This month,. I would like to do something a little different. I am posting a copy of the sermon I heard this past Sunday from Williston Presbyterian Church in Williston, SC. I really felt as if God was giving me a word from the Holy Spirit about a number of issues I have been wrestling with and I thought I would share this with you, in the chance that God would use it to bless you as well.
Rev. Cassandra Todd
Williston Presbyterian Church
Pentecost Lectionary Readings: Ezekiel 37:1‐14 & Acts 2:1‐21
May 27, 2012
“The Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World”
I have been preaching through the Great Ends of the Church for these last 6 weeks (if
you include this week), and have been doing so as our session explores revisiting our
missional strategy. The Great Ends are to show us our purpose, and our purpose is our
identity. Our identity is who we are, and we must look at who we are through who God sees
us. In doing so we are looking to identify how we fit, by the invitation of the Holy Spirit, into
the mission of God.
We first looked at the first great end, or purpose of the church during the first week.
This is the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind. In reviewing this as
part of who we are, a body made to proclaim the gospel for salvation, we remembered how
important it is to hear the gospel in our lives and to spread that not only in what we do, but
also in telling people the Gospel. We are to spread the Word as part of who we are.
The second great end, second in written order, not in importance, that we looked at is
the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. We discovered that not
only are we a home for ourselves to find shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship, but part of who we are is God’s way of providing for the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of
others. We fulfill this part of who we are by purposefully living together. We discussed that
in doing so we are being sheltered and providing shelter, nurturing and being nurtured, and participating in spiritual fellowship: sharing what we have so that others can participate too.
Then we discussed the next purpose of the church, the maintenance of divine worship. We looked at worship as being part of who we are meant to be, and how our worship should reflect our gratitude and thankfulness to God. It is important, we, to not put which is ‘meh’ or less than into our worshiping body because maintaining divine worship is about giving our best to God. We also really discussed how it is so important that we don’t put things that can be harmful to others in our worshiping body (such as rude or mean and hurtful language to others), for that goes against God.
After this, we spoke about our purpose as the preservation of the Truth. When we dived into this end, we discovered what is true to one person may not be true to another. What is dishonest could really point towards salvation (for example those who lied to Nazi officials about hiding Jews during the holocaust to save their lives). Therefore we came to this conclusion: preserving the Truth is always pointing to the greater Truth, which isn’t a statement, but a person, Jesus Christ. Jesus is truth. Who we are is a group of people who proclaim Jesus is truth.
Finally, last week, we discussed, well I preached on, the promotion of social righteousness. We recalled the story of the Good Samaritan and what being a neighbor to others means. Being a neighbor to another means giving to all people, crossing social boundaries, as all need God’s grace and are undeserving of it. Being a neighbor to others is being a servant of God, ready, able, and being used by God so that justice may come.
Today, we are coming to the end of this study, with the final great purpose of the church: the exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world. Some say all of the other great ends, all the other purposes of the church we discussed, are all connected and then summed up in the purpose of the church to portray or exhibit the kingdom of heaven to the world.
On days like Easter, when we remember Christ rising from the grave and a heavenly
body at the tomb, the day of Ascension when we remember Christ ascending into heaven and promising to send us the Holy Spirit to be present with us, and today, Pentecost, when we remember how Jesus kept his promise by sending the Holy Spirit from heaven to us, on these days we are more likely to think about the kingdom of heaven and what it is. On Pentecost, especially, we read lectionary passages from Ezekiel and Acts and hear the divine prophecies of how God’s reign interacts into our very lives.
In the 6th Century BCE, during the beginning of the exiles of the Judeans, Ezekiel prophesized. He lived amidst families who he saw ripped apart, near divine land that was crushed by the Babylonians, and experienced the temple, where God lived for so long, torn down. He lived in a time, where fear and faces of despair were widespread. In this time, Ezekiel being the theologian he was, struggled with the questions of whether there was a purpose to all this despair and destruction, if God left the temple and Jerusalem and thus wasn’t destroyed at all, and if God did not leave the people but left the temple, where they experiencing God abiding with them? Was God with them?
The people Ezekiel was around were spiritually dried up, as if they were dry bones.
Faithful still to them, God gave a vision to the prophet that this wasn’t the end of God abiding with the people. This wasn’t the end of the story. Their relationship together, the covenant was not over. These dry bones, the people, would again have life given to them through God’s very own breath.
In Hebrew, the word used here for breath is ‘Ruach’. This word in Hebrew does mean
breath, but it also means Spirit and Wind. It is the same word used in Genesis to describe the wind or the Spirit of God that swept over the formless void beginning creation. That is to say that same Spirit, wind, breath of God that began creation and was actively involved in creation is the same which will rise up these exiles again and fill them with life. Ezekiel was given this vision which shows the reestablishment of the exiles in Judea through the power of God, by the Spirit of God, and also shows a vision of the Resurrection for the multitudes‐ God will resurrect their very bodies through God’s Spirit.
Given this great vision, Ezekiel did what he was called to do, what he was meant to do, he shared this vision with the exiles: sharing the wonder and fear and awe of God’s sovereignty, holiness and mystery. In sharing this vision, Ezekiel was sharing the Kingdom of heaven with the world. He was sharing that even in this horrendous state of being that they were in, God was still in control, God was using them, pointing to the real bodily resurrection into a new state of being‐filled with the Spirit, the breath of God.
When we hear about the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s reign, God’s sovereignty and control, the language of this can be off‐putting for some. We live in a country that pushed escape from a kingdom, from a monarchy. The very idea of the misuse of that power can make us cringe at the thought of kingdom and reign. It may also make us fanaticize about the stories of kings and queens and princesses we grew up hearing in fairytales. We may do so, because we are far removed from that kind of rule. We don’t know what it’s like to live under the complete rule of another in the political world. Yet we do live under the complete rule of God. This can be scary, precisely because we want some control. Only when we give that control up are we really showing God’s reign. We can’t control the kingdom coming, that is completely in God’s hands.
Jesus explained this about the kingdom of heaven by telling us the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13. In short the parable goes like this: a sower came and planted seed in the field, and seeds from weeds sprout up among the wheat that was planted. The servants who worked the field saw the weeds and asked the owner of the field whether they should go through and pluck up those weeds. The owner told them not to because some of the wheat may be damaged and uprooted by the very act. At harvest they will be collected, the wheat and weeds together, and then separated at that time.
Through this parable we learn that the kingdom of heaven isn’t about making it come, or sorting through whom should be part of the kingdom. As we don’t make seeds ourselves, only God can provide them, we can’t make the kingdom nor can we make it grow. We can participate by watering and providing nutrients, but only God makes things grow. Just as only God can make a plant grow, only God can grow the kingdom. It’s not our job either, when we spot a bad plant, someone who seems to be not part of the kingdom, to pluck them out, for in doing so we can damage and pluck out others who are part of the good harvest, that is the kingdom. There is nothing to control; the kingdom of heaven is God’s alone to bring and to grow, to gather and to sort. Building it is God’s task as Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds this house, those who build it labor in vain.”
God decided to break this kingdom into our world through experiencing God as a person, in Jesus Christ, through Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin, and through his resurrection. This Kingdom has broken into our lives already, and not yet completely. We live at a time in which the already has happened and the not yet is coming. At this time Heaven and Earth are not one. We still plead to God each week, for “Thy Kingdom Come” as we repeat the Lord’s prayer‐ thus we pray for that which hasn’t completely happened yet. We pray for completion to happen, for the kingdom to reign, for God to unite Heaven and Earth as one. At the same time, we live in the already, Jesus has already came into our lives and God participates actively now in our lives. Jesus promised before he ascended into heaven to sent the Holy Spirit to us after his death so that God can still continue to reign in our lives and so we can be part of the kingdom of heaven right now.
We read this in the passage from Acts we had today, where the apostles are gathered
in Jerusalem after Matthias has been added to the apostles to take Judas’ place. There was a
crowd in town from all over at that time for the festival of weeks: the spring barley harvest,
or what we call Pentecost. With the crowd gathered, this great rush of wind, which is an
allusion to the Spirit, wind, breath of God that actively participated in creation and was
prophesized by Ezekiel to fill the dry bones, this rush of wind came upon the apostles. The
Holy Spirit came to them and gave them the gift to speak to all who were in town and who
had other native languages.
The apostles spoke to spread the Word of God to all the ends of the earth as if Babel
was reversed. They shared visions and dreams. Social barriers built up were in turn
forgotten as if they never existed. The Holy Spirit came upon men and women alike.
Nationals and foreigners. Slaves and free persons. Old and the young. The Spirit ignored
our social barriers and spread through the world. There was unity in the diversity. In this,
God was really showing God’s interaction with us, and the apostles were exhibiting the
kingdom of heaven to the world.
In this beautiful, wonderful, amazing and powerful event, some snickered and made
fun of this act of God among the people. They were nay‐sayers, those who sneered and
called the people drunk. Sharing the visions God has given us, sharing our experiences of
interaction with the reign of God, we are sure to come among them, those who will make fun of us, but that shouldn’t stop us from sharing. When this happens, we should follow Peter’s lead, and use the scriptures that God has given us, not as proof for them for no proof is ever good enough for one who scoffs at God among us, but to help us stay strong.
Even with the help of scripture, we may grow weak. More and more we may think its
our duty to build the kingdom of heaven and forget that only God can. At these points, we
must not forget that its not our ministries that matter, its Jesus’ that we must lift up. Lifting
up Jesus’ ministry, letting God grow the kingdom, that is exhibiting the kingdom of heaven to the world.
Exhibiting the kingdom means giving witness to it. We give witness when we share, when we share how God has touched our lives. We share God’s gifts of life to us by giving a victim of poverty or disaster a meal. We exhibit the kingdom when be with others, visiting with other people. When we let the children come, and let them be children as Jesus did. When we sit with those who mourn or are ill, just being present as God is present with us. When we focus on other people and spreading the Gospel of the Good News with them, and build up others, not putting our focus on ourselves, that is sharing and giving witness to the kingdom of heaven.
Our purpose as a body of Christ is to show Christ to others. We are made in God’s image, to share God with the world, so that others may experience God too. Deeply rooted from our very first ancestors, who we really are meant to be, are beings that show God, that highlight God among all things, and God’s reign in this world. Our mission, is who we are, all wrapped up in who we are meant to be: children of God, showing Christ to this world.