First United Methodist Church — Omaha
Rev. Dr. Jane Florence
October 15, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 10:7-11
Sermon: “Living out the Vision”
I cringe to turn on the news these days; however, my phone sends me news alters. Each ding dares me to read: to learn about fires consuming sacred land, homes and lives faster than anyone thought imaginable; to learn that healthcare is again in jeopardy especially for poor and chronically ill and women; to read how another notable figure has abused women for decades; to hear of the catastrophe on the people Puerto Rico growing with no relief in sight, or to hear words from our leader that taunt war.
It really is all too much. It is too much pain and disappointment, too much suffering and fears, too much callous and privilege and abuse and greed. I want to block it all from my senses, but curling up in a little ball or keeping my earphones permanently implanted tuned to soothing seaside sounds isn’t going to make anything better either.
Jesus speaks to the disciples, saying: As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The kingdom of God’s realm has come near, really Jesus? Two thousand years ago, you said that God’s way HAS come about? The kingdom of heaven HAS come near. Jesus said that when the Roman Empire was a foreign power occupying his homeland and crucifying thousands for lack of patriotism to Roman Emperor. The kingdom of heaven HAS come near when poverty and disease gave life expectancy a mere 30 years or so in the first century. The kingdom of heaven HAS come near when the privileged were doing fine and the poor were starving. Things were just as desperate then as now and Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven, the way of God, HAS come near.” How do you figure? Cause looking around, I don’t much see it, and the kingdom of heaven isn’t what is dinging on my phone news alters.
Jesus tells his followers: It’s your job, to make the kingdom of God visible on earth. Heal the sick, the addicted, the lonely, the preoccupied. Raise the dead- the hopeless and dejected, the hardened hearted. Restore those who have been rejected by the community. Cast out demons of greed and arrogance, racism and sexism. Jesus is ‘making a theological statement’ to all of us: kingdom of heaven has come near. We will be able to see it just as soon as we start living it.
Jesus was a Jewish mystic, a teacher, a philosopher in keeping with the wisdom traditions of old. He knew the power of practicing mindfulness in our thoughts, words and deed. He knew the power of God’s Spirit to work through us if we allow it to be. Some have been waiting for God to fix this earthly mess; it would seem that God has been waiting for us.
Jesus reminds his students: Freely you have received the gifts of God’s provision and love. Freely you have been made a vessel in God’s image and of God’s love. Freely give just as freely you received these gifts. As you go about sharing this good news and bringing forth God’s way, Do not take along gold, or silver, or copper in your wallets; leave your Master Card, VISA and American Express behind also. Go ahead and leave home without it. Take no bag for your journey, nor an extra garment, or extra pair of shoes, or a walking stick; for the worker is worth his keep.
Jesus offers a lesson in bringing forth God’s preferred future by letting go of the power and control our material possessions can have over us and to resist their power by giving. If we want a more generous world inhabited by more generous people, we have to open our clenched fearful fists.
Jesus teaching shows that our faith is not a secret love affair between me and God. Our practice of faith is not to be hidden in private between me and God. Our faith is very much a public statement made in how we live, in what we value, the priorities we choose and in our relationship to material possessions and money.
This teaching poses a question of trust: Do you trust God’s power to work through you to bring forth the way of God and do you trust God’s provision to care for you or do you need to take along your security blanket, sandals, tunic, sword and gold just in case God doesn’t really come through?
This passage can push us to think about what we do value and worship and trust and depend upon and find identity in is our God and God’s vision that all will be well or is it our stuff?
Tom Beaudoin coined the word: theocapitalism. It describes the most prevalent religion in our country today. He writes, “Seen in the light of theocapitalism, MTV and Fox become powerful forms of religious broadcasting, evoking fear and hope, love and hate, obedience and rebellion, forming souls under the guidance of famous spiritual directors. Malls become cathedrals; [sports stadiums] are shrines of holy pilgrimage; celebrities and [athletes] are saints, priests, and idols. TV becomes an altar before which we don’t kneel, but rather recline on pews called couches, eating our common bread of potato chips and ice cream and drinking our holy wine of beer and Pepsi.”1
It’s hard to see the Kingdom of God HAS come near when we watch the news or drive by stadiums and soccer fields or stores filled with worshippers on Sunday mornings.
As a pastor in 2017, I look back with my rose colored glasses on the 1950s and think how easy it must have been to be a pastor back then. The Preacher just had to open the door and people would pour in. Everyone went to church; it was the cultural expectation. There was nothing else competing for Sunday morning time slot. People went to church and gave financially. The Greatest Generation gave to brick and mortar institutions that were the bedrock of their community and their lives. It seems it would have been an easy time to be leading the church looking back. It surely was unless taking on the challenge leading into the Civil Rights Era meant preaching against racism and white privilege as the pastor of this church did. While preaching to some of the most privileged in this whole town, it was not so easy after all. Stepping on toes of those you love and those who put a roof over your head, is not so easy. As I think about it, I, a female pastor, would not have been appointed as pastor to this church in the 1950s. It would not have been easy or even possible.
Every generation has our challenges to live out the kingdom of God as though it has come near, so that it will be near. Jesus spoke to first generation church to have courage and to trust and to live out the realm of God’s preferred future right now, and it would be so. That same message holds true for us.
This church stands as a flagship for inclusion and progressive theology. Our faith community gives us the strength to continue the fight for equality for all people and to cast out demons of greed and arrogance, racism and sexism. Our faith community gives us the chance every week to reset, reframe and re-member who we are as God’s beloved and what is truly important in these short lives we are given.
This place gives us a respite in a sacred place to connect with Spirit of God. Our faith community is how we survive, cope and thrive by belonging. This place makes a difference in my life and challenges me to be better. Hopefully, it makes a difference in your lives, challenge you and comforting all the same. I know it makes a difference in lives of those we reach beyond these doors.
The kingdom of heaven has come near. Our purpose to make that kingdom visible now, so that it may be so.
If you believe in this community, our purpose, our efforts, our trying to live out God’s way, then I ask you to support us. Support this church with your prayers because there is no way we can bring forth God’s way without prayer. Support us with your presence here on Sunday mornings because without you, there is no church. Support with your time and service, your words and yes, your money.
That the realm of God’s way may be present on earth. Amen.
1-Thomas M. Beaudoin. “After Purity: Contesting Theocapitalism” Proclaiming the Gospel in a Wired World. 2001.