David A. Davis
April 7, 2019
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My extended family has a group text thread. My wife Cathy and our kids, my brother, my sister-in-law, my sister, nephews and their spouses. Even our future son-in-law, Henry, is subjected to this Davis family thread. If each of us were to be honest with you, there are times when it can be annoying. Those moments when you say out loud but never in a text to your whole family, “Just stop, please!” But the benefits of the family thread far outweigh the phone constantly buzzing on my desk when I’m trying to write a sermon. Thursday a family member texted this: “10 days to GOT. We’ve re-watched all the seasons with eight episodes to go.” Someone replied “ I’ve got 15 or so left. Started re-watching about two weeks ago so it’s been a valiant effort.” I texted “GOT?” My children were mortified but I always enjoy mortifying my children.
After someone typed “Game of Thrones” with all the disdain they could muster, I was reminded of a family vacation a few summers ago when we were all together. It included a “Game of Thrones” watch party. The dinner time prior was, of course, a table conversation all about “Game of Thrones”. Strange character names, battle scenes, who died, who hasn’t, plot lines, descriptions of violence. It was a dinner occupied by another world and I’m pretty sure Cathy and I, the two one-year-olds, and the four-year-old were the only ones who had no idea what on earth anyone was talking about. They might has well have been speaking a different language.
When you are reading the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, verses 20-37, when you come upon Jesus and his answer to the inquiry about when the kingdom of was coming, when you listen to Jesus refer to days of the Son of Man and suffering, and floods, and fire, one left and the other taken, when the phrase “where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” is left hanging in your ear with no where to go, it’s important to remember that the absolute “other worldliness” of all that judgment day stuff was familiar to everyone within ear shot of Jesus that day. It’s important to know that nothing Jesus said about the divine, cosmic, fireworks show would have surprised, upset, turned off, or probably even scared those folks gathered around Jesus. It is as if the 21st century reader is invited to dinner table conversation where everyone else knows the language, the imagery, the symbols, the plot, the purpose and we’re the only ones who have no idea what on earth he is saying: lightning flashes and lights up the sky, the days of Noah, the days of Lot, people taken from housetops and fields.
Everybody talked about the Great Day of Judgement and they had been talking and thinking and writing and hearing about it for a long time. Think of all the Hebrew prophets, the Book of Daniel, and all the teachers, rabbis, preachers who didn’t make it into the canon. People were immersed in it. Today, it is a theology, a vocabulary, a fascination left for the doomsday preachers and booksellers. A world view commandeered by the extremes. A belief system that makes for strange alliances as some of the strongest political support for Israel comes from those who naively don’t realize that so called modern day prophets want to preserve and protect Israel only until that rapturous day of judgment when the Second Coming happens over there and God destroys everything and everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus.
In Jesus’ day all this stuff that upsets you and I, the stuff that isn’t even part of what you believe or so far removed from your own faith, it was part of the vernacular back in the day. Any teacher would have been asked about it just like Jesus was. Any rabbi would have talked about it, just like Jesus did. In the world view of a first century Jew, there was nothing shocking in Jesus teaching about the Day of Judgement. It was part of life and faith, just like the expectation that a messiah would come and usher in a victorious reign of power and might and abundance, a thriving kingdom that is surely coming. A day of judgement and coming kingdom.
Here’s what would have shocked the folks along the way, surprised the Pharisees and everyone else, unsettled, upset those gathered around Jesus. The shock is this: “The kingdom of God is among you!… In fact, the kingdom of God is among you!… The kingdom 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!… The kingdom of God is among you.” Teacher, when is the kingdom of God coming. “The kingdom of God is among you.”
Some would suggest that Jesus’ reference here is to himself. “I am standing here among you. I am with you. The kingdom is among you.” But that is never enough in Luke. The gospel of Luke and the kingdom of God. “Jesus said to [the crowds] ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose’ (4:43)… Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God (8:1)…Jesus sent the [twelve] out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (9:2)…[the crowds] followed him, and Jesus welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God (9:11)…You know this, Jesus said, the kingdom of God has come near (10:11)… Strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given you as well (12:31)…. , in fact, Jesus said, the kingdom of God is among you!.”
The gospel of Luke and the kingdom of God. The little children, to such belongs the kingdom of God. Receive the kingdom of God like a little child. Rejoicing when the lost sheep is found, when the lost coin is found, when the lost son is found. The kingdom of God. When one leper comes back to say thank you. When the crippled woman is healed. When the daughter of Jairus is restored to life. When the woman anointed Jesus and bathed his feet with her tears. The kingdom of God. Good news brought to the poor. The captives let go. The sight of the blind restored. The oppressed set free. The kingdom of God. The blind man heard. The lawyer told to go and show mercy. To do likewise. Martha encouraged not to be distracted by so many things. The one who prays constantly so as not to lose heart. The tax collector who cries out to God: Lord, be merciful to be for I am a sinner. The kingdom of God. It’s not like “whomp there it is” and “whomp there it is”, Jesus says. No, the kingdom is among you. Receive the kingdom. Live the kingdom. Serve the kingdom. Be…..be the kingdom of God. “For in fact, the kingdom of God is among you!”
A woman dropped in to the church office a few weeks ago and asked to see the priest. That’s usually not a good sign in a Presbyterian church. She wanted me to sign a petition. She was convinced that the world was going to end in a world war III unless all the people returned to God. And the way to do that was to dig up the Ark of the Covenant which, she said was buried in Ireland on grounds now owned by a particular Roman Catholic order. The petition was asking the order to allow the group to which the woman belonged to dig for the Ark of the Covenant. In the brief conversation, she also expressed a whole lot of hatred and judgement on all the sinners, unbelievers, heretics which, she was quickly realizing, included me. She left abruptly but politely when I told her I did not agree that the King James bible was the only true anointed and inspirited bible. A church member quicker than me pointed out that I should have told her that the Ark of the Covenant was somewhere in a warehouse owned by the US government like Indiana Jones told all of us.
In our generation, maybe in every generation since Jesus walked that way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and maybe in every generation before, for that matter, but in our generation the people most fascinated with the great cosmic day of judgement are driven by their own judgment and bitterness and distaste for sinners, unbelievers and heretics. Or perhaps better said, people who don’t belief like them, look like them, agree with them. Because when you are so obsessed and fueled by judgement, whether it is yours or you think it is God’s, you have completely forgotten what Jesus said about the kingdom.
Here’s how Luke 17 ought to be read. Here’s how not to forget what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. But, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you. They will say to you, “look there or look here.” Do not set off in pursuit. For the kingdom of God is among you. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But in fact, the kingdom of God is among you. It will all be just like the days of Noah, and the days of Lot, and one will taken and one will be left and they will all ask “Where Lord” When, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you. Where the corpse is, there the vultures always will gather. But you, as for you, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.
So stop worrying about judgement, live the kingdom of God. There’s nothing you can do about it. You won’t know when. You won’t know where when it comes to judgement. Serve the kingdom. The Great Day of Judgement. Jesus can talk that talk. Jesus can join in that theological language game of signs and symbols. But the call of Jesus Christ on our lives is not be a judgement people full of fear. It is to be a kingdom people full of joy and love.
Instead of looking for it here, looking for it there, why not just live for it now. Living the kingdom of God. So that when someone else is looking here and there and everywhere, when someone else is waiting, they might just see a glimpse of it, a bit of it, a small piece of it, in you. The kingdom of God is among you. Receive, live, serve, be…..be the kingdom of God.