Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 3 November 2019.
We have all been through election campaigns in which the parties and candidates compete for our votes by offering ever more extravagant programmes.
For some this may be an exercise in manipulation while for others, not used to the compromises and complexities that office brings, may be more innocent.
But then the glow of victory fades and the reality of defining, costing, legislating and prioritizing their campaign promises then kicks in. Their own supporters have to be kept in line, often with a combination of bribery and threats.
And so the business of government proceeds, by fits and starts until all are drained of vision and energy. The realities of office assert themselves, including the intrusive glare of the news media and the insistent questions of the better and more insightful interviewers.
But now the lights have grown dim, the gilt on the gingerbread is faded, reputations are shredded, and so it goes on.
Our lessons, however, present a different set of ways of looking at things. It is no longer about power-broking, promises made and some kept, assurances given and some given sincerely.
Now the agenda is about the things of God, in which authority is beyond question and wisdom is beyond challenge. Now we are looking at a purity of purpose and a clarity of vision, a holiness of concept and a glory in its design, construction and achievement.
This is where we are looking at the Kingdom of God, and this month we do it twice: once at the beginning, at All Saints and once at the end at the celebration of Christ the King.
For some this is a matter of profound skepticism as if it were all about pie in the sky when we die, while for others, the word of Jesus that ‘The kingdom of God is within you’, so as this is the era of the church then there is nothing really to look forward to, except perhaps the fractured hopes of aspiring statesmen.
But there is another way of seeing it which rises above the agendas of power and wealth and influence, and in which a person’s worth does not consist in their personal possessions.
This is where the visions of Jesus and Paul of are drawn together into a wonderful sense of being.
For Jesus, blessedness is in not being high and mighty, but in humility and trust in God. It is not in force of arms, personal charm or subtlety of argument, skill in manoeuvring and the effectiveness of personal networking.
Rather it is in having the sensitivity of knowing one’s place in the sight of God and in being that man and woman of peace, knowing hunger and sorrow and rejection without becoming bitter or alienated.
It is easy to allow the aggressions and deprivations of life to lead us into rejection of everything around us and to glory is a kind of nihilism that rejects all other values of what is good and true and beautiful.
But Jesus says no, this is not where His love and wisdom and mercy abide. Beauty and harmony, love and mercy are not signs of weakness but of glory even when they are denied and abused.
So: giving away the coat, giving alms to all who seek them, even when we suspect that they may be ‘at it’, offering the other cheek, normally figuratively but possibly not, praying for those who abuse and mistreat us.
These are all works of power in the Holy Spirit, and they are not just signs of the Kingdom – they are evidences of its presence among us as a promise yet to be revealed in all its glory.
In writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul was telling them that even though they lived and worshipped in a major centre of the occult – that is the centre of the deity Artemis or Diana, the church was still blessed beyond measure.
They already had an inheritance in Jesus Christ, and they had already received in their hearts and lives the word of the gospel of truth.
They were already sealed with the authority and power of the Holy Spirit so that they could live and proclaim their faith with an authority that could only be godly.
And more than this, Paul was also praying for them to be filled beyond the measure of their own imaginations.
He desired for them the Spirit of Wisdom and revelation as they faced their pagan neighbours, an enlightening of the eyes of the heart so that they may not be overcome by their own circumstances, and a hope that surpassed anything and everything that the local cult had to offer them.
This would be the gateway to the Kingdom to which they were already called, and the richness of Jesus’ glorious inheritance which lay before them.
What was true them is still there for us now, even as we face the blandishments being placed before us, and the threats of those who fear that they are going to lose.
Yes, the kingdom of God may be within us in this life, but it has no comparison with what awaits us in the providence of God.