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.