Glimpses of the Kingdom
Alice Fleming Townley
October 14, 2018
As Jesus was setting out on a journey . . . a man ran up to him and knelt before him. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“You know what to do, you know the commandments.’
“I have kept them, all of them, always.”
Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said, “You lack one thing, go sell all you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.”
When the rich man heard this, he was shocked and left disheartened.
What this means precisely is a mystery, for Jesus’ favorite way to speak about the kingdom is through story, riddle, and metaphor.
The kingdom is like a treasure buried in a field; the man discovers it sells all he owns to buy the field, for what does he have to lose?
The kingdom is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.
The kingdom, Jesus taught, is right here—present yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. It is at hand—among us and beyond us now, and not-yet. The kingdom of heaven, he said, belongs to the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for God. It advances not through power and might, but through the missions of mercy, kindness, and humility. In this kingdom, many who are last will be first and many who are first will be last. The rich don’t usually get it, Jesus said, but children always do. This is a kingdom whose savior arrives not on a warhorse, but a donkey, not through triumph and conquest, but through death and resurrection.[i]
What this story means is a mystery . . .the disciples and the man would agree . . .
- Maybe the man’s wealth was like chains that bound him, or like a wall that separated him from others in this life.
- Maybe discipleship isn’t just about rote memorization and checking off the list. Maybe sometimes it involves sacrifice and passion.
- Maybe economics and distribution of resources matter to God.
- Maybe we who have enough food, and access to shelter, healthcare and education—are some of the wealthiest in the world. And we are tempted by the illusion that whatever we have is just ‘not enough.’
- Maybe people die of hunger and preventable diseases, every day. And that grieves the heart of God.
Jesus continued, “How hard it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” And then everyone around was perplexed. “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God . . It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, then for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astounded. “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus went through all the towns and villages proclaiming the kingdom, and healing diseases.[ii] Maybe this story is an invitation into both the kingdom and healing. “Come with me, com-passion,” Jesus said. “See and live, save and be saved.”
Mark used the word ‘love’ three times in this gospel. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded with ‘love God and love neighbor as self.’[iii] And Mark used the word ‘love’ in this story, describing how Jesus looked at the rich man. With his gaze, Jesus was holding him in the flow of love between God, neighbor, self. Jesus was inviting this dis-heartened man to reconnect with his heart, and his neighbor’s heart, and God’s heart.
The man came seeking life in the kingdom. Jesus was on his way to the cross, and Jesus invited him to follow. Come, share loaves and fish, come learn from the Samaritan, come sit in the heat of the day with the woman at the well. Come into passionate, self-emptying love, and discover life stronger than any death.
The Kingdom is a mystery. It is here and now. Seen and unseen. There are days when we can see glimpses. This summer I attended a press conference on behalf of immigration reform at the steps of the Capital in Washington DC. I was grateful for those with the courage and eloquence to speak into the microphone. I listened as Rev. Cassy Nunez asked law makers for a path to citizenship for the Dreamers. Cassy is a pastor of a United Methodist congregation in Texas. Cassy is a daughter, wife, and mother of a beautiful baby girl. With the cameras rolling, Cassy went on to say that she was brought to the U.S. as a baby. She is undocumented. For her to advocate for the vulnerable, and give her name and where she was from, put her at risk for deportation and separation from her congregation and family. Sacrifice. Passion. And a glimpse of the kingdom.
I have continued to correspond with Cassy, and I told her about the documentary our church showed recently about the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexican border. “Thank you. It means so much that we would be remembered, and that we would matter to your congregation, even after the summer media has left.” Cassy models discipleship to me. The witness of our congregation gave her strength and hope. A little yeast. A pearl of great price.
Colleague Steve Samuelson told me about Jeff, a student he knew at Carthage College who got inspired to do his own CROP hunger walk from Plano, IL (west of Chicago), to Ontanagan, MI, (in the Upper Pennsylvania)—about 400 miles. Jeff visited churches and got sponsors and camped along the way in farmer’s fields, raising $3,000 to alleviate hunger. One day Steve told this story to his church in Racine, Wisconson. After church, when Steve was in his office putting away his robe, Todd came to his door. Todd was the shyest young man Steve knew. He always came late to church and left early, not really talking to anyone. Todd, said, “I want to do what that guy Jeff did, organize a personal CROP walk too.”
“Todd, do you know how hard this is going to be? You’re going to have to meet people, go to church council meetings, introduce yourselves to strangers. WHY do you want to do it, Todd?”
“Well, today, you were talking about the Good Samaritan, caring for those in need in the sermon.”
“But Todd, that was just a sermon.”
But in the Living Word, Todd had heard both challenge and blessing. He caught a glimpse of the Kingdom. He decided to let go of whatever had held him back and follow the way. Todd’s life, and those whose lives he crossed, were forever changed.
Our congregation has participated in CROP hunger walks for 39 years. Last year we raised $17,000. As Ron Dorr tells us, kids as young as six weeks old, elders over 90, and people in between have participated as walkers, rockers, and sponsors, garnering $312,00 to fight hunger. As one of our kids has said, “CROP walk is better than Christmas.” Recently, as we’ve started building relationships with our Muslim neighbors, we’ve also started raising money to address hunger with them. We walk together for the second time this year. 25% of the money we raise goes to hunger-related projects in the Lansing area at Advent House, the Greater Lansing Food Bank, and more. And the rest goes throughout the world for food, water, seeds, tools, wells, and resources that help people meet their own needs.
There are those days when we think the kingdom is so far away, and the work is impossible. We shake our heads in sympathy with those first listeners, wondering what it would take, and hanging on to heavy chains. Jesus called those who questioned, “children.” And we know what Jesus did with children. Jesus looked at the rich man with love. And we hear the healing invitation once again, may the disheartened reconnect. May we share what we have with passion and sacrifice. May we follow Jesus’ way, truth, and life. May we glimpse the Kingdom, among us, here and now, and not yet.
[i] 153-154, Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.
[ii] Matthew 9:35
[iii] Mark 12:28-32