Friday, August 21, 2009

The Kingdom Experiment

Fortunate are those who are poor. Truly privileged are those who mourn. Favored by God are those who are persecuted and oppressed. It is with these words, normally called the beatitudes, that Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount.

You can sense the tension we feel when we read these words by the way we normally try to explain them. We know that the poor, those who mourn, and the persecuted and oppressed are not really blessed. Blessedness means that it is obvious to everyone that God is taking care of you. It means that all your needs are met. The poor, persecuted, and mourning are those who have not had their needs met. They are not blessed. So we often say that Jesus meant that these people are spiritually blessed in spite of not being physically blessed. Or we turn these statements into a checklist of Christian morality. In other words, the Christian must be a gentle, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker. There is some truth in both of these statements but I think somehow they miss the point that Jesus is really making.

Only in a world completely different from ours could these statements be true. In our world, the powerful, influential, and violent inherit the earth, not the gentle. In our world, the merciful are usually taken advantage of rather than receiving mercy in return. In our world… well you get the idea. What Jesus is describing in the beatitudes is a world which operates by different rules than our own. He is describing the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which is backwards and upside down in comparison to the kingdoms of this world. These words are not an observation about how things are or a checklist of Christian virtues. They are a promise of what is to come, a promise that one day things will really be different. They are a promise that one day those who mourn will find real comfort and that the violent and powerful will not always control everything and that mercy, purity, and peace are really possible.

As followers of Jesus, we live in the hope of these promises. It is the promise of God’s kingdom which sustains us as the Church. However, it is not our mission to simply sit around and wait for this kingdom to show up. We aren’t called to just get by in this life until Jesus fixes everything. Instead, the hope that we have for the future impacts how we live today. Because we believe that our world will play by different rules when God’s kingdom finally comes, we want to live by those rules now as witness to the new reality that we anticipate with eager expectation.

This fall, we are going to participate in a small group study entitled The Kingdom Experiment. It is a study centered on the beatitudes but it is much more than just a Bible study. It is an experiment in intentionally living out our hopeful anticipation of the Kingdom of God. In addition to a lesson on one of the beatitudes each week, there will also be experiments from which to choose. These experiments are challenges to live out the kingdom value of that beatitude throughout the week. Each person in your group will choose which ever experiment they want to try that week and journal about it before your next meeting. Your meetings each week will consist of discussing your experience from the previous week as well as the beatitude for the next week. I believe that this study can help us to see the Kingdom of God in new ways and I hope that you will prayerfully consider participating.

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