God’s Refrigerator Door – Br. Mark Brown
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Gen 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
The Gospels mention the Kingdom of God over 200 times. And Jesus has much to say about it. It will come with power. It is like a treasure hidden in a field. Like a pearl of great price. Like a net catching fish of every kind. Things both new and old will be brought out of its treasury. [Matthew 13:44-52] Today we hear that the Kingdom of God is to be received; that is, the Kingdom is a gift to be received as a little child might receive a gift. The Kingdom belongs to little children, it’s a gift given to children. We may enter as a little child. In innocence, perhaps, with a sense of wonder?
For all the talk about the Kingdom of God in the Gospels, we’re left without much in the way of specifics. Jesus went about proclaiming the Kingdom, but without saying exactly what it is. He speaks in poetic language, in parable and metaphor: fishing nets, pearls, treasures. Food for thought and imagination, but little in the way of specifics.
Which is probably the point. Jesus and the Gospel writers were not lacking in verbal skills. Had they wished to define the Kingdom of God in specific terms, they were capable of doing so. They chose not to. What the Kingdom of God is to be has been left to us. It has been left to us to envision, to dream, to imagine and to build. There’s an upside down quality to this: God is sovereign Lord in his Kingdom, but the Lord does not lord it over us. We are the dreamers and builders of the Kingdom. What it will be is up to us.
I remember the various kinds of building toys my brothers and cousins and I had as kids. Wooden blocks in different shapes and colors, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, an Erector Set, a set of little plastic interlocking bricks, a set of little I beams and plastic panels for building skyscrapers. Typically Christmas or birthday presents. If you’re younger you might have had Legos and Transformers. I have no idea what kids in Jesus’ day got for Christmas and birthdays, but children, like all of us, love to receive gifts. Everybody loves presents. The Kingdom is a gift, and is to be received with delight and anticipation.
So, what is this gift? Much more than little logs or plastic bricks! O, so much more! For starters, we have the whole world! We have earth, air, fire and water. Solids, liquids, gases. Animal, vegetable, mineral. 118 elements from one end of the Periodic Table to the other: all the way from Hydrogen to Ununoctium.
Yes, Ununoctium: physics has come a long way since my high school science classes back in 19whatever-it-was. Ununoctium is one of those very unstable isotopes at the end of the Table. Only three atoms of Ununoctium have been detected (possibly four atoms). [Wikipedia] It has a half-life of less than a millisecond. What a world of wonders this is: earth, air, fire and water. Color, texture, form, density, magnitude—bigness and smallness. Colors from red to violet and infras and ultras in each direction. Pitches up and down the scale for many octaves. And time: sooner, later; before, after; faster, slower; and all the inbetweens. And three atoms of Ununoctium (possibly four). It is quite the universe we live in! Unlimited possibilities. Better than Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys!
A tip of the hat to St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is today. We remember Francis for his love for the natural world, his childlike delight in nature. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth. Brother Hydrogen; Sister Ununoctium.
In the Kingdom of God we dream and build, dream some more and build again. What it will be is up to us. God has refrained from dictating the end result. Just a few guiding principles. Like “love God with your whole being”, “love your neighbor as yourself”, “ do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Love of God and neighbor is a kind of algorithm for our dreaming and building in the Kingdom. I think I’m using that word right, if with a little elasticity. An algorithm being “a process that performs some sequence of operations” [Wikipedia]. Step 1: Love God. Step 2: Love Neighbor. Step 3: Dream. Step 4: Build. Love God and neighbor, and do what you will—the sky’s the limit. With 118 elements and the ways they can combine and recombine, the sky’s the limit.
Love, dream, build. It could be a building, although I’m speaking metaphorically. Or, it could be a book or poem or song or dance. It could be a delicious meal or a beautiful dress or a snazzy hat. It could be a machine or an industrial process. It could be an organization or institution or company or team. It could be a beautiful garden, or a garden good enough to eat. It could be building a relationship or a family or a community. It could be turning a house into a home. It could be an idea or a theory or a system. It could be something with no useful purpose whatsoever that simply delights in the possibilities inherent in creation. On a foundation of love, we dream and build; God puts all these things on his refrigerator door, being the proud and loving parent he is.
Where is the Kingdom of God? It could be here, it could be there, or nowhere or everywhere. What does it look like? It could look like this or it could look like that. Or it could look like this and then like that. Or something else entirely. The Kingdom of God isn’t anything or anywhere in particular. Yet it could be everything and everywhere. The Kingdom of God is not a “where” or a “what”; it’s a way. Jesus has given us a way; a way of living, an art of living with four simple guiding principles: love God, love neighbor, dream, build. And then keep on doing all those things at the same time over and over.
The Kingdom is a way of living, the art of living; and it is a gift to be received as a little child. The best way to show gratitude for a gift is to use it and enjoy it. To play with it in innocence and vulnerability, with childlike delight in testing all boundaries. A gift to enjoy with a mischievous pleasure in pushing against all limitations. The sky’s the limit. And it’s a long way up—it’s a really long way up.
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Loved this sermon and all the comments. Thank you.
Actually the Kingdom was spelled out in the gospels, especially in the parables. And they coordinate with much of Israel’s views of the time. And in spite of our contemporary wish to place OUR meaning into a supposed empty metaphor we would do well to attend to the specifics therein. The meaning was clear: at a certain time God was to directly intervene in history to judge and reign. The judgement involved raising the dead and allowing the righteous to live forever with him while the unrighteous would be consigned to destruction ( sent to Gehenna ( the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem). Thus for us to continue to misrepresent and distort this primary meaning is a mistake. Such may have been the case with John in the 4th Gospel who virtually sets the metaphor aside entirely. If you want to dream or otherwise speak oj justice it is best to look elsewhere
As a chemist, I take great delight in the idea of creating the Kingdom of God using all the elements that God has provided to us, even the ones that are so difficult for us to tame. Sister Ununoctium (literally, one-one-eight-ium) was officially named Oganesson, just two days ago, after the lead scientist of the discovery team. Love God, Love neighbor, Dream, Build is a beautiful and magical way to show our gratitude as we live our our earthly lives.
My first airplane trip in 1973 was terrifying. 3 hours of extreme turbulence. The hostess falling to her knees next to my seat… one huge panic attack. My boyfriend, though startled by the fall, was actually unfazed. Cool, well traveled, unflappable, he reminded me how the design of airplanes really can withstand quite a bit of bad weather… of the many hours pilots train. He spoke calmly and convincingly, and we did not die. 46 years later I realize my life is this same trip …with God talking me off the ledge time after time… calmly speaking to me of the sufficiency of His grace. Now, in moments where there is no immediate turbulence, I can sometimes forgot I am flying…figuratively and literally. I love that Christ has offered me this journey. Anxiety disappears and trust is formed. My buffetted life travels together with yours. We in Him together, doing His Will, take us to the places we yearn for.
Yes, Kathleen. Process is all about engaging, and engaging is what we are here for, not for the finished product. We here to build just one more riser in the staircase to Heaven, but to build it well and with love.
So simple. So powerful. Love, dream, build. I also appreciate the value given to process, which is just as if not more important than product. Process can be so engaging. Thanks.
I, too, am smiling! What a delightful, thought-provoking sermon. Thank you and all the brothers for these sermons. They truly are gifts to touch the soul! God bless you all!
My iPhone pretends to be smarter than me and I refused to accept it!
I am crying while writing you, because I can do it easily! I am a victor and I was born to be a conqueror yet I cry easily !
I wish I could meet people like you and build relationship with “real people” who touch my soul in a way you touched mine.
I like your style and wherever you are, hats off to your job. The power behind you is what I need to find the Kindgdom of God.
Write me if you have time. I am a woman in need to love, to dream and to build.
I would like to make my Lord smile!
Marcella: Four years on. I hope that you have found what you are searching for. Perhaps, the Kingdom of God needs to find you. That may sound strange; but a little over a year ago, I had a startling event whose effect is with me still. One Sunday morning, something nudged me, and the thought was: Why don’t you go to a neighborhood church – a change of denomination (or a return to roots) and and a different church that I had never been to. I went and it was an overwhelming experience: I became a different person. I have new friends, a wonderful Minister, new interests. It is God-given and I am blessed.
Br. Mark writes about the building blocks, etc. When playing with them, we learned to find the one that fitted. We had to change the red one which we liked for the purple one because it was the right one. I am old. More than a year ago I might have said that my experience was impossible. I might have stayed with same-old, but even as an octagenerain, I had the opportunity to change. We are never too old to do that.
Thank you. “Love. Dream. Build.” Those are accessible, active words for the word “kingdom” which sounds staid and patriarchal to me. “Kingdom” is a word that says “him and the rest of us” more than “we” and “God is pulling the strings” more than “Let us be bread for one another, let us be Jesus hands.” I need to get past the word “kingdom” to say “Let’s be God’s place on earth right here and right now.” I see the church as also needing to move beyond “kingdom” to help us all love, dream and build. It gained power by allowing the powerful to build kingdom where it was not always discernible if it was for God’s or their sake. The transparency of the information age changes this.
Now the true kingdom is defined not by power or knowledge, but offering what virtual things do not: an intimate sense of presence, hope, purpose and strength, as well the vulnerability of facing that we are not masters of the universe or some simple pawn in it. In this knowledge of “we are all one,” we are finding our place in the elemental kingdom or ununoctium-um of God. And it’s all good.
I’ve been substituting “queen” for king and “queendom” for “kingdom.” It allows me to experience the anima of God. Yet sometimes I fear that I’ll be branded as a witch because I try to expand my vision of a God beyond gender, beyond time, beyond space. Then I realize that if that’s a witch, then that’s what I am. 🙂
Way to go Maureen Doyle! Margo
Sixty years ordained I’ve endured countless exhortations and plans for Kingdom building. Brother, you’ve grabbed a corner of the hope and the power. And (changing metaphors) you hold open the door to God’s expanding universe of imagination and love. I am laughing with delight in the my morning solitude. THANK YOU.
The ethic is to build with love for everyone. Not to build something that will fall on someone or take her water. Or so I imagine it.
I love the illusion to the Lincoln logs and erector sets. My brothers also received train sets of all sorts. I used them to “teach” the brothers (all younger). I never made the structure I wanted. Now, with God’s building tools, I can.
The great thing about the older Legos and erector sets is there is no specific outcome. We have complete freedom; not only to build what we can imagine, but also to build (in this case, following God’s algorithm) without knowing exactly what will be.
What about ethics? The how then shall you live dream of God question!.
And it’s sister Hydrogen and brother