Sunday, November 07, 2010

Signs of the Kingdom...

A copy of this morning's sermon from one of our Lay Readers, Tim...


This time before Advent is called Kingdom season, and in it we think about the Kingdom - but which Kingdom?

Multiple meanings in the Bible
Kingdom of Heaven - where God reigns, angels, etc.
The future Kingdom on earth - the Second Coming of Jesus
The Kingdom now, Jesus reigning in the present.
We'll look at each of them.

The Kingdom of Heaven
Our gospel reading today is one of the rare places where, before his own death, Jesus talks about resurrection, and leaves no room for doubt about it. We have a sort of folk lore picture of Heaven as a wonderful place with pearly gates guarded by St Peter, but behind that is a vision of a life beyond death, when none of our earthly problems trouble us, and everything is perfect. Most religions, even primitive ones, have this sort of idea, and it's an attractive one. The picture we have in the Bible, for example in the book of Revelation, is rather different.

The Kingdom of the Second Coming
In parts of the New Testament, particularly Paul's letters, we can see a belief that Jesus would come back to earth soon. It wasn't worth worrying about things, because they wouldn't last long anyway.

Throughout the ages since then there have always been people holding this same view. Some of them have claimed to know the exact date; others have just said it would be "soon", and have claimed to see signs in events on earth that point to "the end". Jesus himself said that no-one could know how or when he would return, so there's not much point in speculating about that. He also said, more importantly, that because we couldn't know when, we should always be ready.

I saw fliers recently advertising a meeting in our Village Hall at which someone was going to provide "proof" that we are near the end. Don't hold your breath!

The Kingdom is now - Jesus
When Jesus spoke about the Kingdom, he was almost always referring to the present. He chided the people for not recognising the signs of the Kingdom around them - and for not playing their part in making God's kingdom a reality.

Signs of the Kingdom
People sometimes talk about "The signs of the Kingdom". These are things in which we can recognise God's hand at work, through the Holy Spirit guiding people, ordinary people like us, to follow Jesus, and to do what he would do.
"a real church" - when moving to Manchester

These signs are the equivalent in our time of Jesus himself living and working among his people.

Let's look at some of them:
1. Let's start with the presence of Jesus himself in the midst of his people, visible in the form of joy, peace, and a sense of celebration. We are "Jesus people", and it should show!
2. Next comes is the preaching of the gospel. There was no gospel of the Kingdom to proclaim until Christ arrived. Now that he has come, the Good News of the Kingdom must be preached to all. The preaching of the Kingdom points people to the Kingdom itself. Remember, though, that preaching doesn't have to be in words!
3. Another sign of the Kingdom is healing - Jesus made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the sick whole, raised the dead. These were not only signs pointing to the reality of the Kingdom’s arrival, but also anticipations of God's final Kingdom from which all disease, hunger, disorder, and death will be banished forever. God is still free and powerful and performs miracles today, though we may not all experience them directly.
4. Another sign of the Kingdom is the miracle of conversion, when someone's life takes a dramatic turn towards God. We don't all experience that, but some do, and we've heard of some examples in the Just Ten series and elsewhere.
5. One of the more visible signs of the Kingdom is, or should be, the people of the Kingdom in whom the world can see those Christlike qualities that Paul called ‘the fruits of the Spirit’. We're called to show God's love, and that love inevitably leads to what we sometimes call "good works". So if the gospel is Good News of the Kingdom, good works are signs of the Kingdom. We can't separate what we believe and how we behave.

That isn't either an official or complete list, but perhaps it gives us some idea of what people outside may be looking for when assessing our faith. If those things are not happening, and seen to be happening, where is the Kingdom?

Last night's fireworks certainly lit up the village, and provided a clear beacon for anyone looking for Leverstock Green. Let us pray that Holy Trinity may also be sending out clear signals that God's Kingdom is here.

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