July 2012: The Kingdom is among you

In Luke 17:20-21, we read:Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”(NRSV)

This kingdom is among us. Kingdoms generally have visible borders, but this one does not. Entry to a country often requires a passport and visa; for this Kingdom, a change of heart is all that is necessary to bring it among us.

Jesus gave us many examples of what this Kingdom is like, but in the end, it remains intangible and mysterious. How can we explore it, if it is so difficult to pin down?

The answer, I believe, lies in two directions: not north or south, nor left or right, but inwards and outwards. Inwards, in our hearts; and outwards, in our actions. Of course, I don't mean "in our hearts" literally, but rather that inner place where we give and receive love, and where the Holy Spirit dwells. We go there at times in our lives when we fall in love; but we can also go there on purpose, in reflective or contemplative prayer, using our imagination and the Bible as aids if necessary. Sometimes we will find there an overwhelming sense of God's presence, or of connectedness with all things; other times, it might be quite lonely and desolate there. Both presence and absence are valuable to our development in maturity. The inward path is one of insight and wisdom, if we persist, accepting whatever God has to teach us from time to time - but it certainly isn't rewarding if approached with a 'me, now' mentality. Exploring this Kingdom inwardly requires loyalty and discipline. Often, such inwardness results in a decision for action in the world.

The outward path is actually quite similar, in the end. It involves taking action, personally making a difference for people in need, no matter who they are or what they believe. Doing this can make one feel good about oneself, at first; but before long, the pain felt by those we encounter begins to affect us too, for they begin to teach us about a different world, the one they inhabit. To receive some of our shared love, they must share with us some of their pain. When this happens, the 'me, now' approach fails once again; discipline and loyalty come into play, and we wrestle with the pain. Thus we learn about the Kingdom of God, and as we reflect on it, we find ourselves moving along the inward path too, wondering how there can be such pain in the world.

In Matthew 22:37-40 we find Jesus' reply to a question about which is the greatest commandment:“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”For me,these words underline the need for all of us who choose to follow Jesus to go inwards, loving God and receiving love in our hearts, as well as going outwards, sharing God's love through action in the world. In these ways, we can explore the Kingdom of God, invisible though it is.

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.