"Special Presentation:  Images of the Kingdom -
November 23, 2008"

     The church calendar tells us that today is the Sunday of Christ the King.  Today we finish the first segment of a three-year lectionary: since last December, most of the gospel readings assigned to the Sundays of the year have come from Matthew, just as it did this morning.  And one of the phrases that Matthew uses over and over is: “The kingdom of the heavens is like....”

     There’s a saying attributed to Confucius that says: “One who hammers above head hits nail right on thumb.”  In place of a sermon today, we will risk “hitting nail right on thumb”, by using hymns & anthems to explore what the kingdom might be like.

     So... just what is the Kingdom?  Is it something we need to work at?  A place we need to go?  An attitude we need to adopt?  Or is the Kingdom something that we will just experience?  Some future cosmic reality that God will give us? Or maybe the church is God’s kingdom here on earth. 

     Jesus calls us to follow him.  His voice even now rings in our ears, and we want to be part of spreading his kingdom!

     The assembly sings:  The Voice of God is Calling #436, stanzas 1 & 3 only.

     In the Lord’s prayer, we say:  “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.  Perhaps the kingdom is already here, and we just don’t know it, or can’t see it.  But we can work to make it more visible, more alive in the world, by the way we live and love.

     Choir Anthem:  Living in a Holy City  —Stephen Hatfield

     As we heard early today in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel, when the Son of Man comes in judgment, he will ask whether we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, comforted the grieving, because by doing those things for others, we have done it for God.

     There is perhaps no higher calling than the service of the poor, the needy and the outcast.  We commit ourselves anew to building God’s kingdom here in our midst.

     The assembly sings:  Let There Be peace on Earth #431

     When Jesus tried to describe the kingdom,  he often used the image of a wedding banquet, an image we can easily understand:  food & drink,  music & dancing,  friends & family. 

     And just before he died, Jesus commanded us to remember him whenever we eat and drink.  By sharing the bread and the cup, we remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we renew our faith in God’s action in our lives, we become one with Christ and with one another.

     The assembly sings:  Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence #626, stanzas 1 &2 only.

     Yet sometimes, we need to rest, to ponder,  to experience the quiet intimacy with the One who said:

The kingdom of God is within you, the kingdom of heaven in your midst.

     Choir Anthem:  Ave Verum Corpus  —W.A.Mozart

     In the Book of Revelation, we find an image of the heavenly court, where elders sit on thrones, where angels sing constantly, where the sweet perfume of incense fills the air, and where everything is glorious.

     Down through the ages, people have longed to be part of that wonderful scene:, to live together in a place without conflict, a place full of contentment and peace, a place of unending love.

     The assembly sings:  Shall We Gather at the River #723, stanzas 1 & 3 only.

     Here is what we read in chapter 22 of the Book of Revelation:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying,  ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with humankind, and He will dwell among them,  and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; for the old order of things has passed away.  There will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign with him forever and ever.’”  (Rev 22:1, 3-5)

     Choir Anthem:  No Night There  —Craig Curry  (with dancers)

     When we come right down to it, no one knows what the kingdom is.  Even Jesus’ attempts to portray it don’t really help us much.  Perhaps the Psalmist did it in the fewest words when he sang in Psalm 16, verse 11:

                You will show me the path to life,

                The fullness of joy in your presence,

                The delights at your right hand forever.

     The assembly sings:  O God Beyond All Praising #2009

     St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians that the reality of God’s love is so immense that it’s just impossible to describe or explain.  As Paul himself wrote:

What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human heart or mind has ever conceived—these things God has prepared for those who love him.  (I Cor 2:9)

     Faced with something so utterly inexpressible, so wonderfully magnificent,  so fantastically gorgeous, what do we do?  Maybe Handel put it best in his oratorio Messiah, when the full choir and orchestra exclaim:  “Hallelujah!”  Please stand and, if you are so moved, join the choir in singing that anthem.

     Choir Anthem:  “Hallelujah” Chorus from Messiah  —G.F.Handel

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Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening

into the house and gate of heaven,

to enter into that gate

and dwell in that house,

where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,

but one equal light;

no noise nor silence,

but one equal music;

no fears nor hopes,

but one equal possession;

no ends nor beginnings,

but one equal eternity,

in the habitation of thy glory and dominion,

world without end. 


--John Donne (1573-1631)