12th Sunday after Pentecost III, August 11, 2013 Episcopal Church of the Ascension Building the Kingdom of God The Reverend Dr. Howard J. Hess
I. Introduction. As Ann (LuAnn, and Jeremiah) has (have) so beautifully reminded us, this is Family Promise Sunday here at Church of the Ascension and in multiple congregations throughout our city. We are celebrating one of the core ministries of our parish, and rightfully so. Our outreach into the world around us should strengthen the focus of our worship, just as our worship together should re-enforce our commitment to ministry. When we consider today’s Gospel, the message could not be clearer: “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourself wallets that don’t wear out – a treasure in heaven that never runs out . . . where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Although we often focus on the mandate about giving, there is a broader message here. This passage begins with an injunction not to be afraid and a reassurance that God will give us the kingdom. And the kingdom is about much more than giving away one’s wealth.
II. What then is Luke trying to tell us about the Kingdom of God and how does Family Promise provide us with an opportunity to envision and be a part of that Kingdom? This week I have been reading a book recommended by one of our parishioners, entitled Unfinished. It is written by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision, US. Stearns takes his Christianity very seriously. In 1998 he gave up his enviable position as CEO of Parker Brothers and Lenox, Inc., to lead World Vision US. His thesis in Unfinished is that Christ left a mandate for us to complete the unfinished work he had begun, and that every single one of us, and every church, has a part in that task.
Stearns writes: “The central mission of Christ and the purpose he gave to his church was to proclaim, establish, and build God’s kingdom on earth” (2013, p. 57). Stearns emphasizes that, “If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission in the world, then we have missed the very thing he has created us to do.”
Make no mistake about it – helping build God’s kingdom is tough and sometimes complicated. Acting alone, any one of us is highly likely to become overwhelmed by this task. In fact, by focusing too exclusively on individual responsibility, we run the risk of missing one of the characteristics of God’s kingdom. It is relationship-driven and thrives on collective ministry. The Kingdom of God crosses human boundaries in all directions and sets up a network of mutually re-enforcing connections.
Family Promise is in my mind a prime example of how the kingdom of God is built. Simply described, a family that is homeless is provided shelter in one of a number of churches, where the family also receives breakfast and dinner. The family is thus allowed to stay together and be sustained, while the family and others make attempts to establish a permanent family home. What I find compelling is that, in the process of providing shelter, opportunities are created for literally hundreds of relationships to be formed among parishioners, staff, and clergy across a large number of faith communities (look at the list in your bulletin). Similarly, relationships are being formed within churches, such as Ascension, that are participating in the program, not only with the families living here, but also between parishioners.
The families who live here at Ascension are all the while giving us a gift – the opportunity to use more of the space that God has graciously provided to Ascension for a sacred purpose. God has a deep affection for those who live – even for a short time – on the margin and for those endeavoring to keep their families together. I believe it pleases God to see Ascension make its space available for use by people God deeply loves. There is an organic unity in the kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom we are bound together so closely that the distinction between givers and receivers is blurred, and all are mutually benefiting from their active participation.
III. Conclusion. We are blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the Family Promise Program. This morning each of us can contribute further to the expansion of this ministry. I encourage you to be generous in your giving in the envelopes that are provided; and I encourage you to purchase tickets after church for the Pasta Cook-off. In conclusion, I quote again from Stearn’s book Unfinished:
- God has invited us to join him in changing the world!
- God has a dream for this world that Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
- God created us to play an important role in his kingdom vision, and
- We will never find your deepest purpose in life until we find our place in building God’s Kingdom. (p. xxii)