• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Back to the Future

Its Time, a three-week series on past, present, and future, and how God does time, preached September 25, 2022, at the 930am worship


Welcome

Today we finish our sermon series called “Its Time.” Two weeks ago, we looked back into the past, and realized… the way God does time and tells the story of God’s people through time, we were there with them in the past, in their triumphs and failures, and the past is still here with us today, in its blessings and its curses. Last week, Caitlan helped us be present as a woman took the risk to calm Jesus’ spirit and anoint his body. Caitlan showed us in the present we have enough and are enough, then asked us, what are we willing to risk?


This morning, we look toward the future. As we pause to prepare our hearts and minds for worship in music, let your thoughts and feelings bend toward the future. What do you see and feel? What do you see for this church, for this community, and this country? Let’s prepare our hearts and minds for worship of God…


Context

Okay, when you thought about the future, what did you see and feel?


(Receive 5-8 examples from worshippers, and repeat them for those listening at home)


Thanks y’all. God loves to tell the story of the promised future to God’s people. Almost every story of Jesus is a vision of the future, the Kingdom of Heaven, and an invitation to live today as if that future is already here and now among us. Our scripture readings today are different verse from beginning to end of Matthew where Jesus’ imagines that Kingdom for us.


Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…


Prayer


Scripture Matthew

3:2 - “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

4:17 - From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is among us.”

4:23 - Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom...

5:10 - “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:19-20 - Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments or teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. And I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

6:33 - seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.

7:21 - “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the ones who do the will of my Father in heaven.

10:7 - As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

11:12 - From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and violent people fight (against) it with force.

13:24 - “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field,

13:31 - “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;

13:33 - “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

13:44 - “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and reburied; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

13:45 - “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;

13:47 - “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;

16:19 - …whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

18:3 - “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

19:23 - “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

20:1 - “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

22:2 - “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.

23:13 - “But woe to you, … hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven, yet you are not going in yourselves, and when others are going in, you block them.

24:14 - And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the peoples, and then the end will come.

This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)


Sermon

At my first church as a pastor, a founding member and trustee told me I needed to study the scriptures more, because I talked about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven too much, and no pastor he ever had talked about it as much as I did, or like I did. I invited him to our Men’s Bible study at a greasy spoon on Friday mornings. He didn’t come, but within a few years, he left our church and started a house church with a few others.


At my last church, I had an elder in the church tell me I needed to stop bringing up the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven so much. He had never held back from telling me what he thought I should do better. I asked him why. He said, “It's too political, and politics don’t belong in church.”


When I was interviewing with the Pastor Nominating Committee here almost three years ago, one voice on the PNC asked why the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven comes up so much in my preaching or teaching, and I think I casually, hopefully humorously responded with, “because it comes up so often when Jesus teaches and preaches?”


And since I’ve been here, some of you have wondered to me in study groups, emails, or on the side what I mean by Kingdom, why it comes up so often, and where it comes from.

I didn’t realize this, but the American Christian church doesn’t traditionally talk about the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven the way Jesus did, or as much as Jesus did. As someone that was in the church only until I was 6, when my father died, I wasn’t raised in American Christian worship, Sunday School, or youth group. I didn’t absorb the church’s traditional ways of talking about God.


I took my first required class in religion, the Letters of Paul, my sophomore year at college, and bought myself my first Bible that Christmas. I didn’t know what to do with it. So I started with Matthew. The only Bible stories I knew about, I knew culturally, like Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Jesus’ birth with Shepherds, wise men, and Angels. I only knew what we culturally say about God and Jesus. I didn’t know what the Bible really says. So I started with Matthew.


As I read Matthew for myself, that first time, I noticed something. Jesus’ point from beginning to end was to help us understand whatever the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven is, what it will look like when we finally get there, or when it finally gets to us, and at the same time, Jesus wanted us to realize the good news, that the future kingdom is already here, already now, just not in its fullness yet.


We use the term Good News so much. But do we mean what Jesus meant when he used it? Jesus tells us what he believes the good news is… that the kingdom of heaven has come near, the kingdom of God is among us. Everywhere Jesus went, he was teaching and preaching the good news about the kingdom. He told us to seek first the kingdom of God, and everything else would flow from that starting point. He said, “Not everyone who SAYS, ‘Lord, Lord,’ enters the kingdom, but only the ones who do the will of God discover it.” He taught us, his disciples, “As you go, proclaim the good news, that ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Jesus warned us, those who talk about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven this way, or who try to live it here and now, have always suffered. Humanity fights against this good news of God’s Kingdom here and now. But blessed are those who are persecuted for the kingdom of heaven. Theirs is already the kingdom of God.


He says to us unless we change and become like children, we will never experience the kingdom of heaven. He says how hard it is for rich persons, persons with land and monies and more than enough, how hard it is for rich persons to enter the kingdom of heaven.


Is it that we Christians resist or reject Jesus’ visions of the good, present future Kingdom of God, where prisoners are released, where there are no wars, no hungers, no sickness, no racism, no poverty… do we reject it, or resist it because we don’t believe its possible here? We don’t know how to become like children! We don’t want to give up our stuff! We’ve worked so hard at times to bring peace, to end hunger and poverty, to make a difference, but the problems of this world seem never-ending. Is that why some give up trying to help kingdom come, and just push it off into the far future, after death, so we can stop working and trying here and just hope with fingers crossed that kind of Kingdom might be true on the other side of life.


But the way Jesus talks about it, yes, it is real and true. It is already true in God’s future, and it is already peeking through right now in the present. The distance between God’s future kingdom, and this present one is so much smaller than we think or feel. So why is it we act like this present kingdom is more true than God’s promised one?


Close your eyes. Imagine for a moment God’s best most beautiful way of including you in a perfect community. Sense what that community looks and feels like. Sense everyone's place and purpose in that community, where every need and hunger are met, and every relationship is just and loving. Sense your own perfect, amazing role in that community. Hold that vision of the future. Hold it tight. Believe it. Trust it. When we open our eyes, we will see different things. But hold that vision. Look for it everywhere. When you find it, celebrate, and call it out as Good news! And when you don’t, jump in, be a child, an agent of peace, love and justice, and help God’s kingdom come on earth as it is already in heaven.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.


Charge


Benediction

Now, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night this moment and forever more. Amen.


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