Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Kingdom is not in Trouble

In the spring of 2013 Schweitzer UMC, the church where I serve, began using a three volume series of writings by James Bryan Smith to assist us in answering the call to follow Jesus. The series is titled "The Apprenticeship Series" and the books are entitled: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. 
The response to the first book was exceptional; it matched the content of the book. It was a true joy to watch as people wrestled in heart and mind with our concepts of God and listen again to Jesus as He proposes a different narrative abut God. 
The second book builds on this the first. The source material that Smith utilizes is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. In twelve chapters he describes how the narrative of God that Jesus proposes affects the way we live, in particular, what kind of life is to be found among those who follow Jesus. 
As I read this book I found a particular phrase recurring in almost ever chapter - "the kingdom is not in trouble". 
To each of the issues Jesus raises in the sermon the back story includes the undercurrent of trouble; the world is in trouble, there is scarcity, there is upheaval, there are lies, there are people who do harm, there are unknowns about the future, etc. The typical disposition of our souls is to guard against trouble.   We hoard and are given to avarice to avoid the trouble of wantonness. We lie to protect our reputations to avoid the trouble of being discarded. We judge and fuss over others to because we don't want their troubles to bring us down ... etc. 
But Jesus says the way to life is a narrow road - beautifully put, because you don't have to carry the troubles of the world on your back. You don't have to carry the tools of manipulation, of the false-self, of worry for things that are completely out of your control. In fact, the Kingdom itself is not, nor has it been, nor will it be, in trouble.
Reading through Smith's work connects some of my other reading, most recently, in Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius writes as he journeys from Syria to Rome, where he faces martyrdom. Along the way he wrote 7 letters to churches and church leaders. As he writes he knows what awaits him in Rome - the lions and wild beasts of the coliseum. Yet he has no fear. Instead He knows that his life is found in Christ and so he writes boldly. He views the events that have been set in motion as a means to participate in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He urges Christians in Rome not to seek his release or a different penalty, because his joy is found as he joins Jesus in Jesus' ministry to the Father on behalf world. It is a ministry that is devoid of worry. It is a life unaware of trouble that animates the world.  
As I reflect on the news of the world today, the undercurrent that serves as its lifestream is trouble. in some circles of the church its predominate source of energy is "trouble" and responding to some kind of trouble, in the world, in society, in culture, in persons. 
James Bryan Smith, Ignatius of Antioch, and other beatific lights across the space of time have served as prophets of a different, narrow road - that a good and beautiful life is found not in trouble, but in the creative, generative vine of the Crucified God and Living Jesus. In the vine of Jesus we encounter moments of trouble, but are never overcome, because it is not our life blood. There is a reason why hope, faith, and love are enduring treasures that craft good and beautiful lives, they are gifts of the Father. Our lifeblood is the Father, who creates, redeems, and recreates lives and worlds. Following Jesus, we are called out of the life that "runs on trouble" to a life of faith, hope, and love. A life that is animated by God, who is always Good. 


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