Gospel: John 18:33-37
1st Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
2nd Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.”
“Grace to you and peace from God who was.” This is God we read about in the Bible, that we’ve gone to Sunday School to learn about in our Bible lessons. This is God who always delivers the people, who spoke to Abraham and promised that he would be a blessing to all nations, who wrestled with Jacob, wounded him, and renamed him Israel, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt by a pillar of smoke and fire to the promised land, who led the people out of exile returning to Jerusalem, who was born a human in a manger when there was no room in the inn, who calmed the sea and fed the crowds, and who gave his life and was raised to share new life with us.
This God-who-was shaped a church, a community of believers and gave us the traditions we have today. God-who-was shaped a reformation in which people were empowered to become the priests that God made them to be. God-who-was inspired people to write hymns and liturgies to give words to express the depth of faith and the depth of thanksgiving that God’s people have felt over the years because of all that God has done. Witnesses to God-who-was shared the good news and brought many to faith, some by force, and others by birth, and still others because of persuasion.
We have a pretty clear picture of God-who-was because that is God in history. We can look at what has happened and interpret it in the light of God’s activity in the past.
“Grace to you and peace from God who is.” How is God active and relevant right at this moment? When we can make ourselves aware in the moment, we can see God all around us in creation, in the changing leaves, in the abundant water making our grass so green, in the sliver of the moon at night, in the geese honking through the sky, in the mountain shining in the distance. We can see God in the blessings of family and friends, of food and shelter, of heat and running water. We can see God in the poor around us, the hungry, the shivering, the homeless, the incarcerated, the ill and let them teach us how to be generous and loving, and gracious and hopeful.
And we can share stories in the moment of where we see God. We can tell the truth about our experiences. We can listen in truth to the stories of others and hear their need and pain and suffering. We can speak truth when the powers of this world, of force and wealth and might, try to tell us that they speak God’s truth. We know better. We see the inconsistencies. We can point them out. We can be witnesses to truth, testifying to the truth, as unpopular as it is. And we can seek to live the truth, to let the truth live through us, as we try to make our lives reflect the Kingdom of God that we are living in and that God is bringing to our world.
Most people don’t see the relevance of the church today. We have to make it relevant to this moment. We have made it relevant to the past and brought the best of our history and the best of the stories of the God of the past to speak to our faith today. But we have not always made the case for what the church is doing, what the body of Christ is doing to alleviate suffering today, to bring people together today, to break down barriers today. Yet this is the God who is, the God of the present, the God who is present now. We can live the God experience today in such a way that bears witness to God’s power and presence today. We can live a genuine experience, live our lives today in ways that speak a genuine word of hope and love and reach out to those hungry for God’s presence today.
“Grace and peace to you from God who is to come.” God has always been bigger and greater than yesterday and today. God has a greater vision than any of us can see. We are invited to look to the future and catch a glimpse of what the future might hold. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, God went ahead as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud of smoke by day. God was trying to lead them by a vision of what could be—a land flowing with milk and honey, another kind of kingdom than they had ever experienced, another kind of leadership, another kind of unity, another kind of hope.
Maybe people would say we are naïve, but we do have a vision of a future offered by the God of the past, present, and future. Our current situation is temporary. It will pass away. God who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, has an end in mind that is better than any we create. God has a leader in mind, much better than the leaders and kings and Presidents we have now or have ever had. It isn’t something that might be. Our future is guaranteed.
In this vision of the future, God’s Kingdom comes, just like we pray every Sunday. In God’s Kingdom, no one is hungry, no one is crying, there are no enemies, we listen to each other, we tell the truth, we give of ourselves for the greater good, we recognize our power and use it for good, all the peoples of the world start looking out for each other, peace reigns, we are all free, we are all loved and we know it, we give credit to God and thank God, we all see clearly, no one is falsely accused, and Jesus reigns. It seems we are light years from that Kingdom, but Jesus says it is coming into this world.
I saw a sliver of the Kingdom of God this week, God’s vision for the future beginning to be realized. I saw it at the Thanksgiving Eve Service when churches came together to sing and give thanks to God. In some places churches would be divided, competitive. Some of our former members from King of Kings are members of those other churches. Some of our members used to attend those other churches. Yet we are glad for each other that each person can find a church home. We don’t have to be divided by our differences, but we can celebrate them and celebrate that we have choices so we can worship God in the way that touches our hearts the most.
I saw another sliver of the Kingdom of God in families giving of themselves in volunteering over Thanksgiving. People took this holiday as a chance to gather food for those in need. Several people dropped off donations and checks for the pantry. Some people took the holiday and spent it dishing out food at meal sites and conversing with people who don’t have a friend in the world.
I saw another slice of the Kingdom of God, in families learning to get along, to look past their differences and come together to share warmth and joy.
I saw another slice of the Kingdom in a cease-fire in Israel/Palestine—a first step on a journey of peace that is guaranteed when we align ourselves with that Kingdom. And I saw it in minds more aware and minds changed and wanting to make a difference after watching a thought-provoking video about the history of the conflict in the Holy Land.
God’s Kingdom was, is, and is to come. We’ve seen where it was. We are learning to see where it is and be witnesses to that. And we are learning to let ourselves see what we have always hoped for but were afraid to let ourselves get our hopes up for. Yet God’s Kingdom is more than a hope. It is a promise and God is the one most trustworthy who always keeps his promises. God, the Alpha and Omega, A through Z, our everything, the beginning and the end, everlasting Ancient One, the Almighty has brought his Kingdom to earth, is bringing his Kingdom to earth, and will bring his Kingdom to earth, God’s vision finally realized and God’s rule finally complete.