Did you know that we are supposed to be Kingdom people? It is the whole point of the church. We are supposed to be the people on this planet living within the Kingdom of God . Moreover, we are supposed to be the people who take the Kingdom out of this place and attempt to plant it in the wider world.
The problem is, I don’t think many of us know what it means to be Kingdom people, what it means to spread the Kingdom in the wider world. Kingdom people, what are kingdom people?
The first Christians had nothing. Most of them were not people of means. They had no churches, no cathedrals and no endowments. They were thought of as a strange if not dangerous cult of people devoted to a thirty-three year old carpenter who was crucified as a revolutionary. They banded together in little groups and shared all they had in a kind of communal living where everyone was taken care of and no one was lost. By our standards, they had little but in fact, they had everything. They were people passionate about the teachings and promises of Jesus, people who clung to the promise of the Gospel in spite of persecution, in spite of being socially ostracized. They understood that Jesus had ushered in a new way of living, a new way of understanding God and a new way of understanding self. And their passion was contagious. Outsiders were attracted to the quality of their relationships. Non-believers were impressed by the way Christians loved and cared for the poorest and the weakest among them with the same energy and commitment with which they cared for the strongest and the most able of their members. Within a few decades of the crucifixion the church had grown exponentially not primarily because of the power of the Christian message but because of the power of the Christian witness, because of the power found in the loving ways these people lived their lives. They not only proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ, they lived this truth, they lived within the Kingdom.
In the two thousand years since Christianity took the world by storm, much has changed. The church is now a grand institution with immense resources and multiple layers of complexity. The church in Rome is no longer a simple community of Christ’s followers – Vatican City is considered to be a sovereign nation with immense wealth and the same diplomatic rights and privileges as any nation on this planet. Christians are no longer members of a fringe cult, but participants in a world religion very much a part of the status quo. Sometimes I feel like the church has been around for so long being “churchy” that we have forgotten the purpose for our gathering and in our confusion have elevated the incidental to the level of the holy. We spend much more time maintaining an institution than we do being the Kingdom of God on earth. Sometimes it feels like we are so far from our master and the good news of his life, death and resurrection that when we pray – “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer many of us don’t know what this means.
Maybe we ought to back up and get down to basics. What is the central message of Jesus teaching? Is it love your enemies, treat your neighbor as yourself, love God with all your heart and soul and mind? What is the constant theme that Jesus kept coming back to over and over again? The central message of our Lord was the proclamation of the Kingdom of God . He begins his ministry proclaiming it and he ends his earthly life proclaiming it. The Kingdom is referenced over 100 times in the Gospels. Jesus spends his life trying to teach us about the Kingdom, show us the Kingdom and invite us to live within the Kingdom.
Two thousand years later, we are supposed to be the Kingdom people. Yet, do we know what this means?
Simply put, Kingdom people are people who live by the love of God epitomized by Jesus Christ – in opposition to the ways of the world. Listen to me now, this is very important. Kingdom people are those people who live by the love of God epitomized by Jesus Christ – in opposition to the ways of the world. In his ministry, Jesus teaches us in word and deed that God not only loves the powerful, the successful, the moral – but that God loves especially the weak, the lost and the sinful. Jesus tells us – God is like the shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep, the woman who scours her house to find one lost coin, the man who sells all that he has to buy the one pearl, the Samaritan who stops to help the complete stranger, the father who kills the fatted calf and throws a party to welcome home his wayward son. Jesus teaches us and shows us by the company he keeps that in the Kingdom God’s love is free, undeserved, unasked for, it comes with no strings attached. To make this point clear, Jesus goes out of his way to share this love with those who deserve it the least.
As Kingdom people, we are supposed to be the ones who know this love, who have experienced it in our own lives and who spend our time sharing it in a world that says nothing worth anything is free. But many of us are so confused that we don’t even understand this fundamental truth. We don’t understand that we are loved infinitely, completely, simply because we are God’s children and that God’s love is not based on anything we have done or not done. How can we share a love that is free when we still think deep down inside we have to earn it?
In our defense, we live in a culture that places a value on everything and everyone. In our world, an individual’s worth is based on their looks, their brains, their bank accounts, their educations, the size of their homes, or the amount of toys they have to play with. The less you have in this world the less you matter. The more you have the more you matter. It is no surprise that this kind of thinking, so pervasive in the rest of our lives, sneaks into the church and pushes out the Kingdom. We sit in the pews and size each other up – who is more important, who is more righteous, who is the biggest hypocrite. However, as Kingdom people the church is supposed to be the one place where it doesn’t matter what we have, what we do or how righteous we are. It is not supposed to matter because as Kingdom people it has nothing to do with our value. In the Kingdom, nobody deserves anything because we all fall short of the glory of God. In the Kingdom, nobody deserves anything because it’s all free – God’s grace, salvation, forgiveness, love – it’s all free. And the greatest person here is loved no more than the poorest, the weakest, the most sinful among us.
This church is supposed to be an incubator for this kind of thinking, for this kind of loving. We are supposed to come in here week after week to refresh ourselves and renew ourselves about what is really true. We are supposed to come here and immerse ourselves in God’s no strings attached love, to literally feed on it, so that we can go back out in to the world to live differently and love differently. In fact, everything we do as a congregation outside of these walls ought to be an expression of the Kingdom to the world. We don’t house the homeless because it is good social policy. We do it because it is an expression of the Kingdom. We don’t cook food for folks who live on the street or spend our time raising money to educate the children in our Children’s Center because it makes us look good, or because it is a nice thing to do. We do it because to love without strings attached is to spread the Kingdom.
When Jesus called the first disciples, he did not call them to help him build an institution. He did not call them to be the church; he called them to help him spread the Kingdom of God . A Kingdom so strange that the first will be last and the last will be first. A Kingdom so unlike all others that in order to lead on must be a servant of all, in order to gain life one must give it completely. We are now Christ’s disciples – you and me together in this place. Peter and Andrew, James and John are long gone. We know how to be the church, in fact we are quite good at it; the real challenge is trying to truly be people of the Kingdom. Amen.