We live in a world that appears to be suffering. There is a tendency to look at the widespread turmoil, the wars, the rise of extremist theology especially as seen in the actions of Islamic fundamentalism and the so called Islamic state with their associated butchery; the health fears generated by increasing resistance to antibiotic therapies, lack of social provision for people as they age, and the recent outbreak of Ebola, a virus that even makes the Islamic state look puny.
It can be tempting to suggest that the world is falling apart, and no doubt there will be groups spreading a message of Armageddon and impending doom and catastrophe. Prominent in the USA is a belief in the imminent rapture; there has even been a mainstream movie made about this in Hollywood recently.
I am not here to promote those ideas. Personally I think it is theological bunkum, and I believe that the readings we have heard today shed light on that and on something potentially even of greater importance.
The reading from the book of Daniel is a piece of what is called eschatological scripture. It is a fancy sounding theological word that means a new beginning, or the end of a current way of doing something – something exciting and new is going to change things. Definitely, the author is writing about something drastic that is going to happen that is going to have a significant impact. Think of why Matthew was talking about earthquakes at the crucifixion. We might think of changes as earth shattering without there being a literal earthquake!
Daniel has a vision of the type experienced by the evangelist who authored the book of Revelations, with beast who are multi headed, each one greater and more frightening than the last. Like all pieces of the style of scripture, Daniel is prophesying about a situation that is in his own time frame; specifically event surrounding Kings of the Babylonian empire; however just like all scripture, it is multi levelled, and can speak into our time as well. It is easy to see into descriptions of some of the beast some of the contemporary beasts around today, specifically we may think of Al Quaeda, Boko Haram and ISIL, we may also consider the corporate beasts in the financial sector who make money while others in society have to collect food from foodbanks; or corrupt leaders of states that do not support the poor who live in shanty towns and ghettos.
Where does it all end?
Daniel tells us.
It ends with the one like a son of man, who is presented to the court of the Ancient of days (God) and who is given authority, glory and sovereign power. This wording is echoed of course at the end of Matthew’s gospel in what we call the Great Commission when Jesus says to his disciples “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.
We are left in no uncertain terms that God is to deal with human interlopers, those who disregard his lordship and act as though they are in charge, decisively and justly. If we consider the gospels; we can be left in no uncertain terms that God has acted in Jesus of Nazareth.
In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that God has made judgement on the world and that Jesus is king of heaven and earth. God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In the reading from Luke’s gospel today we have a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. This is often seen as an inspired piece of teaching by Jesus that is setting out the ideal of behaviour as seen by God; such as loving our enemy, turning the other cheek, that thinking bad things is just as bad as doing bad things. Sometimes it is argued that it is calling for a behaviour that is unreachable by us, and that reminds us of our continual need of God’s grace. For sure there is a lot of Grace in the beatitudes, but scripture is as we said earlier, never limited to being viewed in one level, and this does not appear to be an exception.
If we read the gospels from the perspective that this is how God rescued creation, performing the greatest exodus ever through Jesus, then the Sermon on the Mount also takes on a description of something like “this is what it is going to be like”, when the Kingdom of Heaven comes in power and in truth. All through his public ministry Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom and this is not surprisingly no exception.
The poor, the downtrodden, the hungry and destitute, the excluded will be blessed because the rule of God is fair and just. For those who rule over people unfairly, with avarice, who laugh and party while others go hungry, who bully threaten and torture others then woe be to them.
Jesus tells his disciples how the Kingdom of God will happen, in the most unexpected of ways. God’s judgement on the world, which is seen as the alternate kingdom, is a judgement of love, for God so loved the world that he sent his only Son not to condemn the world but to save it. This judgement of love undermines and makes a fool of the world’s view of status and of power, the love of self so embodied by the TV show The Apprentice, which exudes greed instead of selflessness and mercy. Jesus maps out to his followers how he will bring about the necessary revolution, by leading a way of peace, by forgiving those who hate him, by praying for those when they kill him, by giving his tunic away (the soldiers drew lots), and by walking an extra mile – an allusion to being forced to carry one’s own cross. The only people who would make you walk a mile would be a soldier.
So Ok though, this all sounds grand and dandy. If God is King then why is it that we still have cancers, Chronic Pain, warfare and terror. Why does the world still look so broken? Well, perhaps an answer may be found to this seeming conundrum in Jesus’ description of how the Kingdom of Heaven will grow. Having announced its arrival, it seems that the Kingdom will be hidden and appear small at first. In Luke 13 vv18-21 the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a mustard seed or to yeast being mixed into dough. In other words, the kingdom starts small and grows, but grows undeniably and in due course will become a something huge. Jesus gives an image of tree in which the birds can perch or a really large loaf. The yeast is spread into some 27 pounds of flour. This is going to be a big loaf.
Jesus announced the beginning of the Kingdom, he brought about the beginning of the Kingdom. He has been given all authority on earth and in Heaven, but so far the kingdom is still in a process of growth, creation is in the process of being totally transformed. Imagine how long it was before the rescue made by Jesus. The work is happening, and we are living in the period of transformation, which helps to explain why we still are subject to bad things happening. But make no mistake, the revolution has happened. Satan has been subdued, and God is in control. The yeast is acting, and there is nothing that the powers of the world can do about it.
So when you see and hear of atrocities or disasters, remember that these are the dying embers of a world kingdom based on power, status, greed and violence.
Gradually, the True Kingdom, the Kingdom of God is growing, day by day, week by week. A Kingdom marked out by peace, by servant leadership, by love and forgiveness. May The God of earth and Heaven richly bless you today and in the days to come as you work to help in the further development of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
In Jesus Name