Ok- shameless link to sporting events. Yes, absolutely. But I’m not apologising for it- firstly because when Jesus spoke in parables he was telling big stories in words and with ideas that people could grasp- he would have spoken about sport today, and secondly because we based our time in church yesterday around sport. Jesus called a team together, he sent them out in teams, he gave instructions like a captain to his players… and we also had a short game of cricket during the main service (no one hurt, no windows broken fortunately).
So how is the kingdom of God like Wimbledon or the Tour?
Well, in any given match, or during the Tour, things have started and are underway from the first serve of the tournament or from when the first rider pulls out on the sprint time trial of the prologue, and so you can say ‘its started, its here’ and get excited… but its also not yet fully happened- we’re only just into week 2 of Wimbledon, when it gets really exciting as the top seeds close in on one another, and the Tour has yet to shape up… its going to get better… and that is exactly how I understand the Kingdom of God which Jesus spoke about… we’re spending the next couple of months thinking and learning more about this, but for now here’s the first idea: The Kingdom of God is here, but its still on the way… (oh, and as for why its not like the Ashes- the Kingdom of God is not and never will be as depressing and dismal as the Ashes are for those who care about it deeply!).
Here’s what I said yesterday about the passage from Marks Gospel, chapter 6… or at least the outline notes I spoke from. Unfortunately we didn’t record it so there’s no audio file to listen to…
What is the kingdom- brief intro… God’s sovereign & dynamic rule- it has an eschatological aspect and a present sense- existing in the now and the not yet it cannot currently be found on any maps but there will come a time when all of creation is within its borders. Some commentators over the years have argued that Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom and brought it about through his life and ultimately through his death and resurrection- the kingdom of God has come. However this fails in addressing to major problems that we see in the world- If I as a disciple of Jesus am living in the kingdom now, why do I still fall into sin so easily if the kingdom has come? Secondly, if the kingdom has come, why do we see suffering so consistently throughout history and in our own community? An alternative reading is that Jesus preached and taught about the kingdom, but it will only come on his return- at the second coming, the kingdom will come and until that time we are not yet living in the kingdom of God. This helps to answer questions of suffering and human sin, but does not give us hope for today- our best and only hope for anything changing is that Christ will return. There’s no expectation of healing or transformation in our own lives or those around us. Jesus spoke of a kingdom that is at hand- on the verge of arriving but not fully here. One image that helps me to understand this is that of a train arriving at a station- if I’m asked by my children where the train is, its coming is an answer that works… until the train pulls into sight- then its no longer coming but is arriving ‘its here’- it may still be half a mile away if the track is straight. Its definitely here once the engine pulls into the station, but its not really here in any fully useful sense (you can’t get on) until its come to a complete halt and the doors are unlocked. The coming of the kingdom of God is like that- its here in a real way, a way that we can experience and know, but its also not here yet- there is still more to come.
Jesus in his ministry preaches- the Kingdom is near- his message initially is one of repentance: turn and be forgiven for the Kingdom of God is near- and this is the message that his disciples preach as they go in this passage. Until this point Jesus’ disciples have been onlookers…now he calls them to be active participants in the spread of the kingdom. And he gives them some instructions-
How to travel- lightly; to have expectations of help and rejection; and to preach repentance and bring spiritual healing. There’re some really important things for us to learn about our own calling, about what it means for us to be the church here in Newport and to be Christians in our own individual lives.
Firstly-the kingdom spreads through the people of God going into the world. If we do not take the Gospel- the message of God’s love, into the places beyond these walls, then we should not be surprised that the world does not know or understand God’s love.
Secondly- there are some places that are harder and some places that are easier for us- our own family/street/workplace etc may be a really good place for us to share our faith and help people to encounter God, but it could also be really hard- people who’ve known us for years can be amazed at the change faith makes in our lives, or they can see the bad side of us… but that just means we should look elsewhere. If you’ve been praying and hoping that a family member will come to faith but nothing seems to be happening, maybe you need to share your faith elsewhere… God can bring others alongside those who you can’t reach.
Thirdly- what are we to do? Preach repentance- that’s not just ‘turn or burn’, or standing on a soapbox, but showing people in word and deed that they have turned away and lost contact with God. Yes, they need to turn- but they need to know that they are turning towards God (with everything that entails) rather than just be told they need to turn away from their life. If we’re not sure that the Christian life matches up to the existing life of people we know, then we need to make sure we’ve got a good understanding and have experience of what it means for ourselves…
Lastly- expect some positive outcomes. People will want to hear, will appreciate what you can offer them, will need prayer and will come to faith. They may not do any of those while you are there, or for some time after. They may never worship here with us, they may not remember what you did. We don’t hear about which villages didn’t welcome the disciples (but they were ready for rejection), only that some welcomed them, accepted their teaching and allowed them to bring healing…
That is what the going out of the kingdom looked like then, and that is what it looks like now, if we are willing to partner in it. SO lets pray.