Already & Not Yet: The Kingdom of God
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 3:1-6
In the video, Rev. Sara mixes up Zechariah and John the Baptist. She means John the Baptist! It's correct in the text version.
I am firmly convinced that whenever we are talking about Jesus, we are talking about the kingdom of God. All four gospels refer to the kingdom of God dozens of times. It’s a central idea in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul. Jesus speaks of the kingdom as a mustard seed or yeast. He said that the kingdom was drawing near whenever one of his disciples was performing acts in his name.
That’s what I hear John the Baptist talking about in today’s gospel.
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
We prepare the way for Jesus, to make his paths straight, to open our hearts, to clear out that which keeps us from him, so that he may come and prepare a way for us where mountains are made low and rough ways smooth.
But that’s all abstract talk, right? Metaphors. It sounds nice. Good imagery. But what does it even mean to make paths straight? To fill valleys? What does the kingdom of God even mean?
Well, I’ll say what I already said, but a little differently: whenever we’re talking about the kingdom of God, we’re talking about Jesus. And we need only look at the ministry of Jesus to have a model for the kingdom: he healed those who were sick without asking what he would get in return, he fed thousands without asking what they’ve done to deserve it. He believed people when they told him they were suffering without asking for proof. He protected the vulnerable. He stood up for the oppressed.
The kingdom of God is simple: It’s a place where everyone thrives. Where paths are made straight for everyone. Where mountains are made low for everyone. Where rough ways are smoothed for everyone. I said it was simple. Not easy.
Theologians like to talk about the kingdom of God as both the already and the not yet, meaning the kingdom of God is always at our fingertips, manifesting in glimpses and flashes, but not fully occupying our lives and our world.
If we’re always talking about Jesus when we’re talking about the kingdom, then I like to think of Jesus the man as the already, and Christ the savior as the not yet. Let me explain.
Jesus came into this world as a human being. He broke into this material world to bring the kingdom of God into that particular place in that particular time. He healed, fed, taught, and, yes, stood up to the governing authorities—all for the sake of the kingdom of God. His life was the already of the kingdom: that flash, that glimpse. He didn’t cover the world in God’s love, but he did his best to cover his little part of the world in God’s love.
When he was crucified, none of his followers thought that he had changed the world. As far as they were concerned, hope had been snuffed out and they didn’t understand the point of any of it.
Sound familiar? Does it ever feel like no matter how hard you try to live your faith, no matter how much you take actions that embody your values, it all feels so insignificant in the face of all the enormous suffering in the world?
Well, that’s where Christ comes in. Because Jesus did not stay in the tomb. He rose again, empowering us with his love, calling us to be his body in this world, inviting us into the great hope of the kingdom to come. The not yet.
Jesus rose again as Christ, and we became his body. We became his hands and feet, his heart and joy. We became a multitude of flashes and glimpses, an uncountable number of people becoming the already, the kingdom of God right now every time we choose to live his love.
A lot of people are waiting for Jesus to come back on clouds of glory, but the fact is Jesus is already here in the Body of Christ. It’s just going to take enough of us living his love in this world to bring the kingdom that has not yet come permanently.
And that, my friends, is why we gather in this space together every week. To remember that we are Christ’s body. Through communion. Through the ways we pray and care for each other. I hope your paths feel a little straighter here. I hope your mountains feel a little lower here. I hope this is a place where glimpses and flashes of the kingdom are gathered so that we can recognize what the kingdom of God feels like. So that we learn over and over again how to live the kingdom of God outside this place.
Today, we are formally welcoming eleven people into our community, and formally reaffirming the commitment of one longtime member. We will remember what it is to commit to one another, this little part of the Body of Christ in Gresham. These new members will commit to showing up for this community. To giving to this community and—just as important—being open to receiving from this community. They will commit to bringing God’s love beyond these walls.
That’s what it means to be a member of St. Luke’s. Showing up. Giving. Receiving. And bringing all the love we nurture here into our greater community. Simple but not always easy.
The kingdom of God starts with each of us living God’s love every day, in the biggest, loudest ways and in the smallest ways that maybe no one will ever know about. We are the flashes and glimpses, the already.
When we gather in this place, when all our flashes and glimpses come together, the not yet kingdom of God becomes just a little more solid in this world. The flashes become minutes, maybe even hours, the glimpses become gazes. The solidity we build here gives each of us a foundation from which to share that love in other parts of our lives, where hopefully that foundation grows even deeper and stronger.
Advent is about waiting for a tiny baby who is born in a seemingly insignificant place to seemingly insignificant people to change the world. It’s about having faith that every little way we embody God’s love, however insignificant it might seem, matters. It’s about trusting that when we gather those acts of love in a community like this, we build the kingdom of God. And when we have the courage to bring that kingdom beyond these walls, well, that’s how God will change the world. Amen.