As Jesse and I discussed my readings tonight he started saying all kinds of things that moved me deep inside. I asked if he’d write them for you and he graciously agreed. I’m thrilled that he shared.
I recently finished reading Death by Church by Mike Erre. This book runs a little deeper than I usually go in non-academic reading; for example, he uses the word “eschatological” in a sentence… a lot. But this book brings up an issue that merits mention here, being related to a verse in this section of Luke. Death by Church is about the kingdom of God – recognizing the fact that the Kingdom is already here among us, and exploring how the church should operate in the presense of that fact. I don’t want to get too deeply into the book because there’s a lot there, I’m not sure I fully grasp all of it, and it’s not all necessarily relevant to this passage or this forum. But one of the things I found eye-opening was something I guess I had never really grasped in my heart, or really fully in my head either. It’s that when Jesus said “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” he didn’t mean, “the kingdom is coming soon,” he meant, “the kingdom is nearby” or “the kingdom is within reach.” It’s a spatial term, not a temporal one. And that’s what we see in Luke 17:20-21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” The kingdom is already here.
Now all you tried and true believers probably knew this already, but honestly, in my heart of hearts, it was news to me. Deep inside, I really looked at the kingdom as something coming in the future that I had a seat reserved in — if I didn’t somehow blow it — and in the meantime I had to shuffle along through the trials of this vale of tears as best I could, keeping myself as untrammeled and holy as possible along the way. Erre convincingly explains the gospel as not just salvation in the hereafter but transference here and now from the kingdom of this world (ruled by you-know-who) to the kingdom of God. In practical terms, this means that I honestly have the power in Christ right here and now to do the impossible by following Him in His walk. At the time I read this I had put myself through a devastating bout with addiction… AGAIN… and was feeling horribly crushed and defeated by sin, so having this light sort of turned on inside was a tremendous encouragement and really helped pull me back up on my feet.
The implication of the kingdom being in our midst is not just personal though, it’s also communal, and I feel that’s what God is leading me towards through things that are going on in my life right now. If the kingdom is really here, and we are it, then we need to have the doors open and the lights on. I mentioned in my earlier post that I’m a person who normally would not mix – that’s not the kind of person God is looking for in the kingdom. He’s calling us to do something that runs against the grain – to go out and love the unlovable sinners of this world. And I have to confess that I’m convicted by that calling as well. In my own attempts at recovery I’ve found it too easy to reach a point of “I got mine, forget about you!” That simply doesn’t work, as we see in verse 33: “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” I’m often troubled by my memories of a dear friend in the program who passed away a couple years ago. Steve was a great friend, but he just couldn’t stay sober as long as I could. And for that reason I allowed a lot of distance to creep into our relationship during his last few months. It wasn’t easy to field his drunk, sometimes hostile phone calls. And, not surprisingly, other people encouraged me to write him off. “He’ll drag you down with him,” they warned me. Or they’d tell me I’d grown beyond him, and that he just would never stay sober. For the record, I’ve relapsed four times since Steve’s funeral, so who’s casting the first stone there? Maybe if I’d loved him a little more, I could’ve helped – and if it didn’t help him, maybe it would’ve helped me.
The kingdom needs to be seen in the way we do church, too. I don’t blame anyone but myself for my choices, but it didn’t help me any that the well-heeled and goofy stoners at my high school offered me more social acceptance than many of the kids at my church youth group. And again, I don’t blame those kids – they were just being teenagers. But the setup that was there was one that let teenagers do what teenagers naturally do, instead of what the kingdom of God does. And I have to cop to being a part of many similar setups in many similar church meetings along the way. Shame on all of us for participating in such shams!
About two hours ago Nicole asked me if I had any thoughts on Luke 16 and 17, and I told her I had none. These are my non-thoughts. I hope they make sense to some of you.
Tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 18 and 19