“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. . . . Our task in the present . . . is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day.” ( N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope)
What does it mean to live as resurrection people? As agents of hope in a world where hope is in short supply?
This coming Sunday, I am preaching “off-Lectionary” and have been looking at the verses in Luke 17:20-18:9, and thinking about God’s Kingdom on earth. My first thought was “where is it??” In this passage, Jesus 1st century disciples were looking for “signs” of God’s Kingdom. Much of the time, we’re still looking for signs. Is God really here, today? Because, looking at our 21st century world, well, it is not easy to isolate the Kingdom of God amongst all of the other kingdoms.
So, what is God’s Kingdom and what does it look like? As I began making my kingdom list, I kept coming back to Easter. It is kind of weird to be thinking about Easter in August, but that is where my journey of discovery has taken me.
For most of us, the cross is central in our sanctuaries. It is suspended from the ceiling or hanging on a wall, it is sitting on a communion table or altar. Many of us wear crosses around our necks. Bottom line, we have adopted the cross as the center of our faith. And yet, while the cross is certainly a central theme in the story of how God saves us, it is one aspect of a greater story.
As folks who are followers of Jesus, we believe that Jesus died for our sins. Which is HUGE. But, there’s more to the Golgotha event than that. Jesus lived to tell about it. And he lived—that we might live with Him. The resurrection was THE moment in history that changed everything—it was the inaugural event of the new creation. The amazing moment when the incarnate God moved in, and made a home in God’s people. God’s promised Kingdom was present, on planet earth, forever and ever.
I think that the moment Christ breathed his first post-crucifixion breath, he breathed that Spirit-breath into God’s group of less than perfect, works in progress, followers, and made us bearers of God’s Kingdom. Bearers of the incarnate God, to a world still broken, still living as if God has left the building.
I’m thinking that be bearings of God’s Kingdom means more than just wearing the membership badge, going to church, and living our lives the way we always have.
The question for me, as not only an image bearer of the Living God, but as a bearer of God’s Kingdom, how do we demonstrate – in how we live – our confidence that death is no longer the final word? How do we not only bear but wear and share what it means for every single person on earth that God is here, in person, making all things new?
What does it look like to live so aligned with Jesus, so like him in word, motive, and actions, that people who see us see evidence of resurrection?
What does it look like when God is moving in our world and lives? The counter-cultural sermon on the mount is the place to start. In Matthew 6, we find the proclamation of the Great Reversal: a new kingdom coming, a new way to live. Jesus says: Look, you do it this way. Turn what the world teaches, upside down.
Blessed are the rich and powerful? No – blessed are the poor and humble. You love those who love you? Love those who don’t as well.
You worry? Learn to trust. Choose to trust. You want your own way? Want my way [Jesus’ way] instead.
If you walk through the gospels, you’ll see that the Great Reversal begins to take shape in small ways, through different people. The tax collector Zacchaeus, stunned by Jesus’ acceptance and forgiveness, decides to give half his possessions to the poor and pay back four-fold anyone he’s cheated.
The Samaritan woman at the well starts her story afraid to draw water at the normal times, reluctant to talk with Jesus, a secretive woman burdened by shame. She ends her story sharing the news of Jesus with everyone in town; according to Orthodox tradition, she was renamed Photini, “Equal to the Apostles,” and went on to witness in Africa and Rome before being martyred for her faith.
Were there others whose lives demonstrated a reversal of intent, a radical, visible change? Certainly people were healed. Lives were redirected. The teaching and example of Jesus attracted plenty of attention.
But in the gospels, although Jesus taught about the coming kingdom, it wasn’t really visible in the lives of his followers. The sons of Zebedee, James and John, were still wondering how to maneuver their way to power. Peter, self-focused from the start, was busy with his own off-beat agendas. Mary and Martha bickered about the proper role for a spiritual woman. And, even his twelve closest friends fought amongst themselves, bickering over who was the most important disciple. And one of the twelve ended up betraying Jesus. All seemed convinced their own ideas, their own plans for the future, would somehow work better than whatever Jesus had in mind.
What did Jesus do with all of this? He took their agendas, their plans, their self-importance, and shredded them all. Completely.
Want power? Turn the other cheek. Again.
Want a future? Let your best hopes die.
Want to be an insider? Part of the gang? One of the club? Align yourself with the marginalized, forgotten, despised. Set your reputation with theirs. Claim their abandonment as your own.
The resurrection isn’t some sweet idea of spring and tulips and new clothes, and Easter baskets.
It’s God’s deep song of joy, rising up from the very darkest place of pain and grief: the story isn’t over. The hardest word is not the last. The thing you feared most is the best gift yet. The deepest loss is the avenue to deepest joy.
Beyond that, with the knowledge of that, everything changes. Or should.
We are bearers of God’s Kingdom. Bearers. We are also the Bearers of God, God’s love, and hope, and dreams, and agenda. Where is God’s Kingdom today? Well, it is present and accounted for, in the people who love with no strings, in those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, walk with the oppressed. It is present in the people who work to heal and restore God’s land. It is here in those who wear and share the gospel, in word and deed.
The reason it’s hard to find today, is, in part, because we are aren’t wearing and sharing well. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.
In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright suggests
“The point of the resurrection … is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die … What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.”
Amen and Amen.