“Seeking God? You May Be Looking in the Wrong Place”
Getting to the Heart of Luke
Rev. Phillip Blackburn
August 25, 2019
So I think I made a mistake this past week. In fact, I am pretty certain that I did. I was over the gas station near the church on Grand Ave. If you’ve never been there, it is quite an experience. They have a variety of fried foods. Almost everyone prepays their gas, and usually the people in front of me in line are buying some combination of cigarettes, beer and lottery tickets. Usually there are some folks who are just kind of hanging around. So anyway, I went over there to grab a Coke Zero, and I made my purchase and as I was standing there a man walked up and stood to the side of me, waiting his turn, I believe. And then he spoke to me. He was an older man with somewhat greasy hair. The lines on his face suggested hard living and I believe made him seem older than he likely was. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans. He spoke to me, and I replied cordially but not in any great depth; I was needing to get back to church. Then he said something else as I was walking out, and that was where I made my mistake. I replied, but I did not stop and I did not make eye contact, merely muttered “thank you,” and headed back to the church.
As someone who is a religious professional, I have grown accustomed to strangers speaking to me about all manner of things. I have long ago learned not to mention my profession to strangers on airplanes or any situation where I could be trapped in a conversation. I am skeptical when people I don’t know come to the church to see “a pastor” as these conversations usually end with a request for money. So because I earn my living in service of God, and because I have been at this for quite awhile now, I feel often when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, he is rebuking me. They were the 1st century equivalent of me, after all. The Scribes, Pharisees and religious leaders were the ones who made their living on being professionally faithful. These were not, by and large, bad human beings, but they always seemed to be getting crossways with Jesus. Their question to him here in Luke 17 seems innocent enough, “when is the Kingdom of God coming?” But we should read it with a fair amount of snark. They were likely already tired of Jesus messing about with the people placed in their care; disrupting their processes and order. I know it would have been frustrating and threatening. I also know that if they kept hearing Jesus talk about the coming Messiah, and if they kept seeing him perform miracles, then the logical thought would have been, “if you are all that, then tell us, the oppressed people of God, when the Kingdom will be inaugurated. You’re so great, give us the information.” It was the wrong question, of course, but I understand why they asked. If he gave them the answer then he would be the Messiah. Yay! If he didn’t, then he must be a charlatan.
So forgetting for a moment the bigger problems with the Pharisees and people like me, let’s focus on the particular issue at hand. They wanted to know a “when.” When will the Kingdom of God come? The reason it’s the wrong question is because it is a calendar question. And in this sense, I want to point out something I believe to be true. If you have ever wondered why you’ve never had a real experience of God, if you have ever read the Bible and said, ‘that never happens anymore,’ if you have ever been in a valley in your faith and have not known how to get out, then the odds are pretty good that you have made a calendar mistake.
Let me tell you what I mean. Most of the important events in our lives are scheduled, right? From births to weddings to vacations to financial transactions to trips to the dentist, everything that happens is essentially on the calendar. We come from a lineage that decided when to eat not based on when we were hungry but based on the clock. It’s scheduled. And I don’t know if you have perceived this, but we have brought the same mindset to our faith. We have taken to scheduling our spiritual time. You are sitting here this morning not necessarily because you felt the need to worship God, but because the calendar told you now is the time to worship God. We pray at a certain time. If we do a daily devotional, we do it at a certain time. It’s when the calendar tells us to.
The issue is the calendar, first of all, doesn’t always match our spiritual needs. And second of all it conditions us to this belief, if a moment is not scheduled to be spiritually significant then it likely won’t be. And this is where I made my mistake. So I’m at the convenience store and the man sees my name tag and he says, “I see you’re a pastor. Are they pretty rough on you?” This was not the question I had expected so I replied, “no, they’re very nice to me.” I grabbed my coke zero and turned to the door, the he said “bless you, sir.” And this was where I muttered my reply and kept walking. It was only when I was halfway back to the church that I recognized my mistake and immediately felt a wave of regret. I had just been blessed. I don’t know by whom. Maybe if I had stopped he would have asked for money, or maybe that was a word from the kingdom puncturing my day. I don’t know and the reason I don’t is because the calendar told me this was not “spiritual time.” I was not prepared for a moment with God.
The Pharisees were so worried about he when that they missed the where. Jesus’ reply tells us all we need to know about our faith. The Kingdom of God is among you. It is among us. It is most decidedly not on a calendar. It does not function according to a schedule. It is not “on time,” or “late.” By definition, it can’t be. The Kingdom of God is not a place marked by borders and laws and buildings. It is a place which simply exists among us.
Now you may be saying that Jesus was talking about himself with the “among” comment. And you may point out, rightly, that he was bodily present in that moment with the Pharisees so we shouldn’t make too big a deal about this. But do we believe he is not still among us? No! We do not believe that. We worship a living God, and a living Christ and we do so with the empowerment of a living Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God is among us. It is among you; in your midst.
The degree to which our faith is vibrant may very well be to the degree where we can realize this truth. Jesus isn’t just coming, he’s here. His work in this world and indeed in our lives is not subject to our schedule. When we gather here weekly to worship it is not to try to induce a spiritual experience, it is to come together as a people and acknowledge before God and one another that the Kingdom really is in our midst. It is among us.
This week, take the question of “when” and set it on fire. Burn it. Bury it. When you step out there, the kingdom of God will be among you. Who knows what will happen! Amen.