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Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

Acts 4:5-12 - link to NRSV text
OR Micah 4:1-5 - link to NRSV text
1 John 1:1-2:2 - link to NRSV text
OR Acts 4:5-12
Luke 24:36b-48 - link to NRSV text

Jesus was well known -- perhaps even best known, at least in some circles -- for his proclamation of the kingdom of God. "Kingdom" isn't a word that necessarily means all that much, or all that much that's relevant, to those of us who don't live in a monarchy, but I think Jesus himself provided a pretty good translation for that phrase even for us in the prayer he taught his followers, "your kingdom come, [that is,] your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Our imaginations could run wild on that one. What kind of a catalog can you come up with for things that would be different if God's kingdom had come, if God's will were being done on earth as it is in heaven? Heck, what would NOT be different?

Jesus' earliest followers were exposed to a lot of speculation on that point. It was, as far as we know about first-century Judaism, a pretty popular point upon which to exercise imagination -- as one would expect for any not ground into utter despair in occupied territory, when the vast majority of people were shut out of citizenship, out of literacy, out of social mobility. And then there were the people who were shut out even further on account of their illnesses, their dishonored relations, or their honorable family's disowning them. They were lucky if they still felt included enough in any kingdom to dream of God's kingdom.

And so they dreamed. What would be different -- or better yet, what would NOT be different -- if God's kingdom really had broken through to this world?

When Jesus began his ministry of proclaiming God's kingdom, and more vividly and dangerously yet, living that out as reality in healings, exorcisms (driving out the powers of darkness with God's power is bound to get people's hopes up about driving out ALL oppressive powers with God's power), drawing together and building up God's people for the new world dawning. Small wonder that his disciples, given the kinds of hopes Jesus raised, seem often surprised at how much seems NOT to have changed despite Jesus' coming and proclaiming God's kingdom come.

A lot did change, to be sure. Lives changed when people were healed of diseases or freed from spirits that had shut them out of community. Women and men cast out by their families found a new family in the community of Jesus' "mother and sisters and brothers" who heard the word of God and strove to live it out together. And to be fair, eschatology -- speculation about what the end of the old era of injustice and the dawning of God's kingdom -- for many Jews in Jesus' time was focused on the time of the resurrection, when those who were martyred for righteousness were restored to live out the lives so unjustly cut short.

However, a few might have understood how Jesus could proclaim God's kingdom and still anyone could see that so many oppressive forces remained seemingly in power by seeing Jesus' message as being about what God would do in the day of the resurrection of the righteous. Many would have fled -- and did flee -- at Jesus' crucifixion; if they thought that before Jesus' death he would one of these days jump into some first-century equivalent of a phone booth and fly out in a suit with a huge 'M' on his chest (the 'M' being for 'Messiah' -- and props to Scott Bartchy for the image), that hope was dashed when Jesus died. But some might have clung to hope, thinking that at least on the day of resurrection, Jesus would be vindicated, and woe to his enemies on that day! Jesus would come back like Arnold Schwarzeneggar's unstoppable cyborg in The Terminator -- a 'Christinator' before whom all enemies would flee, and then, if not before, NOTHING would be the same.

Well, this Sunday, we see what happens when the first light of the great day of resurrection appears, when God's chosen is vindicated, and here's what the glorious resurrected Son of God does:

He proclaims peace. He tells his followers not to fear. He opens the meaning of the scriptures to his followers, whom he commissions to proclaim freedom from sin and debt. Oh, and he eats some fish.

In other words, as far as people expecting some grand and explosive special effects moment, this is a transformation as anticlimactic as that of Princess Fiona in Shrek. The orchestral score swelled and has gone silent, that blinding burst of light came and went, and the world is still looking like a troll by any conventional reckoning.

And you know, that's why Shrek is still one of my favorite movies about the kingdom of God.

Because it's not about conventional reckoning at all. It never was.

A reader who's been paying careful attention will notice that Luke portrays the risen Jesus as doing precisely what the pre-crucifixion Jesus did. He eats with people. He proclaims peace, even (or especially!) to those caught up in spirals of violence they reckon to be inescapable. He opens the meaning of the scriptures to those who will hear -- precisely as he did at the very beginning of his public ministry in Luke 4.

On this glorious day of Easter (the whole season is Easter, folks -- like the whole twelve days of Christmas are Christmas!), it's worth recalling that from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry among us, he has been proclaiming that "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," today is the day in which God's kingdom breaks through to this world, today is the day of the new life we've been waiting for. The people who thought that the "today" of Luke 4 was some kind of funky metaphorical time (much like the stuff people repeat about the various Greek words for time and the very, very special and absolutely distinct dimensions of meaning for each) probably continued to think that Jesus was spouting some kind of barely sensible metaphor or just plain kidding around when he said stuff like, "if it is by God's finger that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Luke 11:20).

But what if Jesus wasn't kidding?

What if Jesus really meant that TODAY is the day of salvation, the glorious day of the Lord, the day of resurrection, the day of the coming of God's kingdom?

I think sometimes that this is half the point of the accounts in the canonical gospels of the risen Jesus' appearances to his followers (or, in the case of Paul, to someone he was calling to be his follower). The day of resurrection, life in the kingdom of God itself, the glorious day we've all been waiting for looks a great deal like any day at all breaking bread with Jesus.

That's not to say that we have nothing left to hope for. Not at all. It's to say that if we believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that the God of Israel -- of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Sarah, Rebeccah, and Leah, of Rahab and of Mary -- the Creator of the world, has raised this same Jesus from the dead, vindicating him and the way he lived among us as finally, ultimately righteous, if Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Christ of God, the anointed agent inaugurating God's kingdom, then we have to believe that the life of the kingdom of God is like Jesus' life:

Healing and freeing the outcast, eating fish with out-of-work fishers and breaking bread with women of any or no reputation or name. Speaking peace, of beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks, because weapons have no use at all in a world in which all are called to bless their persecutors and minister to their enemies. The writer of 1 John wasn't kidding when he said that he spoke of what was said and heard "from the beginning"; for this the world was made, and this is the life Jesus lived, the life Jesus birthed in community with any who would care for it, from the beginning. This was the life Jesus lived to the ending, even to death on a cross from which he did what he always did -- speaking peace to his fearful followers and his tormentors alike with his last breath.

Why should we be surprised, all told, that this is what the risen Jesus does? And for those of us who have experienced even the slightest whiff of the messianic banquet in the fellowship Jesus welcomes us to -- with sinners and saints, with the joyous and the grieving and the bewildered -- why should we be surprised when Jesus' table in the messianic kingdom looks a great deal like the table Jesus set for his followers from the beginning, on the night before he died, on his first days after God raised him from the dead?

And for any who hunger or thirst for a new life, a different world, a peaceable kingdom in which each one of us is welcomed for the beloved child of God we are and is growing into the person in Christ we were meant to be, what kind of sign are you waiting for? There is bread and wine, there are people to journey with, and the life of the risen Christ, of the new world, is here among us, if you're willing to seek it where Jesus did.

Today is the day of resurrection, of the inbreaking of God's kingdom, and no regrets of yesterday or anxieties about tomorrow should keep you from it.

Thanks be to God!

April 27, 2006 in 1 John, Acts, Easter, Eschatology, Luke, Resurrection, Year B | Permalink

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Interestingly, I too began to see an eschatological connection as I looked at the Lukan text for this week. I think, however, that we have reached different conclusions. The eschatological question is ultimately concerned with the nature of human history. Despite the fact that "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20), Luke retains an essentially apocalyptic view of history (Luke 21:27, Acts 1:11) - as do the other New Testament authors. Luke may emphasize the "already" dimension of the kingdom, but a "not yet" dimension remains.

My thoughts on the already/not yet dimensions of the kingdom at History and the Mud Pots

Posted by: M Lewis | Apr 28, 2006 8:50:43 PM

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

« email notification | Main | Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B »

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

Acts 4:5-12 - link to NRSV text
OR Micah 4:1-5 - link to NRSV text
1 John 1:1-2:2 - link to NRSV text
OR Acts 4:5-12
Luke 24:36b-48 - link to NRSV text

Jesus was well known -- perhaps even best known, at least in some circles -- for his proclamation of the kingdom of God. "Kingdom" isn't a word that necessarily means all that much, or all that much that's relevant, to those of us who don't live in a monarchy, but I think Jesus himself provided a pretty good translation for that phrase even for us in the prayer he taught his followers, "your kingdom come, [that is,] your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Our imaginations could run wild on that one. What kind of a catalog can you come up with for things that would be different if God's kingdom had come, if God's will were being done on earth as it is in heaven? Heck, what would NOT be different?

Jesus' earliest followers were exposed to a lot of speculation on that point. It was, as far as we know about first-century Judaism, a pretty popular point upon which to exercise imagination -- as one would expect for any not ground into utter despair in occupied territory, when the vast majority of people were shut out of citizenship, out of literacy, out of social mobility. And then there were the people who were shut out even further on account of their illnesses, their dishonored relations, or their honorable family's disowning them. They were lucky if they still felt included enough in any kingdom to dream of God's kingdom.

And so they dreamed. What would be different -- or better yet, what would NOT be different -- if God's kingdom really had broken through to this world?

When Jesus began his ministry of proclaiming God's kingdom, and more vividly and dangerously yet, living that out as reality in healings, exorcisms (driving out the powers of darkness with God's power is bound to get people's hopes up about driving out ALL oppressive powers with God's power), drawing together and building up God's people for the new world dawning. Small wonder that his disciples, given the kinds of hopes Jesus raised, seem often surprised at how much seems NOT to have changed despite Jesus' coming and proclaiming God's kingdom come.

A lot did change, to be sure. Lives changed when people were healed of diseases or freed from spirits that had shut them out of community. Women and men cast out by their families found a new family in the community of Jesus' "mother and sisters and brothers" who heard the word of God and strove to live it out together. And to be fair, eschatology -- speculation about what the end of the old era of injustice and the dawning of God's kingdom -- for many Jews in Jesus' time was focused on the time of the resurrection, when those who were martyred for righteousness were restored to live out the lives so unjustly cut short.

However, a few might have understood how Jesus could proclaim God's kingdom and still anyone could see that so many oppressive forces remained seemingly in power by seeing Jesus' message as being about what God would do in the day of the resurrection of the righteous. Many would have fled -- and did flee -- at Jesus' crucifixion; if they thought that before Jesus' death he would one of these days jump into some first-century equivalent of a phone booth and fly out in a suit with a huge 'M' on his chest (the 'M' being for 'Messiah' -- and props to Scott Bartchy for the image), that hope was dashed when Jesus died. But some might have clung to hope, thinking that at least on the day of resurrection, Jesus would be vindicated, and woe to his enemies on that day! Jesus would come back like Arnold Schwarzeneggar's unstoppable cyborg in The Terminator -- a 'Christinator' before whom all enemies would flee, and then, if not before, NOTHING would be the same.

Well, this Sunday, we see what happens when the first light of the great day of resurrection appears, when God's chosen is vindicated, and here's what the glorious resurrected Son of God does:

He proclaims peace. He tells his followers not to fear. He opens the meaning of the scriptures to his followers, whom he commissions to proclaim freedom from sin and debt. Oh, and he eats some fish.

In other words, as far as people expecting some grand and explosive special effects moment, this is a transformation as anticlimactic as that of Princess Fiona in Shrek. The orchestral score swelled and has gone silent, that blinding burst of light came and went, and the world is still looking like a troll by any conventional reckoning.

And you know, that's why Shrek is still one of my favorite movies about the kingdom of God.

Because it's not about conventional reckoning at all. It never was.

A reader who's been paying careful attention will notice that Luke portrays the risen Jesus as doing precisely what the pre-crucifixion Jesus did. He eats with people. He proclaims peace, even (or especially!) to those caught up in spirals of violence they reckon to be inescapable. He opens the meaning of the scriptures to those who will hear -- precisely as he did at the very beginning of his public ministry in Luke 4.

On this glorious day of Easter (the whole season is Easter, folks -- like the whole twelve days of Christmas are Christmas!), it's worth recalling that from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry among us, he has been proclaiming that "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," today is the day in which God's kingdom breaks through to this world, today is the day of the new life we've been waiting for. The people who thought that the "today" of Luke 4 was some kind of funky metaphorical time (much like the stuff people repeat about the various Greek words for time and the very, very special and absolutely distinct dimensions of meaning for each) probably continued to think that Jesus was spouting some kind of barely sensible metaphor or just plain kidding around when he said stuff like, "if it is by God's finger that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Luke 11:20).

But what if Jesus wasn't kidding?

What if Jesus really meant that TODAY is the day of salvation, the glorious day of the Lord, the day of resurrection, the day of the coming of God's kingdom?

I think sometimes that this is half the point of the accounts in the canonical gospels of the risen Jesus' appearances to his followers (or, in the case of Paul, to someone he was calling to be his follower). The day of resurrection, life in the kingdom of God itself, the glorious day we've all been waiting for looks a great deal like any day at all breaking bread with Jesus.

That's not to say that we have nothing left to hope for. Not at all. It's to say that if we believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that the God of Israel -- of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Sarah, Rebeccah, and Leah, of Rahab and of Mary -- the Creator of the world, has raised this same Jesus from the dead, vindicating him and the way he lived among us as finally, ultimately righteous, if Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Christ of God, the anointed agent inaugurating God's kingdom, then we have to believe that the life of the kingdom of God is like Jesus' life:

Healing and freeing the outcast, eating fish with out-of-work fishers and breaking bread with women of any or no reputation or name. Speaking peace, of beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks, because weapons have no use at all in a world in which all are called to bless their persecutors and minister to their enemies. The writer of 1 John wasn't kidding when he said that he spoke of what was said and heard "from the beginning"; for this the world was made, and this is the life Jesus lived, the life Jesus birthed in community with any who would care for it, from the beginning. This was the life Jesus lived to the ending, even to death on a cross from which he did what he always did -- speaking peace to his fearful followers and his tormentors alike with his last breath.

Why should we be surprised, all told, that this is what the risen Jesus does? And for those of us who have experienced even the slightest whiff of the messianic banquet in the fellowship Jesus welcomes us to -- with sinners and saints, with the joyous and the grieving and the bewildered -- why should we be surprised when Jesus' table in the messianic kingdom looks a great deal like the table Jesus set for his followers from the beginning, on the night before he died, on his first days after God raised him from the dead?

And for any who hunger or thirst for a new life, a different world, a peaceable kingdom in which each one of us is welcomed for the beloved child of God we are and is growing into the person in Christ we were meant to be, what kind of sign are you waiting for? There is bread and wine, there are people to journey with, and the life of the risen Christ, of the new world, is here among us, if you're willing to seek it where Jesus did.

Today is the day of resurrection, of the inbreaking of God's kingdom, and no regrets of yesterday or anxieties about tomorrow should keep you from it.

Thanks be to God!

April 27, 2006 in 1 John, Acts, Easter, Eschatology, Luke, Resurrection, Year B | Permalink

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