Friday, March 23, 2012

Kingdom

Often when I'm working my way toward sleep, some thought or other triggers something so profound I feel the need to sit up and write. Unfortunately, usually my reaction is, "Of course I'll remember this. How could I not?"  Then I don't. But last night, I clicked back on the light just long enough to write a few words on a pad beside my bed and discovered this morning that the mere act of writing those words was enough to help me remember the thoughts.

My niece M, who is now volunteering in Israel, has never lived in the United States. She was born and raised in Helsinki, Finland, with all the rights and privileges of a Finnish citizen. However, her father is Beve's oldest brother. His oldest, completely born, bred and raised American brother, I should say. This makes him a United States citizen, of course, a citizenship he has held onto though he's lived in Finland for almost 30 years now.  And because M (and her older sister) has an American for a father, she is also an American citizen, with a US passport. This has made her many visits uncomplicated by travel visas, and should she choose to live here (which she has a strong desire to do), she has every right--because this is her father- country, so to speak, as much as Finland is her motherland.

She is a citizen of a country in which she has never lived--but she has both all the privileges and responsibilities of that citizenship. And it hit me that her situation is exactly how we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

But maybe I should explain something.The Kingdom of God is the language I most often use to talk about what Jesus was all about--and what, therefore, we are meant to be all about.  Here's why:
First of all, it's language Jesus used very often in the gospels, particularly Matthew.  But it's in Revelation 12: 10 that I find the most helpful words, "Then I heard a loud voice shouting--'It has come at last--salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ.'" These words parallel salvation with the Kingdom, the power (presumably of the Spirit) and the Kingdom, Christ's authority and the Kingdom, so 'Kingdom' is the most comprehensive description for what God is doing on this earth.

But here's the thing--we who are in Christ are actually citizens of a Kingdom which has no geographical location. Not on terra firma, that is. The Kingdom of God actually resides within those who believe, whether in a single person or a community of the faithful--there is some theological discussion about which (if not both) is meant by the words, "The Kingdom of God is within you."  I'll leave it at both. God the Holy Spirit comes into each of us, bringing with Him, the power, which is the sign of the Kingdom--"For the Kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power." (1 Cor. 4: 20)  The Holy Spirit is like our passport into the Kingdom. With Him we are given access to all that  the Kingdom has to offer, and we are given the responsibilities which come with that passport.

The other reason I use "The Kingdom", rather than say, "The gospel" (in some ways they are interchangeable,) is that when the disciples asked Jesus to pray, He told them to pray for the Kingdom. Jesus didn't mince words in that one famous prayer. He may have waxed on and on in the Sermon on the mount, and He spoke for hours the day He and the disciples fed the 5000, and He even managed to pray for what we've divided into about three chapters of John but when they asked Him how to pray, His answer was short and concise.  If you meditated on each separate clause, it would take you just over a week to get through.  And that's pushing it. So each small thought clearly packs a punch. Each is vitally important to our prayer lives (obviously) and our lives as His disciples, because these aren't simply personal requests but ultimately requests for all.

And right after Hallowing our Father's Name--keeping His very Name holy, we're told to pray, "May Your Kingdom come."  Right up there with the big guns, I suppose you might say. And  two things strike me about this. First, His Kingdom actually CAN come after His death, resurrection and ascension. The disciples didn't know what was ahead when Jesus said these words. They thought that Jesus Himself was the One through whom the Kingdom came. And they were right, of course. But after He was no longer present among them, the Kingdom not only could but should continue to come. And secondly, this actually implies the presence of the Holy Spirit--the presence of the Kingdom among us NOW. So, the Kingdom will and must come. And through us, in whom it now dwells. The Kingdom is present, and it must extend. That is what we pray when we pray this clause of the Lord's prayer. What a thought. Past present and future, there is the Kingdom--In the historical past, the Kingdom was in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Now the Kingdom is present in those who are His, and in the Future, the King will return, and The KINGDOM will come then, too. HALLELUJAH.

Yes in that grand and glorious day, the Kingdom of which we are citizens will not always be invisible.  Someday, the King Himself will return to His Kingdom which He now only visible through us.

Until then, we hold onto our passpost, and are comforted by the longing--yes, the homesickness--we have for the country to which we truly belong. It only makes sense that the nations of this world seem out of whack with who and what we're becoming, because the Kingdom of God is ALWAYS counter-cultural to the cultures in which we live. For example, "He who loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will keep it." (John 12: 25) and "The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God." 1 Cor. 3: 19)
"...For we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary but what cannot be seen is eternal." (2 Cor. 4: 18)

 But today we say by faith, "The Kingdoms of this world have now become the Kingdoms of our God and of His Christ and He shall reign forever and ever." (Rev. 11: 15)
 AMEN

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