The Kingdom Within You and Without You

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”    (Luke 17.20-21)

Pharisees want to know when the kingdom of God will come, pin it down, fix a date. Jesus answers by telling them where it is—within you, among you.  Jesus says the kingdom “is” within you, present tense, here right now.  What does that mean?

Let’s take a walk out into the night on Halloween and you show me where the kingdom of God has come on the earth. The costumes will be creative, fanciful, cute and fun; but the scariest things, the real world agents of terror and violence and brutality and murder, reach into our lives 24/7/365. Every day is a day of the dead for someone somewhere.  The next grave dug might be my own. I understand feeling afraid; but how is the kingdom of God among us now?

After Halloween is All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, a holy day, a time to remember and give thanks for our dear departed, those we love and all God’s people who have died and gone to be with God in the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s curious how Jesus uses “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” interchangeably.  Does he mean that the kingdom of heaven is within my bones right now and also when these bones are laid to rest?

My faith says, yes, to both. Too often Christians have talked about this life and this world as if it didn’t quite matter, that the important thing is “I’ll Fly Away” to heaven after I die.  But Jesus came preaching a gospel that said the kingdom is at hand here in the divinity of just what is in each present moment.  He said the little children receive the kingdom now and so can we; but to do that we have to stop thinking of it as if it were a particular place or  thing.  Every date is our born again date.  Every day is Easter Day.  The kingdom of God is not flesh or bone.  It’s not in any one building or ritual.  The kingdom of heaven is a state of mind and heart and soul.  It’s a way of seeing and a way of being.  To enter the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is to trust, to have faith, not in an idea, but in the living presence of God and God’s vision for our lives and our world (kingdom), a life that is already present, but not yet complete.

This week as we venture into the dark of Halloween, rubbing shoulders with ghouls and goblins and witches and fiends, may we knock boldly on the doors to the kingdom of heaven and welcome a treat that requires no trick, a light no darkness can overcome.

david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, click here.

We Can Buy Beer and Dance

The Old Testament prophet Elijah on Mt Carmel

No, that’s not me in the picture; it’s a statue of Elijah the prophet looming on top of Mount Carmel in Israel.  As a pastor it disturbs me that some people do see me like that.  It troubles me that some wish I was more like that.

Someone mentioned once that they’d come to the Methodist Church from another denomination because “we can buy beer and dance.”  We were all amused.  Thank God we can laugh.  But that comment raised an ancient and important question: what is the role of religion in terms of lifestyle, pleasures and having fun?  Christians have debated this since the beginning.  What should we say “No” to and what is “OK.”

I’ve never been a member of another denomination, but from what people tell me, it seems that some churches do have this image of Elijah over their doors and a long list of “Thou Shalt Not’s.”  In the Old Testament bad behaviors were called sins; if you did them you were considered unclean.  Such bad behaviors could lead to excommunication, which meant you were kicked out of the community, no longer one of “us,” and no longer right with God.  I looked in the 1892 Methodist Book of Discipline where I discovered that the General Conference had adopted a resolution wherein they declared “dancing, theater going, card playing, and like worldly indulgences to be contrary to the spirit of Christianity….(p.391).”  And they claimed to speak the perfect and absolute truth about God’s will for humankind, or “Man” as they said in those days.  It went on to instruct the pastors on how we are to discipline sinners who indulge in worldly pleasures.  Rather than quote all of it, let me just refer you to the picture above.

Today, we know from credible Bible study that Elijah was not at war with pleasures.  He was at war against a local god called Baal.  He challenged people who put other gods first in their lives.   Elijah was most interested in whether or not people kept the First Commandment—you shall have no other gods.  If dancing or beer drinking or anything else became your god and took over the center of your life, then that was a problem.

Nor was Jesus at war with pleasures.  Jesus seems to have loved eating, drinking, and hanging out with friends, including sinners.  What mattered most was loving God, loving your neighbor and loving the life (physical/mental/spiritual) God gives to each of us.  If anything causes us to stumble in this path, that is the problem.

The apostle Paul also addressed the issue: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean.  For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; the one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by all.  Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14.14-19).”  For Paul the priority is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  So, what can we say about the church’s prohibition against dancing and theater going and card playing and the like?

For Methodists, I suggest that an energetic commitment to Bible study will help in this debate.  What does Paul really mean by “mutual upbuilding?”  What did Jesus really mean by “love one another?”  My wife is incessant in her wish for me to take her dancing.  I hardly believe she is acting as the Devil’s agent, just because the church had a law against that.  In as much as our lives are centered in God and focused on seeking the Kingdom of God, we will not find ourselves driven to drink, at least not to such an extent that Elijah will return with sword raised in anger and condemnation.

david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, click here.

 

Fruit in Community

Mandi Richey, Faith Community Minister

I’ve been at this community minister thing for a few months now and I thought I would share some of the great fruit that’s being produced.  We are a community and together, we have much fruit to offer.

We have adopted two elementary schools near our church.  Both were threatened with closure in the last legislative session.  Both are small.  Both need help.  When I approached them about our church partnering with them in an effort to be helpful to the students and families, they were most appreciative.  At the beginning of the school year, we had a school supplies drive and collected backpacks brimming with school supplies.  Half was given to each school, much to their students’ delight.

Both schools have fall festivals coming up.  In the spirit of community and giving, some of our congregation members are going to give their time running booths at each of the festivals.  I can’t describe the joy it gives me to see our congregation stepping up and reaching out in love to these schools.  Sharing the fruit they have with the community.

We are blessed to have some faithful young adults in our congregation.  So I’ve planned an event just for them.  They are a giving bunch and really concerned with the less fortunate in our city.  So, we’ve decided to join with a local ecumenical organization’s Hand-On-Housing project (iAct-Interfaith Action of Central Texas) and do a little house painting.  iAct has chosen some houses in our city, owned by elderly people, and we’re going to go and paint the entire exterior of their houses in one day.  I am really looking forward to this experience.  Sharing the love of Christ through hard work is so rewarding and I hope that this experience is just that for our young adults.  They are sharing their fruit with our community.

Sometimes, the ways we can help might seem insignificant or small to us, but they are a huge blessing to the folks on the receiving end.  I have to keep reminding myself of this.  We are a small church, yet we are able to do such huge things.  We are a faithful people.  We have gifts to share.  And most importantly, we are willing.

Willing.

Willing to share our fruit with our community so that the love of Christ might be shown to everyone.

Everyone.