Saturday, July 14, 2012

the Kingdom of God is like...

a mustard seed...
a pearl of great worth...
a lost coin, lost sheep, lost son?
of course - and even more.

Jesus' use of the ordinary and common in his teachings about the Kingdom of God are so important.  I think so much hinges on us recognizing that the Kingdom of God is in the here and now, not just something to work and strive for "In the Sweet By and By".

Jesus' first words, according to the Gospel of Mark, point to this teaching: “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”  (Mark 1:15 Common English Bible)  Much of what I do as a preacher and teacher is to try to help people see the world through a God shaped lens - so that we can not only see the Kingdom breaking through, but find ways to participate in the Kingdom of God, here and now.

It should be no surprise when we gain insight about the world from God's perspective - via the common and ordinary objects and experiences in our own lives.  That happened to me this morning - in a weird round-about way.

I was making my morning cup of tea and saw the iced tea pitcher in the sink.  It's a plain, ordinary plastic gallon container that we have used for iced tea for years and years.  We drink a gallon of tea a day, so seeing it in the sink didn't surprised me.  In fact last night I put 2 family size tea bags and boiling water in the tea pot to steep so that I could make another batch of iced tea in the morning.  This is a cycle that continues much of the year.

Normally, before I make the iced tea, I fill the pitcher with water and step out onto the front porch to water my house plants.  But today I was reminded of some words of wisdom from Carl Dillon.  Mr. Dillon is 80 years old and a member of Trinity.  We were chatting about flowers and plants as he was watering the potted plants at the church the other day when he said in an almost off handed way, "well, you know, most people water their houseplants way too much."

This morning, recalling his words, I skipped watering my houseplants and instead went ahead and made the iced tea:  brewed tea + 1 cup of sugar (we are from the south after all) + water, stir well and refrigerate.  (When I was a girl my mom also added 1/3 of a can of frozen lemonade, but we didn't drink iced tea year round, it was a summer beverage and it signaled when we could go barefoot outside.)

As I put the pitcher into the refrigerator I felt a pang of guilt - perhaps I really should have watered the plants on the porch.  After all, it has been hot.  A quick look outside and I was reassured that they are just fine.  This made me think of the African Violets on the window sill in my office.

in need of deadheading
I inherited these plants - and I'm pretty diligent about keeping them watered, plucking off the faded flowers and rotating them.  For my efforts I am usually rewarded with a blossom or two.  Imagine my surprise after a week of vacation when I came back to find an abundance of flowers!  How could this be?  I had forgotten to ask anyone to water them, hmmmm.  I started to wonder, perhaps there is a correlation.  Have I been so fussy about caring for these plants that I actually stunted their growth?  Look at how wonderful they did without me.

And then the lightbulb went off - Does the Church do the same thing to its members?  Are we (clergy folk in particular) too fussy, too prone to try to manage, to anxious to feed, too unwilling to prune that we stunt the growth of the very people we are called to walk alongside in life?  Perhaps even to the point that most folks abdicate their role as the Body of Christ?!?!  Oh my!

Mike Mather is a United Methodist pastor in Indianapolis who shared how his faith community is participating in some pretty amazing things because they take time to look at situations as opportunities and they value each person as someone who is uniquely gifted and already a participant in the Kingdom of God.  Rather than taking charge as a church or staff to solve problems, they sit down to a meal and celebrate the giftedness of those gathered together.

"whatever you do do not come into this with the idea that y'all from the church are going to meet their needs - but that you are going to meet Jesus in the lives of these people. Then what? Who knows? Every time we sit down and eat with people - every time we sit down with people and pay attention to what God is doing in their lives [something special happens] even if and sometimes especially if they don't see it at first ...I think one of the all time best gifts we can offer - and the best that we often already offer to one another in the congregation - is our blessing, care and encouragement."

the Kingdom of God 
...a pitcher of iced tea African Violet plant
...a potluck!   

the Kingdom of God is here and now - 
how are we participating in and owning this reality?

I am beginning to realize how guilty I am of buying into the 'the church can fix things' point of view - or even worse how the Church is saying but not really living in to; 'there, there God will make it alright' rather than, what I hear leaders such as Mike Mather say: 'let's look at how God is already present and at work in the midst of this and lets think about what gifts we all bring together to celebrate the Kingdom of God in the midst of us!" 

This is a pretty significant paradigm shift - and a much needed one too with what is ahead of us as the Church in the 21st Century.  Maybe we need to sit down over a glass of iced tea and talk about it.

in Christ, together

(special thanks to Mike Mather for sharing their approach to ministry with folks at Broadway UMC in Indianapolis.)

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