Expanding our Boundaries
Read Acts 1:3-8.
On the surface Jesus’ words seem innocent enough. Witness to me beginning with people of your own faith, and then keep expanding the circle until you bring my witness to the whole world. Yet, in the time these words were spoken they were very challenging. Most of Jesus’ followers came from Galilee, the hill country in northern Israel. The people of Jerusalem saw them as kind of the country bumpkins of the nation. Their faith was seen as more a folk theology and certainly did not reflect the theological sophistication of the Temple Priests and leaders in Jerusalem. So going to Jerusalem was to enter into the elite circles of the faith. Then, to be asked to go to Samaria was to be sent to a people who were looked down upon and disdained even though they were Jews. During the Babylonian exile the Samaritan’s ancestors married foreigners and their bloodlines became impure. So there is a real ethnic controversy here. Then, to go into the world, to cross national borders meant going among the non-Jews, or the Gentiles and this was unheard of. The Jewish people had developed a list of people prioritizing who was most loved and important to God. A Temple Priest was number one on the list for example and was much closer and more important to God than just a simple Jewish man. Yet, the man was more important than a woman. Gentiles were so unimportant to God that they did not even make the list. So this calling by Jesus to his followers was more than just going outside their familiar boundaries as in the land or area they lived. This calling asked the disciples of Jesus to go beyond ethnic boundaries, religious boundaries, cultural boundaries and national boundaries as well to witness to him and his message of good news from God to all of creation.
The next passage, believe it or not, is going to challenge us to go beyond even this.
Read Matthew 12:46-50
In this passage, Jesus redefines who his family is. Yet, he does give a standard for inclusion, which is doing the will of God. What might that mean? The will is a combination of making a decision and then putting that decision into practice. To do the will of God is to make the decision to live God’s teaching. And what is that teaching we receive from Jesus? It is The Great Commandment of “Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It is Jesus’ words of “Love as I have loved you.” It is “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We have a tremendous challenge ahead of us as the people who seek to be called brother and sister by Christ. To share God’s love from Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
What would life look like if God were king and the rulers of this world were not? This is the question Nancy and I have been asking this month as we tried to understand a little better what life might be like if indeed our ongoing prayer to God of your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven were answered. Would we recognize this kingdom even if it came into our midst? How would this coming affect who we are? What we do? How we relate? Jesus warns us that understanding the kingdom will shatter our present understandings of life. Are we really ready for this?
Today is World Communion Sunday/Sabbath. Christians, followers of Jesus around the world have come or are coming to the Communion Table to receive the symbols of God’s grace, God’s unconditional love for all of us. It is an important day, for it reminds us of a theological premise or gives us another glimpse concerning God’s kingdom. All of humanity is created in the image of God, loved by God and is a child of God.
The mission trips I participated in this summer truly reinforce the truth of this day for me and I am sure for the many who have had the fortune of traveling and meeting other people from other lands. Meeting the orphans in Ethiopia and seeing their beautiful smiling faces, and getting to meet the people of the church who were striving so hard to give them a chance at life. Meeting the people of Bumula, Kenya, and being a part of their joy as a dream unfolded before them as they saw the roof be built on their new church. In Mexico, as we went to build a small home, but also got to know some of the people in the process and know their names and hear their stories and learn of their families. Truly we are so much alike and are indeed part of a much larger family.
It is why scholars tell us that the term, basileia tou theou, which is translated “kingdom of God” is better translated “the reign or rule of God.” The term kingdom implies borders. It suggests a specific area or territory, where the reign of God shows us that we seek to live with God guiding and directing us. Jesus helps us to see there are no borders in God’s reign. We are to bring Christ first to Prescott, then to Arizona to our nation to and to the world. And this understanding certainly challenges us as Christian people. At a time we see our leaders building walls and militarizing borders, we are asked to expand the boundaries of God’s love. As someone said, “Being a Christian is difficult because all of our decisions become so much more complicated when we realize we are asked to love as God loves us all.” The reign of god knows no borders only a compassion for all of God’s creation for all of God’s children.
Even as we officially close this series on the kingdom, the reality, we hope, is that every week we share a glimpse of God’s kingdom. But today, I would like to share my favorite kingdom of God story. It is an old story and probably been told in many ways, but it always serves as an important reminder to me about the kingdom.
This story is significant for today, as the image of the heavenly banquet is a symbol of God’s kingdom or reign finally coming to fruition. In our communion liturgy we say the words, “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast at his heavenly banquet. “ A prayer that asks God to empower us to live as the kingdom were fully realized as best we can.
This story also reiterates Jesus’ words from Matthew to us this day. To fully enter into the reign of God, or to be a brother and sister with Christ requires us to make a decision to do the will of God. Remember the will is a combination of making a decision and then living it in our life. The story shows that all people came to the banquet table, the inclusiveness of God’s splendor was there for everyone. The difference between heaven and hell was in how people chose to relate to each other. Those who stayed focused on themselves, those who did not expand their boundaries of love to their neighbor did not receive the blessings of the abundance around them. Those who expanded their boundaries and worked together all received the blessings of life.
For the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, we need to follow the will of God for our lives. “To love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To love others as Christ has loved us. To spread that love from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Again, today serves as this reminder that we are asked to do away with borders that separate us from brothers and sisters in the family of God. Those borders can be built in many ways, not just nationally, but culturally, ethnically and religiously as Jesus implies in the words from Acts. In the kingdom of God, we are asked to expand our boundaries of love and care, compassion and concern.
As we prepare to now come to the banquet table, let us celebrate the reality that God’s grace knows no borders and that God’s love has no boundaries. We are all included in this reign of love. And may we be mindful of our brothers and sisters around the world this day, as we know that they, too, are celebrating this same God given grace in their own lives. Come, let us join our brothers and sisters here and around the world at the table set for us all.
Sermon delived by Rev. George Cushman on October 1, 2006.
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