“Go….proclaim the good news: The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
A done deal---the Kingdom is near, God’s Kingdom, right here and right now—not some far away place or time----not after we are dead and buried----but here, Beloved, now. This might be hard to believe during a pandemic, during this time when the ugly reality of the divisive and prejudiced nature of our nation is being revealed, but it is still true, still Gospel, still the Good News: The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
What does that Kingdom look like? How will we know Kingdom Living when we see it? Friends, there’s no mystery here; the Christ tells us: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
Cure the sick: Wear masks, wash your hands regularly, maintain safe physical distance. We do these things to keep others healthy and safe, particularly the vulnerable. Such simple things to do, especially after 430,000 deaths in the world; over 117,000 dead in the United States and rising toward 1,000 in our state of Wisconsin. In a matter of months. Surely, these simple tasks: keeping a safe distance, washing hands, and wearing masks in public are things we can collectively do to slow the rise of these death rates. Right now, in this pandemic, this is how we can cure the sick.
Beloved, by eradicating poverty, demanding a living minimum wage for all, ensuring food security, ending homelessness, companioning those with addiction and mental health issues, protecting our immigrant and refugee siblings who live oppressed lives in the shadows---even while they are working to provide for our food and economic structure--- when we free our siblings from poverty, from hunger and homelessness, from fear and inadequate or non-existent healthcare---we raise the dead.
Cleanse the lepers, Jesus tells us. While we may no longer fear leprosy as we once did, we still treat too many people as the outcast and the marginalized. But, I don’t think those who are outcast and marginalized are the ones with the disease; I think those of us who have status and privilege and who don’t work toward justice for all are the ones who are sick, unhealthy, and diseased. Just this week our trans-siblings have had their healthcare protections in our nation eroded. When we use our voice and our political influence to pushback whenever those who have not been fully protected and welcomed in our society are threatened, we cleanse ourselves of our human tendency to marginalize and ostracize those with whom we are uncomfortable. And Beloved, there’s still a lot of cleansing to do.
We are feeling and seeing the need for cleansing with every protest, every cry from another black mother or father who has lost a child to racism. With every new lynching of a person of color, every blind eye turned to the poverty and lack of clean water for our indigenous and native siblings, every time we allow women to be subjugated and be stripped of her right to make decisions about her own body, every time we allow racism, prejudice, bigotry, hatred and fear to speak---we have demons among us. And these demons are given life by us: by our mindsets, our privilege, our indifference, our laws, our mores and customs, by our systems and our governing rules. And we, those of us with status and privilege, authority and power---we are the ones who must cast these demons out---once and for all.
Today God tells Moses to tell us---we who are bound and tied through the waters of baptism to those first Israelites wandering in the wildernss of Sinai---God tells us: “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” And our ancestors said: Everything you tell us, God, we will do.”
Beloved, we know how that turned out. Now, they probably meant everything they said, just as we do when we say the Creed, or renew our baptismal vows, or pray the Lord’s Prayer. We know our ancestors got lost, just as we get lost, that they promised just what we also promise, but then go and do another thing. Why is it so hard, this Kingdom living? Sometimes it is just so very hard to do the right thing, the God thing.
So, right now, Beloved, I want you to close your eyes. Close your eyes and hear God’s Kingdom call to us again: Cure the sick…..raise the dead…..cleanse the lepers…..cast out the demons…..
Take a deep breath. Look within your own heart. What is keeping you from fully living out that Kingdom call? What keeps you from living and giving the love of God in these life-restoring ways, these means of salvation and redemption?
Is it busyness? Blindness? Discomfort? Do you doubt your ability? Have a lack of desire? Is there a misunderstanding? Apathy? Lack of resources? Are you self-centered and inwardly curved? Beloved, where does the sin of racism, the poison of seeing another as less valuable or less worthy live within you, within your heart?
(open your eyes now). Beloved, whatever it is---the obstacle, the barrier, the weed to be rooted out---I invite you to turn that over to God. Now, if you’re like me, there is more than one---so start with just one. One at a time---put that broken piece, that hindrance---right at the center of your prayer life. Ask God to remove it, to mend it. Maybe you need to start by asking for the desire for it to be removed, cleansed, transformed. But, Beloved, this is our work to do---and God is with us in this work, God is for us in this work. And as our hearts, minds, and beings are reformed, we can walk deeper into the Kingdom that has drawn near; we can see and hear and taste it more clearly. And then share it with others---widening the Beloved Community, relationship by relationship. Living together as the holy nation, a kingdom of priests. God’s Kingdom come near.
American Philosopher Dallas Willard puts it this way: “We don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.”
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.