Monday, July 1, 2013

Devotion on the Kingdom of Heaven

This is a devotion that I gave at our National Association of Congregational Christian Churches Annual Meeting. June 25, 2013

One of my “go-to” texts is the Sermon on the Mount. That is in part because I have led a couple Bible studies on the Beatitudes and am currently working through the Lord's Prayer in depth. And I find so much in the Sermon.
Before the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew writes:
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the
kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

what IS the Kingdom of heaven? Jesus described it in the Beatitudes.
Matthew 5
He said:
3  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
        for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4  Blessed are those who mourn,
        for they will be comforted.
5  Blessed are the meek,
        for they will inherit the earth.
6  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
        for they will be filled.
7  Blessed are the merciful,
        for they will be shown mercy.
8  Blessed are the pure in heart,
        for they will see God.
9  Blessed are the peacemakers,
        for they will be called children of God.
10  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
        for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

God put us here on Earth to be in relationship with God and with each other. The creation story in the Bible is one of intimacy! If that story is fact or a beautiful
telling of an old story, it is a story that says God wants us to be up close and
personal with God and with each other. That we are to love and care for each
other! That is the Kingdom of heaven! That is the way things are supposed to be.
The kingdom of heaven is what we are made for! The kingdom of earth only
satisfies for a short time, if at all. The kingdom of heaven, satisfies for all time.
This is Shalom, God's peace...perfect peace, wholeness, protection for all of God's
creation. When all is right with the world. And what we get glimpses of, when we
are caring for each other, when we worship together, and especially when we
reach out to others to share what we have, our material blessings and that
incredible Love. This is how the Kingdom of heaven comes near on Earth, through
us! Through the Holy Spirit guiding us, empowering us to be the hands and feet
of Jesus.

Remember, we are not alone in our efforts, when we pray, we pray in community
with other believers! And too, our cloud of witnesses is cheering us on, praying
for us to help our relationship with God and each other, praying for us to help
bring the kingdom of heaven to earth!

Could God make sure that all are fed, clothed, loved, treated justly? Of course.
God could do that faster than you can blink an eye. So why doesn't God do this?
It seems to be that relationship thing again. Evidently we are supposed to learn
this stuff for ourselves.

Author Richard Foster in Life With God: 
"Human beings are so important to God that the divine purposes are worked out through the messiness and sprawl of human history. Apparently, it is more important to God that human beings learn his ways in freedom than it is to get things done efficiently."

We are to learn God's ways and that is how we can help bring the Kingdom. When
we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” are we praying for God to
snap those ever-powerful fingers and make the world a perfectly beautiful place
of Shalom, or is Jesus teaching us to pray for God to help us make that happen!
What does it look like to be a person of the Kingdom of Heaven? A person who so
desires the Kingdom of heaven on earth? Someone who is poor in spirit, mourns,
hungers and thirsts for more of God, someone who is merciful, pure in heart and
is a peacemaker?

There is a powerful letter written by an African pastor some years back. It was found in his belongings after he had been killed for his faith. Quoted by Brennan Manning in The Signature of Jesus.

"I'm a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been
cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a
disciple of His and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or
be still.

"My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is
secure. I'm done and finished with low living, sight walking, small
planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane
talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

"I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions,
plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, or first, or tops, or
recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His
presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit

"My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be
narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable
and my mission is clear.

"I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned
back, deluded or delayed.

"I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence
of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy,
ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of

"I won't give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored
up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all
know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!"

This is a person of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is someone who intimately knew
Jesus as Lord. This is model of faith we can aspire to. Are we ready to draw closer
to God as we go back home to our churches and our communities?

Let us pray.
Help us to be people of the Kingdom of Heaven, dear Lord. Help us recognize our
shortcomings and ask for your help and guidance. Help us to hunger and thirst for
more of you! Help us to be merciful, to be peacemakers, bringing about Your
kingdom of Shalom right here on Earth. Help us to stay up, store up, pray up, pay
up, and preach up for the cause of Christ! Please bless us as we do these things
in the Name of Our Lord Jesus, ...who taught us to pray, 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 debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

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