Seeking God’s Reign
Reflection August 11, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Isaiah 1:11-17/ Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16/ Luke 12:21-34
Seeking God’s Reign
I am revealing one thing about myself every Sunday, and today, I should start by saying, I’m not proud of what I’m about to confess to you. I’m a worrier. Not a warrior, although I am that too sometimes. And sometimes there are people in my life who make me feel ashamed of being a worrier. Now I’m going to tell you about my piano teacher Arne, but first, please promise me you won’t tell him that I mentioned him in my sermon since he is coming this weekend. He’s the kind of person who, although he doesn’t have much, doesn’t shy away from helping people in any way possible. But from what I observed, because he’s such a good person who loves and helps with everything he has, people tend to take care of him. His previous car was a gift and so is his current car. A good friend recently passed away, and his family decided to give his car to Arne. After a church function involving abundant food, our ladies would ask me if I would deliver all the leftover food to him, since he was my piano teacher and we met regularly. He is single and we worry about whether he eats properly or not. He dined with us after my piano lessons. It was wonderful sharing lessons and meals together once a week. Learn from Jesus; eating together creates bonds. Anyway, he’s such a selfless person that I believe God will keep providing for him through the many people in his life, including yours truly.
Today, we read a very familiar gospel text about God taking care of our needs. This text deals with the issues of anxiety and trust. As a worrier, this text feels very personal to me; this is like God saying, “you of little faith” with arms folded. One thing that a lot of Christians tend to misunderstand about this text is thinking that things like what to eat and what to wear are not important; but this is our privilege talking. Those who struggle to provide for their basic needs can’t think like that. Contrary to this belief, Jesus is saying these things are extremely important. The reason why disciples should not worry is because God knows that we need those things, and also because worrying cannot change things. So, the moral of the story is this; “Don’t worry about your basic needs because God already knows you need them. Instead, focus on God’s kingdom and live as faithful disciples. Then God will provide for you.”
I think it is normal that I thought of Arne while preparing this message; his life is a living testimony to the verse, “Strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” I think I should pause a little here to explain to you about God’s ‘kingdom’. The original Greek word that we often translate as ‘kingdom’ is basileia, which mostly refers to an abstract and political realm, and not a physical space. A more accurate translation would be ‘reign’. For example, I could say, “During the reign of King Henry VIII, England broke up with the Roman Catholic Church,” although he also broke up with some wives and broke some of their heads along the way. Anyway, a lot of times, I will use the term ‘the reign of God’ and when I do, know that it means ‘the kingdom of God.” Because basileia means a political ‘reign’ and not a physical space, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, it means bringing God reign on earth. It is a subversive message. A lot of people don’t realize this, but the ministry of Jesus was socially subversive in nature. To bring God’s reign of love and equality on earth, inevitably, the unjust social order has to be replaced. As we have read in Isaiah chapter 1, God doesn’t want burnt offerings and other sacrifices from us. To translate this into our context, God doesn’t want our Sunday morning worship services, reading and meditating on the Bible and praying a lot; what God wants from us is our worships, meditations, and prayers to lead us to a lifestyle of loving service and works of justice. Disciples are called to work for this just reign on earth; we have to do the work. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it expressed the speaker’s will to participate in making it happen. God works through us. There are a lot of sufferings in our world and a lot of people cry out, “Where is God in the lives of the suffering people?” It can lead them to losing faith in God. But read the gospel message and we can realize that the followers of Jesus are called to do God’s will of love and justice. God is all about love, and social justice is what love looks like in public; that is why we should strive to bring social justice. We fight for social justice because we care and love. The love that God requires of us is from Isaiah 1:17; “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Orphans and widows are the symbols for the most socially vulnerable and marginalized people. We are told to defend them and help them. That is what it means to seek the kingdom of God, or God’s reign. In Henry’s reign women got replaced and beheaded, but in God’s reign, needy and marginalized people are given basic rights and dignity, no less than any privileged people of the society. Our job is to work for this world where no one has fewer rights than others; everyone has the rights to provide for their basic needs and have basic human rights such as the right to get married and seek happiness, and live as oneself without worrying about being bullied, hate crimes, or being discriminated against in jobs or housing.
Can we trust God’s care and not worry so we can focus on faithfully doing God’s will? What enables us to not worry comes from faith. According to Hebrews chapter 11, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We heard about the ancestors in our faith who lived by faith, such as Abraham, who left his home at the age of 75 for God’s promised land, who had to trust God’s promise to give him a son and heir while his wife was barren and they were both very old. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “We live by faith and not by sight,” reinforcing the idea that faith is trusting something we cannot see. Faith is trusting in things we cannot see and waiting for God to lead us to wherever God means us to be. But we do not NOT see; we just see through the eyes of faith and trust. As I mentioned last Sunday, last Sunday’s lesson is connected to this Sunday’s. The foolish rich person wanted to build barns to hoard his crops. He worried about taking care of himself instead of trusting God. Today, we heard about birds in the sky and flowers in the field without a care for whom God provides.
Can we follow God’s guidance blindfolded even when we are guided toward scary roads? Let us consistently pray that God will give us strong faith that will help us to overcome our anxieties, so that we can live properly and faithfully as God’s children and the followers of Jesus; bringing God’s reign of compassion and justice to our world.