Posted in Different Scriptures

An Eastertide Reminder…(you already know this)

Don’t put away your Easter Tree just yet!

Oh, you don’t have an Easter tree? That’s fine. Whatever your Easter décor or traditions, don’t shove them into storage at this point. We’ve only just begun our celebrations of Easter. It’s ok if your candy has run out, as we can now pursue much more celebrative ways to announce “He is Risen!”.

“Eastertide” on the church calendar is traditionally the 50 days between Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. There are many traditions and connections to this season, but notice this: 50 days is just about 1/7th of a year. So in a sense, Eastertide is like the “Great Sunday” of the year! During this season, we are invited to contemplate the Resurrection of Jesus, what that means for the ways Resurrection Life unfolds & is available to us here and now, and to anticipate the future Resurrection when God brings all things to completion.

There are so many reasons for us to spend more time than we do, talking about and celebrating resurrection life. It’s literally one of the foundations of who we are as Christians. Early believers thought it was so important, they even moved their weekly gathering of worship to Sunday – believing the resurrection to be a sort of “8th Day of Creation”, or “First Day of New Creation”. It has transformed reality as we know it!

One of the keys (I think) to embracing the resurrection as something to truly celebrate, is to become increasingly aware of the difference between “coming back to life” and “resurrection”. Many people in scripture come “back to life“, meaning they return to the way of existing before they died. But this is not what happened to Jesus. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Paul clarifies it even stronger in Colossians 1:18, “ He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” The “coming back to life” of anyone else was something to be celebrated for that person. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. Here we see in the person of Jesus Christ, the coming together of Heaven (where God exists fully) and earth (where humanity dwells). He was given his “resurrection body” that is able to exist both where God is fully and where humanity dwells – a way of existing never before experienced by mankind. This is a reminder to us as believers that we are not ultimately looking forward to Heaven, even though it will be great to be with God fully. Even scripture reminds us that, “ accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” (2 Peter 3:13) We all – those of us still here on earth, and our loved ones who currently wait in the presence of God – are waiting on the coming New Creation where Heaven & Earth are united as never before.

The exciting thing is: We are not waiting passively! We join today as we are literally brought to new life from the Life of the Age that is to come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The good news isn’t that if we accept Jesus into our hearts, we will eventually join him in Heaven. The good news is that for ALL people, when we abide in the Life of Christ (who IS the beginning of the coming New Creation) NOW, we become places and people through whom the coming New Creation is bursting forth TODAY, being proclaimed and revealed in ways that announce what it will be like fully some day!

Whew. Okay. I need to take a breath and calm down. But you can see why it would be a really big shame if we spent all that time building up toward Easter throughout Lent, celebrated with a big breakfast, pretty pictures and some candy, then went about our year as usual the next day, right? We can see why an entire “Eastertide” season is needed, and why every Sunday throughout the year becomes a miniature celebration of the resurrection. We are resurrection people.

The question then: If celebrating the resurrection means revealing/embodying the ways of Jesus and His coming New Creation – how will you celebrate this week?

Posted in Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

Your Kingdom Come (a long post)

Matthew 6:10 “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (NRSV)

I remember praying the Lords’ Prayer when I was young, and really enjoying this verse.  Of course, I learned it in King James, so it was “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done.”  It was poetic that way.   I’m not sure I ever spent much time wondering what it meant though, because everyone around me wasn’t too worried about the Kingdom of God Coming – even thought that was what Jesus had taught us to pray.   Instead, everyone seemed more focused on “Thy Kingdom is where I’m going to arrive”.

The focus, then, was less on the Kingdom – and more about me.

It’s interesting for us to note, that nowhere in the Lord’s prayer does it say, “And Jesus, let me get into Heaven someday.”  The emphasis here is not on an individuals’ eternal security and destination.  The emphasis is on a restored and healed relationship here and now.  The emphasis is not about where we will go “someday”.  The emphasis is on how we join together in praying God’s Kingdom arrives “on earth as it is in heaven.”

So what does this mean?

There’s a story I remember hearing around the campfire many times growing up.  It seemed to be a favorite, and I’ve changed it a little…but I think it gives us a great way…a parable…of thinking about the Kingdom of God.

Many years ago in a world similar to ours, there were no humans yet.  The world was filled with animals and creatures of every kind and size.  They couldn’t get along, and constantly fought over who was the greatest creature in the land.  The bear argued that he was the greatest, because he was huge and strong, and could defeat anyone in battle.  This led to huge arguments and chaos, and God couldn’t take all the noise.  So God decided to throw a blanket over the entire sky, making it completely dark for all the animals.  The fighting continued.

Finally the bear who had been bragging about how tough and strong he was, decided he could climb up to the sky and rip the blanket off.  He commanded the snakes to weave themselves together tightly and rigidly, in order to form a tall ladder he could climb.  Sure enough, they formed a giant ladder, and up he began to ascend, one rung at a time.  As he reached the top of the highest rung, he took a gianst SWIPE across the night sky.  As he did this, he lost his balance and fell down, down, down…SMASH onto the ground.  They say his snout used to be long, and when he fell he landed face first, which is why his snout is so much smaller today.

Next the elephant and the moose began to fight about who would try next.  They both felt like they were the obvious next choice, and as they fought, they rolled right over the beaver’s tail – which is why it’s still flat today.

The fighting continued until the Jaguar was able to get everyone’s attention.  Now in those days, the Jaguar was one of the prettiest, dazzling, filled with color animals in Gods’ creation.  He felt pretty sure of himself and his ability to draw attention from both creation and the blanket.  He felt like he could simply climb the ladder and command the blanket to fall, and down it would come.   The other animals thought this option at least stood out as unique, so they voted on trying it.  As the Jaguar climbed, he took his time.   He smiled to the left, making sure all the animals were looking up at him, admiring his colorful coat and his bravery.   He looked to the right, making sure the animals were all appreciating the way he skillfully climbed, and the way his eyes glowed with such an adventure.  As he slowly made his way up the ladder, he was taking so long that the snakes began to lose their hold.  They shook and trembled at the confidence of the Jaguar, and eventually lost their hold – and the Jaguar tumbled down, down, down, WHAM!!  As the Jaguar hit the ground, his colors fell off in every direction, bringing color to what we call the wildflowers today…and leaving the Jaguar completely black.

Next, the voice of the vulture rang out above the others.  He reminded them of how incredible a flier he was.  He offered to fly up and tear down the blanket.  Without waiting for other to agree, he pushed off and began to flap his wings.  WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH – he was flying so hard and so fast, he didn’t even realize how close he was getting.  Finally POP!  The vulture’s head burst right through the blanket.  The animals below could only see the vultures body, and could see he was struggling, because all the heat from the sun was concentrated on his head and neck.  He was pushing hard as he could to get his head back through the blanket, and finally he freed himself and fell down, down, down, BOOM.   The animals gasped when they realized the vulture had lost his beautiful long head feathers, and from then forward the vulture has only a red bald wrinkly head.

The animals complained, “We’re going to live in darkness forever!!”  As the cries quieted down, they finally heard the soft, timid voice of the hummingbird.  He was offering, “Um….hey everyone. I know I’m not the biggest, or the strongest, or the wisest…and I’m not sure I could tear down that giant blanket.  But I think I could do something.”

The hummingbird flew up and poked one small hole in the blanket, and light began to shine through.   He flew over a bit, and POP, poked another hole….then another, and another, and another.    As the light began to shine through, all the other animals were silent.  Slowly they began to talk, and be thankful for the light.   They began to laugh, and smile, and see the value in each other.  As God saw they were beginning to get along again, he removed the blanket.  But he knew they might forget what had happened, so every night he replaced it as they rested, so they might look up and remember what had happened that night.  The bears’ swipe still exists, we call it the milky way.  The hole from the vultures’ head, we call the moon.  The first hole poked by the hummingbird was the biggest, and we call that the north star.

It’s a silly story, although it’s whimsical and filled with imagination. We know scientifically, it’s not true, and yet it helps give an illustration to the words from our scripture.  We join Jesus in praying, “Your Kingdom Come”.

We know that God’s Kingdom that Jesus talks about here is not something we’re “waiting for”.  Even within this prayer, Jesus says, “On earth as it is in heaven.”  That means God’s Kingdom IS, RIGHT NOW, fully in heaven.   So when we pray for the Kingdom of God to come, we’re not praying for a point on a timeline to arrive.

We’re not praying for a traditional “KINGDOM” the way that we think, with all our Disney Movies, and Braveheart, and Game of Thrones.  We’re not praying for a giant walled city to plop down on earth.    When the word “Kingdom of God” is used in scripture, it often means where the “REIGN AND RULE of GOD” exists effectively.  Those places where the dominion of God is made manifest.

We are just like those animals.   We look at the world that exists around us.  We see the darkness that has come because of sin.  We know that just on the other side of what is visible – is the realm where God is fully present and Lord over all things.  We join with God in the mission of proclaiming the Reign and Rule of God in and through our lives.

We use phrases sometimes to get each other excited about what is happening for the sake of the Kingdom.  Our family was excited to join the Kingdom work in Hungary.  We may even say things like “Break new ground.”  or “Take new ground.”  or “Gain new ground for the Kingdom”.  But in reality – we know that by his death and resurrection, Jesus has become Lord over all things seen and unseen.  Listen to the words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (1:15-20)

So here’s the truth: The Kingdom of God has arrived.  Jesus knew everything was about to change, and was announcing the Kingdom was “at hand”. It’s just on the other side of the veil, and the veil is thinner than you and I might expect.

The only problem is – the world has spent so much time living under the blanket of darkness, and figuring out ways to become “okay” with it.  How do we respond?

It’s not about being filled with pride about the strength of our movement or numbers.  It’s not about planning an event that climbs the ladder and takes a giant SWIPE on our own abilities to remove the darkness.

It’s not about getting distracted, figuring out the best ways and strongest ways to make the biggest impact, all while accidentally stepping on others underfoot – as the elephant and the moose, to the suffering of the beaver.

It’s not about becoming so focused on one person and their amazing gifts at attracting attention, or making Jesus “look good” so that everything becomes built on their abilities…like the Jaguar.

It’s not even about “aiming high” and trying to fly higher than anyone has ever gone before – and sticking our necks into places where we might get burned – based on our own desires – really healthy desires, to remove the blanket.  We may just find ourselves burned out, like the vulture.

Instead, humbly, Jesus calls us to be people who pray.  People who, like the hummingbird – recognize the Kingdom is already there, just beyond the veil.   It’s not my job to remove the entire veil.  But it’s within what God has empowered me to do – to join God in the Kingdom arriving in many small ways, shaped just the way God has created me.

So how do we join God in doing so?  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, living as the presence of Jesus on earth still today, looking to the Father as Jesus did – we join in acts of Love, offering grace, and inviting others to know the Love of God not just as theory or theological fact – but as tangible and transforming presence.  Proclaiming by our very lives, that there is a reality just beyond the world we’re presented with.  There is a system of power, and a way of life built on love that goes deeper than any pattern or system our world is familiar with.  It’s not about us transforming reality, but about us helping the TRUE reality to arrive as we offer ourselves to God fully.

It’s not about you starting a Bible study, planting a church in your neighborhood, or volunteering 20 more hours a week in what happens at church.

It’s about you seeing your neighbor, your enemy, or that person you walk by every day and usually pretend not to make eye contact – but this time, actually seeing them with the eyes and heart of Jesus.  Proclaiming in that moment by the way that you respond, that the Reign and Rule of God’s Love is more important than any other system, any other social influence, any political correctness, or even more important than what is expected of you as an evangelical Christian in America.

It’s about the Reign and Rule of God being more important than any other identifier we claim.  It’s about the Kingdom of God becoming more important than our nationality, more important than our brokenness, more important than our egos, or our bank accounts, or anything else we might be tempted to make decisions according to.

Yielding all of these things, we submit ourselves to make decisions according to the Kingdom of God.

This sounds mysterious.   It sounds so mysterious, we might even be tempted to use it as an excuse.  Well….shucks….how am I supposed to know what GOD would do in this situation?  God is so mysterious and otherly.  You know what I’ll do for now?  I’ll pray about it.

Unfortunately, “I’ll Pray About It” has often become our way of saying “I’d rather not do anything sacrificial or uncomfortable about it right now.”

Thankfully, we aren’t left in the darkness when it comes to how the Reign and Rule of God are proclaimed and arriving in our visible reality today.  It’s the next phrase of Matthew 6:10 – YOUR WILL BE DONE.

It’s a command, an imperative statement.  It’s simple and humble, and completely different than the ways people were used to praying to their Gentile Gods.  There were plenty of Jews, who’d been taught forms of prayer to God.  There were also many Gentiles in the crowd, who were used to attempting to “bend the ear” of their god that this prayer was worth hearing.   They’d swear upon this or that, or make great sacrifices and declarations.

In contrast, the prayer Jesus teaches his followers…not only to pray, but to live lives shaped by – is this: “Let your will be done.”

We know that God’s will is not mysterious and unknowable.  We have that promise in Romans 12:1-2.  “Therefore I urge you, my dear brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

So even though there may be moments of discovering how God’s will is to be worked out in our individual lives, homes, families, churches, and situations – we know the overall will of God.  We know what God desires, and the ways of the Kingdom – because we’ve seen it revealed in the life and words of Jesus Christ.  We read just a few moments ago – Jesus – “in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.  We have the words of Jesus himself – “the Son can only do what he sees the Father doing.”  So if we want to be involved in doing the things that Jesus would do, it’s important to pay attention to what His Love looks like – both in the days recorded in scripture – and as the body of Christ works to reveal His Love through the Church today.  Not to mention, simply to serve “The Least of these”, whom Jesus has said “whatever you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for me”.

This is the will of God.  It doesn’t have to be a GIANT SWIPE across the sky.  It doesn’t have to be, becoming political or social medial leaders or influencers in order to shape public policy, or get a million likes on a status update.  It doesn’t mean we have the most popular church in town that all the (fill in the blanks with whatever the current target audience is) want to go to.

It simply means….who are we, and what can we use to proclaim the Kingdom of God’s Love today?   Not on our own strength, but humbly stepping forward and saying – “I know there’s an unseen reality here that is much more substantial than the reality we see and perceive, and I’m going to live according to it.”

But that’s hard sometimes.

We live in a world of Bears, and Moose, and Elephants, and Jaguars, and Vultures.  When Jesus stepped up to live in a way that proclaimed “Thy will be done”….he spoke those words in a prayer of tears….asking the Father if there was another way besides submitting to a long, anguishing death on the cross.  When we humbly offer ourselves to God….and say God, allow my life to be shaped by this prayer…..we offer ALL of ourselves.   Our goals, our desires, our pride, our comforts…..ALL.

We bring it to the altar, and say…..God….I’m not the strongest.  I’m not the wisest. I’m not the (whatever)-ist.  But I can do something.  I know your will as revealed in Jesus, and I know your Kingdom is right here….right now.  Use all of me, to help make that visible.  Use all of me, to proclaim your Lordship here.  Use all of my family, my resources, and everything I previously thought was mine… make one more place where the light of your Lordship can shine through.

Your Kingdom come….on earth, as it is in Heaven.

And we have a promise that one day, the veil between earth and God’s full Kingdom presence will be worn so thin, nothing will hold it back as God completes what He has already started.

Remember – we’re not waiting for His Lordship to become a reality – He IS ALREADY Lord of all things.  What we’re waiting for….and what we’re actively involved in participating with every moment of our lives – is making that Lordship known, proclaimed, and visible as His Love transforms lives and communities even now.

Will we offer Him everything toward that end?   Will we pray this prayer…and allow it to shape our lives, as we’re called to “pray continually”?

Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

Valuable Kingdom

As we begin these thoughts, I want you to imagine with me. You’ve been given a large amount of money, and commissioned to find an amazing artistic masterpiece for a large wall in an important public building here in town. Experts pointed you the direction of a world-famous artist, and you’ve come to her studios to ask about what she might be able to offer you. You tell her about the large wall you’ve been asked to help fill. That you want something beautiful, awe-inspiring, with colors that jump off the canvas. She smiles as if she knows just what to do next. She opens a catalog of artwork she’s done in the past, and tells you to pick out your favorite. You are naturally drawn to one in particular, and you point to it. With a smile again, she guides you to an enormous room where you see a giant laser printer that just about takes up the space of the side wall. She punches in some numbers, and slowly but surely, the print you’ve just pointed to begins to come, inch by inch out of the printer. She smiles, tells you the price is only a small portion of the money you’ve been given, and asks you the sign the bill. But something doesn’t feel right, and you ask her… “Wait…couldn’t you do an original work of art for us, of the same size? How much would that cost?”

She presses pause on the printer, and looks you directly in the eye. She says, “Well of course I could. Sorry, I didn’t know you were open to that. I’d love to create something just for your wall. But that requires a bit more.”

She pulls you into a giant room with a canvas hanging against the far wall. It’s enormous. The floor is lined with all shades of the rainbow, and colors and textures you’ve never imagined. In a pile near them are brushes…some as small as a paperclip, and others as large as your head. She begins describing to you the process of creating a new work of art. How she spends weeks learning about the location, and who visits. How she then does research into how different colors evoke unique emotions to the residents in that area. Next she travels to remote locations to find ingredients that bring out the particular colors, and textures she’s looking for….and to help ensure this is a painting that can never be reproduced anywhere. You know the people who have sent you will be more than pleased by all of this. She then warns you, this may take several months to complete…and will definitely take all of the money you’ve been given. Possibly more.

But as she offers you the contract to sign….you quickly find your pen….knowing this will be exactly the kind of fine art you’ve been asked to locate for display.

The scripture we’re diving into this morning is a short one, and one that most of us have heard before. Here we get to be a fly on the wall in some of the most important conversations between God and humanity about this “new thing” He’s beginning in Christ, and what it’s all moving toward.

Jesus has just given the parable of the sower, and then the parable of the weeds among the wheat. He’s using parables to explain the Kingdom of Heaven in a way that anyone hearing his words would understand, even if they can’t explain it theologically.

We have the benefit, now, of knowing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet still, these parables hold truths about the Kingdom of God that are great for us to think about. I think we often sell the Kingdom of Heaven short…and God needs us…God needs YOU to help get the message of the Kingdom out today.education_pearl

This past week, I asked my daughters what thoughts came to their mind when I said “Kingdom of Heaven”, or “Kingdom of God”.
Before I tell you their response, it’s probably important for us to take a look at what scriptures say regarding these phrases.

First, we recognize that even though they sound different, they usually mean the same thing. Most of the time, the New Testament refers to it as the “Kingdom of God”…but in the book of Matthew we find both being used interchangably. In Matthew 19:23-24 for instance, Jesus tells his disciples “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

So now that we know these are talking of the same thing…lets see what scriptures tell us about this Kingdom:

For example, in Luke 7:28 – “Among those born of women, none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” – Based on this verse, where Jesus says “is”, and not “will be”…we realize the Kingdom is a present reality, not simply a future occurrence. This goes well with the parable of the weeds found here in Matthew 13. Jesus has sown good seed in his field, and in verse 41 Matthew writes “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers.”

Then in Matthew 18:3, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” – So even though it’s a present reality, it’s not one we naturally exist within with no participation of our own. It’s something we need to “enter into”.

So it’s here already, though not everyone is living according to it, and it will yet involve something more arriving as the parable of the weeds says, “the end of the age.” The fulfilling and completion of what has begun in Christ.

Once again, it’s a concept so much larger than we can simply contain in a phrase that starts with, “See, God’s Kingdom is this….” So we say many different things, all pointing at what God is up to in different ways. We understand this, even on a human level…when something incredibly beautiful or special happens.

When someone gets married, or has a child…inevitably, a question they’ll often be asked is, “How’s married life?” or “How’s the life of a parent?” These questions can’t be answered simply in a short response. The only real way to answer the question faithfully would be to invite that person to join in experiencing your life in a given point and even then….it’s tough to fully know the experience without being involved. A bystander will never know.

Thankfully, we’ve been invited to do much more than hear about, or look forward to this “Kingdom of God”. It has arrived, is arriving in and through our lives all over the world today, and will arrive completely someday in the future. So by now we’ve realized, this Kingdom is less about a castle, and golden streets, and walls surrounding a specific physical domain….and more about the King.

So we find perhaps a better way of speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven/God, is to say “Where the rule and reign of God exists”.

But that still leaves some questions, and Jesus is offering a response to some of those questions in these parables. The first question he addresses is, “Why is God waiting for the Kingdom to arrive completely?”

We can, and probably often do, echo that same question in our own lives. Why is God allowing such horrible things to happen? Why is such suffering and loss being allowed to exist in a world that God desires to bring healing and restoration to? Where is the light in the darkness?

To that question, he tells the parable of the weeds. That the sower of seeds allows the weeds to grow, because if he came down to remove them right away, he would destroy some incredibly beautiful and precious things that are growing as well. So he allows them both to grow, and when it’s time he has his reapers go out and collect the weeds first, from out of the fields…leaving only the wheat.

He then tells two more quick parables on the same topic of waiting. Parables that we hear often, but usually it’s for some other reason, like encouraging us how something small can make a large impact. But that doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of these illustrations, however true it may be. What Jesus is alluding to here, are some amazing things take time and careful consideration as they grow.

Just as a mustard seed must have time and resources in order to grow from a tiny seed, sprouting roots and branches over time so that it’s large enough that the birds of the air might come and make nests in it.

In the same way, bakers are familiar with the time it takes, sometimes days, for a small amount of yeast to mix itself into what he says here is about 60 pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. Jesus is acknowledging….yes…we are waiting. Yes, it seems like something should be done much faster….right away, in fact. But this is not about God swooping in and punishing as many people as possible. This is about the Kingdom growing, and having time to spread throughout the world, and all the precious and important ways the Reign and Rule of God is breaking through even now.

Then Jesus switches gears. Yes, he admits, the Kingdom is taking a while to come about completely. But that’s okay…you know why? Because what is happening, and what is coming….is so incredibly worth the wait. In fact, it’s more valuable than anything you can imagine!!

The first way is easy for us, It’s like a treasure hidden in a field – found, and hid – joyfully worth selling all you have to buy that field.  Like I said, this one’s easy. The return on our investment is larger than what we put into it.  It seems like he could go back and buy whatever he gave up originally to purchase the field.

The second is not as easy, and yet just as important. A merchant in search of fine pearls, finds a pearl of great value – worth selling all you have to buy it.  This one is a little harder for us. Once you’ve sold everything, all you have is this pearl. You have nothing else. But the Kingdom is such that once we recognize it, and know our life is all about this sort of thing…we are willing to let go of everything else we once declared valuable for it’s sake.

So to God’s people in the midst of suffering then, and still today, the words of Jesus are coming as a comfort and encouragement. God isn’t denying our world is feeling the impact of being broken by sin. He admits there are weeds growing among the wheat. But He is declaring that the ways His Kingdom is growing in our world today is worth the wait we patiently endure. It’s worth it!!! That can be hard to imagine, but when we have God himself saying it…it becomes a bit more believable.

But it’s not all great news, Jesus continues. Not everyone will accept that what God is doing is “good news”. It’s like a net thrown into a sea, catching all kinds of fish. The net was drawn in, with every fish imaginable within it. But some were not good, and were thrown out.

At the end of the age – the same thing. Chapter 13 says, “Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire.”

We know that not everyone will accept the reign and rule of God in their lives, or for the world. Some will fight it with everything they’ve got. Some will set their hearts and lives against it….some will built entire empires and ways of life completely in the opposite direction. God’s net of the gospel goes out intending to draw all of mankind unto Himself that we might be a part of the coming reign and rule of God….but not everyone will be able to accept Jesus as Lord. We see that happening even today, unfortunately. But it’s not yet time for the sorting to be done…and that’s not our work anyhow. At the end of the age, the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous. Those accepting and thriving or suffering to live in the reign and rule of God, and those who live for the reign and rule of other forces. For those denying God’s reign and rule, it will be suffering like never before as their complete foundations for existence are ripped away.

Then Jesus closes with an incredibly important word that we do not want to miss. In verse 51, he looks at his followers as a youth pastor might look out over his teens. He asks, “Everyone still with me? Everyone tracking and following what I’ve been saying?” They respond enthusiastically, “Yes!”

He smiles, and tells them that every scribe who’s been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is unique. They are like the owner of a house who brings new treasures and old out of storage. Jesus is pointing out that one of the best ways to spread news of the Kingdom of God is to point out what God has been doing already for hundreds of years. What God has been up to, both in the Old Testament, through the new testament and even today. Treasures both old and new. He is bringing redemption, dwelling among his people, transforming lives and healing creation. Making all things new, and already we see New Creation breaking through those who are in Christ.

And so we have the secret that’s not so secret. The truth that Jesus died to proclaim. The thrust of the gospel that we can sometimes miss. Ready to hear it?

When we live out the reign and rule of God, we are not only proclaiming but we are ushering in the very real existence of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.

The movie “Heaven is for Real” came out on DVD this past week, and people all over the country are thinking about this topic. They’re looking forward to golden palaces and streets, and escaping the suffering of this world. But we recognize once again this morning, that a “Heaven” of golden streets and castles is not all we look forward to. If you’ve ever traveled I-80 around Walcott, Iowa, then you have a good picture of what I’m talking about here. The “World’s Largest Truck Stop” features several restaurants, convenience store, arcade, movie theater, dental offices, pet grooming, laundromat, barbershop, chiropractor, church services, auto repair, oil changes, and of course….gas. It’s an incredible place to stop and rest. Even spend some quality time. But it’s not intended to be your final destination. So it is with Heaven. God has promised it’s a great place to be. Jesus declared he’s gone to prepare places for us there, and it has many rooms. But it’s temporary housing, as we all look forward to the New Creation that will be brought about as God’s reign and rule come fully like never before.

When I asked my daughters this past week, what comes to mind when I say “Kingdom of God”, can you guess what their responses were?

“A golden castle” was the very first response. I don’t know whether to blame Disney or simply smile and be okay with that level of understanding. But somewhere along the way, I have got to help my daughters understand the Kingdom of God is less about a castle and streets and more about who our lives proclaim as Lord even today.

The Kingdom of God becomes a present reality we are not only enabled, but called and commissioned, to live within here and now. As we do so, we are in the same place as the physically resurrected Jesus Christ. We are declared “New Creations” in Christ, and transformed so that our very being is no longer of this age, but comes to us from a future age when God has completed all that He has begun long ago.

This is incredibly valuable stuff! There’s nothing our world has to offer that can compare to it. It’s worth more than anything your life might be tempted to wrap itself around. It’s a greater pursuit than any achievement your world sets before you. It’s worth waiting for, and there are beautiful things happening even now.

So I ask you the same question Jesus asks his disciples in verse 51.

Have you understood these things?

Will you go out into the world this week, proclaiming a new understanding of the Kingdom of God? Because there are people in your life who need to hear what God is saying this morning. God is not waiting for some cosmic mathematical equation to finally arrive so that his mysteriously decided date arrives and he can finally move on to the next phase of his plan. The reign and rule of God is breaking through in your life and mine RIGHT NOW, and is transforming as the treasures of His Kingdom are bearing fruit in our world….fruit that tastes like New Creation. Fruit that points to the ways and experiences we will share with our Lord and with each other, for an eternity when all things have been made new completely.

The world is full of suffering. You hear voices of doubt, asking where God is in the midst of it all. Will you allow the mustard seed the time and care it takes to grow? Ask God for patience.

Maybe sin has impacted your life. You’ve been on your knees in desperate prayer, calling out to God in the midst of darkness. But you are not in a dark room waiting for a candle to be lit. The sun has risen, and you are watching it ascend to the brightest time of day. Will you trust in Him through the suffering in your life this week?

You struggle with the temptations of our world. Focused on self, or pleasure, or losing control to anger or greed. You’ve chosen things other than God lately. Will you set down all the things of this world, and stop chasing after the false values and riches this world offers – and trade them for pursuing the valuable treasures of God’s Kingdom? That is the beginning of His call on our lives this morning….may our lives be our response this week…