27 February 2011

God’s Kingdom: challenge and comfort

Sunday 27 Feb 2011
God’s Kingdom: challenge and comfort
Matthew 6 25-34; Romans 8 18-25

As you probably know, this year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. And, even for me, who came to faith largely through the Good News Bible – even for me, our reading from Matthew’s gospel echoes somewhere in my mind in the traditional words:

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Mt 6 28, 29 KJV)

Consider the lilies of the field …

And yet, the trouble is that I’m not a poet!

It’s not just the language that I find a problem – it’s the imagery too.

They are wonderful images: don’t worry about food and clothes – look around you at God’s beautiful provision. “O ye of little faith”.

But I immediately want to rationalise!

My mind says: It’s easy to say “Don’t worry” – I’m pretty well off really, especially if you consider the world’s poorest people. My mind says: It’s easy to say “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” – but the Diocese still wants it’s Parish Share: and it’s going up!

I’m not a poet.

The good news is that the Bible contains all sorts of literature and styles of writing.

• It nurtures and shapes the life of the church and of individuals.

• It presents a God whose character is revealed in Jesus, and who engages with people in many different ways.

The Bible makes clear

• what life under God’s reign looks like,
• how faithful disciples think and act,
• what priorities they set
• and what passions control them.

And much more often than not, it does this

not by laying down rules,
• but by prodding our imaginations,
telling stories, describing scenarios.

It does it by asking questions about life
without giving direct answers.

God forces us to stop and take stock; and he does this for all of us, whether poets or not.

• He encourages us to think,
• and he makes us sensitive to the things of his Kingdom.

Nowhere is that more clearly the case than in this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

We are confronted with a series of choices:

• serving God, or pursuing wealth
• trusting God, or fretting over life’s necessities
• seeking God’s rule, or worrying about tomorrow.

One commentary on this passage offered rather helpfully

“There is little a preacher needs to say about this passage.”

And I know what it means – even if I find it difficult advice to follow!

As I said a few weeks ago about another part of the Sermon on the Mount, we need to allow the passage to speak for itself. Its images are powerful, and its challenges are clear. They give us all pause for thought – they create an opportunity for God to speak to us; to speak into our situations.

So what more do I have to offer, apart from encouraging you to go and pray and reflect on that gospel passage?

Well, one thing that struck me was a parallel between our gospel and the reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Jesus tells his disciples to seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, whilst Paul says:

“I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18 GNB)

Paul is acknowledging what is plain to all of us – that all is not as God intends it to be. And yet he is saying quite clearly that this will change – that God’s purpose (for us and for all creation) is glorious!

“That creation itself would one day be set free from its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21 GNB)

So much that we see in the world today is less than it could be, less than it should be.

We know that a great deal of the suffering we see is caused by us, by human beings – the way we treat each other; the way we treat God’s creation.

We know too that much of the suffering we all face is beyond our control – suffering caused by decay and by death.

But we have the hope, the promise of glory.

Jesus says we are to seek first God’s Kingdom.

Yes, (in the words of Romans), we wait with patience for glory to be revealed – but our waiting is active waiting.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to seek the Kingdom by challenging everything that is contrary to it – all that stands in the way of the fullness of life that Jesus came to bring.

We stand together with everyone who opposes injustice, who struggles against poverty, who works to bring in the values of God’s Kingdom. As we do this, we begin to glimpse glory; to see just a little of what will be when God’s Kingdom truly comes.

And we seek God’s Kingdom too in the midst of decay and death.

We cannot know or understand why life is as it is, why, as Paul said, all creation is in slavery in this way. But we have the promise that it will not always be so.

By his own death and his resurrection, Jesus has opened up for us all the way to glory. He has promised us that God’s Kingdom will come. In the midst of grief and sorrow, God gives us grace to offer, with his love and compassion, the hope and the assurance of life with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I said, I’m not a poet.

But I do thank God for the challenge and the comfort he offers us, both in the words of the Bible, and in the Living Word, his Son Jesus Christ.

• I long for my trust in God to grow, so that I may learn not to worry, and realise that he knows what I need.

• I long too to see God’s Kingdom come more and more – to glimpse the glory that is going be revealed.

May God make us sensitive to the things of his Kingdom – both now, and for all eternity.


For some of the ideas in this sermon, see

Walter Brueggemann, Charles B Cousar, Beverly R Gaventa James D Newsome Texts for Preaching – Year A Westminster John Knox Press 1995 pps 161 ff

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