Here we are on the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday with Jesus summoning his disciples (followers) and sending them out as apostles, to proclaim the good news; the kingdom of heaven has come near. Matthew uses the phrase Kingdom of Heaven, while Mark and Luke speak of the Kingdom of God – either way, the same Kingdom for which we pray daily to come when we say the Lord’s Prayer.
I wonder what we are praying for – what are you praying for? The phrase trips off the tongue but it is an elusive phrase with a meaning that is hard to pin down, or should I say meanings that are hard to pin down. Does it describe a place to where we are travelling; is that place in this world or the next? Is it a state – a change in our understanding of ourselves and of the world that takes us in a different direction? What does this Kingdom look like and what do I look like in this Kingdom? How will I know when I have arrived? How am I meant to be in the meantime?
This kingdom is not easy to pin down – like trying to take hold of mercury, which slips through your fingers. Is it a metal or a liquid? Well both. The more you grasp it and try to say this it, the more likely you are to have missed it.
Yet this Kingdom is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching; sometimes a phrase he uses to stake out the territory of what his happening – release to the prisoners, good news to the poor, sight to the blind. In today’s Gospel the Kingdom of heaven is linked with healing the sick and miraculous raisings from the dead. Things change in dramatic ways; another world seems possible as a new order unfolds.
Elsewhere Jesus teaches about the Kingdom through the parables, the stories that he tells. These come with a health warning – handle with care as they are dangerous; we are likely to find them threatening and unsettling. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, tiny but with a big potential; it is like leaven or yeast – unseen but makes a big difference. Jesus tells us the parable of the labourers in the vineyard where all get paid the same and when he answers the earnest young man about how we are to live and who is my neighbour, we get the parable of the Good Samaritan – the enemy becomes the role model as he acts with love and compassion. Here the first will be last and leadership will be based on service.
This kingdom is of such value that it is worth everything – like the person who found one pearl of great value and sold everything to buy the pearl; or someone who finds treasure in a field and is so excited that he goes and sells everything else to be able to buy this field. Seek first the for the kingdom of God – and all else will be well. Where to look? Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of heaven is within us.
But even as he sends them out Jesus warns the disciples, that this good news is not going to be received with open arms; as we read today, the authorities won’t like it and the message will be divisive, within and between families. We too may wonder whether and how we can be a part of this new kingdom.
This Kingdom is personal and political, social and solitary; it tells of new solidarities between peoples previously estranged, new priorities that undermine existing arrangements. It is a gift to be received with open hearts and an invitation to change, to take the risk. It is unsettling, even as it is liberating.
We face so many challenges in the world; beginning from the pandemic and the way we have all been affected and have had our security undermined; from the plight of so many suffering all around the world; to the inequalities that so scar the life chances of many and to the urgency we face in living through the unfolding crises of climate change. We fear for our future and for the future of our children and grandchildren. Now is the time when we so desperately need something that will kindle hope in our hearts. Our Gospel, our good news can do just that.
In his book, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, tells the story of a young Jewish woman named Etty Hillesum. Hillesum was in her twenties when the Germans occupied Holland. She was not a conventionally religious person, but between the years of 1941 and 1943, as she watched her world descend into nightmare, she became deeply aware of God’s hand on her life. Imprisoned in the transit camp at Westerbork (before being shipped to the gas chambers of Auschwitz), Etty wrote these words: “There must be someone to live through it all and bear witness to the fact that God lived, even in these times. And why should I not be that witness?”
Williams describes Hillesum’s commitment this way: She decided to occupy a certain place in the world, a place where others could somehow connect with God through her. She took responsibility for making God credible in the world. She took responsibility for God’s believability.
Can we do the same? Can we take responsibility for making God credible in our world and in our lives? We can and we must and there is no better place to start than with ourselves as we pray each day:
‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy Kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Savour each phrase; let the words linger and open your heart.
Revd Jonathan Morris