“The Geography of God”
Douglass Blvd. Christian Church in Louisville, KY on July 04, 2010
Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
I am intrigued by this passage in the Gospel of Luke. It is one of those verses that I read and instantly want to pass over. I am no fan of being sent like a lamb to slaughter nor am I keen on the idea of the lifestyle Jesus is speaking of here.
When we take a step back and look at the passage with an eye as to what is going on behind the scenes here, knowledge gets dropped on us that changes things. Verse 2 highlights the fact that the Creator is not only in charge of the harvest but is also in charge of sending out the laborers. This is no place for self-appointed laborers and hasty decisions to “go therefore!” These people work as if the outcome depended on them in the first place. Entering in to this grand labor with prayer tethers the laborer to the one that sent them.
Prayer and a sense of being commissioned are important because the mission is tough. The message is not friendly to those in power for “the Kingdom of God has come near!” The Kingdom of God puts fear in to the powers that be because there is no room for the powerful in the Kingdom of God.
Last week I meet with the regional committee saddled with the task of approving ordination or recognizing ordination into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). They asked me a number of questions over the length of our conversation. And then they asked me, “What does a Disciple look like?”
There were many answers given, every answer gave rise to another. With those gathered relating other answers to their own until finally someone offered, “We know what a Disciple looks like more than we know what a Disciple is.”
We can speak of our experience with the Kingdom of God. We may never define it. We live our lives seeking to be a part of this elusive kingdom. We orient our lives with the conviction that what we do is pleasing to God and that we are indeed dwelling in the Kingdom of God in the moment. The Kingdom of God is unlike anything we have ever seen.
Has the Kingdom of God compelled you to sell all you have to let go of the traditions you hold dear and consider that what you have believed of God might be less than the fine pearl of God? The Kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
We live our lives bound by geography. We are citizens of a nation. We are residents of this fair city. We occupy space that is defined for us and by us. We exist within a system that seems to treat us more like batteries powering a machine distorting the reality that awaits us. The Kingdom of God does not have a flag, an oath, a national anthem or a birthday.
Saint Augustine is credited with saying, “That which I perceive to be God is not God.” Do we cease our efforts to connect with God? Let us remember the thoughtful words of Thomas Merton, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” The Kingdom of God is everywhere and nowhere. The Kingdom of God is every thing and no thing.
We are called “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” We are called to “the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor.” We are called to heal the sick by our faith. The Kingdom of God is a place where power is taken from the insider and is reborn as justice for the outsider.
There is neither Insider nor Outsider, neither rich nor poor, neither Gay nor straight, neither Black nor white. The propensity of humanity towards division clouds the true reality of the Imago Dei within us all. It is this Imago Dei [the image of God] that is imprinted upon us all that reflects the “Wholly Otherness” of God. The Kingdom of God is fashioned from relationships. The Kingdom of God keeps us in community.
We worship a Holy God. To call God Holy is to assert that God is unique. God is completely different. God is as Karl Barth states, “God is the ‘Wholly Other.’ God alone is God. Worshiping a Holy God bears witness to the division that exists between Creator and creation. It is this division that Jesus the Christ reconciles. The Kingdom of God maintains the Sovereignty of God.
Thomas Merton once said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” We seek a love that embraces us where we are. We are given a love that does not exclude. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” The Kingdom of God is founded in love.
By your presence here today you proclaim an allegiance to God. You are giving unto God what is Gods. Our allegiance to God demands that we live in a manner pleasing to God. We are called to stand in the gap and be with each other as we all cross this desert into the Promised Land. The Kingdom of God precludes us from allegiance to any other citizenship.
I am reminded of an old African folk tale: There is this farmer whose crops are being ravaged by monkeys. He goes to the local shaman and asks her what he should do about the monkeys ravaging his fields.
She tells him to put out a monkey jar. A monkey jar is a wide based vessel that narrows considerably at the top. The farmer is to fill the monkey jar with sweets to attract the monkeys.
The farmer does as he is told and sets out a monkey jar. When a monkey comes to the jar it discovers the sweets inside of the jar. The monkey reaches in to the jar to retrieve the sweets and tries to pull out a handful of sweets. The monkey cannot pull out its hand because its handful of sweets has now formed a fist that is too large for the narrow opening of the vessel.
The monkey tries and tries to pull its hand out and cannot. If it would just let go of the sweets its hand would be free. But the monkey does not release its hold of the sweets and sits there with its hand in the jar.
The Kingdom of God represents the freedom we are given—all we have to do is let go of whatever binds us, just as Jesus tells his disciples to let go of everything, leave nothing behind, and go out into the world. The problem is, we’re all a bunch of monkeys, hands in our respective jars, fists clenched. The prison is of our own making, limited by earthly boundaries.
We encounter the Kingdom of God in the most opportune moments. The Kingdom of God arrives in a kind word. The Kingdom of God is present in those random meaningful conversations with a total stranger. The Kingdom of God rests in the hearts of those that feed the hungry and tend to those that are sick.
The Kingdom of God reconciles us to each other as we seek to reconcile unto God. The Kingdom of God binds us together as a people. The kingdom of God is the common denominator of the Christian life. The Kingdom of God holds you up when you have not the power to hold yourself up.
The Kingdom of God is comprised of you and I. You are the servants of this Kingdom of God. You are the hands that tend to the fields that sustain the gory of God. You are more than actors in a play. You are integral parts of a divine comedy, a divine tragedy, and a divine love story.
The Kingdom of God is most visible when the hearts and minds of you Gods people hunger to live in a manner that presents a prophetic witness that calls us to “nurture, nourish, & evoke a consciousness & perception alternative to the consciousness & perception of the dominant culture around us.[Walter Bruggemann]” This Kingdom of God does not follow the status quo it challenges the norm and demands justice where injustice has prevailed.
“We know what a Disciple looks like more than we know what a Disciple is.” I find comfort in this. There is diversity present in this statement. I imagine the same can be said of the Kingdom of God. “We know what The Kingdom of God looks like more than we know what The Kingdom of God is.”