Ephesians 4:25–5:2 (NRSV)
Rules for the New Life
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
As years progress and the courses of history move from one era into another, those that live during the transition often wonder about the future. During the transitions of time things seem to change faster than the community can adjust, cultures move and people slowly adjust. During these periods of adjustment many begin to look to the past with nostalgic lenses wishing that things would return to a simpler time period, yet we often forget that those yester years were not as simple as we remember. Others look to the future with longing that all the problems would just go away without realizing that we must walk the paths to the future through the trials. I continue to speak in this manner because focusing solely on the past or the future can leave us blind to the present, and the present is the most important time and place to be. But it is difficult to keep our presence of mind focused during transitional periods because there are so many pressures squeezing around us, pressures that make us feel as if everything we once knew no longer matters.
We are living in transitional times of history. We are witnessing the first stages of the next great awakening. Just over the horizons of time we will see something beyond our wildest dreams, something that will give us hope and passion. We are going to see God build his kingdom here. How do we get there is the greatest question. How do we move from this seemingly hopeless state we often feel ourselves living in and move into the construction zone of the kingdom? Friends the reality is that we are already there.
The first century Church at Ephesus experienced similar things that we are experiencing today. I know this because they are just as human as we are, I know this because every generation views the past with nostalgic lenses and the future with smoke and mirrors. I know this because I like the music of my youth and think the music of today is horrid, just as my parents thought and their parents before them. Yet the church in Ephesus was not held back by these thoughts but boldly proceeded into the future and saw the kingdom grow on earth as it is in Heaven.
The key is to focus on what matters. Paul opens this passage by saying, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” This is an amazing statement, because prior to this He had been speaking to the Jewish and the Gentiles attempting to reconcile the differences between them, going so far as saying that we all entered this world equal, none were born more righteous than anyone else, all were born uncircumcised until we were brought into the community of the faithful. This church in Ephesus was facing major struggles, the Jewish community had been living, working, and worshiping in this place for over 300 years and suddenly the culture was shifting and now after 300 years there were gentiles coming to faith. How were they to handle this change?
Paul says, “Put away the falsehood, stop playing games and justifying actions, and be real.” That is where we must begin. The number one complaint against the people outside of the formal church is that people are hypocrites or fake. The contemporary generation is even more sensitive to this than the previous generation. The generation that is moving into adulthood today are tired of people playing games, saying words that they have no intention of keeping and people acting contrary to what they say they believe. To them it is a total waste of time and energy to put on a façade, or to act. Why waste the energy to convince people of something everyone knows is a lie? Many of us here today look at this emerging generation with disdain because they do not respect or honor authority, we see this a rebellion, but this current generation is probably the most honest generation that America has ever seen.
Put away the falsehood and be real. This passage should deeply resonate with Friends because this is really the core of our faith. Honesty and integrity are one of the pillars of our faith that stretches across the entire spectrum of Quakerdom. People knew and respected the integrity of our culture to such a degree that the name Quaker represented truthfulness and quality. There is something important in that, there is something very important in authenticity 2000 years ago up to today.
Paul does not stop with authenticity though he goes on to say, “speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” We are members of one another. This is a profound statement. No matter how independent we think we are there is a deeply rooted need for community. We may perceive that we have made our own way, but we are members of one another. I know many of us do not like this thought, but I want us to consider it for a moment. I do not stand here alone. I stand here because of generations of ancestors that have gone before me. I stand here because someone took the time to talk to a young man and listen to all the questions. I stand here because a community saw a broken man and instead of judging the past they looked beneath the surface and saw something more. I stand because someone invested their life into mine because we are members of one another. I could stand and list off the names of those people that realized that they had a responsibility Leo, Earl, John, James, Leslie, Lois, Bob, Carol, David, Charles, Vicki, Cliff, Candice, Donna, Virl, Larry, and many more… common names, names of people that may not be considered great in anyone’s eyes but mine. They are the names of church members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends. We are all members of one another, members of the kingdom.
Those people that moved beyond, they looked beneath the surface and began to nurture within me something that no one else saw. They invested their lives and spoke the truth. They showed me the gospel not in word but in life. They fed me, clothed me, taught me, you might say they had to they were family, but you do not know which of them is the most important or why.
I say this because the kingdom of God is built on the lives of common people doing common things. The kingdom is built by each of us seeing into the very hearts of those around us and recognizing that spark of light within, and nourishing that light.
The only way to nourish the light is to be authentic. Just like everything else discipleship is a cyclical process. For us to encourage the light to grow within someone else we must feed it with the light living inside of us, showing them life. For many we look at this passage and we can easily be confused because it sounds contradictory. Paul says be angry and then a couple of verses later he says not to be angry. Because of this I looked up the words just to see if maybe they were different, thinking maybe there might be two types of anger that Paul is speaking about. But it is the same. Anger is anger. Wrath is wrath. Paul is saying be real. If you are angry, be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger. We can disagree on many things but we should never let that disagreement harm the relationship, if it is something that might we must do what we can to reconcile the friendship. If we neglect this process of reconciliation, if we allow the emotions of anger to dominate our lives and cause division within our community, we are allowing the unholy to reign in our lives.
The community, the Kingdom of God that is around and in us is the most important thing we should pursue. This is what Paul is telling the Ephesians. They were dividing, choosing sides and pointing fingers at others. They were neglecting their first love. This is seen in how they speak to one another and how they treat those around them. They were allowing disagreements to damage friendships and they were allowing friendships to die because they were unwilling to forgive. But there is more. Anger and Theft are mentioned directly. This concept of thieves is very interesting because it really is not what it appear.
The ancient world was a world that was dominated by classes of people. There were nobles, freemen, and slaves. If you think there is economic disparity today the ancient world was much worse. The nobles controlled everything. The concept of thieves that Paul is mentioning is actually speaking to the way freemen and slaves relate to the Nobles. If a nobleman considered your good or service not to their liking they could charge you with theft and you would be convicted. The church was beginning to grow and people were turning away from the religions of old, this was causing cultural rifts. Slaves were beginning to see themselves as equals in the eyes of the divine and were no longer easy to control, so the nobles were charging the early Christians with theft because they were stealing property and food. Paul actually has a bit of humor in this passage because he is saying you thieves work stop stealing and do your job. But do not just do it do it better than the others so that you will not be seen as a thief any longer. Work harder and use the fruit of your labor to help others. Freemen likewise use the wages you earn benefit the community. Again he is reminding those in the church of Ephesus that the community and the relationships within are of greater importance.
This humor is not all fun because he is also addressing another very real concern within the Greek and roman cultures. Within the culture was an idea that the intelligent and philosophical minded people could become benefactor. These sages would expect a free ride in life because they were passing on wisdom. So as people grew in knowledge they would begin to expect the church to pay their way. This joke just became a double edged sword especially to those who wielded influence over others. Paul is calling them thieves as well, because everyone should be laboring and helping others within the community. No one person is of greater importance we all have jobs to do and a responsibility to those in need. Pastors cannot demand payment beyond the means of the community and in the same sense the community cannot withhold from their leaders proper compensation for the services they provide to the community. Again a cycle, a cycle based on honoring the relationship of all within the community.
Right after Paul calls everyone a thief he then proceeds to focus in on how to speak to one another. The words we say should be simple, plain, and truthful but they should be spoken in a manner to encourage growth, grace, and a deepening of the kingdom. When we act we should be putting others before ourselves and when we speak our words should be filled with the same intent. We should be mindful of how our words will be heard and quick to recognize when we may have been misunderstood. If the words we used insight anger we should strive to reconcile the relationship. Easy right!
Paul pretty punches each of us right in the gut. He hits our individual liberty, he cause us thieves, and he tells us to work harder, to speak truth, but not incite anger. He basically tells us that what we think is not really all that important and the worst thing about it is he is right. Be imitators of God, live the love of Christ with others, make your life a fragrant offering to God. The first must become the last and the last the first, the greatest in the kingdom must become the servant of all. It cycles back to the beginning again be real and speak the truth to your neighbor because we are members of one another.
I speak of a new era emerging around us, I speak of transitional history, and how the kingdom of God is just on the horizon. I say this because I believe it to be true. The emerging generation wants truth, they want reality and they do not have time to waste of anything fake. They are crying out for the gospel, they are seeking the very thing we say we have so why are so many leaving the community? Friends this is not a testimony of how bad the culture and the world is around us but a testimony of how we have distorted the gospel in the past. But there is hope. Jesus did not come to save the righteous but the sinners, he came to heal the broken and the sick, to restore to life those that were caught in the grips of death. He came to give us life, life filled with the things that matter to Him. We are in the construction zone of the kingdom God is working all around us and He is calling us all to speak the truth to our neighbor, because those people outside of these walls are the very people He wants and we are not his people until we recognize them as our people. As we enter into this time of Open worship and Holy expectancy I want us to consider these words of Paul. Have we caused anger to control our lives, have we become thieves to our own community, have we neglected imitating God in how we interact with those around us? Are we willing to repent? Are we willing to look beyond the surface and nourish the light within other?
Faith Conquers the World
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Testimony concerning the Son of God
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
Over the course of the years many groups among the religious have made lists of who are Christian and who are not. It might surprise many about who are on which list. For example the author CS Lewis is considered by some as being a heretic because of his belief in purgatory and the possibility of evolution explaining aspects of creation, on this same list the reformer Martin Luther was considered a non-Christian because he raised questions about the numbers and figures in scripture. That is right the great reformer that took a stand for scripture over tradition questioned aspects of scripture and as a result some today question his very faith because of what? Honesty about doubts, differing philosophies about how God may have brought the world about or what the afterlife may be like? Great leaders today like Billy Graham are brought into question over differences of theology. Theology can only get us so far, because theology is the study of God and God is beyond our comprehension. So we must tread softly when we make claims in regard to God, we must always leave space for the possibility of a skewed human perspective.
These lists, denominations, and theological perspectives can all lead to division. Who is right, who is wrong? Which church is correct or which perspective is the most accurate? If we make a claim in any direction we risk demonizing an entire segment of the faithful and history. This is one of the reasons why Friends are very slow in making decisions and why they leave room within their theological statements, because when emotions are raised and arguments are made we can lose perspective and possibly follow our own wills instead of the will of God.
But how do we know God? How do we know which way to turn or what truth is? From the dawn of Christianity there have been different perspectives that have pulled on the faithful. Throughout the epistles we can read about various struggles that the early church faced. Every era of church history has faced something that threatens to pull the church apart or propel it into the next age. Today is no different. John wrote during one of those periods of history that faced these very things. There were people that proposed that the true faith was found only in following the ancient rites of the Jewish religion, others claimed that there was secret knowledge that could only be received by initiation and participation in secret ceremonies. We know the struggles because each epistle tells us about these struggles. John, the last apostle, writes to those that were faced with the end of an era. They have watched the apostles one by one pass to death, and as they witnessed this they began to question their faith. Things were not going exactly as they thought they would, and the ones that founded the church were no longer there to direct their steps. They lived through persecutions, they witnessed dehumanizing violence. They had also saw the miraculous, healings of diseases, people freed from bondages, and the feeding of thousands. Yet darkness always seemed to be gaining on them.
As darkness approached some began to rise up prophets calling people to walk one way or another, people began seek answers to direct their paths, yet they only saw a faint light. They cried out to God wondering if they had missed something, they began to listen to the words of man instead of waiting on the Spirit of God, and John their last apostle watched as a unified church began to divide and fragment. He watched as people of the church began to rely on their own wisdom instead of that of God. He watched and just as Jesus wept he too began to write through his tears because so many were seeking and lost yet were looking in the wrong direction.
Very quickly people began to question the faith, they deemed it in their own minds that they must do more at very least they should follow the Torah, and the fact that darkness was creeping into the world around them must mean that they must do more. John says to them, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” Yes that is what we said the prophets begin to argue, we must follow the law. But what are the commandments that John speaks of? They begin to consider the words that John the elder once spoke when he was younger. The words that he heard the Lord speak.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:9-17 NRSV)
Abide in the love of God. Abide is an interesting word, because it is one that is so difficult to do. It means to remain in, to tarry, to stay in, and to dwell. So John lovingly reminds them of the commands of Jesus to wait, and dwell in the love of God. This is the most difficult thing for mankind to do because we like action. To sit around and wait is so contrary to our nature. “We must do something…anything to keep the darkness at bay.” The prophets say to the people. Yet John tells them, “abide, just wait, remember the command of our Lord. Love one another. It is not burdensome. You do not have to add to it, just remain and love.”
Just wait…just love…just do what Jesus has commanded. Do not worry about the darkness closing in around us it is merely an illusion, as long as we abide we will overcome the world. John can say this because he has seen it. He has seen the power of God working all around him. He had witnessed God coming into the lives of Jew and Gentile and totally changing everything. He has seen cities totally devoted to the worship of idols become cities earnestly seeking the one true living God. He was most likely writing this letter in the city of Ephesus, a city that contained one of the largest temples in the world devoted to the roman god Diana, and the city that Jesus spoke to in his Revelation about their zeal for truth and right doctrine. John saw many things. He saw these things because he learned the holy rhythm of Christ. A lifestyle devoted to worship, prayer, and service to others. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.
When people participate in this holy lifestyle they begin to see change at first with one person, then multiplying as each person actively lives and participates. One by one as people turn to the lifestyle of Christ the trappings of the world begin to fall away, the darkness is overcome by the light and faith conquers the world. But is all begins with abiding in the love of God. Sitting in the love of Christ. Waiting for God and listening to His voice.
We do not have to have all the right answers, we do not have to have a theology that can answer every question of God. We do not have to save the world, because that is not our job. Jesus is the one that conquers the world. He is the one who came by water and blood, who was born and crucified for our salvation and who rose again to lift all mankind back into the glory of God. It is Jesus who does the work, we are only required to abide in him and love those he leads us to.
John encourages us to adopt the lifestyle the holy rhythm Jesus taught us to live for a reason. When we move away from this rhythm we begin to rely on our own strength and our own minds. We begin to think that we are the ones that are doing the work, that we are the ones that conquer the world. I said that Jesus said that Ephesus was seekers of truth and right doctrine, they were the strongest of the seven churches of Asia because they were earnest in their seeking of what was right, but Jesus spoke against them because they lost their first love. They pulled away from the holy rhythm and began to trust themselves and little by little they fell away from Christ and as they began to fall away darkness began to take hold of them again. So they began to seek more truth and right doctrine only to have more darkness close in, because they did not abide first, they did not abide in love.
What does this say about us today? We are living on the edge, many of us see darkness all around us. We see the world conquering the church instead of the church conquering the world. We feel as if we need take things into our own hands to speak out and force righteousness onto the people all around us. I ask one thing as we set off down this road, how long have we remained in the love of God today, yesterday, the day before, and how long will we abide in his love tomorrow? Have we adopted first a rhythm of life that reflects Christ a lifestyle that mimics Christ in all we do before we go out to conquer darkness? Have we been people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? I ask because John says that that is the lifestyle that will conquer the world and bring light into the darkness. Abide in love first.
The writings of John are important to us as Friends. We derive our name from the words that he pinned at the closing of the era of Church history. Our original name The Religious Society of Friends means that our religion is a society based on becoming Friends with God. The only way for this to happen is for us to abide first and then live that love with others. We base our entire belief system on the idea that we can know where God leads us if we abide in His love, and then we can respond accordingly. Ephesus sought truth above all else, they sought righteousness and were great at exposing the false teachings of many, but they lacked one thing love. They left their first love behind as they moved forward into the world they were called to minister to. They walked into the darkness without carrying the light of Christ. Their eagerness to be right above all else caused them to live in infamy throughout church history because they forgot the main point. Love conquers the world.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, I encourage each of us to examine our lives and our lifestyles are we abiding in love or are we walking into the darkness without our first love? Are we focusing on being right in our own minds or are we allowing the Spirit to work through us? Are we making lists or are we encouraging all we meet to abide in the love of God where they are and walking with them as they begin to enter into the holy rhythm of Christ’s life? Do we as followers of Christ fear the darkness of the world or do we trust that Jesus Christ can overcome the world just as he overcame the grave? Do we truly believe and live in the power of the resurrection of Christ?
John 12:12–16 (NRSV)
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
(Mt 21:1–11; Mk 11:1–11; Lk 19:28–40)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
Today we celebrate the announcement of the king! Jesus during the festival came into the city of David while people cheered and waved palms celebrating a new era of history. The restored kingdom of God!
Every year we celebrate this day because it is one of the greatest days of the year within our faith. I wonder if the power of this day has lost some of its splendor through the commonality. At first we cannot forget the significance of the proclamation.
The crowds went out to meet the parading disciples in the streets of Jerusalem. The palms were there for a very important reason, the palms were used to provide a roof over the heads of the travelers as they made temporary shelters as they made their pilgrimages to the festival. The amount of travelers in the city would have ranged between a 100,000 to a million people depending on who you read, but the reality is that the city was packed full. People were setting up shelters wherever they could, along the roadways and in the desolate places outside of town. People returning to the city of David to celebrate the Passover from the far eastern regions of the Persian empire, the western expanse of the Roman Empire, and even people from the heart of Ethiopia. Dispersed children of Israel as well as curious gentiles that feared and respected the God of Israel all traveling and camping around the great city of God. Tabernacles were built to protect these weary travelers from the elements as they sought to draw closer to God.
The significance of the palms runs even deeper because they are a symbol of victory in the ancient world. When ancient warriors would return home from battle the populous would wave palms in the air in celebration. This was done throughout the ancient world, a tradition among the Hebrews as well as the gentile nations. So we have camps of people lining the streets, as they saw the disciples approaching with Jesus they began dismantling their tents, their dwellings offering all that they had available to them to honor this traveling teacher that inspired them to dream about the emerging kingdom of God all around them.
As the people began to cheer and chant, Jesus found a young donkey and rode it into the throng. While they cheered, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus did not turn from this pronouncement but accepted it, embraced it, Jesus is the King of Israel. The imagery is strong within these words. As ancient kings and tribal leaders paraded into the villages they would wear their greatest ceremonial gear, freshly cleaned and shined, and mounted upon their finest horse. The horses would be tall and proud, their heads were held high and their feet beat into the ground in time as everyone cheered. Jesus also rode into the crowds upon a beast of burden, but there is a striking difference. Jesus did not ride on a tall and powerful warhorse breed but a donkey. This speaks volumes of the identity of the emerging kingdom of God that the crowds were hoping for. War and victory are not something one would find donkey involved in. When I was younger, there was a traveling show that would visit the communities around the area that would recruit people to engage in a game of basketball while riding on a donkey. The reason they did this was because when it comes to competition donkeys are not the stead of choice. They are stubborn, they tend to have a mind of their own, and really only mind their owners. This makes for a hilarious show as you see amateur donkey jockeys trying their hardest to coax their beast to participate in a game, but goes to show that a cavalry of donkeys would be an army of clowns. I am not saying that Jesus’ parade was humorous, but only that his chosen means of transportation was not exactly what we might expect.
Donkeys are intelligent and loyal animals that are very willing to do assist in their master’s work, but require gentle persuasion. Donkeys are used for many tasks from pulling carts and plows or bearing a load upon their backs. They are small and surefooted, but have a very powerful instinct of self-preservation. They were and are common animals, common meaning strong yet fairly inexpensive. They were not the beast used to express great wealth or power, but were the gentle beast of burden owned by the common people. A young donkey as mentioned in this passage is a donkey that is untrained, not yet fit to do work. The king of Israel, the king of kings, and lord of lords was paraded into the city of David, the jewel of Israel, upon a common unfit and untrained beast. Not a conquering warhorse, not even a strong ox, but a common donkey. What does this say about the kingdom of God?
The crowd had been waiting centuries for a king that would lead them in the ways of God, that would again bring the blessing of the Lord to their lands. They thought they had found it again as they returned from exile but they were quickly conquered again by a foe that was even worse than Babylon. They rose up and pushed the dark forces back only to be tricked into selling their security to yet another tyrannical empire. It was a cycle that continued from the beginning of their history as a nation. I say this because this all began when the people originally cried for a king to fight their battles for them and to lead them into prosperity. A king was not in God’s plan but he allowed it because the people desired a king, but God told Samuel that by asking for a king they were rejecting God as being their lord and true sovereign king.
I am not saying that the kingdom of Israel and Judah were all bad. David was a king after God’s own heart and the scriptures are filled with song of praise written by this king of Israel, but slowly the people turned from God and began to put more and more trust into the hands of their leader. Within two generations the kingdom of Israel divided and fell further from God’s intended plan where they would be his people and he would be their God. God’s plan was to be the one and only lord of their lives, but years after year they placed their trust not in God alone but in their worldly kings, who fought their battles and consumed the work of their hands.
The people wanted the warhorse but the king paraded through the crowds on a donkey. They called for a king to lead them victoriously to freedom, but they received something different. The point of the palms and donkey is that true victory comes through the common, unfit, and unlikely. The kingdom of God is not the kingdom of man.
When Jesus began to preach he said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” This does not merely mean that it is near, but literally here all around us. It was found right where they were it was not something that had to be conquered with swords and spears but one that simply had to be seen and acknowledged. The kingdom was found in the child that was curious enough to ask the question why, it is found in the disciple seeking God under the fig tree, it was found in the synagogue and on the streets. The kingdom was found on the mats of the lame and in the hearts of the blind. The kingdom of God is at hand it is all around us, here today and unto the ages.
Why then do we not see the kingdom of God? Why does it seem that so often the kingdoms of darkness seem to overtake the kingdom of light? Why did Jesus right triumphantly through his victory parade on a donkey?
When you are able to answer that last question you will begin to see the kingdom of God. All too often skew our understandings of God to meet our desires and because of this our view of the kingdom is hampered in fog. The people wanted a king to trample their enemies so that is the king they tried to find. But in the fog around them they failed to see that the victory of their king was not in trampling the enemy but bringing them into fellowship through friendship. Our king rides a donkey.
The kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of man. Jesus said that whoever wants to be the greatest must be a servant of all; that the first will be last and the last will be first. He said to the wealthy rulers that to enter the kingdom they must sell all they have that gave them worldly power and give it to the poor. Everything about God’s kingdom is opposite and opposed to the kingdoms of the world. Jesus rode a donkey not a warhorse.
We often miss the kingdom because our eyes are not trained on the common but on hills far away. When Jesus said that the kingdom of God is at hand he did not say that it is in the seats of power, or in a future time after death only, but all around us. It is common. It is found right here in our communities. The reason that God was grieved at the idea of Israel having a king is that this redirected the people’s eyes off of their community and placed them out on the high hills. This can distract the attention away from what God is calling us to do where we are. Often these high hills are not wrong but they can distract us. To turn the governing bodies into God fearers is important, feeding the hungry of the world is important, providing for the medical needs of the billions of humans in the world is important, but often those big goals cloud our vision and distort our view of the kingdom. I have had several friends leave the church because of distortions just like these. Some leave because they see the church as powerless to meet the great needs so they look to the powers of the world to provide for the needs. Or they turn from God because they have invested so much time and energy into a project and see just growing needs that they cannot provide for. But Jesus rode in victoriously on a donkey.
The kingdom of God is here. We will not see it in Washington or New York, in India or Ireland unless we first are able to see it right here. This is why God himself had to come to live among mankind because through Jesus’ life and teaching He showed us how to begin to see the kingdom of God where we are. It comes through making it our custom to worship Him, withdrawing to isolated places to pray, and to serve our community. It comes when we become people focused on Loving God, embracing his Holy Spirit, and living the love of Jesus with others. The kingdom can be experienced here today and forevermore when we redirect our attention away from the war horses and start looking at the donkeys.
The kingdom of God is not in a nation, but is in the individual lives of people within each community. It is built on life at a time, one individual at a time, one family at a time. We do not need to force people to conform but encourage our friends and neighbors to live a life of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. That is the kingdom of God. It is victorious in the commonality. It is a king riding a donkey victorious.
As we enter into this time of open worship and holy expectancy I would encourage each of us to consider the image of Jesus on that common beast of burden, consider where we are looking to see and experience the Kingdom of God, and where we are investing our time and energy. Are we able to see the kingdom of God in the lives of those around us or is our vision clouded by things beyond our control? Love your enemy, pray for those that persecute you, turn the other cheek, do not worry, and care for those that cannot care for themselves these are the things Jesus calls us to do right here because that is where the kingdom of God really is and our king rides a donkey.