Monthly Archives: November 2015

When Will the Kingdom of God Come?

This is a question people have been asking for centuries, starting with the apostles.   One of the problems we have with this question is that our minds immediately think in terms of earthly kingdoms with geographic locations headed by someone who is a king.  The other problem is that people sometimes mix the subjects of the coming of the kingdom of God and the second coming of Jesus.

The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, and he gave a surprising answer.  “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17: 20-21)  In other words, we won’t be able to physically observe a kingdom as a location with geographic boundaries, because the kingdom that Jesus is talking about is within us.  Its geography is our heart, our soul – our inner being.

Jesus gives added understanding of this verse in the Gospel of John when he says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:10) If we love God and obey his teaching, God and Jesus will take up residence in us.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, God draws us closer to him each day. We desire to be in his presence, we seek to know him more through prayer and scripture, and to participate in the sacraments if we a part of a sacramental church.

The fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in our lives.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are the visible signs that the kingdom has come. (Galatians 5:22-23)  When we love the people in our lives, showing patience, kindness and gentleness; when we are faithful to God, showing goodness and self-control, the Kingdom of God is in us.

Might not this be the kingdom Jesus is talking about when he instructed the disciples how to pray?   “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom in us and that his will be accomplished through us.

As earthly kingdoms experience the rise of enemies with whom they have to do battle, so also does God’s kingdom in us have to do battle with God’s enemy, the devil.  He constantly strives to lure us away from God’s kingdom into his kingdom.  But God equips us for this spiritual battle with his word, the Holy Spirit and the supporting allies of other kingdoms residing in our brothers and sisters in Christ and the Church.

When will the Kingdom of God come?  When we love Jesus, obey his teaching and invite the Father and Jesus to make their home in us.  

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The Blessing of Burdens

When are we most likely to experience the closeness of God – in our trials or in our victories?  St. John of the Cross said, “When you are burdened you are close to God.  When you are relieved of your burden you are close to yourself.” (Sayings of Light and Love, No. 4)

In this proverb-like statement, he proclaims a truth that captures our human nature intersecting with the ways of God.  When things are going well for us we tend to focus more on ourselves than God.  Remember the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus.  Only one returned to thank him and praise God. (Luke 17:17-18)

When we are burdened beyond our capabilities or unable to envision the solution to our needs, we are more open to turn to God.  We are more open to acknowledge the humble state of our need.

When our youngest daughter was facing open heart surgery at six months to correct openings between the auricle and ventricle chambers of her heart, some dear Christian friends came to pray over her and us.  After praying with us, one of them said, “God has never been closer to you than right now.”  He was right.  We experienced both God’s presence and his peace.  During a subsequent pre-surgical catheterization, we learned that the most critical opening had been healed, and the surgery on the less serious opening could be postponed until she was four, when she was much stronger and the surgery would be less risky.

The liturgical readings for this past Sunday from Daniel and the Gospel of Mark were about the tribulation of the end times and the signs preceding the second coming of Jesus.  The overall message was that we need not fear these events for we have the hope of the coming of Jesus who will set all things right.

We should have the same hope when faced with various burdens in our lives, for they are opportunities to experience Jesus and his mercy, love, forgiveness, renewal, and restoration.  The burden could be a sin, the alienation of a friend, an illness, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a personal financial crisis.

Whatever it is, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-29) 

This past week, at a Christian ministry for the local jail, I listened to three different men share how the tribulation of their imprisonment had led them to be open to listening to God and his invitation to become a part of their lives through Jesus Christ.  One literally said that he would be dead now if he had not been imprisoned, which caused him to listen to God and come to know Jesus.  

His burden has become his blessing. 

Is Peace Hidden from your Eyes?

When Jesus was making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Luke reports that Jesus wept as he approached the city, saying, If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke19:42) Jesus goes on to describe how their enemies will kill them and destroy the temple, “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (vs. 44)

We have here a scene of contrasts.  In the midst of all the adulation for Jesus, he is weeping over the city, for the people have failed to recognize that God has visited them in the flesh.

After all of the time he spent with them, after all of the miracles, after all the teaching, they still do not recognize that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is present to them in the person of Jesus.  They do not accept him as the Messiah they have waited for so long, and the consequences are dire.

How often do we lose our peace because we forget that God in the person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is in us?  Jesus tells us: he is with us always (Mt. 28:20); he wants us to come to him when we are weary or burdened (Mt. 11:28); he and the Father want to make their home in us (John 14:23); and apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

When I get angry with a store clerk or phone solicitor, I forget that the Father and Jesus reside in me, and I lose my peace. When I am indifferent to a homeless person asking for money at a stoplight, I forget that the Jesus in me wants to show him mercy. When I fail to stop and listen to a family member or friend who wants to talk or share a problem, I am putting shackles on God’s mercy and love that are waiting to be manifested through me.

When I refuse to embrace the cross in daily sacrifices, whether small and large, Jesus has some strong words – he says that anyone who does not take his cross and follow him “is not worthy of him.” (Mt. 10:38)

Yet, God never stops bidding us to seek him.  He has put in us a hunger for him whether we realize it or not.  It is a part of our human DNA.  God weeps when we do not recognize his presence in our lives.

Do we know what brings us peace?  It is the presence of God dwelling in us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, being poured out on the people and circumstances of our lives. 

 

Can You Become a Saint?

Past sins are not an obstacle to sainthood.  St. Paul was a persecutor of the early church, standing by and sanctioning the murder of Stephen.  St. Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus following his arrest.  St. Augustine is reported to have lived a rather hedonistic life, fathering a son from a woman he lived with for many years before he experienced his conversion.

Yet, all of them elected to change their ways and follow the Lord.  All of them chose to give up following their own wills and seek God’s will instead.  Sainthood is determined by our actions today, not yesterday.

It is not surprising that the Gospel reading selected by the Church for this past Sunday, All Saints Day, was the Beatitudes, for they are Jesus’ prescription for sainthood, as well as a roadmap for all of us in how we should live our lives.  If we are meek and humble in spirit, mourn for our sins and the sins of others, show mercy, are pure in heart and hunger for righteousness, Jesus says we will be blessed.  We will be comforted, shown mercy, see the face of God, and the kingdom of God will be ours.  This is an offer we should not refuse. 

Yet, it is our sinful nature, particularly pride and sloth, that war against the Beatitudes becoming the fabric for our daily choices.  In our pride we seek to substitute our will for God’s.  In our sloth we become indifferent to the needs of others and lose our passion to seek God in all things.  Let me illustrate.

Last summer I took my name off a Saturday volunteers list for July and August in a Christian jail ministry in order to preserve the weekends for boating with family and friends.  God might have worked out the schedule if I had let him, but I pre-empted the choice.  I was neither seeking God nor asking what he wanted me to do in this matter.

I can relate to Paul’s statement that “What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (Rom.7:15)  Living out the Beatitudes by our own will and determination is very difficult, but with God’s presence and grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, the saints show us it is possible.

While God is forgiving and merciful, his desire and call for us is neither casual nor trivial.  Jesus said to the Church of Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15)

The last thing we should want is to become distasteful to Jesus.