In teaching after teaching, Jesus was trying to shake people awake to the Realm of God. Jesus was making the Realm of God manifest, he was an agent of the Realm of God. He had a job to do and not a lot of time to do it. He was trying to shake people out of a stupor that was death-bound, sodden, intoxicated by sin and illusion that just cause endless rounds of suffering. Jesus’ job was to shake us out of that stupor and to shake us awake to the reality of the Realm of God, so we may consent to God’s saving power.
“Realm of God” I’ve been saying. It’s usually translated as “Kingdom of God”. The Greek word is basileia, which is a territory under some political rulership. So, “kingdom”, for that time. But if you actually try to live out Jesus’ teachings- the first shall be last and the last shall be first – this is a very different kind of kingdom. Some people like to call it the “kin-dom of God”.
But on the other hand, some of the ways that Jesus uses this word, the basileia of God or in the Gospel of Matthew it’s the basileia of Heaven, it seems to be about, well, what we traditionally think as Heaven, as a celestial realm after death, or as a future celestial realm that will replace the world sometime in the future.
But then there are teachings of Jesus, where he says “The basileia of God is like yeast in bread” or “The basileia of God is like a seed that gestates and sprouts” or “The basileaia of God is within you. It is spread out over the world for those who have eyes to see.” There is an intimacy as well as an infinity to this spiritual Realm. It is imminent as well transcendent
Jesus’ images for the Realm of God tend to be very earthy. He’s all about the blood, sweat, and tears of life on earth – weddings, funerals – work, harvest, feasting, bread, wine.
And what Jesus did in his life was all about healing people and feeding people and rescuing people from death and delivering people from the demons that keep them from being at peace.
So all of this is to say that the “Realm” of God is, I think, the best way of translating this basileia. Because there are political realms, and social realms, earthy realms, moral realms, as well as realms of the soul and realms that are beyond the boundaries of the farthest horizon we can conceive.
The Realm of God is within us, among us, and always every beyond us.
Jesus’ Realm of God blurs the boundaries between realms. I mean, the boundaries are blurry in Jesus’ very person, and he made them blurry everywhere he went and in everything he said and did.
So, all that said, let’s look at our teaching today from Jesus about this Realm of God (Luke 4: 12-24)
Jesus is at a dinner party at the house of someone who is powerful and wealth. And he notices how the guests are jockeying for status in terms of who gets to sit closest to the host. He says, “Look, let go of it. Just sit in the most humble spot.”
And then he takes on the pride of the host. He says, if you’re throwing a party, why are you really doing it? Is it to get more status for yourself? Or is it truly because you want people to have a good time with good food? Invite everybody, especially people who don’t have status and can’t repay you.
One of the guests brings up “the Realm of God.”
So Jesus goes on to teach about this Realm of God. He says it’s like someone who gave a great dinner, but everyone he invited didn’t come because they had something more important to do. These more important things all are things that have increase their status. They have new land, they have new livestock, they have a new marriage, which at that time had more to do with status than romance. He’s angry because he wants to have people have a good time with good food. So he has his servant invite everyone in town who is of low status, and everybody else his servant can find who isn’t too self-important to come and eat and drink and be merry.
This is what the Realm of God is like.
What this is about is:
We get a glimpse of the Realm of God on earth
When we throw a feast as a reckless act of generosity welcome to all – everyone is invited, especiallythose who have nothing left to lose and nothing left to give you in return.
Why? Because the Realm of God is like being invited to a party that is a reckless act of generosity welcome to all.
When it comes to saying yes to the very source of our very souls, we have nothing left to lose and nothing to give in return. We can run to it with total abandon, full of gratitude.
God’s grace is a radical gift, that has nothing to do with what we earn or deserve, or think we earn or deserve, or what other people think we earn or deserve. Nothing to do with status or esteem.
As a radical gift, when we consent to it, it transforms our hearts to grateful heart.
Grateful hears are generous hearts.
The next reading is about this transformation of the heart out of profound gratitude for God’s radical grace. This is from the New Testament letter to the Colossians:
Now put away these things: anger, rage, depravity, slander, and abusive language. Do not lie to one another, having taken off the old self and its practices, and put on the new self, becoming renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator. Here, there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free: but Christ is all and all is in Christ. As the chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on compassion, goodness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing one another and, if there are complaints, forgiving each other: as the Supreme One forgave, so also should you. Above all, add to these things love, with is a bond of maturity. Let the peace of Christ settle in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ abide in you richly. Teach and counsel each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with grace singing in your hearts to God. In everything, whatever you do, in speech or work do all things in the name of our leader, Jesus, giving thanks through him to God, the Creator.
Recently someone shared with me how important it’s been for their recovery from addiction to have a practice of gratitude.
Every morning, first thing, they make a list of what they’re grateful for. This has been key to them replacing the old habits of addiction where, first thing in the morning, your first thought is about how to get that fix.
Addictive thoughts focus on lack, desperate lack. Addictive thoughts constrict the heart.
Grateful thoughts are the perfect antidote. Grateful thoughts focus on the abundance in our lives. Grateful thoughts open the heart to the fuller reality of who we all are in God’s reality. They open us to the abundant reality of God’s Realm among us.
There’s been research on this. When people keep a daily gratitude journal, you know, writing down what we’re grateful for, first thing in the morning or last thing before bed, just this practice leads to people sleeping better, making healthier choices, feeling happier, being more generous and emotionally supportive of others.
In the terms we heard from the letter to the Colossians, gratitude helps us to take off our “old self”, and put on our “new self” in Christ.
The “old self” is a self that is constricted by daily denial of the reality of God’s realm, constricted by sin. This “old self” is characterized by a reactive sense of lack: anger, lust, meanness, greed, divisiveness, seeking after status and esteem.
The “new self” is a self that is opened by the outrageous gift of grace, which we find through Christ.
It is a self in a world where heaven and earth blur and blend and the boundaries around our hearts dissolve. This “new self” is characterized by compassion, goodness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, generosity.
A grateful heart is a generous heart.
This kind of reorientation of our hearts around the reality of the Realm of God simply takes practice, daily practice.
So let me end with the advice from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:6-9):
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.