Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Great Ends of the Church: The Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World

Preached on Sunday, August 17, 2014
Scripture readings: 1 Peter 3:8-18a; Matthew 5:1-16
Why are we here?
Desert Aire/Mattawa Vacation Bible School 2014
Playing, Praying, and Singing
I mean: why has the Lord gathered us and called us together?  But not just in this building on Sunday mornings: why has God made us belong to each other for life and beyond? God has gathered us into his family in order for us to be his demonstration of the kingdom of heaven.
There is that old Presbyterian list of reasons that’s called “The Great Ends (or purposes) of the Church.” The last of the six reasons on that list is: the exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world.
Now the kingdom of heaven is the same thing as the kingdom of God (at least because heaven is, sort of, the “capital” or center of the kingdom of God). And yet “capital” gives us the completely the wrong idea, too. The kingdom of God is not like a nation and its government. The kingdom of God is nothing like what you would find in Olympia, or Washington, D.C., or London, or Tokyo.
In the Book of Revelation it says: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” (Revelation 11:15) But this does not mean that there will be the structure of a world government in the kingdom of God. It means that the Lord will rule. The Lord will rule everywhere. That means that everything will be different.
For the people in the Bible, a kingdom was not an organization, or an institution. A kingdom was a king’s responsibility and authority. The relation of an ancient king to his kingdom was like the relationship of a farmer to his farm, or a homeowner to the house and yard and garden. It was the thing they took care of. It belonged to them: and (even more than that) they belonged to it.
A good king had a plan, and he would see to it that the plan was carried out. A good king would make improvements where they were needed. A wise king would repair what needed fixing. They made things work.
The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, is something we enter where God makes things work. We do not enter by crossing a line on the map because everywhere that we have ever gone, or will go, belongs to God. We do not enter the kingdom by crossing a line on the calendar because every day we have ever lived, or will live, is ruled by God.
But there is a real sense in which God does not always rule us. When we enter the kingdom, we cross over the line of God’s ownership. We come under God’s rule.
When we come into God’s kingdom, God has a free hand to manage us, to fix us, to improve us, to remodel us, to cultivate us, to do his plan of rotations and cycles upon us: like summer fallow to wheat, seed-time to harvest. 
The church is not the kingdom of God, but the church is the exhibition of the kingdom of God. It is not even an experiment of the kingdom of God: not from God’s point of view. For us, it is an experiment, because we don’t know what we’re doing; but, from God’s point of view, he knows exactly what he is doing. An exhibition is a demonstration of something that God has accomplished or something that God has produced. It’s like an exhibition at a county fair.
God has called us and gathered us together, to show how his kingdom works; to show how he does things, if only we will let him.
I have a satellite dish for my TV reception. There is a channel available to me called the Home and Garden Channel which shows what creative homeowners and gardeners do with what is theirs. Actually, I never watch that channel. But one of God’s reasons for the Church is to be something like his own Home and Garden Channel: the place to show what he does with what is his (assuming we let him do what he wants with us).
In Matthew we read from the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This sermon, this message, describes what the kingdom of God looks like when people enter in. Verses 3 through 10 give us what we call “The Beatitudes”.
It’s an old fancy word. Beatitude means blessing, or happiness, or goodness. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Beatitude and blessing mean: how happy a thing it is, how good a thing it is, to be poor in spirit.
On Jesus’ lips, these blessings describe the goodness of being in a place in life where God can really work; where God can really rule as king (if we let him).
In these eight beatitudes, the first and the last refer to the kingdom of heaven, and that sort of encloses all of the beatitudes into the description of God’s kingdom-work: God’s rule. They are like the top and bottom slice of bread in a sandwich that holds the whole life of Jesus and our life together. The beatitudes are “a kingdom of God sandwich” that gives you the basic flavors of the kingdom: what God is like and what God does.
I am going to read each of the beatitudes over again; and then, after each one, I will read a paraphrase of from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message. I hope that doing this will help us understand the amazing words we take so much for granted. Each beatitude shows how God’s kingdom works in our lives.
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Or: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Or: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Or: “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Or: “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full’ you find yourselves cared for.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Or: “You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Or: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or: “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”
The beatitudes show us the kingdom of God because they show us where, in our own lives, God is most free to work and bring us deeper into his love and power. Where God works with the greatest freedom; there is the greatest hope. These are blessings because these are the places in life where we have the most to hope for from the work of God.
These places are very odd. They are supposed to be about happiness and goodness, and yet they are completely different from what we would expect happiness and goodness to be: spiritual poverty, meekness, hunger and thirst, grief and suffering. These are completely different from where we expect to find happiness.
The happiness of the kingdom of God is like the happiness of salt.
There are a lot of things we can put on our food to make it taste better; things like spices and herbs, or oils, or dressings, or sauces, or butter, or bits of bacon or egg, or garlic. But these are actually food, themselves. At least, they come from plants and animals.
Salt doesn’t. Salt is something completely different from food; but it flavors food and preserves it. It makes food that makes us happy.
We are the salt of the earth when we let God make us, in some way, completely different from the earth; but in a way that fits and makes things better. In the same way, we are the light of the world when we let God make us different from the darkness of the world, in a way that belongs and helps.
How does God make us different? Some Christians used to make themselves different through the things they didn’t do: not dancing, or not going to movies, or not playing cards. But God’s difference makes us different in a completely different way.
For instance something in human nature makes us happy when we judge other people and think how stupid, or bad, or incompetent, or dangerous they are; and how much better than them we are. But Jesus says don’t judge. Which does not mean don’t think about what is right or wrong, but don’t be self righteous. Don’t go around thinking you are better than others. God’s different happiness means not going around looking down on others. This makes us completely different.
Something in human nature makes us happy when we get even with other people. But the happiness of God is completely different, because the happiness of God teaches us to forgive others.
Some Christians try to make themselves completely different by being a doormat for others, but God’s happiness is completely different. God’s happiness comes from standing up for what is right and not giving up, but truly forgiving the wrongs others do against you. That is why God came down from heaven in Jesus to die for the sins of the world; and for your sins and mine: to offer something completely different. It’s what we need. It’s what saves us.
The Sermon on the Mount describes the kingdom of God in a way that would make us completely different from what we see in the news, and from most of the entertainment on TV, and from what we read in the papers. It would make us a blessing, if we listened and entered in.
We could be like an announcer who says, “And now for something completely different!”
The world is always ready to notice something completely different. If you are completely different, the world will respond. People will laugh at you, or put you down. Some people will try to stop you, or hurt you.
Or else they will like what they see, or see what they are missing, and want it. Perhaps they will even ask you about it. Peter says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
The older translations describe this hope as “the hope that is in you,” and I think that is best. Hope is not something we “have”, except as a gift or as part of our relationship with the Lord. There is an old way of seeing things (as old as the Bible) that sees us living in Christ, and Christ living in us and bringing the hope along with him; not so that we have hope, but so that hope has us, because Christ has us.
Jesus is also the light of the world, but he gives us the gift and the honor of shining for him. He is the light of the world, and he enables us to be the light of the world. We hope to be a light in this world because the Lord is a light within us.
We hope to be something completely different in this world, and bring a better taste to it because we have found something completely different from what this world can offer. We have found something that brings us joy in the very same life that we share with others.
We have found Jesus. We have been found by Jesus, and Jesus has gathered us together to be his presence in this world. We are the exhibition of Jesus. We are the demonstration of Jesus. We are called to be the presence in this world of something from beyond this world: something completely different, and yet something that absolutely belongs here.
The whole world is something far different than almost anybody knows, because it is created and loved by a God who is not afraid to be poor and meek. Our world is created and loved by a God who became human and got himself tortured on a cross and killed for the deliberate purpose of entering into the sins and evils of this world and overcoming them by rising from the dead.
The Apostle Paul writes about the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), but he only means that the cross looks foolish because it comes from a completely different kind of wisdom and power than this world understands.
God’s varieties of being poor and meek are completely different from what we imagine it to be. Poverty and meekness are rich because they are about love and being willing to put love ahead of your self. They are strong because they are willing to do whatever it takes to make things right, and to make things work, and to make things good. This is what our God, our king, is like. This is the God who rules us.

We know God is different because he died and rose from the dead for people like us, and for the whole world. We demonstrate the kingdom of God when our way of life is changed because our lives are ruled by the God of the cross.

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