Jesus is queried by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming. His answer was that is was already among them. Not something you really want to hear, is it? I remember those buttons (and this illustration has worked its way into more than one of my sermons) in the seventies and eighties that depicted people running frantically around and has the caption, "Jesus is coming! Look busy!" By asking when, hoping to hear a timeline that they can wrap their minds around, the Pharisees are offering up a very human challenge to the way God purposes the in breaking of the kingdom. When it comes to timing, I want to know when a given thing is going to happen. It helps me schedule the rest of my day. If I need to push something to next Tuesday because the second coming is happening on Thursday, well fine then...but to have it be a surprise?!? No, thank you. I worry I might be unavailable.
Jesus mercifully and relentlessly tweaks that habit we have of trying to work God into a corner and God's agenda into a box. When will it happen? It already has. The kingdom is among you. The challenge now is to recognize it and respond to it. Don't worry about getting ready to welcome the kingdom. Get on with it. Ouch.
I have learned over time that my own personal comfort with just taking life as it comes does not conform to a world that needs schedules and calendars to coordinate, match and conform. There is just too much going on, and people have too much being asked of them in this age to be able to just "wing it." I think that is the other side of sin, though. If I were to succumb completely to my impulse to procrastinate to to the last minute then NOTHING will work for anyone at all. Jesus isn't asking us to wing it. He is challenging us to frame all that we say, do and plan to do in the context that the kingdom has already broken over us like a wave at the beach. It is our reality, and now we get to live in it.
Last night, as my wife and I were watching a television program on what life might be like in the years leading up to 2100 C.E. I heard a futurist/environmentalist offer this (and I paraphrase)-"I once heard a United State elected official say that 'the American Way of Life is not negotiable.' Well, the thing is the universe has a habit of assigning us a new partner in the conversation about what is negotiable or not. It's called Reality. And Reality takes our opinions about what is non-negotiable and turning them back on us."
Just when you think you are in control of things around you, when your desire to affect an outcome seems assured...that is when God has a habit of turning things around-not to thwart humanity or its agents-but to continue to purpose the advent of the kingdom. "I want" or "I want YOU to do x" is not an adequate response to God asking us to follow, to become agents of kingdom living.
That still hits me in my quid pro quo. "Do for me and I will do for you" is also another way I have of trying to get my way over the kingdom's. Again, it is about learning to accept what the reality is in front of you. That is what excites God, I think. Here I am, Lord. Yes, Lord. That is what God yearns to hear from us, because that is what God continually offers to us, in Jesus-an eternal "YES" shouted to the corners of creation.
After all that...the Pharisees retreat, but only just a bit: "OK then, where will it happen?
Jesus is less patient: "Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
Be careful what you ask for. You just might get more than you bargained for....
So, as I ponder the kingdom, I find myself less worried about where and when than I am striving now to rise to the challenge answering the call to Grace in the here and now. What can I do today to do my part for the in breaking of the kingdom? Am I willing to do that wherever it is that I find myself?