The Commonwealth of God Is Already HerePosted: January 31, 2016
The Commonwealth of God Is Already Here
SLIDE 3: WHAT DID JESUS MEAN?
According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew the message of Jesus was different from John the Baptist: “the Commonwealth of God is not just near, it is already here.” But what did Jesus mean, when he said, “The Commonwealth of God is already here?” If the Commonwealth of God is already here, then why is war raging in Syria? Why are people still homeless? Why don’t we have a cure for cancer? And why are we taxing our poorest citizens, while wealthy corporations and many billionaires pay no taxes at all? Two scriptures, one in Luke and one in Matthew give us some clues.
SLIDE 4: I WAIT FOR YOU
In Chapter 17 in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was being asked, “When will the Messiah Come? When will God act to initiate the Commonwealth of God here on earth?”
Jesus’ response is similar to the famous Talmudic answer. You know the idealistic young person asks the Messiah, “What are you waiting for?
And the Messiah responds, “I wait for you!”
SLIDE 5: ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS BEGIN DOING IT
In Luke Jesus said, “The Commonwealth of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s Commonwealth is already among you.” Our ability to bring about the community of faith is within us! We don’t have to wait for some blinding divine action from outside of history. The grace of God is already within us to begin taking the actions that lead to a more just, forgiving, loving, sharing way of life. All we have to do is to begin doing it!
But how do we bring into being a community of love, and what does it look like? So, here we turn to the second scripture from Matthew as our clue.
SLIDE 6: LIVE GENEROUSLY
Jesus sent his twelve disciples out with this charge: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the Commonwealth of God is here and now. Bring health to the sick. Reach out and hold hands with the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”
SLIDE 7: START HERE IN HUNTSVILLE
These were Jesus’ instructions as he sent the disciples out on their own to share the message of the Gospel. And let me add these are Jesus’ instructions to us today. You can think globally but act locally. Don’t go running off to New York City, or Chicago, or even Birmingham, start right here in Huntsville. And don’t assume you have to take on Governor Bentley, or Roy Moore or the Presidential Election. Instead, focus on welcoming people right here to the Sharing Table, and helping them to experience the miracle of sharing and love in person. Then tell them by what you do, that God is right here among us.
SLIDE 8: HELP PEOPLE FIND THE HEALING POWER OF PRAYER AND LOVE
Help people to find healing through prayer and love. Through your loving support help those who are sick understand they are surrounded by the prayers and care of a loving community. Help people as they wrestle with the demons of mental illness to know they are not alone. Support NAMI. Be willing to share your own struggles with depression, and other forms of addiction and mental illness, so when people come to the Sharing Table they know they are not weird or strange, but they are precious children of God. Make sure everyone knows they are welcome here in God’s community of faith.
SLIDE 9: REACH OUT AND HOLD HANDS WITH THE UNTOUCHABLES
Reach out and hold hands with the untouchables, by reaching across all barriers of social, class, educational and religious division. It’s O.K. to be gay. There is no shame in being poor. If you never had an opportunity to go to college or even finish high school, you are still valuable in this community of faith. Doesn’t matter if you come from a “good neighborhood,” or a less affluent area of our town, you are still welcome here. In fact, you might become our most effective form of outreach into the homeless camps. And you will not be judged by what you believe. Our faith is not what we think, but how we love that matters. And if sometimes we have doubts, or even a total faith melt down, that is alright because our spiritual friends sustain us as they pray with and for us.
SLIDE 10: YOU HAVE BEEN TREATED GENEROUSLY SO LIVE GENEROUSLY
And finally, says Jesus, “You have been treated generously, so live generously.” We have all been forgiven and so we are asked to become living fountains of forgiveness. And we are to practice that forgiveness within the life of the community of faith, so that others will look at us and say, “Gee that’s what love is like.” Forgiving living, breathing people we have to interact with week in and week out is not easy, and that is why God has called each of us to live in the community of faith, rather than claiming we can be just as good of Christians without coming to church. You know the phrase showing up is 90% of life? Well, showing up and loving and sharing with all of the various characters God brings to the Sharing Table is part of being the people of faith. Learning to love people we would not ordinarily be attracted to as social friends.
SLIDE 11: GIVE GENEROUSLY
Living generously also means learning to give generously. We are not a club, we do not collect club dues. We are a living breathing community of faith that grows and expresses our love by sharing generously. So in the words of a once famous President, ask not what the community of faith can do for you, ask what you can do for the community of faith.
SLIDE 12: DIVERSITY
Over the past fourteen years the diversity of our congregation has increased dramatically. Bill Viall one time shared with me a semi-serious story from United Church’s past that we were once so homogenous there was a serious discussion among some congregational leaders that only engineers should be allowed to join. They didn’t want to have to deal with people who didn’t think like engineers. No wonder our church experienced difficulty growing. And even if we weren’t all engineers back then we were pretty uniformly upper middle class.
SLIDE 13: SOMEHOW WE ALL LIVE TOGETHER AS GOD’S PEOPLE
Allow me to illustrate. When I first arrived as Pastor, I was told that the Deacon’s fund could only be used to help people outside of the church, and that is because we did not have any members who were truly poor. Well, that has changed. We still have many good solid middle class members, but we also have many people among us living on disability, food stamps, and public assistance, going to the free clinic for medical care, and somehow we all live together as God’s people. We are no longer a homogeneous congregation. We are diverse, and that does make living together more difficult. Not everyone in this church is just like us. We are just too different from one another. We have to stretch a little bit, and maybe a lot, to begin to embrace as good spiritual friends people who are unlike us. But we are living out the promises of God by proving that everyone no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey is welcome at God’s Sharing Table.
SLIDE 14: THERE ARE PLENTY OF CONGREGATIONS TO CHOOSE FROM
While we have yet to effectively reach across the barrier of race, we have become socially integrated by income and class, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, and theological background. And while some people don’t like that, it is O.K., because we are living out to the best of our ability the admonition to love one another as Christ has loved us, as a congregation of the United Church of Christ. Not everyone wants to be a member of United Church. Some people would much rather attend a church, where everyone is pretty much like them. There are plenty of other denominations and congregations to choose from. But making the commitment to become part of United Church is to embrace the more difficult way of Jesus. For here we are trying to bring the Commonwealth of God into the present moment.
SLIDE 15: BRING THE COMMONWEALTH OF GOD INTO THE PRESENT MOMENT
As we come away from our Annual Congregational Meeting last week with the challenge of giving of ourselves in order to continue proclaiming and living the reality of the way of Jesus, here is our call:
“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in Huntsville – both rich and poor. Tell them that the Commonwealth of God is here and now. Bring health to the sick. Reach out and hold hands with the untouchables. Overcome the demons of mental illness. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”