Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon: The Kingdom of Heaven Calls

          I started that phone call, “Mom, please don’t hang up, this isn’t a joke.”

          I’d flown from Oregon to San Fransciso to  Milwaukee to JKF to Heathrow International Airport in London—I presented my documentation to the Immigration agent—only to be told that since I left the UK 3 months previous they had changed their policy on issuing student visas in country
—it could only be done at a consulate or embassy in the United States.
          So, they took my luggage from me, marched me down to this basement facility, through a cage door, made me empty my pockets, led me through a re-enforced steel door, and into a waiting room with a bunch of Iraqi refugees and a businessman from New York. There was this TV on the wall playing re-runs of Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules on loop.
I’d already been up for well over 24 hours, but I tried to stay wake, it was a strange and scary place, I mean what self-respecting West Coaster wants to be locked up with a New York Businessman, right?...
But eventually I passed out in the chair.

          Some time later a guard shook me awake and took me back out to an office with a telephone—I got one phone call—and called my parents back in the US, “Mom, please don’t hang up, this isn’t a joke.”
          It was the middle of the night for them, but they jumped to, figuring out which flight I was being deported on (they sent me to Chicago), cancelling all their plans and driving cross country to be there when I drug myself off that airplane back onto US soil.
          They were my parents, they couldn’t help but respond when I called.
          So too, we can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.

          We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.
And that can be messy, and costly.
When it called John, he was called to a hard and thankless task,
calling people to repentance, including, ultimately, his own ruler, Herod Antipas, who had him jailed and later executed.
          Throughout Christian history confrontation with the powers that be, and the consequences that follow, is a common occurrence
—from Justin Martyr’s explanation of the faith to the emperor of Rome to the early Lutheran church presenting the Augsburg Confession to the Holy Roman Emperor,
--from Dr. King’s famed letter from a Birmingham Jail confronting segregation and white apathy to Christian resistance to repression by the Stasi in communist East Germany.
          Yes, we can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.

          Now, in today’s Gospel Geography is important, Jesus moves to Capernaum—and in so doing calls it to the future promised in Isaiah
—Isaiah write of Galilee as occupied and in need of a rescue only God could bring
--and that Rescue comes, as God’s rescue always does, and as Paul writes, foolishly and hidden behind the cross.
          This region occupied by Assyria 700 years before Jesus’ birth, and constantly a place pointing to national humiliation, is where the Messiah takes up residence, and he redeems it, not with conquest, or plunder, or religious war,
but through a steady call of,
by calling people to be his disciples,
through teaching,
and healing
—this is how the Kingdom Comes.
That’s the foolish saving message of the Kingdom—that’s the power of God!
Whenever you get discouraged sisters and brothers
—when the work seems small
—feeding a few hungry people at the Y,
grieving together and getting through,
sending letters of welcome to your new neighbors,
going to a park with the kids to talk about God’s love
this is how the Kingdom comes!

We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.
Look no further than Peter, Andrew, James, and John
—they leave nets and boat and father
—they follow Jesus
—follow him into this kingdom work
—this work that for three years never leaves that tiny and tumultuous sea of Galilee.
Back on their boats, again among their family
—they still do Kingdom work, and it builds even to this very day!

We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls.
If I was creating the lectionary I would make sure we read verses 23-24 too, because, as I said before, geography is important. They read thus: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. His fame spread throughout Syria… and great crowds followed him from Galilee, the 10 Gentile cities, Jerusalem, Judea and the land of the Nabataeans.”
Jesus lives in Capernaum, his back yard is the sea of Galilee
—he has access to Syria,
the 10 pagan cities, Samaria,
and parts south.
Different peoples and nationalities in each place.
(It’s kind of like what we have right here—North Plainfield, South Plainfield, and Plainfield, each in a different county. The Plainfields, Edison, and Metuchen—all so close together, yet each a distinct identity, and too often separate.)
The rule of God calls ALL people
—the Kingdom of Heaven divides our divisions—
no longer, is the great problem, the great division, between those who can trace their heritage to before the age of Isaiah, and those who are interlopers.
No, the call of the Kingdom of Heaven
—the presence of Jesus
—requires a response, and that response is the important thing,
where we sit in relationship to the reign of God
—that’s the important thing.
It’s kinda like what Paul is talking about
—those divisions,
who baptized you,
if you are Apollo’s gal or Cephas’, whether you come from Jerusalem or Syria
—it doesn’t matter
--you are one in Christ
… the Kingdom has called you!

You needed a cure and Christ came,
you were sick and Jesus healed you,
you needed good news, and there it was
You wanted to know about the Kingdom and it called.

We can’t help but respond when the Kingdom of Heaven calls
—it’s call is more urgent than a transatlantic phone call that starts, “Mom, please don’t hang up, this isn’t a joke.”
It will call us to hard and unpopular things—the right thing even when it appears wrong to everyone else.
Call us to tasks that seem far from heroic or extra-ordinary—yet they are signs of the Kingdom.
Call us to leave everything behind and pick it all back up again with new purpose.
Call us to Unity in Christ.

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