Kingdom

Could the Nearness of the Kingdom Depend on Hospitality?

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Luke 10 has become one of my favorite texts over this past year. One reason is that it is such a great text and I’ve come to love it. The other reason is because Mark Love and the master’s program at Rochester College has had me invest so much time and energy in it over the previous three semesters. Either way, it has become a text that has shaped my life over the last eighteen months.

As a part of our master’s degree, we participate in a practice called “Dwelling in the Word”. It’s a pretty simple practice on the surface. We read the text, observe a short moment of silence, and then find a “reasonably friendly stranger” in the room to share with them where the text caught our attention. After partners have shared with one another, we report to the entire group what our reasonably friendly stranger shared with us. Now, what was interesting about this practice to me, and something I found weird at first, was that we used the same text every time. So, my first week of grad school we dwelled in Luke 10 for an entire week. Surely after awhile you run out of things in a text that stand out to you…so I thought. Having done this practice for a year now at various times and in various settings, I still find Luke 10 speaks anew and continues to create meaning in my life. I suspect years from now Luke 10 will continue to come alive each time I dwell in this text. I think this has something to do with a living Word that is active and breathing.

I share all this with you to tell of an experience I had this semester with Luke 10. As a part of a project I was working on, I dwelled in Luke 10 with a group of friends. Once again, the living Word came alive in our presence and spoke. Our group was struck by the fact that the nearness of the kingdom of God in the lives of the people that the disciples were sent to visit depended upon their hospitality. When the disciples enter a town and the people welcome them, Jesus says that they are to eat with them, cure the sick, and tell them, “the kingdom of God has come near to you”. On the contrary, when they enter a town and are not welcomed, Jesus tells the disciples to go out in the streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” When the town hosts the disciples, the kingdom of God comes near to them. When the town refuses to practice hospitality, it seems as if they don’t experience the kingdom, even though it was near. There seems to be a correlation between those who are willing to practice hospitality and their experience of the kingdom of God.

I think about this idea in light of the Christmas season. God comes into the world in the form of a baby, and he relies on the hospitality of humans. Mary and Joseph play host to the Son of God. When the Son leaves this earth, he sends the Spirit of God to dwell within those who believe. So, in a sense, our experience of the kingdom of God relies upon our willingness to host. Now I think there is more to this than simply a one time conversion moment. I’m thinking that as we go about from place to place in our daily lives, much like these disciples in Luke 10, there are opportunities to participate in the hospitality of God. When we make room and welcome others, maybe that equals glimpses of the kingdom. When we refuse to make room and go about the busyness of our lives, who knows, maybe we miss a chance to experience the nearness of the kingdom of God.

I could be on to something big here, then again I could not be. However, this is one of those areas of studying Scripture that has to be applied to find out the meaning. So I’m encouraging you as you go about your day tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) look for opportunities to welcome others and just see if you don’t get a glimpse of the kingdom. Maybe it is a family member living in your house, maybe it is a neighbor that drives you nuts, maybe it’s the person who empties your trash at work tomorrow, or maybe it’s a stranger walking down the street. Be attentive and make room. Who knows, maybe the kingdom of God will come near to you.

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Imagine…

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Today I am home with my family enjoying a holiday.  I only can do this because of brave people like my Grandpa (in the picture above) who served country in the military.  On this Memorial Day, I honor and remember people like him, especially those families who have lost loved ones due to war.  However, also on this day I am imagining like John Lennon.  I don’t think he had kingdom thoughts in mind when he penned his lyrics, but I do know he is not the first to dream like this.

My wife (Sarah) and I have decided to spend the next foreseeable future reading Isaiah 11:1-9 together everyday.  I love this passage.  The prophet, much like the Beatle, is imagining a new world.  Isaiah is imagining God’s world.  It’s a world where soldiers like my Grandpa never have to be soldiers.  They can just be father’s, son’s, wive’s, mother’s, husband’s.  It’s a world where there is no more war, no more oppression, no more pain, no more hurt, no more soldiers.  It is the kingdom of God and in his beautiful poetry, the prophet gives us a glimpse of that world.

Imagine a world where my Grandpa was never a soldier.  Instead, he got to just be a husband, father, and the world’s best Grandpa.  He never had the pain, fear, and nightmares that come with the chaos that we have created in this world.  Today, I remember and honor.  But, I also pray.  I pray for God’s kingdom, for God’s future world imagined by the prophet, to come.  And I hope to live my life in such a way that makes that world a reality now.

Today, remember, honor, celebrate, play, and pray.  “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Just Another Baby?

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It is only December 6th and I have read and/or heard the story of the birth of Jesus at least a dozen times already. Granted, this is mostly because I have been reading it to my 2 year old George, but still. George loves to hear about baby Jesus. He loves to talk about baby Jesus being in Mary’s tummy. The other night at church, we had a Christmas program about the nativity scene. George was obsessed with the fact that baby Jesus was there. I’m glad that, even at his age, he is starting to talk about Jesus at Christmas time. It will be awhile before he grasps what that means, but it is exciting that he is enjoying that story so much. So, it got me to thinking, what is the story of the baby Jesus all about?

Most of America knows about the birth of Jesus in some form or fashion. Whether it be plastic blow up figures in a nativity scene somewhere in town, or Charles Shultz’s version from Charlie Brown and the gang. But I’ve been thinking recently, do we like the birth of Jesus because it is a necessary step to salvation? In other words, we are excited and thankful for the birth of Christ because we need that in order to get the death and resurrection of Christ, which ultimately gets us to grace, mercy, salvation, and hope for eternal life. All of that is great and is certainly a huge part of the Christmas story, but I think there is something else going on here too. God is returning to dwell among his creation, again. John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh and lived among us. He made a promise to come back to his people Israel, and he did. And the best part of the Christmas story is that it has implications now, not just in the future life to come.

The birth of Jesus launches us into a new way of life. Not just moral and ethical behavior for the sake of obtaining something. It is a different way of living that is kingdom building. In Revelation 21, John shares with us the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. It is not the old Garden, it is the New Jerusalem. The birth of Jesus points to that day. The birth of Jesus also calls us to participate in building that kingdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows how this kingdom will be built and what it looks like, and it’s unlike any other kingdom that has ever existed. Every time we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, or give a cup of water in his name, we are adding to the structure of this new earth.

So, I’m happy that George loves baby Jesus. I’m glad he talks about him and wants to read his story every night. However, my hope is that as he grows up, he will see how this baby changes everything in his life. This baby will offer him hope of eternal life, but he also offers him a new world that breaks into this old one that we live in. I hope he sees that this baby is a king and is calling him to help build his kingdom. The birth of Jesus isn’t just necessary because we need him here to later take our sins to the cross. The birth of Jesus is God’s promised future breaking into the present.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14