The last two weeks I’ve preached a sermon series titled “Politics in the Kingdom of God.” It’s been pretty didactic. In part one I spoke of our theology, and how we understand God, and the Trinity, and the love of God, and the high idea of freedom. I introduced the question that love asks: “What can I do for you?”
Last week we got more granular, pulling apart just four verses in the Bible from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. We examined verses 39, 40, 41, 42 which provided four ways to answer the question: “What can I do for you?”
We looked at the body politic, and unity in the body of Christ; we examined how to redeploy the abundance of our stuff for the benefit of others; we assigned deep value to being present with a person, just as God is present with us; and finally, we saw how judgement can turn to joy. These four Jesus injunctions are tactics for political life in the Kingdom of God.
Today you do not need your pencils, I just want you to listen with your heart. I want to invite you to let your soul journey with me over the landscape molded by the hands of God, yet, currently littered with the trash of human selfishness. Walk with me from this valley of darkness to the high vistas from which we glimpse the city of God. There is our new Jerusalem. It is real. It is attainable.
There is reason to hope in these dark days. Our God is a great God. Our God is the God of love. Our God has not left us without capacity to navigate this age of self-centeredness…Our God has given us a vision of a city on a hill, a polis, into which we are not only invited, but beckoned.
There is a woman standing upon its parapet calling us to come. Her name is Wisdom, her name is Holy Spirit. “Come,” she cries with a voice, with words spoken from ages past that float across time. “Come,” she calls, to a place where all are welcome, all loved, all included, all belong.
This is the vision of God marked out at the beginning of creation. And when humanity stumbled out of the Garden of Eden, determined to exercise our free choice, God went with us and sewed the garments we wear. God went to be present, to reveal to us the abundance of creation, to keep us knit together (unity) as one body, and, most importantly, to share with us God’s expansive joy.
That is the political will of God. That is politics in the Kingdom of God. That is the framework upon which you cast your ballot…Presence, abundance, unity, and joy.
Things are bad right now. They are really bad. There is virus running rampant over the world. Nearly a million people have died. Over 200,000 Americans have died. We are told to social distance, to wear masks, to meet outdoors…but we can’t go outdoors because the air is toxic, so, we are forced to isolate inside. And the brown air we see out our windows reminds us of fires burning all over the world, and the reality of climate change. Our instinct to hunker down is reinforced by images of protests that turn violent.
This is the result of human choice, human freedom, where the “I” is prioritized over the “We;” and leadership is all about the “me.” The virus isn’t human choice, but our response has been. The fires aren’t human choice, but our choices have supplied the kindling that is currently burning. The riots aren’t our hope for how to live, and yet, by our silence there is complicity salting the wounds of deep pain within our nation. The politics of lies and division and divisiveness mires us in the cesspool of selfish human choice.
This is the stuff of nightmares, and yet, we are The Christians, and we know that “God is pouring out the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, and our sons and daughters are prophesying [on-line and] on the streets, and our old people are dreaming dreams” (Acts 2:17-18). When this happens, as predicted by Peter in the Book of Acts, we know a new age is upon us. And this is not new information to you and me, because we know that we are the people God placed in the world right now to live into the Age of the Holy Spirit.
I had a dream a few nights ago I was playing tennis with my childhood friend Eric Hanson. There was no net, and the court was a neighborhood sidewalk. We were hitting the ball back and forth, but he kept hitting it harder and faster, and I couldn’t keep up, and I was getting angry and frustrated as balls whipped past me.
Finally, I had to go collect them. Two had landed in a pool, sort of a puddle in a ditch. I couldn’t reach them with my racket, so I gingerly stepped in, only to find myself waist deep in a cesspool of human pollution, and slowly sinking. I cried out, and from above winged agents of God grabbed my outstretched racket and pulled…and as they did, I felt the ascent, even as the muck was heavy on my body, I felt my soul lifting and a lightness of being in my heart. And as my eyes crested the edge of the ditch, I could see the brightness of the horizon and a gleaming hill in the distance. And just as my feet broke free I woke up.
And throughout the dream there was a voice beckoning me to the ditch, then to look up from the filth, and then out of the gleaming light in the distance the voice said: “Come.”
And because she called out to me, she is calling out to you, she is calling us to “Come:” to arise; to lift our hands in the air; to ascend from these dark days. We will not find our hope on Fox News, or MSNBC, or CNN… because these sources do not exist to reveal the abundance of creation, or to keep humanity knit together as one body, or to advocate the power of presence, or, most importantly, to reveal joy.
The voice of hope comes from a difference place, a deep place, a divine place, a place imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit. “Come,” she says, “to a place where nothing accursed is found, and where we can see the face of God.” She is calling us to come to a place where all are welcome, all loved, all included, all belong.
I believe this vision is ours to behold. I believe we are the generation set upon the earth, by God, right now, to crest the ridge, and to see the light, shining, as a gleaming city on a hill. So, come there with me! We will set out, together, toward it, and maybe we’ll reach it, but, at the very least, we will point it out to future generations. That is our duty. That is our task, our calling as a little neighborhood church in the city of Seattle. We will heed the voice of the Holy Spirit as she calls us to come.
So, return with me now to my dream. As I reached for the tennis balls floating in the muck where it should have read the words Wilson or Penn, I read the words sacred and neighbor.
In the Age of the Holy Spirit two core human impulses are being reignited:
- the longing to connect with neighbors;
- the impulse to experience the sacred.
I am seeing this right now, even as the pandemic rages; or maybe because the pandemic is raging.
We will start with the word neighbor. As the virus slows us down, I suspect, it has given us cause to more carefully consider the relationships that God has set us in. For some, at least 7 families in this parish, that has meant leaving Seattle to move closer to their nuclear family. For some, like for my family, it has meant welcoming back children mostly grown. For some it has meant more fully embracing the people they live next to, and together investing in their common life.
The city on the hill is full of neighbors, and neighbors are people who are known. There are no strangers. There are no outsiders. There are only children of God. In the New Jerusalem all the neighborhoods are full of unity, presence, abundance, and joy. “Come,” the Holy Spirit calls us to a city where we know our neighbors. That is the impulse being reignited today, as is the desire to touch that which is sacred.
Sacred is the second word loosed upon the world in the Age of the Holy Spirit. I am witnessing this more and more. Lately I’ve been receiving photos of great vistas visited by parishioners after they ascend the hills and mountains around Seattle. This calling to ascend to higher heights is a response, I believe, to the Holy Spirit calling us to that which is sacred.
Epiphany is organized to name and engage the sacred. That is what worship does, it grounds us in God’s time, and then sends us out to mark as sacred mountain tops, as well as, workplaces; to bless vast oceans, as well as, kiddy pools at daycare centers.
We reveal the city on the hill when we see the sacred and mark it as God’s own. That is what we, The Christians, do in the Age of the Holy Spirit.
The neighbor and the sacred are the words calling to us today. And what we find when we follow them is a place of healing and reconciliation, like described in the Book of Revelation where there is a river, lined on both sides with trees bearing fruit year around, and leaves meant for the healing of the nations. This healing happens when we mark that which is sacred and seek unity, presence, abundance, and joy with all our neighbors. We do this by continuing to ask the question: “What can I do for you?”
As I finish this sermon series, it is my prayer that when you cast your vote this November, you do so with hope in your heart, and a sense that, while these are dark days, and indeed day that could get worse, God has a vision…it is a city on the hill, where healing and reconciliation is the way of life; where the question continually asked is: “What can I do for you?” And where the response always seeks unity, presence, abundance, and joy.
This is the vision calling us to come into the age of the Holy Spirit… for we are The Christians, here and now, indominable, unstoppable, relentlessly optimistic, because our God is a great God, our God is a trustworthy God, our God is the God of love, and love always prevails. It must, because God is love,
So, hold fast to the Holy Spirit’s vision; be strong and persevere, for we are The Christians, and this is our time.