Sermon by The Rev Kathy McAdams
St John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
August 18, 2019 - Proper 15C
In the name of God, who was and is and is to come. Amen.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
I hear a tension in today’s readings between the here and now reality, the present time, and what is to come. The Kingdom of God is a concept, a description of God’s ideal world, that transcends that tension, as it is both here and now - a present reality - as well as yet to come - a future reality. Let me break that down: Jesus redeemed us. His sacrifice upon the cross purchased for us our salvation, which is guaranteed by God’s grace. Our salvation, our place in the Kingdom of God, is already a present reality. That reality of justice, peace, reconciliation and love already exists for us.
And yet, that is not the way our world looks. Think of the present world situation - Climate Change threatens to destroy our planet, Gun Violence terrifies all segments of US society, War wages throughout the world, Poverty and Violence and Religious Persecution cause mass migrations across the earth. So how do we interpret the signs of this present time, and how do we reconcile the present and future reality of the Kingdom of God, with the reality of the world today? I think that for the Gospel writer, the most important sign of the present time is Jesus’ appearance; his preaching heralds the coming of the Kingdom of God. And for us, too, the most important sign of our times is Jesus. “But”, you say, “how can Jesus be a present reality today, as well as 2000 years ago?” There are also signs of the times today that point to Jesus’ presence with us: many people in the world do manage to treat each other fairly most of the time; there are many places in the world where people do live in peace, and in abundance; great beauty exists in Creation, and in many places that beauty is being guarded and preserved. These signs indicate that not only did Jesus appear 2000 years ago, but Jesus still appears to us today. The Kingdom of God is both a state of being to strive for, and it is something that is available to us here and now.
The collect today points out that Jesus is both redeemer and example. His life and ministry gives us a guide as to how to live a godly life on a day to day basis. We are shored up for this race, to live into the Kingdom of God, by a great cloud of witnesses - saints in heaven and on earth who root for us in this race, hand us cups of water from the sidelines, and remind us of our direction. In order to run this race with perseverance, we must know that God is nearby; we must know that Jesus appears to us today in those faces. And if we look toward Jesus and the Kingdom of God at the finish line, we won’t grow weary or lose heart.
But what is this race about? What must we accomplish here and now, in this life? I believe that in order to live into the reality of the Kingdom of God, we must live as if we believe that it is already here. We must “act as if” we believe it. And, the old systems that promote injustice or exploitation must be destroyed, either in whole or in part. I think this is what Jesus refers to when he says he comes not to bring peace, but division. The parts that do not fit into God’s purposes - God’s Kingdom - must be weeded out, or purified, as by fire.
The psalmist proclaims God’s mandate is to “save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.” Try to envision what the world would look like if there was justice for all people - if no one was a victim of poverty, of oppression, or of war? (Take a minute to think about that). In order for justice to be a reality, we must live as if it already is. What would the world look like if there was peace on the whole earth? (Take a minute to think about that). In order for peace to be a reality, we must live as if it already is. What would it look like if all people were reconciled with God and with each other - if we didn’t let our differences, or our biases, or our righteousness divide us? (pause) In order for reconciliation to be a reality, we must live as if it already is. What would the world look like if we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves? (pause) In order for love to be a reality, we must live as if it already is. When we manage to live in these ways, even sometimes, we will begin to glimpse the Kingdom of God. We will emerge from the fog and begin to see clearly what God wants for us, what God has promised us, what God has already set before us. We will begin to claim that blessing as our own.