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The kingdom of heaven is like an employer who had no shortage of work to be done, an odd and untiring affection for unemployed laborers, apparently nothing more important to do than continue rounding them up and bringing them to his business, and an annoying willingness to be extravagantly generous with everyone—no matter how undeserving they were.
In the kingdom of heaven, apparently, inclusiveness and generosity are more important than strict rules and fairness.
The kingdom of heaven is like a lawmaker who went out to the white folks and the big campaign contributors to see what they wanted and how much they wanted it. Sometime later she went and sat down with the Black Lives Matter folks to listen to what they had to say. There was still much work to be done in establishing racial justice and getting guns off the streets, and so she went out to meet with the police and the parents of children killed by gun violence.
In the kingdom of heaven, apparently, everyone gets a hearing.
The kingdom of heaven is a general who commanded armies and navies, with an endless supply of guns and missiles and bombs and drones. He went out to see the children of Aleppo and the refugees living in camps in Turkey and Greece. He went to see the Palestinians in Gaza and the walls and checkpoints in Israel. He went to the NATO forces and the Kremlin, to government troops and rebels. And at the end of the day, he sought out fighters for ISIS.
In the kingdom of heaven, apparently, everyone—no matter how violent or brutal, regardless of how many they’ve killed or how long they’ve wandered the earth—deserves to live in peace, sitting underneath their own fig tree, in their own home.
The kingdom of heaven is like a climate-change activist who couldn’t keep track of all the protests and marches, all the pipeline plans and divestment rallies. But they had concern and hope to spare, and so they went out to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. They went where there were floods and wildfires; they went where the water was rising and the shoreline was sinking. And then they went to the oil companies and the coal mines.
In the kingdom of heaven, apparently, time is of the essence. And so everyone is invited to the table. Everyone is treated with respect. Everyone is encouraged to care for our one Earth.
The kingdom of heaven is like a politician in search of votes who wanted everyone to vote. And so they went out to the Clinton supporters; they appealed to Bernie’s people, to third-party voters. They made a special appeal to the disaffected and disenfranchised. They went out to the Trump supporters and tried to understand.
In the kingdom of heaven, apparently, no one is deplorable.
Are you getting the picture yet? Do you have some sense of what heaven is like?
Well, let me tell you:
The kingdom of heaven is like a church that went out and started ordaining women. And then that church went out and looked around and started ordaining gays and lesbians. And then then the church went out and looked around to see who else there might be who needed some love and justice, mercy and peace. So the church members took the church out of the building, out of members-only activities, away from communion only for those who believe certain things and don’t do other things.
The kingdom of heaven is like members of a church who took the Bible out into the world and compared what it said to what they saw. And then they started feeding the hungry. And then they went out to the bars and the parades and the marches, and they reached to the lesbians and the gays, the trans folks and the bisexuals. They said, “God loves you. We love you. Please forgive us for being so late in recognizing you as God’s beloved. Please join us as we work to heal ourselves and one another. Please come and be the church with us.”
The kingdom of heaven is like a church that kept working against racism, praying for peace, and continuing to listen for the Still-speaking God. It is like a church that kept ministering to children and youth even when there weren’t that many. It is like a church that continued to live out its mission even when the pledges dropped off—because the kingdom of heaven is like a church full of generous people that knows even their building is mission, and so they gave and gave and gave to make it more welcoming and accessible.
The kingdom of heaven is like a church where a motley collection of normal used-up, beaten-down, odd-duck, good-hearted, walking-wounded, goodhearted people kept trying to follow Jesus in loving God and loving their neighbors and enemies.
Apparently, the church is like the kingdom of heaven when it welcomes everyone. It’s like the kingdom of heaven when it values the well-being of all over fairness. The church is a little slice of heaven when each one of us is so deeply aware of how much we’ve been given, so verklempt when we stop to think of all the times God has rescued us from the ditch, so overcome with gratitude when we consider how much healing we have experienced, that we, like that wee little man Zacchaeus, become downright giddy. We realize how much we are loved, how much we have and how much we’ve been given, and we long to share what we have.
Apparently, the kingdom of heaven feels like heaven not because of “the quality of people in it,” 1 not because it runs with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine, not because everyone gets along all the time, but because God is in the midst of it all. Because God’s extravagant grace is made visible every time someone new walks through the door. Because God’s mercy is evident in our gentleness with each other. Because God’s delight is visible in our children. Because we are bowled over every time we experience, again, the reality of the Word become flesh, sacrificing everything to hang out with us, so that we too might know the fullness of heaven, right here on Earth.
The kingdom of heaven is where you are loved—just because. Where you are welcomed—just as you are. It is where you are sought out—precisely because of who you are. It is where a fuss is made over you—in spite of everything, without regard to anything, but just because the Lover longs to love. It is where the Beloved seeks you out to be with you, wherever you are, because you were created for this.
The kingdom of heaven is like a place where everyone gave of what they had so that the work could go on and all would be taken care of.
But here on Earth, here in church, sometimes you forget. Sometimes we all forget. Because our pockets are not bottomless, because our bank accounts do not multiply like so many loaves and fishes, because no matter how much we have we are always worrying and wondering if there will be enough. Because we are still being transformed into the likeness, into the fullness of the love and generosity of our Maker. Because it is a process, because it is a decision we have to keep re-deciding, and, yes, because the church still has bills to pay.
So, what will your response be to God’s extravagance, God’s never-ending generosity? Will you let yourself be transformed by the good news that God is forever seeking you out to give you something, to do something for you?
The kingdom of heaven is where God keeps seeking out the lost, gathering in the left-out, lifting up the downtrodden, loving the lonely, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner, eating with the outcasts, and inviting herself to a sleepover at the home of the local scoundrel.
Let’s come down from our hiding places, come out from our fears, and join the heavenly party.