In this sermon, originally preached on Oct. 4 2009, Br. Mark Brown offers a playful and inspiring take on what it might mean to be “the dreamers and builders of the Kingdom.”
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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