The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s186g10  Sunday 19  8/8/2010

‘it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom’  Luke 12.32

In the preparation for this sermon I was pondering some of the ‘kingdoms’ of this world, to see if our perception of what the Father’s kingdom is like might be gained through contrasting it with the kingdoms we know.

The book that first set me on this path was one I read long ago; ‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo, written in 1969.   In the Mafia kingdom, people who were loyal members of the family were advanced, but others were eliminated.   The parallels with the ‘church’ (that blithely condemns others to eternal damnation) are obvious.  The purpose of the Mafia family was to be self perpetuating and it did not pretend to ever help those outside the family.   The purpose of the Mafia was to exist within a hostile society by force.   The church also seeks to be self perpetuating and it is true some parts of the church have done and do do a sterling job helping those outside.   But the church also uses force to exist within what it often sees as a hostile society, sometimes ‘moral’ force, but sometimes the threat of eternal punishment, an essentially immoral force.

Interestingly some motorcycle gangs have partnered up with religious to raise money for children (eg )   I suspect that some are anxious to shed their fearsome image - perhaps some are hoping to delude others into thinking that they are benign in the face of legislative attempts to curb anti-social activities (eg ).  

One of the longest standing generalist charity groups down the centuries has been the Freemasons, and some of their more archane rituals have been dispensed with in the more recent ‘Lions’, ‘Rotary’, ‘Apex’ and like clubs.   These exist to meet a need within the community.   ‘The adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire drove an expansion of the provision of care.   The First Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. urged the church to provide for the poor, sick, widows, and strangers.   It ordered the construction of a hospital in every cathedral town.’    No doubt these hospitals later provided places of rest and recuperation for the crusaders to and from Jerusalem!     

Then, of course, there are the national and international kingdoms, the empires and states that seek to advance the well-being and security of the populace, sometimes in opposition to neighbouring states, sometimes in co-operation with them.   The history of colonialism is fraught with the sadder aspects of subjugation of the indigenous people along with the benefits of technology.   I am not yet a real Kiwi and I have always been impressed that Australia is called a ‘Commonwealth’.   For all the difficulties in Oz, front and centre is this ideal that it exists for all.   Of course the debate about who may come into Australia and how they might come rages still, as it has raged for most of her post-European occupation.   How much we are open to others remains a very live issue.   And I have no difficulty in affirming that New Zealand has been open to the culture of the original inhabitants of the land much, much better that Australia.

I suspect that there are far more examples that might be used, but perhaps this is sufficient for the moment to show that each and every kingdom has a variety of motives, from mere self-perpetuation and self serving action, to assistance to others.   The church seems to be ‘tarred with the same brush’.   What earthly difference is the church to these other institutions?   What right has the church to assert that her adherents are so special that they deserve eternal rewards and that everyone else deserve eternal punishments?   After all, for all the good work some parts of the church do, it is tainted with inertia, parochialism, denominationalism, and internal factions as each and every one of the others who similarly do good work for others.   I recall many years ago attending a missionary conference in South Australia, where it was the first time representatives of the Bush Church Aid, the Church Missionary Society and the Australian Board of Missions were all in the same room together at the same time!

I want to suggest that the kingdom is not marked by the charity it is able to dispense, for others do this as well, if not better than the church.   Indeed in our modern society the charity that the church is able to do is mostly funded through government agencies.   So the Church education system in Australia rivals the secular in size, but is entirely dependent on government funding.   And one of the prerequisites of this funding is that the school is open to all - so schools cannot be for one denomination alone.   One of the points of tension is that the State requires equal opportunity as far as employment, but parts of the church insist that teachers espouse ‘christian’ ideals.   I believe that in this matter the State is espousing better ‘christian’ ideals than the churches.

The kingdom is not marked by the offerings we are able to give to God either.   This is quite clear from any reading of the gospels.   Our offerings to God may as easily be given rather than charity towards others.

It seems that every kingdom can be characterised by who it helps and who it includes.   Each and every earthly kingdom exists to help someone, from those at the top of the food chain to other people, usually limited by some boundary or other.

So if God’s kingdom is to be distinctive from these examples of earthly kingdoms it will not marked by fixed boundaries about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’; who deserves to be helped and who doesn’t deserve to be helped.    Many, so called ‘christians’ and ‘Anglicans’ have quite definite ideas such as that others deserve to be challenged, marginalised and alienated, and there are not a few of these amongst the religious hierarchy.   Often clergy are appointed to come to a parish to challenge parishioners to change.   I would be far happier if they came to love the parishioners.   ‘Fixed’ boundaries have a habit of becoming movable and individuals, often those with the least need, suddenly begin to worry about their own eternal salvation.   Rules are so often taken to heart by those who least need to do so, and are flagrantly ignored by those who ought most to amend their ways.   Boundaries imply punishments and rewards, and inspire fear or selfishness.  

Jesus on the other hand tells us: ‘do not be afraid’.   We do not need to fear about anything, about whether we are ‘in’ or ‘out’, about what we are able to contribute towards God or others.   We are simply asked to include others.

The kingdom is something given by God, not something that the church institutes.   The kingdom comes independently from the church,   The church is no gatekeeper of the kingdom.   The church is not ‘the way, the truth and the life’, Jesus is,   And Jesus leads us to others, us to the community of faith - and the community of faith to the wider community.   For the kingdom is not the kingdom of the church, but the kingdom of the whole of creation.   It is a kingdom existentially including everyone, and it is precisely this that makes ‘the religious’ so angry.   They want a kingdom with boundaries, boundaries that ensure that others who don’t measure up to their standards are not included.   They do not  want to be associated with ‘riff-raff’.  

So we don’t have to worry about this kingdom, because it already exists in the world as we know it; it is just that some want to take it away - to challenge, marginalise and alienate others in the name of the ‘god’ they have made for themselves in their own image - the image of someone who believes like them, worships like them, lives like them ..

And when we are this inclusive, we have no need to fear, for when the time comes it may indeed be us who do not recognise the Lord in people who live differently to us, worship in a different manner, be intimate with people with whom we would not approve, and have to ask: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?   And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?   And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  (Matthew 25.37-39).   We will be living in the kingdom already, because the Lord has already come at an unexpected hour, when we ‘did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’. (25.40)   These ‘other’ people, people who seem so different, are just as much a part of God’s family, and deserving of inclusion.

We are told, ‘Do not be afraid ..’   There is no need to worry that we will ever be too inclusive.

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