July 19, 2020
Sara Wilhelm Garbers
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this until they down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer because a servant does not know what the master is doing, but I call you friends because I have made known to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I pledge you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. So the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name, and giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15:12-17
Well, hello again! Today we are continuing our sermon series as we’re exploring what it means for us to be a “Kingdom People.” In a world and time where there’s so many competing ideologies that are inviting and asking us to show up in the world in particular ways, we, as a people who name ourselves as persons of faith, want to be those who open ourselves, our hands, and our lives, to be transformed more deeply and truly into the image of Christ.
So today, we will continue the exploration of what it means for us to be a kingdom people by exploring a concept and an aspect of the kingdom of God and a way of speaking about it, that may be new to some of you. This is the idea that the kingdom of God is actually a kin-dom, a kin-dom for all of us. So as we move forward in this time of exploring the text from John and the ways of our faith, will you pray with me?
Loving God, we give you thanks for the gift of life, for the ways in which you breathe on us and in our midst, and the ways that you meet us in the places of our individual, our corporate, and our global needs. God, as you have reminded us: you call us friends. So might we be a people, a kin-dom people who live our lives in alignment with your vision, that your will would indeed be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
As I noted, over the past weeks we’ve been talking about the kingdom of God and what it means to be a Kingdom People. And you know what? I think it would be a remiss on my part if we didn’t pause in the middle of this sermon series for me to ask you: “Okay, so how would you define the kingdom of God?”
This summer we’ve been talking about the kingdom of God…starting with the idea that the Kingdom is about the possibility, or that the kingdom of God is an upside- down kingdom. Christian reminded us that kingdom of God is made manifest in real and Jesus. Tony and I preached about the kingdom of God is about freedom and jubilee. So let me ask again, “How would you define the Kingdom of God?”
This is one of those concepts that we talk a lot about. In fact, we pray every single week that God’s “kingdom would come here on earth as it is in heaven.” But if you and I run an elevator ride (socially distanced, of course- with our masks on!) what would you tell me is the kingdom of God? I mean it…really, what would you say?
Pause for a second… (I promise that I won’t go anywhere) write it down, think about it for a second.
How do you define the kingdom of God?
Do you know what it feels like?
Have you seen it?
Have you experienced it?
What do you believe is the dream of that kingdom that God has for each of us?
This matters, because this summer as we’re talking about being a Kingdom People, we’re not just doing this as an intellectual exercise, but because we believe that God cares about the real of our lives.
Do we take our faith seriously? Do we really want to be a kingdom people? We want to be a people who don’t just pray “thy kingdom come” but be a people who LIVE the kingdom, a people who know and experience and breathe in and out the kingdom in our skin.
It is our prayer that we might be a Kingdom people, people who experience hope in our relationships. People who remember God’s vision for kingdom and are so shaped by in that as we live in relationship with one another in the midst of our political differences, we don’t kill each other. Right? That is what we’re praying about when we say “thy kingdom come”…we’re praying for something real, an actuality. A coming kingdom that is both here and also that which we long for.
And so how you define kingdom, how you know speak about it, how you discern if it’s present, all of that matters matters. So might continue to think about and wrestle with our own defining what the Kingdom of God is and know our answers to the questions: How would you define the Kingdom of God and what it means to be a kingdom people?
In my speaking today about the kingdom of God, I come to you as one who is rooted in the deep belief that this kingdom is good news for the real of our lives…for all of our lives. But as you know, humans sometimes struggle to live into and understand and embrace the idea that this good news could actually be for us.
In asking you to consider what it means to be a kingdom people, I want you to know that for me, I would in part define the kingdom as freedom…and I know what that freedom feels like in my bones. Do you? The kingdom’s presence in my life is the place and moment where I know that there is enough to breathe, where I know that I am seen and able to see you as well. That’s kingdom.
Yet I think that so much of human existence is one in which we struggle to actually believe or live as if the kingdom is actually for us. This reminds me of the C.S. Lewis quote in which he says:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
For even though we have this kingdom right before us, that is life and freedom and goodness, we are so often we’re like a kid who’s in the city, hanging out, making mud pies. And when Jesuscomes along and is all like, “Hey, come take a vaca at the beach!” You’re respond, “No, really, I prefer to just hang out here in the city with my mud pie, because I know this and going to the beach, well, that’s scary.”
And let me just say: ABSOLUTELY! It is! We sometimes talk and act as if change and goodness is so obvious but the truth of the matter is that we’ve all learned ways to survive and live in the world; we’ve developed carefully constructed ways to stay safe and powerful (we think) and protect our egos. And living into a new way of being, becoming a kingdom person means there are certain things of our ego, of protecting ourselves, and the ways we’ve been taught to live that we need to die… so that we can truly live. So that we might enjoy the beauty of God’s kingdom seashore.
So I ask you again: what does the kingdom look like? What does it feel like? Do you know it in your bones?
Really. Pause. Take a minute and sit with those questions.
What does the kingdom look like? What does it feel like? Do you know it in your bones?
Because here’s the thing: in talking about the kingdom of God and what means for us to be a kingdom people and asking you to consider what you think this means, I’m wanting to bring us into another aspect of the kingdom of God, namely the idea that the kingdom that God brings isn’t a kingdom of our imaginations with a king and a queen and a prince and maybe a Cinderella or something. No, this kingdom might more aptly be named a KIN-DOM: the place in the reign and the rule of God, which makes possible live-ability and familial ways of being that honor all of us. God’s kingdom is actually a kin-dom for where everyone is invited to come home and live as members of this family. Living kin-dom then is part of what it means to be a kingdom people.
So I invite you to journey with me today to take a little glimpse at the seashore life that God is inviting us into as we explore some of my concerns when we seek to understand God’s kingdom in terms of the paradigms of kingdoms on earth, and in so doing to pick up an invitation to rethink about God’s kingdom as a kin-dom, for (as I will argue) I believe that promise and possibility of living the kin-dom in the real of our lives, in this time right now, will open us up even more so that we can then affirm the good news together, saying: “I know what the kingdom looks like. I know what that feels like, because I’m getting to live it now!”
Let’s turn then to a bit more about this idea of the kingdom as a kin-dom. I was first exposed to the idea that the kingdom of God and naming it as such due to our truncated imaginations in view of the kingdoms of this world might actually be limiting our understanding of what God is actually up to in our lives and the world when I read a book by Sallie McFague called Models of God. In it she speaks about how our task and work as Christians is to live and interpret the Bible in our time. She argues that our scriptures, which are rife with beautiful metaphors aren’t meant to be the ends in themselves, but the things that point us and invite us into the fullness of what God desires for us.
But sometimes our theology gets ossified. We make the metaphor the thing, instead of the thing to which it is pointing. And so we get stuck and locked in just like that kid who’s playing in the mud and responds to a new idea like, “Nope, I’m playing in the mud in the city, folks.” And so McFague asks us to see the ways in which the metaphors were meant to build bridges to the people for whom the text was originally written so that they might encounter the one who is beyond the paradigms and prejudices of any time. Thus we are invited to rethink and reimagine the reality of who God is and ask if some metaphors might need to change so that we might move more deeply into the reality of who God is. For her, one of these metaphors is that of Kingdom. She notes how the idea of kingdom is constrained by feudal imaginations, which actually run contrary to the reality and reign of God that is made clear throughout scripture. More on this in a minute. Let me turn next though to another author who has deeply shaped my language in the sermon today: Ada María Isasi-Díaz
Ada María Isasi-Díaz was a Latina theologian and ethicist who wrote extensively about faith and life. Throughout her work she talked about how the better way into us more deeply grasping God’s vision for humanity, and the gospel invitation is to move from language of the kingdom of God to the kin-dom of God. The place and way of being in which we are all invited and there is enough for each of us.
Both of these authors, along with others, name concerns with us continuing to employ kingdom language that is shaped by and primarily understood first in human terms. This is because for so long throughout human history, the way that we’ve organized ourselves is that there was a King, and then there were a bunch of serfs and folks who didn’t have any power or rights. We see in the earliest accounting of God’s people of Israel that God challenges them not to have a King, but to actually put the tabernacle at the center of their entire community because they were called to be different and place God alone at the center but also as reminder to them that another world was possible: a good news indeed to a people who only knew a world in which there were King and there were slaves and servants, a people who themselves had been enslaved for 400 years and only had known this existence, putting the tabernacle at the center of their social and political organization was intended to invite them to re-imagine what it might mean to be a people chosen and called by God, and re-orient themselves to how they could be free human people, in alignment with how God was interested in showing up in the world.
And how does God first show up in the world? We are told that God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. Not incredibly kingly, right? More like a God who is interested being “God-with-us.” We see this again then in the life of Jesus, that God puts on human form and comes to dwell amongst us. And so this language of “Kingdom of God,” sometimes it gets us stuck where we then live out of faith that, instead of it being faith that calls us to show up in the world as grownups, as people who take responsibility for our lives, as ones who know that the call to follow Christ is a call to freedom, we instead take on a new way of being that is patterned after the ways of being that our world already believes in. One in which we give away our power and remain stuck in the patterns of this world instead of being born again and again into new life and new ways of being human.
Kingdom language sometimes keeps us stuck thinking maybe one day Prince Charming will save us, but the kingdom that God brings is one in which we are already saved, one in which we are invited to fully rise up into the image of God, that God has already placed uniquely within each of us. And then, as each of us rise up fully to be people who are grown up in our lives and in our faith- taking responsibility, we become a true kin-dom people who extend recognition, community, and love to and with one another.
So not only do I think this language of kin-dom is helpful, because it invites us to really live more deeply into the ways of God, to know in our bones that seashore promise that God wants for us, but I think it is fundamentally THE vision of what Jesus means when he teaches us to pray and live in such a way that “your kingdom might come.”
To pray and live kin-dom instead of kingdom is a deeply, truly biblical way to, in our time, live out the promise of what God has always been about: that God is a God who wants us to be a people who walk in the garden with God and one another. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the whole of the Bible. Is God trying to be a kingdom dictator, is God trying to make us slaves? No, God is always fundamentally about relationship and rising people up to be the fullness of the image that God has placed in them so that we might live as heirs and children of the promise!
Even more so, here in the book of John, it is clear that the vision of the gospel is a vision of a family: a kin-dom. From the very beginning of the book of John, we read language equating Jesus with God the Father, and this language is deeply familial language, inviting us to understand that what Jesus is about isn’t a new fiefdom, his overthrow of the powers of this world isn’t to then re-create a new this-worldly kingdom, but rather it’s about making possible a new way of being human and being in relationship to God and God’s work in the world.
Throughout the book of John we are invited over and over again to be a people who are re-born (as Jesus tells Nicodemus in chapter three): “Not of human desire or of the flesh,” but by the Spirit so that we might join the family of God and follow Jesus in living the law of love that Jesus is inviting us into: where we are called friends.
In chapter 14, right before the passage that we read for today, Jesus notes that in his father’s house there are many rooms, and we’re invited into the family. And then as we come here to chapter 15, we’re invited to abide in in Christ so that that way we can live in love.
And that is the command we are given: the command to love one another, to lay down our lives, to be friends with all of God’s children, just as God has called and named us friends. No longer are we servants or slaves under some master. No, we are instead invited to follow brother Jesus in living in this new way of being. This is the command, this is the kingdom that we are invited into. It is an invitation for each of us to take up responsibility for our lives, to be a people who live with freedom, who seek justice and mercy as we walk humbly with God, who seek to fulfill the fullness of the law of love, which is that we do indeed lay down our lives for one another.
No longer are we people who just obey a king as his subjects. We are a people who are called to rise up, to take our rightful place in this family, and then to look around and realize that this is a world-wide, all of creation family where each of us are equals. We are siblings. We are a people then who are a kin-dom. The kingdom that God is bringing and has indeed already made present in our midst, is one of a kin-dom. It is a promise that is for each of us. It is an invitation into a way of life and a way of being, and it matters for how we live our lives. For if we continue to live our lives in relationship to the invitation to faith as one that is framed by human models and metaphors of kingdoms, it will mean and results in anti-God’s way of being.
When we are caught up in the limitations of our human conceptions of kingdom, it means that we will perpetually struggle to remember that the whole reason that we say “Jesus is Lord,” is because by doing so it means Caesar is not. And if we forget this and forget that the gospel invitation is into a family then we will keep on ordering our lives in response to earthly powers and imaginations and will give away our power to the kings of this earth who promise to fortify our egos and keep us from having to awaken to the seashore kin-dom family. For God’s kingdom is a kin-dom where we’re invited to take up the responsibility to love and lay down our lives. This kin-dom, this invitation that we have matters then also not just because we give away our power to external sources, but as the fairy tales suggest, when we are locked into human conceptions of kingdom and think that following Jesus is like a game of Simon Says instead of an invitation into a family and a way of life, it fosters in us helplessness, like there is nothing we can do in the face of the evils of this world. So we then pray “thy kingdom come,” but we forget that Jesus isn’t Prince Charming, Jesus is the truth that animates our ability to live our lives in answer to the prayer and be a people who are bringers of the kingdom not just passive, helpless witnesses in view of the machinations of evil in our time.
To be a kin-dom people is then is to live the gospel promise and grace, knowing and living as if we know in our bones that Jesus has already saved us and is in the business of saving us right now: to be a kin-dom people is to know that being born again is a process of releasing our egos, dying to the things that are actually killing us so that we might be free to actually live.
So let’s not play and be content with the dirt! Let’s instead follow the call of Jesus to go to the seashore and then look around at the beautiful people gathered there as we together embrace the good news that is for the real of our lives, that allows us to look at each other and see the image of God because we have known that real good news of the Jesus who says, “I have called you friends. I have laid down my life.”
How can we do anything less? May we be a people, a people of this kin-dom, of this family. And of this kin-dom may there be no end.
It is good news for all of us, my dear friends. Let us pray together.
God, you know that the invitation and the call to be a people who orient our lives to what you are about in the world is sometimes scary and painful, and we don’t know if we really want it. But God, we know we’re not alone, and so we pray indeed that by your Spirit’s breath, love, and life, that you would breathe on us and in our midst that we might be a kin-dom people, a people who bear witness to a kingdom that is not by power nor might, but by your Spirit. And kingdom is not of this earth, but is a kin-dom, a family, where we are all your children. So God, may we live with courage and good faith as ones who are dearly beloved, and may we extend deep welcome and lay down our lives one for another. For it is in the name of Christ, our brother, our savior, and our friend that we pray. Amen.