July 14, 2019
How We Encounter the Kingdom if God
The ways in which we encounter the Kingdom of God are as
varied and as particular as life itself. From colorful rare
wildlife like the mountain blue bird to rainbow trout
flourishing in our rivers and streams, we see the Kingdom of
God all around us and in striking detail, what the English
poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called "God's Grandeur"--
The priest and poet wrote, "nature is never spent; there lives
the dearest freshness deep down things," and I believe
Hopkins was speaking of the Kingdom of God. Leigh and I
just returned from Glacier National Park, where we spent
two full days in such a magnificent setting that it was
impossible to imagine fully before we were there among the
mountain peaks and deep valleys, the remains of long-ago
glaciers, deep mountain lakes, and immense green forests.
We have been to Yellowstone twice in the last two months,
but nothing prepared us for God's Grandeur as we found it
near the Canadian border!
Glacier National Park has an untouched, undisturbed quality
that makes it quite different from Yellowstone. Both are
truly remarkable treasures, examples of the Kingdom of
God, but Glacier seemed more like the newer creation, the
road less traveled, the wilderness untouched by human
These journeys we have made-to Yellowstone, the Grand
Tetons, Glacier, the Big Hole-all of them have recalled for
me the understanding that each of us is on a journey to God,
an odyssey of self-discovery, a pilgrimage of enlightenment.
At the heart of all these spiritual journeys is the profound
realization that we yearn for the peace of God. Each and
every one of us-young and old, rich and poor, healthy and
sick, wise and simple-each in his or her own way longs for
the loving-kindness of God, for the understanding and
mercy of Christ, for the help and nourishment of the Holy
Spirit. What we all want, I believe, is the Peace of God.
This reminds me of a beautiful hymn by William Alexander
Percy from the early twentieth century. The last verse goes,
The peace of God, it is no peace
But strife closed in the sod
Yet let us pray for but one thing-
The marvelous peace of God.
This recognition, I believe, is where we encounter the
Kingdom of God. It comes to us in knowing and
understanding what things we ought to do-no matter the
cost, no matter the price. And then having the grace and the power faithfully to accomplish them. We do not have to be
extraordinary or capable of great feats of power ourselves.
Like the prophet Amos, we can say, "I am no prophet, nor a
prophet's son. I am just a herdsman, and a dresser of
sycamore trees. But if the Lord can use me for some good in
his Kingdom, then let it be so."
Or as Paul wrote the new believers at Colossae, "Let you be
filled with the knowledge of God's will so that you may lead
a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear
fruit in every good work and as you are made strong and
well-prepared for what lies ahead."
All of these life experiences, these challenges and difficulties,
are encounters with the Kingdom of God. I suppose you
could live your life without them-without knowing that God
touches your life, enters into your circumstances, becomes a
part of your situation-but it doesn't seem likely for a person
who believes and sees and knows that in him we live and
move and have our being.
Most of the time it is very subtle, and if you aren't paying
attention, you might miss it. But I am more convinced that
God will find a way to get your attention. Jesus will create a
situation. The Holy Spirit will offer you an opportunity to be
of help to someone who is figuratively or literally going down
from Jerusalem to Jericho, and who falls into the hands of
If and when that time comes, I hope that you will remember
that it is an encounter with the Kingdom of God. And whether it is convenient or not, I hope that you will stop right where you are, moved with pity, and you will try your best to be of help. The test of the moment is one of Compassion. Jesus, I believe, calls us to respond to need with Compassion. It doesn't necessarily mean "fixing somebody" or "fixing the problem." It begins with seeing a situation for what it truly is-not what you want it to be, not rationalizing it, but what it actually is. Then Compassion means caring about the person. Really caring what happens to them. And finally, Compassion means trying to find a way to help, if you can. That's what Jesus asks us to do. Live a life of compassion. Pay attention. Care about others. Help if you can. It doesn't seem like too much to me. What do you think? AMEN.
Sermon 1165 Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 5
The Kingdom God Has Come Near
I had to rewrite this sermon on Friday afternoon. I walked to Saint James with Nick the Wonder Dog to work on a different version of it, when I was met by an elderly ranch hand at the red doors. His name was Paul and he was on his
way to Pennsylvania where his remaining brother lives. He was dressed in the best clothes he had-jeans, old boots, a blue western shirt, and a baseball cap. Paul told me his story for a half hour or so. He was a Marine Corps veteran, never married, and worked for a Montana rancher for over 25 years. Turns out he never paid into Social Security, so Paul had nothing to fall back on in his old age. He needed help on Friday afternoon, and the question wasn't, "Did he deserve help?" or "Why did he show up here?" or "What should I do about it?" The question, as I understood it, was "What would Jesus want me to do?" And the title of my sermon kept coming into my mind: "The Kingdom of God
has come near."
This phrase, "The Kingdom of God," was very important to Jesus. As he came nearer and nearer to the end of his life, it became a central focus, a compelling theme, something he talked about repeatedly. I would even say that the Kingdom of God became for Jesus and his followers the major
principal that should guide all human life. You find it in the Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Golden Rule, and in the Great Commandment.
But I should warn you. The Kingdom of God is not convenient, or easy, and it doesn't even look like a good idea at times. No, it is often difficult and challenging and risky. But the fact is that the Kingdom of God is named more than a hundred times in the New Testament, from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near," to the twelfth chapter of the Revelation of John: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah." It's everywhere, and you can't ignore it. Not only that, the Kingdom of God seems to be happening at the very time that Jesus lives and moves and haves his being on earth-and only when Jesus is ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. The Kingdom is “already” and “not yet,” say the scholars, “already” and “not yet.”
And perhaps we live at a time when the Kingdom of God is also "already" and "not yet." Maybe, for us, the Kingdom is for now only near to us. Could there be something more for us to do? Something else that Christ expects of us before we come to know his Kingdom?
After his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples "speaking about the kingdom of God." So clearly, there was more that they needed to know and understand about this Kingdom of God. Luke, the author of both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, tells of Philip "proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and baptizing a crowd of men and women.
Paul and Barnabas were traveling the countryside, preaching in Lystra and Iconium and declaring the Kingdom of God. Paul was stoned in Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, "It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God."
One of the messages about the Kingdom of God is the strength and power it seems to give to those who profess it. The new Apostles were filled with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and they grew in courage and confidence
unlike anything they possessed before. They stood up to the Roman military, the Jewish bureaucracy, and the violence they encountered in cities and towns-but they did not resort to violence or anger themselves.
So what can we learn in our own day and time, in om own lives and circumstances, about the Kingdom of God? Surely we must take it seriously. Jesus appointed his disciples and "seventy others" says Luke, to go on ahead of him to "every town and place where he himself intended to go." He
commissioned these men and women to be his missionaries, declaring to everyone, "The kingdom of God has come near to you." Some will hear and accept the message, and others will not. If the people of that town hear and accept the Good News of the Kingdom, then stay with them. But if they do
not accept the Good News of the Kingdom, then go out into the street and shake the dust from your feet and leave that town for good.
Finally, here is what it means to say: We are living in a different time, an Age of Responsibility. We know Jesus crucified, risen, and ascended. We know the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to act, to care, and to love om
neighbors as ourselves. It is a call for justice and generosity, a life of love and joy and peace. Jesus, having shown us by his life and example; having taught us by his parables and sermons; having led us by his courage and sacrifice-this same Lord Jesus now calls us to become his hands and feet, his heart and spirit, in a suffering and sinful world. This is what it means when our Lord says, "The Kingdom of God has come near." Can any of us doubt that Jesus calls us to help the poor in our midst? To feed the hungry among us?
To warm the homes of our neighbors?
So I walked down the street to the ATM and got a hundred dollars for that old cowboy, laid hands on him and prayed for his healing, and sent him on his way to Pennsylvania. AMEN
Sermon 1164 Fourth Sunday after Pentecost