Posted by: dacalu | 10 April 2019

The Kingdom Come

Last Sunday, I had the joy of worshiping with Christ Church Episcopal in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday in Lent:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings:

Isaiah 43:16-21 (“I give water in the wilderness”)

Psalm 126 (“Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy”)

Philippians 3:4b-14 (“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”)

John 12:1-8 (Mary of Bethany and the costly perfume)

 

Sermon:

How do you measure value?
	Judas Iscariot counted denarii, silver coins.
	Martha counted deeds done.
	And Mary of Bethany counted her hours with Jesus.
I have to admit,
	Martha and Judas sound more sensible to me most of the time.
	Judas may have had his eye on stealing the money,
		but he does have a point.
	Three hundred denarii could buy a year’s worth of bread.
We must be careful, though.
	Moses and Jesus remind us that we do not live by bread alone (Deut 8:3; Mt 4:4).
So, there is this strange tension.
	On the one hand, we have monetary value and nutritional value.
	On the other hand, we have something else,
		something more than money and bread.
We have been told to use our talents wisely,
to give our money to the poor
	and to feed the hungry.
And we have been told that all of this is as nothing without love.
What are we to make of Mary’s gift?
And what of Jesus’ strange statement:
	“You always have the poor with you”?

Christians must always view wealth cautiously.
	“You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mt 6:24)
“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle 
than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt 19:24)
For what, then, do we work?
What is the goal that Paul speaks of?
What do we, as Christians, ultimately value?

This question, for me, underlies all the other questions.
Our readings today suggest that we value
	Christ and the resurrection,
	but it matters how we unpack that.
It matters whether we seek eternal life so that we may be with Jesus
	or follow Jesus so that we may have everlasting life.
It matters whether we seek wealth so that we may serve
	or serve in order to gain wealth.
It matters whether we improve ourselves so that we may love others
	or love others in order to improve ourselves.
 
Good acts, even good intentions, are good in context.
	The why matters.
	It matters because it provides proportion.
		It tells us when to begin and when to stop.
Consider eating.
	I think all of us would agree that food is a good thing
		and that it is good to eat.
	We also know that we can eat too much
		and eat the wrong things.
Eating is good when it leads to life and health and strength.
Eating can also give comfort and build community.
And, sometimes, eating can be bad for us.
Bread is good, but we do not live by bread alone.

More than this, bread does not stay good.
	Bread can spoil.
	Good bread becomes bad bread if we wait too long to eat it.
We have a strange desire for everlasting bread.
	Perhaps it’s wonderbread or twinkies
		or protein bars or MREs.
	We want to store away our wheat so that it will last forever.
	We want to be sure that we will always have food.
	Scarlett O’Hara famously says this in Gone with the Wind:
		“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
What follows makes no sense without this foundation.
	We actually need food.
	Any of you who have been truly hungry know this.
	Hunger and thirst can gnaw at you, overwhelm you,
		until nothing else seems to matter.
We can forget this, living as we do, amidst the wealth of the world.
Seattle is a city of wealth,
	though many who live here still go hungry.
One reason we fast in Lent is so that we might remember,
	just how close we are to dust and death,
	just how much our flesh and blood dictate who we are
		and what we want.
Please don’t mistake me.
	True food is an immediate, visceral need.
	And so, we pray for our daily bread.
 
We do not pray for everlasting bread, yearly bread, or even weekly bread.
	We pray for daily bread.
	God gave the Israelites manna in the wilderness,
		but it could not be kept overnight.
	Jesus sent the disciples out without bread and without money,
		charging them to rely on hospitality.
Even if we had bread that never rotted –
wonder bread can last an awfully long time –
it too would go bad.
Bread goes bad any time I have two meals and someone else has only one.
	We all need food.
There is a difference between food tomorrow and food today.

Lewis Carroll spoke of jam tomorrow,
	complaining about those who promise something in the future
	but never deliver.
Many have spoken of political and ideological promises
	as jam tomorrow, but never jam today.
Most often I hear this as a critique of Christianity.
	Is not resurrection life all about jam tomorrow?

But this is not the Christianity I know.
	It is not the New Testament. It is not Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth was always and only about jam today, 
bread today, life today.

“do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. 
Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Mt 6:34)

So, bread is good, but bread is good today.
	If it is good for me, it is good for my neighbor.
This is a hard teaching.
	I cannot claim to have mastered it,
		but it is, very clearly, the teaching of Christ.
Bread is good and bread is for neighbor.
Wealth is good and wealth is for Christ.
Life is good, but it is good as life today and together,
	never as life forever and apart.
 
What do Christians value?
	We value the relationships of love
		built by breaking bread together.
	We value the love of Christ
		found in one another and in contemplation of God.
	We value the breath we share in the moment
		with other children of God.
That, I believe, is resurrection life.
	It is the kingdom come, and not the kingdom yet to be.
	It is life here and now, not there and then.
	It is, emphatically and always, bread and jam today.
I do not rule out life in the future.
	I believe that my redeemer lives,
		at the last he will stand upon the Earth,
and I will see God face to face.
But that will be more of this.
	If we do not live now, we cannot live then.
	If we do not love now, I cannot love then.
	The eternal feast begins now.
I see Jesus in the last and the least.
	If I want to eat with him, I eat with him here,
		at this table, on this street.
	Literally, viscerally, concretely on this street.
	If Jesus lives, he lives there.
He is not the God of tomorrow or yesterday.
He is the God of today.


I have not yet found the peace of Mary.
	I have not yet chosen the better part,
	but I am learning.
I learn from Shelly and Aaron on a regular basis.
I learn from their concern for the poor and their concern for you.
I learn from countless Christians who do the hard work of love,
	today.

This love can be very strategic.
I think there is real value to holding and saving money,
	but we hold it and save it because we care about one another.
We hold it and save it because we care about today.
It can only be good in context.
And the farther our thoughts wander –
	the more we make the kingdom something
		far off and far away –
	the less we have it with us, today.
 
I avoid politics in sermons
	and I shall not address specifics,
	but I will say this.
Ask yourself:
Who is delivering food and who is promising it?
Who feeds the hungry and who guards the larder?
Who is selling you jam tomorrow?
This tactic is common on the right and the left.
And it matters.

It matters whether we seek security for the sake of a common life
	or only use our common life for the sake of personal security.
It matters whether life together is an end or only a means.

The same is true in the church.

It matters whether we speak of resurrection as an opportunity for love
	or as a reward for loving our neighbor.
To call it a reward is to say that it is the better part,
	as though love were not an end in itself.
Too many Christians speak of heaven as the final goal of Christianity,
	and not the fulfillment of God’s love,
		our love for one another, and our love for God.
When heaven happens, we will find that it is and always was
	now, in community with these people.
There are no other people and there is no other now.


You will always have the poor with you,
	because bread today is the bread we share.
Jesus’ body and blood were broken and shared for us,
	and with us, and in us.
But we can only experience his resurrection,
	we can only become one body in Christ,
	when we share ourselves with those who hunger and thirst.

What do Christians value?
	We value the life of Christ,
		bread for the world.
	We value love lived concretely.
	We value the call to heavenly life, here and now.
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