Are We There Yet?


Are We There Yet?
The kingdom of God is like a man who takes up knitting in his retirement years. Ed Mosley, an 86-year-old resident of the Atlanta Georgia Dogwood Forest assisted living facility learned to knit and purl in his golden years. With an introductory loom and instructions given to him by his granddaughter, the retired engineer taught himself to make knitted hats for neonatal infants. He can now make a newborn cap in in a little over an hour. He and his fellow residents have made over 300 caps for the infants in neonatal intensive care. (1) He was moved to spearhead the effort after spending a considerable amount of time receiving chemotherapy at that same hospital.
How is this like the Kingdom of God? No matter how big or small, simple or complex the project, each knitted item originates with just two little stitches. Knit, Purl. Second, ask any knitters, knitting is always a work in progress. You may finish one project, but you’re never “finished.” There’s always more to be done. Ask any knitter, or crafter, really, there is always something in the works.

In fact, if you ask a knitter what they are making, when all you see are the crisscrossed needles and a ball of yarn with an object just barely beginning to take shape - a knitter will clearly declare a hat or sweater, scarf or afghan.  I can look at the same project of yarn and think, “Now, I know in her/his mind that a scarf or sweater is already there, but in my mind, it is not there, yet.” 

Ten days ago, we began our Lenten journey together as we have been focusing on the words of Jesus in the Lord’s prayer.  On Ash Wednesday, we heard the invitation of Jesus that when we pray to pray to OUR collective God, not just our personal creator and maker, but the father of me AND of you!  Last Sunday, Melanie reminded us that since God is holy, we, too are made in the image of God and are holy.  Let us then, pray and live as those who rediscover our holiness in God’s way.    This morning, we look at our prayer petition that God’s kingdom come.  

 So, what is the kingdom of God that we are praying for like?  Jesus spent parables and teaching hours describing it.  It is a pearl of great price, treasure, a mustard seed, sprouting seed.  The kingdom of God is like a man who under the cover of darkness comes to hear more about the teaching of Jesus.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night looking for more, more answers, more knowledge, more relationship with Jesus.     And Jesus tells him that in order to see the kingdom, he must be born anew.  The kingdom of God is both around him and able to be seen and known, and in need of his work to uncover. 

All you need to do, Nicodemus, is be born again.  Order your life so transformationally that it will be as though you changed – it will be me within you.  Sounds easy, right?  Just let go.  People always have the most trouble with this part of the plan.

I recently went with Felicity’s third grade class on a field trip to Lancaster’s North Museum.  We travelled by bus from the Avon Grove Intermediate school here in Penn Township the hour trip to the museum.  Some students played guessing games, others counted cars, still others had brought small card games.  The students were engaged in their own activities until we were about 10 minutes away.  Then, it began, “Are we there yet?”  As soon as one asked, they all began to ask.   Nothing like getting closer to the site gets us asking the question and starts the impatience in us.  The same is true as we work towards reign of God.  We have to be there soon, right?  

When we pray for the kingdom of God to come, we also pray for eyes to see where God’s kingdom is already here, even though it is not fully realized everywhere.   It’s something God is doing now, but it won’t be completed until the end of time. We live between this present here and now and God’s future then and there.   So, Jesus taught us to pray for that future, saying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We glimpse the road markers of what it will be like when we all get to heaven.  

The young adult novel, Wonder, tells the compelling story of boy, August, born with facial differences who enters the public-school system as a 5th grader in middle school.  Auggie, as he is known affectionately, becomes an unlikely hero as he struggles to discover compassion and acceptance.   After a particularly challenging struggle including the sudden death of the beloved family dog, Auggie shares this insight with his mother, “You don't need your eyes to love, right? You just feel it inside you. That's how it is in heaven. It's just love, and no one forgets who they love.”

Knit one, purl one.   Already, and not yet.   We think about those things unfinished in our lives.  We think about conflicts that we yet unresolved, pain that lingers from the past, uncertainty about relationships, concerns and ambiguities about the future.    These often drive us to prayer.   “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.” Jesus invites us to take our lives, the lives of those we love, and the well-being of this world, and place them in the hands of God—trusting God for the future.

When we ask ‘are we there yet’?  When we pray for God kingdom come; we are praying for it to come in and through us.   We pray God will use us for the healing of the world.  We pray that our eyes and hearts like Nicodemus are made new.  Thomas Long says this prayer brings us right back “to the pew where we sit, to the shop where we work, to the relationships where we struggle to be responsible, to the place where we try to serve.(2)”   The words of Jesus acts as a poignant reminder that God’s work and our work are irrevocably intertwined . We pray that we will be faithful to our calling to be part of God’s work. “…A cry to the God of salvation,” Long says, “leads us in God’s name to our neighbor in need; a plea for the heavenly God to save empowers us to be earthly agents of reconciliation.”

I’ll preach on forgiveness later in Lent, but it is time for a confession.  I confess I am not a knitter.  I have had the same square of knitting for almost two decades.  A dear friend taught me to knit and purl.  And if it is the only thing I am doing, I can try hard at knitting a row.  But I am not a knitter.  So, I often lay it aside and focus my efforts elsewhere.  

Living in this world of pain and suffering, with huge gaps between the rich and poor, the hungry and well-fed, the hurting and the well-off, oppressed and the oppressing, we can easily feel overwhelmed. We can get stuck in the rhetoric – why aren’t we there yet? But the good news of the gospel is that God’s kingdom is already at work among us and will finally come in all its fullness. Meanwhile, our role is to pray for the coming of the kingdom and to do our little part stitch by stitch, row by row, act by act.

Praying for God’s will to be done on earth, by the power of God’s Spirit working among us and through us, requires our active participation and our full engagement. As Christian, we don’t fatalistically accept everything that happens to us or to others, as God’s will. Everything that happens in the world is not the will of God. God wouldn’t have had to send Jesus to the world if everything that happened in the world was according to the will of God. Jesus wouldn’t have told his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, if it was already being done on earth.

The prayer, we call the Lord’s prayer, is built on trust and hope in God’s future. For God’s people, hope lies in trusting that God is not yet finished with us or with this world. The already of God’s kingdom we experience now will one day give way to that glorious reality of the not yet of God’s future. No more suffering, no more tears, no more death. “Mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). On that day all the morning stars will sing for joy, and God’s people will say, “This is our God; this is the Lord for whom we have waited. Let us rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).

The kingdom of God is like a man who set out to make life easier for the hearing impaired, and consequently invented the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell, who celebrated his birthday this week. He was born 173 years ago on Tuesday in Edinburgh, made it his life’s work to make life easier for those who were hearing impaired. The kingdom of God is more than we have imagined.
The kingdom of God is like a woman who sat down to knit. She knitted stitch by stitch and row by row until she finished a shawl that gave warmth and comfort to one who needed it.

As you pray Thy Kingdom Come, let your heart open to the fullness of God’s kingdom that is here and now, and then and there using your hands and hearts alongside those of others.

Are we there, yet?
We’re on our way.

This is the Gospel, the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.

(2) Long, Thomas. Matthew. Westminster John Knox Press, Jan 1, 1997

Gospel Lesson: John 3:1-17
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6:9-10 (CEB)
Pray like this:
Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.

Meditations For Your Week

Sunday, March 8 ~ Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sunday: “Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name.” Matthew 6:9. God is holy and you, made in the image of God, are as well. What will you do today to re-discover your truest nature?

Monday: “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.” Matthew 6:10. The God of all is asking for your hands and heart and back and gifts in ushering in the kingdom, not because God can not do it by God’s self, but because God wants you to be a part of God’s work.

Tuesday: “Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”” John 3:4. Nicodemus had a lot of questions for Jesus. This was not a problem. In fact, Jesus knew he would. Bring your questions and doubts, hope and fears to Jesus.

Wednesday: “Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” John 3:5. Pray for the abundance of opportunities to live as those who share the kingdom of God with others.

Thursday: “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.” John 3:7. Jesus cared about Nicodemus, even his heart, and looked on him with compassion. Consider that Jesus calls us to do likewise as we work together to usher in God’s reign of compassion.

Friday: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” John 3: 16. Give thanks to God!

Saturday: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3: 17. Where is Jesus inviting you to move beyond your comfort zone to share this good news?