Look up for the Signals
Look up for the Signals
Good morning. This is the last of our messages on the theme of How Big Is Your Book. Tacking the big ideas of faith that appear in the Bible. We’ve talked about the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ that transforms life and perspective. We’ve talked about the Trinity and how God who is Father, Son and Spirit invites us into a community of pure love. To share in, as the Apostle Peter says, the Divine nature. And last week we talked about the Creation and how God is reconciling the world to himself so that renewal will come to humanity and the earth.
And how we’ve approached these topics is through a form of popular culture: superhero movies. Some may have wondered why and the simplest answer is that when we want to probe things that matter, deep and important things, sometimes we need to step outside of what we’re doing, and reacting to. So that we can see things differently, gain a new point of view. So, sometimes by using our imaginations we can begin to see not only what is, but also what might be. And when we do this it can be a bit confusing.
But, Jesus did this all the time. He’s say, see that treasure chest? That’s like the kingdom of God. Or, see that pearl merchant, that’s like the kingdom of God. Or see that fishing net? That’s like the kingdom of God. Net? treasure chest? Merchant? Which one is it Jesus? All and none. Metaphors, word pictures, are like that. A bit vague, a bit contradictory. Always challenging the imagination to see a different reality.
Today we want to probe what Jesus meant when he talked about the kingdom. What is it, what does life look like in it and what are the signs that we can know we’ve found it? So again, to get oriented, let’s imaginatively consider the human condition.
In the comic book story of Batman, people are longing for a different reality. A world without crime, a world where it was safe to walk the streets. But because the world wasn’t that way: the Batman is born. And he begins to work toward the reality he believes is better. And as the story goes, though he tries he doesn’t get it right, all of the time. But, he does enough to gain the respect of the police commissioner. Enough so that the commissioner sets up a Bat-signal to summon him when there’s trouble.
And that’s all very much like the kingdom of God. People, very aware that the world is not as it should be yet living with hope and perseverance, straining toward what is better, fuller, broader, richer more complete. People convinced that there must be more to the world than what they see. Why? Well for some, because they’ve seen the evidence. They’ve seen people get alone. They’ve seen suffering met through medicine, mercy and justice.
And some, in spite of the world they see believe because they have been promised that there is more. Because there are signs pointing to it and through it to what this reality will ultimately look like: A kingdom of peace. The world restored where people are reconciled to each other in healthy ways. A world where the lion sleeps with the lamb instead of eating it. A world without war, poverty and injustice. The world as God intends it to be.
Luke 22 tells us much about the kingdom and peace. The scene is a room on the second floor of a building in Jerusalem. Jesus has asked his disciples to prepare a meal that they can share together. It is the Passover meal, a major celebration remembering escape from slavery in Egypt and the coming kingdom that God would establish for the future. If you wish follow along beginning at verse 14.
14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
What’s notable here is Jesus’ eagerness. This meal matters. He knows what is coming next and he knows that only then they will finally understand what he’s been telling them all along. There is an alternate reality to the one they know, the kingdom of peace, is about to appear.
And they need this. The next words that Luke records are as follows: verse 24, “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest . . . . “
Living the only way they know, they live with impatience, competition and misguided ambition. Who will be greatest? What is my role in the kingdom? And how will that work to my personal benefit? These questions, and motives continue to drive people today. And the effects can be anything from a blessing to tragedy. Jesus is eager because he knows how badly we need his kingdom.
In verses 16 and 18 he mentions quite specifically that the kingdom will appear when he eats and drinks again. So, realizing this, Luke tells us in 24.36-44 when Jesus does, in fact eat again. He makes special mention of it. Luke 24.43 “and he took it and ate it in their presence.” The kingdom has come, God has declared his peace. Two thousand years ago the kingdom was announced and we live in the time of the kingdom today.
But the story doesn’t end there, right? If the kingdom has come, why aren’t things better than they are? Let’s explore that.
Another element of Batman’s story and its common with other heroes is the struggle with the mask. Living in the world they know and understand heroes like Batman or Superman struggle with their identity. To the extent sometimes that they become confused as to which identity is the real one. They wear a super suit, maybe a mask. I still can’t figure out how Clark Kent – Superman – remains unidentified, and they are afraid, afraid that someone will find out who they are.
Some of these heroes count the cost of revealing their identities in terms of safety for their families or protecting their privacy so that they can have a real life.
So some keep the mask on and by necessity, they have to be deceitful. Living double lives they are distant and they are lonely. Others take off the mask and lose their privacy and a great deal of their freedom.
In either case they live with tension. The tension that we all feel: can I reveal who I am and if so to whom? Am I free to be me? Can I be safe in the world I live in and be honest about who I am at the same time? We live in the tension of best intentions and mixed motives.
Sometimes we venture forth and show a bit of whom we are and it goes well. We share something with a friend and they honour us in keeping that confidence. Other times we share something and it’s not safe guarded. And so we react and wonder, will I have to wear this mask forever because it is in fact the wisest, safest, best way to live in this world? And if that is our conclusion, we should not feel guilty about it. We live in the tension. We live with masks on.
And there is more. We also live in the tension of joys and fears and pain and celebration. And, we live in the tension of why isn’t it better? Why isn’t the suffering going away? Why do our bodies betray us, why do we lose our loved ones too soon?
So we stop and ask, so what is going on? Kingdom of peace, now? Not seriously, seriously?
Here are familiar words from the prophet Isaiah:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
Of the increase, the kingdom is advancing, growing expanding. It is here and it is now, but it is not full. We live in that tension. We live with masks, waiting with hope.
And Jesus knows this, so he gave us two signs, signals to light up our hearts, so that we could walk with him toward peace.
Sign number one is baptism. It is the unyielding grace of God that says, I am for you. Grace means, in part, the favour, the goodwill, the loving kindness of God for all his Creation. No doubt human brokenness and sin obscure that goodwill. We grieve with those who grieve and yet grace remains to encourage and strengthen. Nothing can overcome the love of God for his world.
Over and over again, in the biblical story, God draws order out of the water: in Creation, in the flood, in the travel of Israel through the Red Sea and long before Jesus came he says this through the prophet Isaiah: 43.2 “When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.”
The sign of baptism is the sign of initiation into the kingdom. And every time we celebrate baptism, each time we are called to remember baptism we can confidently claim God’s promise to be with us, the chaos will not wash us away. Each time we remember our own baptism we can also confidently remember that God calls us his own regardless of how we feel about ourselves in the moment. Each time we remember the baptism of others we can be confident that God’s promise to them will never waver.
1 John 3.1 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
The second sign is the Lord’s Supper. It is the sign of ongoing life with Jesus. At the table, we are fed by Jesus so that our faith is strengthened. At the table Jesus asks us to remember what he’s done. That he died to establish the kingdom. That he died to remove the barrier to peace. That he died for sin. That he died so ultimately we will not have to wear masks anymore. At the table Jesus commissions his people, just as he did at the start, to begin living in a new way, in anticipation of what is to come.
At the table we can think on those things. And be assured that in Jesus’ name we are forgiven, deeply loved and able to live while we wait.
At the table we meet with Jesus. So, in a moment when we begin to serve the meal, consider what’s been said. Ask yourself; do I want to receive from the hand of Jesus his body and blood? Is the kingdom life what I need? If any of us receive these elements with contempt for Jesus or the kingdom he has established or the people he has formed, there is a risk. And the risk is that by doing so the life of peace will remain, for that person, out of reach. Not forever denied because God will continue to invite, but out of reach for the time.
So, these are the signs. Jesus gives only two; they are what we need. And with them comes the invitation to participate in what God is doing. The signs are a call to renewal and new life. They are an invitation to live more intentionally in and for the kingdom. They help us accept the tension of things not being as they should be, but one day will be. They help us accept ourselves in spite of our self-aware faults.
Most importantly, perhaps, the signs remind us that this is after all, God’s kingdom. And that regardless of what we see now, it will indeed come fully and completely.
1 Peter 5.10-11 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.