Homily: The Kingdom of God Is Among You
This week’s readings tell, on an epic scale, the true story of God’s interacting with our world by giving us just a hint of the grand sweep of what is in store for humanity in that event we call the End of the Word. The Gospel tells us: “ The Coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed. No one will announce: ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is’. For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” The prophet Daniel recounts: “Some who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” It was a huge world that was crashing down, and our smallness in the face of it is tangible, so real we can feel it.
We live in a culture very different, at least in some ways, from the culture at the time of Jesus’ preaching today of the End of Time. The apostles led what Eugene Peterson calls “large lives” lived in the largeness of God who was the country in which they lived’. Right in the middle of our own little, fragile yet remarkably enduring, yet often inspiring lives, is where God finds what God will use to transform, to save, to heal, the world and us. God is the leading character in the story of our life; yet, we should not look for God in our life stories so much as “to see our stories in the greatness of God'”.
If we were to spend very much time in spiritual reflection, we will find that we mostly search for God in some incident that happens in our lives. We say, ‘God is in my heart,’ but we should really say, ‘I am in the heart of God.’ It is not so much of “Where does God fit in our story”, but rather, “Where do we fit into this grand story of God?”
And so we come to church and seek some kind of connection with God, a sense of God’s presence in a way that is more intense than we see or feel it in our daily lives.
I think it’s true that we’re not changed in a place of worship. Instead, church and what happens there intensifies whatever we bring to it. I’m reminded of something the character Shug says in Alice Walker’s book, ‘The Color Purple’: “Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
If that is the case, then we clergy can rest a little easier, because the amazing things that happen in Holy Places happen because of God, and not because of anything ‘we’ do. Actually, I think we can find a lot of comfort in that thought. It’s not all up to us, is it?
After the death of my sister last year, a close friend told me: “I want you to know that I pray for her every day.” Every day. Not just in church, but every day. After the death of my mother, many years ago, my sister and I were sorting through her things, Among them we found multiple versions of our mother’s daily prayer list, with many names added through the years.
What a testament of faith and trust in God! God at the center of our lives, and our lives inside God’s own story. One of the finest pieces of literary extended prayer of a person on the margins is the journal of Celie in ‘The Color Purple’. In her most painful experiences (and even mired in doubt) and in her exuberant joy, Celie sees God as someone who listens to, and cares about, people like her. In the course of her long and often painful story, Celie seems to find her place in the story of God.
In our churches and in our homes, on our deathbeds and in hospital rooms, in swerving cars and moments of desolation and loneliness, we approach God with the prayers of our hearts. What a challenge it is to encounter one another in every moment of life, not knowing what is in the heart of another, but honoring their prayer and their longing and their pain nevertheless.
As Gandhi once said, “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
Anne Lamott, in her book ‘Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith in the 21st Century’, she says: “Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray — with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the shower.” Kathryn Matthews Huey
God’s presence is wherever we allow Him to be; our prayers to God are answered however we permit them to be. We are inside God and God is inside us. “The Kingdom of God is among you.”
My friends, the Advent season is just around the corner. It tells us we are waiting, still waiting for His Coming. But He is here, among us and within us. Can we ever come to realize the overwhelming reality of that statement? Can we get on with the business of living with God, right now?