Squinting for God
My friend Beth is an artist. Recently, we were in a church staff meeting together and we were discussing the upcoming sermon series we are calling “Kingdom Stories.” I am the Youth Pastor and she the Activities Director and there we were with the rest of our pastoral staff and we were all expressing excitement about “Kingdom Tide.”
This is something that we celebrate in our church tradition, the Vineyard Church. The theology of the Kingdom of God is a core value in the Vineyard Movement. John Wimber (one of the founders of the Vineyard in the 1960-70s), focused heavily on the Kingdom of God because of his supernatural experiences with the Holy Spirit, including seeing many people receive physical healing. He attributed this supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.
Vineyard USA defines their core values this way: “We are a people of the kingdom of God who….” This introduction is no mere window dressing. It emphasizes both the ordinariness and the extraordinariness of what God has called us to. We are a people first. Not an institution, not a government, not a force, but simply a people. And we are a people of the “Kingdom of God” – our central theological lens through which we understand the teaching of Jesus (Mk. 1:14-15). We are a people seized by something beyond ourselves and turned into something new, something that is transformative to the world around us. Our values draw this reality out.” (https://vineyardusa.org/library/what-is-the-vineyard/)
It is this Kingdom or reign of God that Jesus inaugurated in his ministry (Mark 1:14-15) and that Jesus will bring in its fullness at the end of time as we know it. As Jesus followers, we live in the “already and the not yet” reign of God. This is what we mean when we refer to the “Kingdom of God.” The problem is, this can seem somewhat ambiguous. It has already come? Yes. It is still coming? It is about God’s reign? It is about ministry and the Holy Spirit? Yes. This ambiguity is why every year, around this time, we preach on the Kingdom of God.
This year, we are focusing on the parables of Jesus where he speaks about the Kingdom of God. A discussion about these parables launched our staff into a great big discussion on what Jesus was doing, saying and trying to accomplish in his parables. Lots of people were confused by Jesus’ parables. The disciples often asked for clarification after the fact (see Mark 7:17 for one example). It seems as though, even for Jesus’ ancient audience, that he was intentionally ambiguous. Why not use simple and concrete terms to talk about the Kingdom?
This is when my friend Beth spoke up. Beth is a brilliant artist. She likes to paint landscapes and oceans and lakes. She also appreciates impressionistic painting which is what she talked about on this day at our staff meeting. She said, (and I’m paraphrasing) that impressionistic painters seek to paint the light around an image and not just the image. Their goal is to capture the ever changing and fleeting nature of the present moment. Beth said, I think this is kind of like the Kingdom of God.
I sat there, stunned, at this analogy. And it occurred to me, this must be what Jesus is doing in the parables. He is describing, using every day ordinary objects, the light around the objects. The light represents the ever present, always moving and continually enlightening reign of God in all moments everywhere. And Jesus is the painter. The parables are his paint. Jesus is saying, ‘Look. Can you see the light?’
Look at this seed being planted in the ground. (Matthew 13:1-23)
Look at this widow looking for her coin. (Luke 15:8-10)
Look at this son running away. (Luke 15:11-32)
Look at this sheep that ran away. (Matthew 18:12-14)
Can you see the light behind them?
Using this analogy of an impressionistic painting to understand the Kingdom of God allows for a pervasive view of the Kingdom of God. It allows for the reign of God to spill out light everywhere and on all things instead of being limited to a church or a bible study. In this view, the Kingdom of God can be extended in a hospital room where someone is dying. The Kingdom of God can come on a football field or in a locker room. The Kingdom of God can be experienced in a pre-school classroom or a fortune 500 company. The Kingdom of God is limited by nothing except our ability to look, stop and see the light behind the object and when needed, to become the painter. As Jesus followers, we can join Jesus in painting the light behind objects for others to see. See it shimmer. Even if we have to squint to see it. And if we look long enough and with enough determination, we will see the light. It is moving and changing and shifting. The light is breaking in. Do you see it?
May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
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