Monday, July 09, 2012

Life Reflections on the Kingdom

Filling in some missing pieces in my first Jesus book...
“Your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.” We do not know when Jesus will return to earth and God will set up his eternal kingdom. Should we just wait and do nothing in the meantime? The gospels themselves urge us to press on.

I remember singing a song growing up in church that said, “We’ll work, till Jesus comes.” The song perhaps found its inspiration in John 9:4: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” We find a similar idea in the Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19, where a man goes off on a journey to be crowned king. He leaves varying amounts of money with his servants (a mina was an amount of money) and tells them to “Put this money to work until I come back” (19:13).

What are we to do while we wait for Jesus to return? In John 9, the “work of God” Jesus does is healing a blind man to show the power of God. In Luke 19, Jesus tells the Parable of the Minas after the tax collector Zacchaeus has decided to stop cheating people and to give half of his possessions to the poor. Accordingly, being a good steward of what Jesus has left us in the parable directly has to do with using our resources to help those in need.

But we can extend the idea of “occupying ourselves” until Jesus’ return to anything we might do in this world to try to live out Jesus’ values and to bring the values of his kingdom into the world. First, is God king in our individual lives? We cannot control so much of what goes on around us. We certainly cannot control what other people do, at least not for long. Often we cannot even control ourselves.

But I have more control over myself than I do most anything else in life. I can control my attitudes. I often cannot control my circumstances or how other people treat me, but I can work with God to control how I respond to life and others, as well as the choices I make.

A good first step in bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth is for God to be king over my life. When I know what God wants me to do, what the right or wrong thing to do is, will I commit with God’s help to make the right choice? Charles Sheldon once urged his congregation to ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” in every choice they made for a week. Although people unfortunately have vastly different ideas of what Jesus would do in various situations, it at least gets us to where we are not doing things that we are pretty sure God doesn’t want us to do!

It is also not God’s style to force the world to conform to his will, at least not for now. If it were his way, then evil would have stopped a long, long time ago. God will bring his kingdom with force in his own good time. In the meantime, the model of Jesus is one of “wooing” the world to God by showing the world his love. It is one of doing good in the world, of healing the sick, helping the poor, themes we will explore in later chapters.

Some tried to make God’s kingdom come by force in the days of Jesus (11:12), but God will come in force on his schedule. Our task as Christians is not to try to force America or any other nation to become a Christian nation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to influence our world for good, especially when we are talking about helping others and making the world a better place.

There is an important distinction here. We demonstrate the spirit of Jesus when we stand against the oppression of others, when we stand for others. This is something quite different than preaching against sin in the sense of rule-breaking. Standing against oppression comes from a different spirit than making sure sinners are punished. The first is the spirit of Jesus, the second is a vindictive spirit hiding under the disguise of righteousness.

So let us work till Jesus comes. Let us work at helping others, using the “mina” or “talent” (Matt. 25:14-30) God has given us to help others. May the Spirit work through us to perform miracles in the lives of others. Let us try to influence the world to love one another and to serve its true and ultimate king.

And when we can stop oppression or work to change unjust structures of society, that is a good work. This is not forcing the world to serve God. It is forcing the world not to oppress others. We have witnessed movements in the last two hundred years that have abolished overt, public slavery. We have witnessed the empowerment of women in Western society for women to have the same opportunities and voice as men.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This is the way things will be in the kingdom of God. If it is possible to see the structures of modern society become a place of this sort, a color blind, gender blind society, then we will be doing good work till Jesus comes.

The kingdom work that Jesus did while he was on earth focused primarily on inviting everyone who would to be included, especially those disempowered in Jewish society. No one needed to face the coming judgment of God on the world. And God would be particularly angry at those who refused to allow in those who wanted to come.

1 comment:

John C. Gardner said...

It is interesting that America generally was a herrenvolk democracy for much of its history. We also segregated many socoi-economic aspects of society and have labeled many on assistance(think unemployment vs. tax deductions for the wealthy) as the makers and the takers. This ideological dichotomy is repugnant to the idea of helping others. Romans 13:1-7 calls for all to pay taxes and we are also called to give generously. There must be limitations to entitlements(e.g. Social Security and Medicare) while also limiting are foreign involvement militarily(especially when we are not willing to pay for our foreign interventions). We as Christians must return to the Wesleyan heritage of care for others out of love.