Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom’

Psalm 1  

1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Mark 9:30-37 

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;  31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”  32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.  35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,  37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


Imagine for a minute if you walked into a room and all the furniture is stuck to the ceiling. The carpet is on the ceiling, the chairs are on the ceiling… so if you and your friends want to sit down, somehow you have to climb up to the ceiling and cling on to the armchair with your feet on the ceiling… how awkward would that be? And how challenging?

UpsideDown2In a way, living in God’s kingdom is like learning to live in a house with all the furniture on the ceiling – at least at first, because things in God’s kingdom aren’t like they are in our so-called ‘real world’.  When you first get a taste of God’s kingdom, things feel upside down, until you get used to it – and then you begin to realize that God’s kingdom and God’s way of doing things is actually right-side-up and it’s our so-called ‘real world’ that is messed up, upside-down and backwards.

That’s kind of what our scriptures are talking about this morning. Both readings talk about what life is like in God’s kingdom, and how that contrasts with reality as we’ve learned it. God’s people are always moving in a different direction and listening to a different voice: so if we feel like we stand out a bit, like we’re not in sync with the world around us, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Psalm 1 talks about two groups of people: the ‘wicked’ and the ‘righteous’. Those two words are awkward in our culture: they sound a bit judgmental; so we’ll need to look to scripture to give us accurate and compassionate definitions of both words.

In the psalm both groups of people are in motion. They’re doing things. We see them sitting, standing, walking – and it appears that both groups are doing the same things. The difference, according to the psalm, comes down to who is directing the action. ‘The wicked’ are doing their own thing, but ‘the righteous’ are doing what God approves. The righteous may make some mistakes along the way, but the righteous seek God and try to please God by living as God directs.

In Psalm 1 both the righteous and the wicked both appear to be walking – in verse 1 they are ‘treading’ and in verse 6 they are following ‘the way’ or ‘the path’ – but the wicked are going their own way while the righteous are going God’s way.

For most of us, much of the time, it can be difficult to tell the two groups apart, because we can’t always see what motivates other people. If a whole group of people are all doing the same thing, how can we tell the difference between the wicked and the righteous?

As Jesus says in Matt 7:16 – it’s by the results. Jesus says, “By their fruits you will know them.” For people who don’t follow God, whatever they do eventually comes to nothing. Verse 4 says “they are like the chaff that the wind drives away.” But those who walk in God’s way, verse 3, are “fruitful,” “like trees planted beside streams of water” – because God watches over them, as a farmer would.

So the fact that people can be doing essentially the same thing and have different outcomes is one way that God’s kingdom may look a little bit upside-down to us. Psalm 1 doesn’t go into a whole lot more detail, so let’s switch over to Mark 9.

In this passage we see Jesus trying to hide from the crowds because he wants some quality time with his disciples. Jesus needs to tell them something important – specifically, that he is going to die, and that he will come back again three days later.

The disciples can’t figure out what Jesus is talking about. Why Jesus’ words are a mystery to them, we’re not sure. Maybe it’s because talking about Jesus’ death hurts too much. Maybe this talk about dying and coming back sounds a little crazy. Whatever it is that’s getting in the way of their understanding, they’re not asking Jesus any questions. Mark doesn’t explain why, but many people have offered educated guesses.

I think probably the best guess is that in some way, on some level, the disciples were afraid. The Bible often talks about fear as being something that gets in the way of faith. And I wonder how our lives might be different if we asked Jesus to explain whenever we’re feeling afraid or confused?

Anyway, instead of asking Jesus to explain what he’s talking about, the disciples start to argue over which one of them is the greatest.

ArgueThis is what ‘living rooms’ typically look like in our world: figuring out who’s on top. Creating pecking orders. Making some people higher and some people lower, some people privileged and some people not. In our world’s right-side-up living room we all know the people at the top are the rich, the famous, the successful, the powerful, the trend-setters.

But Jesus turns our world upside down… or more accurately, right-side-up. While the disciples are arguing over who is the greatest, Jesus takes a little child: someone with no wealth, no power, no success, no sophistication – and back in Jesus’ time, no legal rights: in Greek, the word paidion can be translated either ‘little child’ or ‘slave’. This child is the most vulnerable of all – and Jesus tells the disciples this little child is the greatest in heaven.

In God’s kingdom, as we begin to get comfortable having furniture on the ceiling, we begin to understand that the lowest and the weakest among us (by human standards) are the most honored in the kingdom of God. And for those who receive the small and unimportant and weakest among us in Jesus’ name, we begin to experience God’s kingdom in our own lives. We begin to see that the greatest in God’s kingdom is the servant of all – which Jesus is about to demonstrate for the world by dying on the Cross.

Theologian Elisabeth Johnson has said this:

“The radical grace of God that Jesus proclaims and lives… completely obliterates the world’s notions of greatness based on status, wealth, achievement, etc. Perhaps that is one reason we resist grace so much. It is much more appealing to be great on the world’s terms than on Jesus’ terms. Greatness on Jesus’ terms means being humble, lowly, and vulnerable as a child. Greatness on Jesus’ terms is risky; it can even get a person killed. But as Jesus [says]… his way of greatness is the path of life.”[1]

When we begin to see God’s Kingdom as being the world that is truly right-side-up, we begin to realize the people we used to instinctively pass by are the ones we’re called to serve; the people we used to shy away from are the ones we’re called to welcome – and we do this in Jesus’ name, as his representatives.

In another story, in Luke’s gospel, we are told the reason why Jesus tells us to accept the powerless. Luke 14:16–24 tells the story of a man who throws a great wedding banquet, but all the invited guests start making excuses why they can’t come. So eventually the man just says “go out to the streets and bring anyone in, so that the banquet hall will be filled.” It ends up that the poor, the stranger, and the outsider are the ones who will say ‘yes’ to the invitation.

One of the saddest side-effects of 9/11/2001, in my opinion, is that it has made many people feel afraid of outsiders and strangers. If we let that continue, the terrorists will have won, because we are afraid. That was their goal, to make us afraid.

Jesus’ words challenge us: they challenge us to acknowledge his death on cross: both the need for it and his willingness to do it. They challenge us to see the world by God’s definition of right-side-up. They challenge us to overcome fear and have faith: faith that our Lord is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. They challenge us to live God’s way, even if the rest of the world thinks we’re nuts, because God will take care of us and God will make us fruitful.

Psalm 1 says: Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord! Because the law of the Lord is life.

May the Lord bless his word to our understanding and our living. AMEN.

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 9/19/21

[1] Elisabeth Johnson, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-25-2/commentary-on-mark-930-37-5

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“The Church did not develop its creed and literature and then, one day, with everything neatly packaged and ready, begin to evangelize.  Rather… members of the early Church began to “make disciples”.  Through that process they developed a creed and literature…”
Reclaiming the Great Commission, C. Payne & H. Beazley

Keeping the main thing the main thing… it can be so much more difficult than it sounds.  How easily we get caught up in “churchianity”.   For the average person in the pew, it’s usually pride in one’s own church and/or denomination.  Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with being very happy and thankful to be part of a wonderful church or fellowship group.  But how often have you heard people say “well I’m Presbyterian…” or “well I’m Charismatic…” or “well I’m Catholic…” as if all other options are second-rate? 

(“Well I follow Paul…” 
“Well I follow Apollos…”)


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