing to participate. On the one hand, we are compassionate people who desire to relieve suffering in others, so that they may experience the fullness of God's abundant Kingdom. On the other hand, we enjoy our own comforts and appreciate the availability of excess in our lives so that we don't have to worry about our own security. When confronted with a mutually exclusive choice between compassion and security, we are likely to choose security. Yet, we would be hard-pressed to find examples of the Kingdom of God in scripture that support our choice.
I recognize that preaching on the Kingdom of God is a dangerous endeavor. The evidence is found at the end of Matthew 13, where Matthew describes Jesus' reception in his hometown of Nazareth with these words: "And they took offense at him…" (Matthew 13:57, NRSV). I encourage you to come to this series with a desire to learn what the Bible teaches us about the Kingdom of God and with a willingness to be challenged to take a more Christ-like response to the challenges of our day.