It continues to surprise me how a comment in a class, an assignment long ago turned in, can continue to influence—even haunt your thinking.
I really should have known better. I was a second semester senior at Wake Forest. I was working a horrible job loading freezer trucks just to make ends meet. I just needed a class—any class—to graduate. I could have even taken it pass/fail.
But did I do that? NOO!
Instead I signed up to take Charles Talbert in his specialty class—Luke! There were only about 8 of us who were that foolish! We sat around one of those conference tables where you couldn’t hide, even when you were so exhausted that you fell asleep during the lecture. (Again, I apologize, Dr. Talbert!)
Early in the semester we were given our choice of topics on which to do our major paper. For a reason that still escapes me, I chose to do “The Kingdom of God in the Writings of Joachim Jeremias.”
Let’s be honest. It was a horrible paper! Horrible! I apologized when I turned it in—and do so again today! It was a horrible paper……but it still affects me. Jeremias basically said that the Kingdom of God is the dominant theme in the preaching of Jesus.
But what does that mean?
What do we mean when we talk about the Kingdom of God?
I grew up knowing that the Kingdom of God was that realm beyond the Jordan, where we stroll down streets of gold strumming hymns on our harps as we got ready for Celestial Choir Rehearsal. Entrée into the kingdom came if and when and only if you walked down the aisle at church and prayed the sinners prayer and asked Jesus into your heart. What happened after that didn’t matter. Your ticket was stamped and you were in! the purpose, the calling of the church was to sell as many tickets as possible.
But Jeremias seemed to be suggesting that perhaps Jesus meant something a bit different from that Celestial Kingdom. Maybe, he suggested, Jesus was calling us not only to convert individuals but to convert the world. that is a different way of reading the gospel! It means that maybe the kingdom isn’t way “off there” but a reality right here among us.
The old way of thinking about the kingdom is a lot easier. The responsibility, the burden lies on the preacher, the church, the individual. They are supposed to preach the gospel of salvation, to hold services that will move a sinner to tears and confession. It is an individual response whether or not they want to go to heaven or burn for eternity. The rest of us can rest—after our ticket is punched.
But if the kingdom is something more, if it has as much to do with what is happening now in our world—then that causes a lot more questions.
Do I believe that I am living in the Kingdom of God? There are many of us who would say no. (Duh, that is in heaven!) But this life is pretty sweet! I’m not rich, but I have it pretty good. Why rock the boat?
Do I really want the Kingdom to come? Sure, I pray, “thy kingdom come, they will be done..” but do I really want that? Do I really want, do I really believe that God wants everyone to have enough nourishing food? Adequate housing? Healthcare? Safety? Or do I really believe that life really is up to individuals and if they don’t have those things it is because they have made bad decisions. That really isn’t far from Job’s friends—“these things have happened to you because you have sinned.”
Am I willing to be converted to a different way of seeing, of believing? Am I willing to risk what is for this dream that Jesus seems to be talking about? It is one thing to trust
The more I listen to the news, the more I see the divisions in our country, in churches, in us, the more I think that horrible paper may just be the issue we are facing. How do we see the Kingdom of God, and how does it shape who we are, how we live, what we do? It’s one thing to sing, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” but another thing to really seek it!
I am still haunted by that paper! Nearly 40 years later I am still struggling with it!
I really should have taken Introduction to Film!