This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Mark 10:35-45. Throughout worship today, I invited people to perform gestures and poses they weren’t used to for various elements in worship, things like making the sign of the cross, and using the American Sign Language sign for “Thank you.”
James and John missed the point, but not entirely.
- They understood that Jesus was proclaiming that God’s kingdom was coming soon.
- They understood that Jesus himself would bring that kingdom.
- They understood that the kingdom of God didn’t mean the afterlife or heaven.
- They understood that the kingdom Jesus promised was soon coming here, on earth.
What they missed was what God’s kingdom was all about.
Because they thought God’s kingdom would be like the kingdoms of the world. James and John knew that the rulers of this world sat on high thrones, surrounded by their advisors, the most important advisors right next to them, on their right hand and on their left. They knew that while the king had all authority, the advisors had the king’s ear, and had some amount of limited power. They wanted that power. They wanted the top spots in the cabinet when Jesus established his kingdom on earth. They thought the kingdom of God just meant a change in who was in charge, but everything else would stay the same.
But James and John were wrong. God’s kingdom looks very different from that. Jesus asked them, “Can you drink the cup I will drink?” “Can you be baptized the way I will be baptized?” By this, he was asking them, “Can you suffer and die the way I am about to?” That’s what the kingdom of God looks like. It looks like the praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, like being beaten by Pontius Pilate’s guards. His kingdom looks like being hung on a cross. And indeed, on the cross there were two bandits crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. And to give his life for the sake of many. That’s God’s kingdom here on earth, a kingdom of self-sacrifice. A kingdom of overflowing love. And that’s very different from every other kingdom on earth.
And just like James and John, we miss the point a lot, too. Some of us have been reading the book of Revelation in our weekly Bible Study, and one thing we’ve seen is that the coming of God’s kingdom in all its glory is something that brings about an incredible intensity of worship. Angels and elders and creatures and millions and millions of people, singing praises and bowing before God. Revelation teaches us that worship is a primary part of God’s coming kingdom, and that means that our weekly worship is a crucial part of the kingdom as well. The hour we spend together is itself a moment of God’s kingdom breaking into our world, which means it is different from everything else. But I think we so often miss that. We so often think that worship is like other things we do in our lives, one more thing we have to fit into our week. So often we put our admission fee in the offering plate, and we expect to be entertained, or enlightened, or to feel better about our lives. I have heard many, many people say things like, “I don’t go to church anymore because I wasn’t getting anything out of it.” We expect to get something out of it. We want to sing our favorite hymns. We want the sermon to connect with us. And, just like James and John, we want to have particular seats, don’t we? Worship becomes something that’s for me. Like everything else in our lives, if I’m going to spend an hour of my time here, I’d better get something out of it.
I’m not trying to pick on you, or scold you. I do the same thing myself. If anything, I’ve helped you believe that, because I so often try to plan worship that just borders on entertainment, that just borders on education, that just borders on a pep talk, so that you go out filled with good feelings, and tell others what a great church we have. I forget that that’s not what worship is about. Worship isn’t about us. Worship is about God.
Worship is different. Holy. You need only look around to see that. Where else do unrelated toddlers and great-grandmothers interact? Where else do machinists and nurses, teachers and musicians, contractors and factory workers and retired blouse mill operators gather together? Where else do staunch conservatives and bleeding-heart liberals pray together in one voice? This is different. This is holy. This is what God’s kingdom looks like. But what does it mean? How is it different? Why are we here?
Paul tells us that you are the body of Christ in the world. You are the bearers of God’s kingdom, and so as Jesus said about himself, you are not here to be served, but to serve. God has called you here not to give you something, because God has already given you everything you need. But God calls us here so that we might serve: that we might serve God through our songs of praise and thanksgiving. And so that we might be equipped to serve others, to bear God’s kingdom to the world. When we worship, when we really worship together, when we really take this time to worship and praise the God who makes us and saves us and sends us out, then we are God’s kingdom.
And that’s why I have been inviting you today to hold yourselves differently during worship, to make gestures and poses you might not be used to. To gently shake us all out of the way we sometimes just go through the motions. To gently remind us all, myself included, that we are God’s kingdom in the world, and that we can act like it.
This is a very different way to look at worship for many of us. It will take time to get used to it. But I encourage you to practice it. Whether you continue to make these gestures in worship in the future or not, keep expecting worship to be different. Different from regular life. Because the kingdom of God is different from regular life.
But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, one day it won’t be. The kingdom of God, the kingdom we can glimpse when we worship the Father in spirit and truth, is not contained in these walls. The kingdom of God is coming all around us, in every place we are, in every moment we’re alive. And if we can learn to see the kingdom, to be the kingdom, here – then we can learn to see the kingdom and be the kingdom there. But I don’t have any tips for you on that. I don’t have any words of wisdom on that. I’m something of an expert on worship, but I’m no expert on all the other places you find yourselves throughout the week. But you are.
So I ask for your help. This week, keep this in mind. This week, think about and talk about how you can look for signs of God’s kingdom out there. Think about and talk about how you can be signs of God’s kingdom out there. Perhaps looking at things just a little differently, or doing things just a little differently. And tell me what you find. You can tell me in person, over the phone, via email, or by commenting on this post. Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about how to see, and be, God’s kingdom. Because that’s what it’s all about.
So tell me, dear reader, how can you better see God’s kingdom out where you are? And how can you better be God’s kingdom? Leave some comments!