Thy Kingdom Found

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Thy Kingdom Found

Is. 25:1-9; Phil. 4:1-9; Matt. 22:1-14

Growing weary of kingdom parables in ordinary time is common, I suppose. Like working a crossword, I eventually tire from looking for buried meaning and uncovering clues to riddles. My interest wanes and I tend to want to move on. Which is fine if it’s a crossword, there’s a time to put it down and you won’t miss out on much. But we are talking about the kingdom of heaven here! Part of my brain fatigue stems from losing focus on this very point, this goal. The pursuit is intriguing for a time, but won’t be sustained without arriving at some sight of the kingdom, which is not a game, but an end and resting point.

Losing sight of the kingdom seems to loosely parallel the loss of sight in this parable Jesus offers about a wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14). The first-round guest list chooses to ignore the invitation, as though they have better things to do. They do not see the joy to be had in coming to celebrate the beginning of a new relationship in the community. They would rather gain and get ahead of their peers in business and commodity dealings than give the gift of each other’s presence in celebration of a communal centered marriage. The invitation is to enter into joy in fellowship and union, yet they go to their jobs in isolation (v. 5). They have lost touch with God centered priorities, which is a fundamental point of intersection with our day. It’s not that jobs and daily affairs are bad, but when they become the supreme focus, over and against joy in God and the feast he prepares and invites us to come and share, then we have a perspective problem.

St. Paul addresses the same problem in Philippians 4, though more explicitly. There is no puzzle to piece together and find yourself in here in this epistle reading, but a clear admonition to simply “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Rather than a parable, it’s plain speech. And we need it sometimes. He says it twice because he must know we need the double reminder, again and again. “The Lord is near,” he goes on to say, and the invitations have gone out; let nothing get in the way of this invitation to rejoice in and with God. Again, a connecting point with our ways of living today. Our busy lives let so many things come between us and the joy of God. The temptation is to let the things of time, even good things, get in the way of the things of eternity.[1] Paul goes on to list things worthy of setting our minds and time on, whatever is “true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, etc.” (v.8). But notice how all such things follow our rejoicing in the Lord. Joy in God is the umbrella, out from under which we end up flooded in the anxieties and frets of the world, whether that be our jobs, families, finances, relationships, etc.

All such things will become like the heat of the day that Isaiah speaks of in 25:9. If we come out from under the shelter of our God, his stronghold of joy, then we will go and build in all the wrong places. We’ll forget how and where to seek his kingdom, preferring to build our own “palaces” (Is. 25:2). But all such fortifications will come down in the end, becoming nothing more than a “heap” (v. 2). And that is something to rejoice in! Along with Isaiah, “I will praise your name for you have done wonderful things…for you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin” (vv. 1-2).

In these lessons, what comes through is the joy that comes when we find the kingdom of heaven, and decide to leave our palaces for it. 

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, p. 296

Posted by The Rev. David Thompson with

The Surprising, Robust and Absolutely Unthinkable - Forgiveness!

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In our house, towards the end of summer, the warm, wonderful, and whimsical days of fun and sun seem to take an inevitable and drastic turn towards the chaotic and combative. 

In what seems to be the forgotten ring of Hell from Donte’s Inferno, this three-week window before school starts again, somehow transforms my sweet eight-year-old son and adorable five-year-old daughter into some strange, demonic shadows of themselves, ready and willing to start and finish any fight, over anything, at any time, and without any remorse.

It was during this period that, after yet another series of bad choices by both, I approached my son to have him initiate the process of forgiveness between them.  However, as this was not our first dance of the day, it was not his refusal that surprised me, but rather his reasoning, “I don’t have to forgive her because she’s just my sister, and she always annoys me.”

In our Gospel lesson for today, after what seems have been a their own “summer of fun,” a great run of preaching and teaching, miracles and transfigurations, Jesus begins to turn his talk toward the cross, toward suffering, death, and resurrection, and toward sin and forgiveness.  His disciples therefore, like my children, seeing the end coming, move from fun, fellowship, and an envisioned future together, to sadness, anxiety, and petty arguments over who would be the greatest among them (Mk 9:33–37; Lk 9:46–48).

It is here, that we find Peter, anxious and afraid, angry and resentful, confused and curious, and reaching out to Jesus for a word of assurance.  In what we might hear as Peter desperately reaching for some back up, for a limit to which he could point to the others, who were now just his brothers who always annoy him, he asks…“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:22) 

What follows, in both Jesus’ direct response, and his parable, is nothing Peter, the disciples, or anyone from that time or today could have imagined.  Jesus spoke of a radical forgiveness that was tantamount to breathing in the new Kingdom of God; you must do it, always, everywhere, and with everyone. 

We must forgive in the same radical and robust way as Jesus’ call to Peter to forgive “seventy-seven times” (that is, always, without regard to number) in a time, and for a people where “an eye for an eye” was the way.  We must forgive in the same unthinkable and incomprehensible way as the parable King’s unexpected and extravagant forgiveness of an unfathomable debt that went beyond the requested stay of repayment.  We must, as children of God, and recalling Jesus’ earlier words on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:43-44), initiate this forgiveness out of a place and call to love, love our friends, our enemies, and those persecute (and annoy) us.

So, whether you’re Joseph standing before the very brothers who sold you into slavery (Genesis 50:15-21), or my son, standing in seeming righteousness over his annoying sister, we are all called to leave the seat of judgement to our Lord (Romans 14:1-12) and forgive.  We are called to remember that we do not merely “live to ourselves,” but rather “we live to the Lord” who loves extravagantly.  Finally, we are called to live, breathe, and share in the same radical, robust, Kingdom of God life as God himself, who first loved, and gave his only Son, that all who believe in him should not die of sin, but rather have eternal life through forgiveness (John 3:16).

Posted by The Rev. Clayton Elder with

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.