In Jesus we have been given a living illustration of how to be in the world. Let’s be clear though, we are not called to become more like Jesus; we are called to become like our true selves. And, we are called to ‘follow Jesus’, on the way. Should be simple right? G.K. Chesterton once wrote, ‘It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it is that it has never been wanted and therefore not tried.’ Let’s take a closer look at why Christianity has not been wanted, despite all its offerings of new possibilities, paradigm shifting new futures for people and our world.
Jesus taught a powerful idea that explained and encompassed everything—not just for his followers, not just for then. For everybody. For all time. For good.
He taught us that the kingdom of God is a ‘particular way’ of being in the world that comes about through right relationships with God, others, self, and the created and natural order. When we take up and practice Jesus’s teachings, right relationships are produced.
Unfortunately, this, his biggest and most powerful messages of ‘how to be in the world,’ of intimacy and depth, of being and belonging, of love and connectedness to what already is, has been hijacked and replaced with grubby and small counterfeits, often religious nonsenses that do nothing to stir the imagination and set humans up to be poised for new possibilities. What we have instead feels to me at times to be just a set of ought to(s), should(s) and have to(s), often moralistic and narrow ideas that seem to lie outside of Jesus’s capacious, generous and really quite an earth shattering ‘big idea.’ It feels to me at times that we have chosen far too often some ‘…excessive pre-occupations with discovering God’s will (J. O’Donahue, 2014) instead of the simplicity of just taking up Jesus’s teachings about God’s will.
Jesus referred to this concept of the kingdom of God at least 60 times. You can find at least another 20 references to the kingdom of God in the letters in the New Testament and another 20 references to this concept in the Jewish scriptures—the Old Testament. No other concept, big idea or theme gets nearly as much airtime in the Bible.
When the kingdom is referred to in the scriptures it is often in language that raises more questions then answers. The kingdom is within you; it is like a mustard seed; Jesus compared it to leaven, to a tree. He gave us clear marching orders-seek it first. Odd and difficult metaphors to understand; hard to know what to seek, exactly? Nothing seems to give it all away in the descriptions. No pattern, or hardly a single theme to lay hold off.
To make matters worse, history seems to be exactly how C.S. Lewis described it, ‘Human history is the long, terrible story of ‘man’ trying to find something other than God to make them happy.’ Church history has certainly been that long, terrible story of many shifts in how people understood the kingdom of God. No need to look any further than denominational expressions of Christianity today in the world. How in the world did that happen, from Jesus’s simple message of the particular way of being in the world that comes about through right relationships, to over 100 different Christian denominations, each with its own road map into truth and heaven.
The solution to all this seems to me to reside in the problem. The kingdom of God does not exist until it does. You won’t find it ‘over there,’ in a building, in the Bible, in a country, in some sacred building we call a church, in some corner of the world. It is not inert. It is not a place, or a religious system. It is not in nature (though creation is full of hints and guesses of what might be-of new possibilities, new futures). The kingdom of God is not a noun; it is a verb. It comes into existence only through right relationships. Until it does, it does not exist.
Maybe we all need to pay attention to the concept of the kingdom of God, ‘again for the first time,’ but this time do so with it as a big idea, not as a mere concept. A big idea might be just what our young people need to read about, listen to and embrace. I think that our early adolescent youngsters want something big to believe in, and what they want (though have trouble saying it) is usually bigger than how Christianity has at times been represented to them, When it comes to the kingdom of God, I think it is a good ‘teaching’ idea to represent it as something quite big and ironically quite simple. The reality is that the kingdom is not exclusive, small, and doesn’t need to be confined to a mere concept. It explains and encompasses everything.
Maybe teachers and parents at Menno Simons have been right all along, in their embracing of the mission of Menno Simons, so that right relationships are the alpha and omega of what and how we teach our young people. Justice, peace making, right relationships, community, Jesus at the centre…
I’d say keep going…
Bernie Potvin, MSCS Principal