Summary: Matt 4.12-23 What is the Kingdom of God? Is it now or in the future.
They called her their troubled one, or their feisty one. She had wild flyaway hair much like that of a punk rocker, but jet-black. And she was only, at the oldest, a couple of weeks old. So small, she looked as if she could fit in one hand. The ICU nurses all took turns trying to comfort her. You could tell they all loved her, even in their complaints about her. Our son Tito, her bunkmate, was recovering from his seven-hour brain surgery. The nurses also love him. This is what the ICU at Seattle Children's Hospital do, they love the kids. For the first few days, her parents were not to be seen, and the nurses protected her privacy, as they should. So we did'nt know her story. Lace and I added her to our prayers.
We still don’t know her story. What I remember most, though, is how she loved the sunlight and the care the nurses gave to her. I understood that no matter her story, she was in a community of love for the days we would know her, as was our son. The room they shared was fill of windows that let a lot of light in, even in Seattle. A day before Tito was to be moved out of critical care, her parents, with several of her brothers and sister, did show up. They had to take a long bus trip and they seemed beaten down by life. We prayed for them too. We never knew the end of their story. They were strangers, but still we prayed for them.That is what Christians do.
When the conversation comes up, as rare as this conversation is among church folks, about what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God, we tend to think of wild mountain top castles, or magical streets of Gold. Our imagination goes to visions of a place much like Disneyland. Places without struggles. Many will start to think about an eternal heaven, a place we go after death. The term we use is eternal rewards. In short, it is a place elsewhere from where we live. But what did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God? Does our vision of Heaven fit what Jesus’ vision? What clues does our text for today give?
In our text, Jesus starts his ministry after John is arrested. To review what came before, Jesus has gone to John to be baptized and then out into the wilderness for forty days of fasting. He is ready to start his ministry. We know were he ends up, on the cross. But where does he start? Without John on the scene, strategically he should start were the action is, where the power is, either Jerusalem or Rome.
He, contrary to good planning, starts were he has lived most of his life, his home. The text says he retreats to his home region, the region of his family, Galilee and proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. But there? Galilee, the backwater place of not very much importance, was the place that no one thought of much of. Why there? Why not in Jerusalem? Rome?
It is like saying you want to change the direction of America and then leave New York not to go Washington DC or Los Angeles, not even Chicago or Seattle but to Spokane. I wonder why he goes from the Jewish religious seat of power, Jerusalem and retreat to the place that nurtured him. Didn’t he know the real power was in Rome or Jerusalem? Would it not be better to start where the real power is. The Kingdom of God in Galilee? The Kingdom of God in Spokane?
He then, the Bible reports, calls two sets of brothers to follow him with promises of being fisherman of men. He calls the brothers where they work with a promise of the Kingdom. Soon, the sick are being healing. The Kingdom, it seems, is a place of healing and excitement. So what is the Kingdom that could drive men to give up their work and follow with no promise of future success, but a promise in the present, a Kingdom that us at hand. The Kingdom, not far off in a long away place, a kingdom they can see if they have eyes. Again, the Kingdom was not only after death, but at hand, Jesus says. When he promises the brothers that they will be fishermen of men, they believed it had to do with the now. If Jesus’ words about the Kingdom of God being at hand are true, then they had a point. Eternal life may extend eternally in the future, but it starts now.
Theologians, rooted strongly in Bible, claim the earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of heaven is the church. But for us, rooted in reality of history, this is hard to believe. When we talk about the church, we can only see what is wrong. It does too little; it is hypocritical; it is too insular, it is too certain in its beliefs and paradoxical it is too uncertain in its beliefs. To say the Kingdom of God is best seen in the church has to make us wonder if the Kingdom is dysfunctional at best. Seldom do we say what is right with the church.