What happens when the Kingdom of Heaven draws near in Jesus Christ? This question framed our time together last Sunday, as we heard a text from Matthew where Jesus describes the contours of life in the age to come and invites his followers to live by its dawning light. We moved from there to the Table of the Lord, where we saw a sign of the Kingdom enacted in our own time as bread was broken and wine poured. “Whenever you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the saving death of our risen Lord until he comes again.” These words were echoed by the beautiful choral piece, “In Remembrance of Me.” One of the lines from that anthem captured the spirit of the day perfectly – “In remembrance of me, pray for the time when God’s own will is done.”
Living together in community as a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have so many opportunities to see the ways in which the Kingdom draws near as God’s own will is done. We explore God’s will and ways through engagement with the Scripture in Sunday school or in a variety of Bible studies; we experience the warmth and welcome of God’s grace through hospitality around a common meal on Wednesday nights; we share our bread and our lives with others through our various mission endeavors; we recognize God’s will and God’s call for all God’s children through ministries of education and nurture of children, youth, and adults of all ages. There is no shortage of ways to be encountered by God’s work both inside the walls of this church and out in the world. I give thanks to God daily for the blessing of working among you in discovering and living into God’s coming Kingdom.
Not long ago, I was talking with someone who is not a part of our church, but was asking about us. I was describing the congregation to him, when he suddenly stopped me and said, “Oh, are you part of THAT Presbyterian Church?”
I responded, “I’m not sure which one you are thinking of.”
He said, “You know, the one that’s always in the news. You guys have some interesting characters in that denomination.”
I could tell he had lost all interest in the church based on its denominational affiliation, so we quickly ended the conversation. But I was left with both a troubling, and a hopeful, thought. I was troubled that someone – based on nothing more than media images that can only scratch the surface of any church, much less an entire denomination – would write off a local congregation without at least seeing for himself.
I was also hopeful, though. I don’t know about you, but I am glad to be part of a church and a denomination that has some “interesting characters.” I think that one of the gifts of God to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is its diversity, a diversity that is displayed within our own congregation as well. It is a gift because it forces us to acknowledge that when it comes to things of God, no one of us has a corner on the whole truth, and we are stronger when we gather as one body, around one table, and share all the diverse gifts we bring.
It should have been pretty obvious after last Sunday that Jesus himself was quite a character – after all, he turned the common interpretation of the Jewish law on its head and dared his followers to follow him onto a path that would make them all look like odd characters.
But such is the nature of the Kingdom that draws near in him – its as if, to quote Mumford and Sons, we’ve all, “come out of [our] caves, walking on [our] hands, and see the world hanging upside down.”