Sunday, September 3, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 100; Luke 17:20-24; Hebrews 11:1-3
Sermon: The Kingdom of God: Within
Elyse Fairweather, guest sermonizer
Their feathers shimmer and glint in the sunlight – green hues sparkle as they bob and flit. The hummingbirds are delighting in their meal – freshly filled feeders. It’s a simple sugar and water mixture, but to the hummingbirds it is life.
This summer we have been focusing on the Kingdom of God. We have been studying the parables – learning from the words of Jesus, about what the Kingdom of God is, and how to see it or experience it. We have been asking ourselves one simple question; where do I see the Kingdom of God?
For me, I see the Kingdom of God in the hummingbirds. The tiny intricacies of their little bodies – one single feather so intentionally created that it has the ability to sparkle and shimmer like a jewel. The simplicity of their joy at finding nourishment. I feel closest to God when I am in Creation, so unsurprisingly these little birds reveal God’s love, joy, and grace to me.
After all, God’s merciful, unbridled love is what the Kingdom is all about.
Luke chapter 17 tells us this: “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Other translations use the phrase, “the kingdom of God is within you” or “inside you.” So – what does that mean?
One of the great thinkers of the Church, Teresa of Avila says this;
My soul at once becomes recollected and I enter the state of quiet or that of rapture, so that I can use none of my faculties and senses…
Everything is stilled, and the soul is left in a state of great quiet and deep satisfaction.
From this recollection there sometimes springs an interior peace and quietude which is full of happiness, for the soul is in such a state that it thinks there is nothing that it lacks. Even speaking – by which I mean vocal prayer and meditation – wearies it: it would like to do nothing but love. This condition lasts for some time, and may even last for longer periods.
She speaks of mindfulness – of quieting the body and the mind, clearing away all that which separates us from the Divine. Meditation.
For some of us, this experience can be found during yoga. For others, it may be found on the water or in the mountains. The beautiful thing about our Creator is that God is so creative that God uses all sorts of different conduits to connect with us.
The question then would stand;
How do you feel close to God? What quiets your body and mind, enabling you to feel closer to the Divine? How do you push past the hurdles, sift through the “to do” lists, and bask in the glory of the Most High?
I think Teresa of Avila was on to something. If Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God is within us, then it would behoove us to look within, right? She speaks of the work it takes to simply come back to the root of who we are – our essence, our soul – and sit there a while. She speaks of the soul’s desire to do nothing but love. That sounds pretty divine to me.
Messages like Teresa’s come to us as reminders to find the calm and quiet – the peace of God – within ourselves. Now, this is not to say that we should cease to seek community with others – quite the opposite, actually. We know from Jesus’ teachings and other New Testament texts, as well as from messages found in the Old Testament, that community is wildly important. God in God’s self finds community – the Triune God – God has relationship with God’s self. So please don’t hear that the only way to connect with God is to be alone. Rather, this is simply another tool with which to connect with God in our busy, hurried, full lives.
A patient of mine recently reflected on just this topic. It was this past Friday, actually, and we were checking in and seeing how she was doing. Somehow or other, we came to a calendar of hers that was full of art and Scripture, and she suggested we page through and look at the artwork within. I offered that we might see what the page looked like for each of our birthday months – now get this. For my birthday month, May, the art was beautiful, but the Scripture is what struck me. It was Luke 17:21 – our text for today.
I shared this with her with excitement surely glimmering in my eyes – “this is the text I’m preaching on for Sunday!” What a cool God-thing, we thought. She then asked if we could check September, her birth month. Well of course we can, I said. Flipping to September, we saw the words, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46 verse 10. “How appropriate,” I reflected. My patient then shared that this particular verse of Scripture had been meaningful to her for quite some time. Here we spent some time talking about her experience with being still and knowing and trusting in God’s goodness.
After a little while, one of the caregivers came in with her laundry and so we moved to another area of her apartment to get things sorted out. On the armoire was a little sign that caught my eye. It was wooden and was engraved with the verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” I smiled as I pointed out to her that “her verse” was showing up again today! “Oh yes,” she said, “that verse is so important to me.” She then told me this story:
You know, I used to work at the church for a while, and one of the priests made this for me. There’s a lot of wisdom in that verse – the being still part, particularly. In fact Father had come up with a meditation – you may have heard something like this before. First he would invite us to get comfortable – you know, the normal quiet your body and calm yourself kind of thing. Then he would recite the whole verse; Be still and know that I am God. He would then leave some time for us to let that sink in, and then he would say, Be still and know. He kept going like that – Be still – until he got to just the word “be.” It was a great way for us to find our stillness and that quiet space within us.
Huh – stillness and quiet space, you say? My, that sounds awfully similar to what Teresa of Avila was saying, doesn’t it?
Well, here is where I got really excited, with this patient of mine, and I shared with her my plan for my sermon this Sunday – how we were focusing on the concept of the Kingdom of God being found within. I asked if I might share this with you all this morning and she gave an enthusiastic “of course!”
What Teresa of Avila, this patient of mine, and her priest, are all doing – among many, many others – is trying to carve out a space and time to intentionally set all of our worries and concerns aside – all that distracts us – and find the Spirit of God moving within.
It is easy for us to become caught-up with the goings on of regular, day-to-day life. With work, or family, and certainly the news and the media, we can become overwhelmed, burdened, or simply distant from God.
Jesus’ invitation in chapter 17 of the Gospel of Luke is for us to come back to our centers. Come back to our spirit to commune with the Holy Spirit. Put down your burdens, quiet your mind, and take refuge in the Spirit of God.
When thinking about the Kingdom of God, it is easy to imagine a certain time or a certain look to things – the “one day” or “when God” voices start to spring up. Jesus’ call to us, instead, is to find the Kingdom of God in our very midst.
When I think of the Kingdom of God, I think about peace, an end to suffering, reconciliation – the list goes on. So – how can I bring peace? What can I do to alleviate suffering – my own or that of others? What needs reconciliation in my life? Maybe the answers to these questions are relational. Maybe they require what feels like a brave first step. Maybe they require grace.
What Jesus is telling us here is not simply “look inside yourself, find a peaceful spot, and stay there.” Rather, he is inviting us to look within, feel the Spirit of God, and notice where it is moving.
It is, in a beautiful way, a call to “be” as well as a call to action. Come back to your original goodness. Come back to self-acceptance. Come back to self-love. Come back to justice, mercy, and gladness. And do something with them.
We, as Christ followers are called to bring light to the world. We are called to bring healing, too. I don’t know about you, but I can think of plenty of ways our world needs healing right now.
And maybe when you think of the healing needed for our world, you become overwhelmed. How in the world am I supposed to fix all of this?! Well, the beauty of it is that no one person is responsible for fixing or healing all of it. But, at the same time, no one is exempt from helping out.
So let’s start small. What is one way you can find healing? Well starting with ourselves is a good idea. Coming back to our center, focusing on the breath – breath we received from God – is a good idea.
So, if you feel comfortable, I am going to lead us in a little guided meditation this morning – an invitation to finding that peaceful place within each of us. Ready? Okay.
First I want to invite each of us to get into a comfortable position. Maybe that means closing our eyes, uncrossing our legs, and resting our hands on our laps. Maybe that means something different – that’s okay. What is comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another. So without judgment, find a comfortable position.
I would invite you to close your eyes, so as not to be distracted by what you see, and just focus on your breathing. Our goal here is to slow down our breath, allowing each inhale to fill up our lungs, and allowing each exhale to fully empty our lungs. You may find it helpful to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try that a few times, if you’d like. Breathing in… and breathing out. Breathing in… and breathing out. Good.
If your mind starts to wander, or your to-do list pops up, just set it aside – you can come back to it later. Breathing in… and breathing out.
Feel the way your seat is rooted into the pew and the way your feet root you to the floor. Feel your connection to the earth as you continue to breathe in and out – the same breath that God gave you at your Creation. Breathing in… and breathing out.
Here we might find that place of peace – an oasis, of sorts, away from the distractions. And I would offer you – each of us – this blessing;
May we be happy and at ease.
May we be safe from harm and free from danger.
May we be well in body and in mind.
May we be filled with love and kindness.
As you hear those words – as your heart accepts those words, I invite you to come back to the breath, allowing the blessing to flow over you. And know that this place of peace and blessing is available to you at any time.
When you are ready, I would invite you to bring some awareness back into your body – maybe moving your fingers or wiggling your toes. Feel the pew supporting your body. Feel the presence of those sitting next to you. And when you are ready, I would invite you to open your eyes again, joining us in this room.
May we go from here this morning, nourished, reassured that the peace of God – the Spirit of God – the Kingdom of God – can be found within. And May that peace bolster us, guide and sustain us, so that we may go out and bring peace and healing.
Thanks be to God.