The Coming of the Kingdom

Luke 17:20-37

The Coming of the Kingdom

20 Once Jesus* was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;21nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among* you.’

22 Then he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.23They will say to you, “Look there!” or “Look here!” Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.24For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.*25But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.26Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.27They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them.28Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,29but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them30—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.31On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back.32Remember Lot’s wife.33Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.34I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.35There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.’*37Then they asked him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’

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I can be a pretty obsessive and precise type of person. I guess it is the teacher in me working in higher education. We are very specific, precise people. I want to know a calendar date or an indication of what is going to happen. Our administrators want status updates. So I definitely understand the Disciples wanting a date or a sign—some indication of the coming of the Son of Man and the Kingdom of God. I would have been right there with my notepad asking for that date or sign myself. And Christ’s response, I think, is applicable at all times. We cannot know. We can only go about our business of serving God until the moment happens. And when that time comes, there will be no time for second guessing or looking back. There will be no rescheduled appointments. I think the point is not to bring out a sense of fear and panic that leads to chaos, but a sense of ongoing preparation.

The flip side—or balancing act—of that not knowing and always being prepared is the warning that those who try to make their life secure will lose it while those who lose their life will keep it. Yikes. That is scary for people like me who always try to think ahead and be prepared for anything. You can’t. You must lose your life to keep it. For me, that means losing your life in terms of your own sense of control. That doesn’t mean you are excused from taking responsibility and planning and setting goals and such. But it does mean being prepared to give those plans over to Christ. Sometimes there is tweaking in that plans, and sometimes there is a serious restructure of the plan. In the end though, we gain our life. And it is far better than we could have managed on our own.

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The Word

John 1:9-18

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him.12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth.15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’)16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,* who is close to the Father’s heart,* who has made him known.

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He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him. For me, that idea of the world coming into being through Him, and He was in the world, is filled with one of the greatest Christian mysteries. He came down to what was his own. And His own people did not accept Him. The passage goes on to say all who receive Him receive the power to become children of God. In that great mystery, we are born not of blood or of the will of the flesh, but of God. I have always been fascinated by that dynamic of being born of blood and flesh—a genetic connection—and being received in a spiritual connection. The main point for me is not a genetic link that may or may not exist, but the choice to remain connected is the greatest bond.

The English scholar in me also can’t help but love the image of the Word becoming flesh and living among us. As an English major, I have always known the extraordinary power of words. Once released, they can never be revoked. Words can heal. Words can comfort. Words can hurt. And once spoked, they can never be revoked. You can clarify. You can make amends. But once spoken, words are there forever. And they are intimately connected to emotions at the deepest level. Words are power. It is particularly thrilling to me to see the reference to the Word becoming flesh and living among us. That ultimate power of the Word is the choice to become flesh and to live among us. With that message, how can anything related to words not be ultimately good?!

The passage also strikes me in the idea that from His fullness, we have received grace upon grace in relation to law. We have the law through Moses, and we have grace through Christ. We had the law, but ultimately we have grace and truth. The two must work together for ultimate good. Through that process of the Word becoming flesh and living among us, we receive grace and truth, and He is made known.

Don’t Worry about what to Say

Matthew 10:16-22

Coming Persecutions

16 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues;18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.19When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time;20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;22and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

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This semester has certainly been a trying time for me in the sense that I’m teaching a new course—one I’ve never taught before. That is the case for many of my colleagues as well. We began a new combined reading and writing course this semester. I’m familiar enough with teaching writing, but now we are combing what we previously presented as separate reading and writing courses. I feel completely out of my element and forced to move faster than ever with my students. Then there is always the part of my job that involves supervising tutor with all kinds of backgrounds and experiences. Most of the time I feel like I have no idea what in the world I’m doing. But this passage gives me hope in a strange kind of way.

The Disciples are warned about people who will turn them in to be flogged in the synagogues. They are told family members will betray each other to the death. Yet even in those horrific experiences, they are told not to worry about what they will say and that the one who endures to the end will be saved. So on those days when I go before my students or my colleagues and feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, I can trust God will give me the words to speak. If the Disciples are promised the Holy Spirit will speak through them when needed, surely I can trust the Holy Spirit will speak through me in the classroom. Of course I’m going to give the very best of myself to prepare, but I can also trust that what I am to say will be given to me at that time. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Testify Because you Have Been with Me

John 15:20-27,16:1

20Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants* are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.21But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.23Whoever hates me hates my Father also.24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.25It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26 ‘When the Advocate* comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

16‘I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling.

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This reading from John reminds us all that people who interact closely reflect on each other. Christ tells the Disciples that they will be judged by their association with Him. And those people to whom Christ has spoken are now responsible for their own actions regarding the teaching they have heard. Those to whom Christ spoke can no longer say they didn’t know. And, as His followers, Christ reminds the Disciples that as his followers, they will be treated according to how people respond to Christ.

As an educator, I am always reminded of the idea that with new knowledge comes responsibility. That association is not always easy. Once people have heard a message, they are responsible for their responses to that message. Those transitions mean changing, sometimes in minor ways, and other times at the deepest core levels. We are judged by the beliefs we choose to follow. We become servants of those beliefs, and we reflect those beliefs. Once we make individual decisions to live as Christians, of course we aren’t going to be perfect, but we can’t not try to live into those Christian values with our best efforts. We aren’t going to be perfect by any means, but we are accountable for our actions as followers of Christ.

Perseverance in Prayer

Luke 11:5-13

Perseverance in Prayer

5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.”8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for* a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit* to those who ask him!’

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The Bible is filled with stories about persistence paying off. There is the story of the woman who kept approaching the judge seeking justice for her situation. The judge grants her request because of her persistence. In today’s reading, a man is awakened in the middle of the night by a neighbor seeking food for his unexpected guests. The request is granted not particularly out of kindness or charity, but because of the persistence. In that same spirit of persistence, Christ urges us to ask, search, and knock. Christ even presents the image of parents giving their children good and needed gifts in the greatest joy as the way God wants to honor our requests for what is good and needed. So we are to ask with persistence, and God takes great delight in meeting those requests according to our needs.

With my learning disabilities, I have felt like the persistent individuals in these stories knocking on doors and asking for help continuously. In retrospect, I believe God delighted in providing wonderful, compassionate professors and the best situations for me to complete my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I try to pass on to my own students that idea of persistence. I have the great privilege now of interacting with students in all kinds of settings and situations. Many of them need a great deal of extra guidance because of their backgrounds. I try to have extra patience in guiding them, and it is a great joy when I am able to honor their requests. Sometimes, one does find a request honored with great delight.

Called to Service

Luke 10:1-12

The Mission of the Seventy

10After 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.2He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.5Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”*10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,11“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.”*12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

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The Disciples are sent forth in hopes people will welcome them, but they are also prepared for negative responses. They are instructed to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. I take that absence of bags, purses, and sandals as a refection of the idea of coming empty handed. They are to have only themselves to offer in their message of the good news of Christ. It also means they will have to travel in complete trust that their needs will be met. It takes complete and utter trust to willingly travel empty handed, to only bring yourself and the message you have to offer. The Disciples left everything to fulfill that calling.

The field of education is the perfect example of being sent into the world to serve. At least that is how I try to see my position. Sometimes, what I have to teach is well received. Those are the precious days when peace rests on me. I am eager to remain in that location. Then there are times when I am not welcomed in terms of what I offer my students. While I don’t go out into the hallways and wipe the dirt off my feet metaphorically, I do think there is a message in terms of not taking things personally. And oh that is hard for many of us in education. We come empty handed, willing to give all of ourselves to our students. Not taking a sense of rejection personally is hard. It helps though to remember the Disciples were called to serve also, and they were not always well received either. The point for me, I think, is to keep trying and remain where I am needed.

Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

Luke 4:14-30

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.27There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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Returning back to one’s home town as an adult is always quite the experience to say the least. Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home town, following many impressive reports of his miracles. He reads from the scroll with a connection and a presence to those who hear. They spoke well of him, proud of the son of Joseph who had become such an inspiration. Jesus tells them he is sure they will challenge him with requests such repeating the miracles they have heard happened at Capernaum. Jesus reminds them in turn that prophets are not accepted in their own home towns.

Jesus reminds those listening that there were many widows in Israel during the time if Elijah. During this time of Elijah, there was a pervasive famine for three years and six months. Elijah was sent to none of them except a widow at Zaraphath in Sidon. And during this time of Elijah, there were many lepers in Israel. Yet the only leper cleansed was Naaman the Syrian. Jesus was making a very shocking point that Israelites were not the only ones granted miracles. The widow in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian were granted miracles. Jesus speaks very bluntly of miracles happening to people of all backgrounds. That is not a message well received.

Those in the Synagogue in Nazareth are outraged at the thought of miracles happening to people other than Israelites. It means they do not have exclusive privilege in God’s favor; instead, God’s love and mercy and favor extends to all people. So disturbing is this message that they drove Christ to the edge of a hill, intending to hurl him off the cliff. We are only told in a brief statement that in the chaos, Jesus passes through the midst of them and goes on his way.

The fact that one is not exclusively favored is a message that is often not well received. Accepting God’s favor is open to everyone means admitting God’s favor is available to everyone, even those with very divisive differences. It means God’s favor is extended to those we do not necessarily like, and even our enemies. That kind of favor can be hard to swallow. The idea of mercy being extended to all people is critical if we are to believe in God’s unconditional love. I know in my human condition I can’t begin to be perfect in that unconditional love to all people. I can certainly strive to give my best to loving all people, but I will never fully succeed. I take great comfort though in knowing that God’s unconditional love does work in that perfection. And perhaps for me, just praying for all people is a start.