Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
I have this love-hate relationship with bumper stickers. I absolutely don t want one on my own car for a couple of reasons. First, I don t like the way they look and more importantly I have never found a one liner I wanted to share with everyone at a stoplight. As an old friend of mine who refuses to wear any kind of shirt with a logo like Lacoste or Polo says I don t advertise without compensation. In a similar way, I don t proclaim anything I don t get the chance to explain.
But I have to admit that I love to read bumper stickers on other people s cars. And if you drive around Richmond on any given day you will see that when it comes to bumpers there is no lack of reading material Jesus is coming, look busy; All men are created equal, one step below women; God loves you, and I m trying; and my new favorite, If money is the root of all evil, why do the churches always want more of it?
The other day I was driving down Monument Avenue and I saw a bumper sticker that didn t make me laugh but it did make me think. It said, Start seeing motorcycles. Puzzled, I thought to myself that I didn t know I wasn t seeing motorcycles, and then I realized that that was the point. When an automobile and a motorcycle have an accident it is most often the fault of the car driver and most often he or she will say I never saw that motorcycle. I then began to wonder: How do you begin to see something you didn t know you were missing?1 Let me say that again: How do you begin to see something you didn t know you were missing?
This is almost exactly the question I imagine Jesus was pondering as he listened to his disciples argue about which one of them was the greatest – How do I get these people to see a way of life they didn t know they were missing? Jesus had to be frustrated. His disciples had been traveling with him for sometime now. They had heard him teach, they had witnessed his miracles, but still they didn t see, they didn t understand. As he traveled from town to town he was gaining a reputation as a miracle worker but that was not the reputation he wanted. Miracles were wonderful but for Jesus they weren t the point. He hadn t come to work miracles, he had come to proclaim God s Kingdom, to teach God s Kingdom, to literally show people through his life and his death how one could live in the world and live in the Kingdom. The coming of the Kingdom was Jesus good news and he was frustrated by the fact that most people didn t get it.
As a result, Jesus took his disciples away from the crowds and focused on teaching them about the Kingdom he was proclaiming. For the second time he told his friends that as the Messiah he would have to give his life, he would have to suffer and die. He wanted his friends to know that Kingdom living is about service and sacrifice – but his friends didn t get it. Instead, as they walked down the road and passed through the outskirts of Galilee he overheard them arguing amongst themselves about which of them would be the greatest. Like the dedicated staff of a political campaign they were discussing who would hold what position in the new administration once their candidate came to power.
They were confused. This wasn t Kingdom talk this was worldly talk. Jesus wasn t going to come to power as they imagined, he was going to give up power – literally he was going to give up his life. Discouraged by how poorly they perceived this truth, he sat them all down and once more tried to explain. Taking a little child and setting her on his lap Jesus said: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. The Kingdom is the opposite of what you think, Jesus tells his disciples. It isn t about position or power, it isn t about conquering enemies or military might. Rather, see this little child who has no power, no money, no social standing these are the kind of people the Kingdom cares about, these are the kind of people you are supposed to care about. And if you want to lead in my Kingdom then you must serve precisely this kind of person.
The question for all of us this morning is: How do we begin to see something we may not even know we are missing? How do we begin to see the Kingdom? If the proclamation of God s Kingdom was Jesus central message then how do we begin to live into it, not after we die, but right now, right here in the everydayness of our lives?
When I think about that motorcycle bumper sticker I begin to realize that people don t see motorcycles when they are driving not because they don t want to but because they have been trained since they were 15 to watch out for other cars – for good reason. Nine times out of ten another car is what you are going to encounter when you are driving down the road. In the same way, most of us don t miss God s Kingdom because we are trying to avoid it, but because 99% of the time we are living in a very different kind of world. From our earliest days we have been taught that our value in the world has to be earned, that power and money equal success, that competing and winning at everything and anything is necessary to make it. And when you are dealing with life on the world s terms that is exactly right.
But there are a few motorcycles out there that you just may be missing. There is another way and Christians have been banding together for thousands of years so that we can live and proclaim this other way. The disciples of Jesus in the earliest Church were called followers of the way – followers of the way of life Jesus lived, followers of the Kingdom. And those earliest believers in the Kingdom way were absolutely positive that the Kingdom was the only place any of them could find true meaning and deep joy.
To live in the Kingdom is to see what you have been missing. The blessing I use at the end of the service whenever I celebrate Communion that says – love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you those words are Jesus words. That s Kingdom talk! To live in the Kingdom is to see not what you can get out of life but what you can give. It is to see not the size of your pledge but the depth of your service. It is to see the earth not as your possession to exploit but as God s great gift to be loved and cherished. It is to see and pay attention not to the ones with power and wealth, but the ones who have nothing the poor, the outcast, the powerless those especially loved by Jesus and therefore those we are called most especially to love. To live in the Kingdom is to see and care for those others consider invisible.
Start seeing the Kingdom. Pay attention to those who live meaningful lives in ways that are opposite from the competitive, dog-eat-dog ways of the world. Copy those who always seem to give more than they receive. Look for the poor and not the powerful. Seek ways to serve when you might seek ways to find personal gain. Copy those who love in a world where it is all too easy to hate. Stop trying to get even and start trying to make peace.
You are gonna have to live in somebody s kingdom. There is no going it alone. Which one is it going to be? Which one do you think will matter most in the end? It s up to you.
Thy Kingdom come, dear Lord. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
1 Mary E. Hinkle, The Christian Century, Sept. 6, 2003.