If there was one thought that I wanted people to leave with from my last sermon at St. Andrew’s it was just that – Keep performing the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Advent season is a season where we are made painfully aware that 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus Christ we are still waiting on complete manifestation of the kingdom of heaven in it’s fullness. John the Baptist declared two millenia ago that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and yet it is still not in hand. The kingdom continues to elude our grasp.
In the face of that reality, we have two choices: 1) We can be given over to despair in the waiting, or 2) we can live as though the kingdom has been made manifest in it’s fullness. It seems, at least to me, that for the majority of human history, humanity has chosen to be given over despair in the waiting. We are continually tempted to live into our lesser, shadow-selves by being given to selfishness, greed, unforgiveness, hatred, and isolation. In short, we are continually tempted to live into our lesser, shadow-selves by begin given to sin.
Sin is a word that has become unpopular in modern spiritual language, and for good reason. Some religious traditions have used the word to discriminate and beat down, to destroy and to diminish. What I mean when I use the word “sin” is simply the temptation to live less than our full, human, loving- and loved-selves.
The opposite of sin is not “perfection” in the common sense of the word, but righteousness – a life that strives for the kingdom of heaven. Jesus encourages his followers to “seek ye first the kingdom of God…” Here is making clear that our lives ought to be focused towards the values and ideals of heaven. The Psalms are filled with constant claims of righteousness, most of which are attributed to God’s righteousness; however, ever now an then you get a jewel such as…
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. (Psalm 18:20)
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous. (Psalm 146:8)
Now, if righteousness meant perfection, then the writer of Psalm 18 would be receiving no reward and the writer of Psalm 146 would basically be saying that God loves no one.
A righteous life is a life that strives after the kingdom of heaven, even if they don’t call it that. This blog is far too short to engage in a conversation about the universal salvation or whether there is salvation outside of the church (that’s a post for another day). What I’m concerned about at this time is encouraging those who are waiting on the manifestation of the kingdom in it’s fullness to perform the kingdom.
And that’s the second option we have: to live in the fullness of the kingdom. This raises an important question: what does it mean to live in the fullness of the kingdom? To live in the fullness of the kingdom means to live out fully what the kingdom teaches and values. That means loving, giving, serving, reconciling, sharing, praising, and doing all of that intentionally.
I small part of my soul cries when I hear people frame Advent as a quiet time of year. I understand at a deeper, spiritual level what they are driving at, that there is an importance to the spiritual practices of prayer and reflection. I would offer that action and prayer go together like peanut butter and jelly, like red beans and rice, like Oreos and red wine (don’t judge me). James tells us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Prayer without action related to the request is like plugging in a lamp but not turning on the switch. Sure, you’ve connected to the source, but you haven’t ACTIVATED the power. So what does this mean? While we pray for peace on earth, let us be found working for peace on the earth – that’s performing. While we pray for more just society, let us be found working for a more just society – that’s performing. While we are praying for Jesus to return (e’en so Lord Jesus, quickly come), let us found working for the reality, daily incarnating the reality of the risen Christ for those daily living under the shadow of death.
Let me bring it a little closer to home. If you are praying for a better relationship with a family member, think about ways you could be working towards that better relationship. Maybe you’re praying for better health, think about ways that you could be working towards better health. Less stress? More involvement in the life of your local church? Whatever it is – find a way to perform.
One of my favorite movie quotes of all times comes from “Evan Almighty” where God (played by Morgan Freeman), masquerading as a server in a diner, asks Joan Baxter (played by Lauren Graham), the weary wife of congressman-turned-modern-day-Noah, Evan Baxter (played by Steve Carell) a searching question:
Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?
Perhaps waiting is an opportunity to live into the fullness of the kingdom. That’s called performing the kingdom and that is the way we wait faithfully.
So what’s my Advent exhortation for the body of Christ? Break a leg.
Keep the faith, and make it colorful!