Kin_dom Work

The sermon text of the sermon, based on Luke 3.1-6 and Philippians 1.3-11, that I was to have preached with my beloved community of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018, had not a winter storm of snow and ice (in blessed-by-God South Carolina! Really?) intervened.

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“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

This day in Advent, as we continue our preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we focus on the person and proclamation of John the baptizer. Luke, alone among the gospel evangelists, places John’s life and career within a chronological context. Luke, thus, confirms that John was no fictional character. Around the year thirty of the Common Era, John appeared on the stage of human history.
John the Baptist, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Sometimes, I wonder how did he look and sound?

I think of the actor Michael York in the 1977 movie, “Jesus of Nazareth.” His John the baptizer was pale with smooth skin on a fleshy, muscular frame, his face, blood-blushed from exertion as he ran from bank to bank of the River Jordan, shouting, in a proper English accent, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

I also imagine a man with skin, exposed to the wretched wilderness sun, wrinkled and darkened, stretched across a thin, sinewy frame, his camel hair clothing crawling with vermin, his hair matted and dirty, his face twisted grotesquely, screaming, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

John calls the people to repentance, from the Greek, metanoia, literally, “change of mind;” turning away from their sins, their defiance and denial of God, returning to God’s will and way. To repent, John declares, is to take part in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy. Valleys filled. Mountains levelled. Crooked paths straightened. Rough places smoothed.

As I wonder about John, whichever image I imagine, his vision is both unsettling and inviting.

Unsettling, for it foretells the upsetting, the overturning of things as they are. All is not good and right with the world and our lives. Yet most of us, most of the time are used to it. John declares, demands that we understand that the way things are is not as it should be, as it will be. For valleys will be filled, mountains levelled, crooked paths straightened, rough places smoothed.

Therefore, John’s vision also is inviting. All is not good and right, yet, even in the face of our acceptance of things as they are, John invites, calls us to hope. Hope that the world, our lives, our circumstances, our relationships, our selves might be different, changed. Valleys filled. Mountains levelled. Crooked paths straightened. Rough places smoothed.

John’s vision is unsettling and inviting because he is not talking about highway maintenance (though it would be heavenly to drive on Highway 26 back and forth from Spartanburg to Laurens without having to brace myself for half-foot deep trenches, criss-crossed road cuts, and broken pavement), but rather human maintenance. John is talking about the coming kingdom of God; though, for years, I’ve preferred the word “kin_dom,” being less monarchical and less hierarchical and more relational.(1) John’s talking about a kin_dom of righteousness where and when all things will be made good and right; good and right relationship with God and, therefore, with everyone else and everything else.

When, where, how does this happen? John declares “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” This, “the salvation of God,” is what I call “kin_dom work;” our labor of bringing to light the life of the kingdom of God.

As I understand it, if love and justice, unconditional and impartial benevolence and equality for all, is the way God is, is who God is, then whenever you and I seek to do and to be the love and justice of God, it means (and manifold are the ways to express it!)…

That we answer John’s call to repent…

That we join with God in kin_dom work…

That we unite with God to help to fulfill our intercession, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”…

That we upset, overturn, if but for an instant in this world, things as they are.

And all this and more than I possibly can imagine or articulate because we, in doing, in being love and justice, produce a foretaste in this life of what Paul calls “the harvest of righteousness,” which shall be reaped on the day of Jesus’ second coming when all valleys are filled, all mountains are brought low, all crooked paths are made straight, all rough places are smoothed, and all flesh will see it together!

 
Footnote:
(1) I first employed the word “kin_dom” in a sermon of the same title that I preached with the people of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC, on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2000.

Illustration: John the Baptist, James Tissot (1836-1902)

4 thoughts on “Kin_dom Work

  1. Good morning, Paul. I hope you and Pontheolla and everyone else in the Spartanburg area are enjoying the impromptu holiday the heavens have brought you and that you are safe and warm amid the beautiful Christmas glow I know Clevedale is surrounded by and filled with in these days. I remember so fondly the way everything STOPS when snow and ice fall in SC. And then I moved to Minnesota and realized that here snow and ice only mean that everyone re-doubles their efforts to do what they normally do! A “snow day” is a rare and beautiful thing in Minnesota. Enjoy your SC privilege!

    Thank you for this beautiful, challenging sermon. Two things strike me: First, I so much appreciate your adoption of “kin_dom” in place of “kingdom” as the description of the anticipated, longed-for condition of the reign of God/Love in our world. It is such an apt description of what I am convinced already lies at the heart of our existence- the unity of all people and all that exists in the heart of God/Love. To recognize that it is relationship and kinship that are our sure foundation rather than our passive reliance on heirarchies and monarchical power is a huge acceptance of both spiritual and scientific truth, I believe. I wholeheartedly embrace that concept, and now I embrace also your word “kin_dom” to describe it.

    The second thing I love in this sermon is the idea so simply and beautifully captured by this phrase: “That we upset, overturn, if but for an instant in this world, things as they are.” How fervently I wish that some pastor of mine when I was a girl had stood in a pulpit in front of me and said those words. How fervently I wish that that pastor could have been YOU or someone like you. What a difference that could have made in my life and my early understanding of who I was and to whom and what I belonged and to whom and to what I needed to dedicate my life and my energy. I have finally arrived in that place, so that your words strike a chord that already sounds in my soul, but it has taken me a lifetime to get here, and I have wandered in many wildernesses to find the way. How precious is the permission – the command – to rock the boat, to challenge “the way things are,” to see Beloved Community not as a distant aim, but as the very blueprint from which we and everything were formed.

    So thank you, dear Paul, for preaching to this non-churchgoing seeker in the far north on this Sunday morning. My heart hears your words and sings “Amen, Amen, Amen” and “Thank you for the presence of this dear prophet in my life” in response. I will live with those songs this day.

    Much love and gratitude,

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My dearest Karen, I thank you, once again, for your kindly affirmations…

    Regarding the word, “kin_dom,” over the years I, at times, have rendered it “kindom.” However, using the underscore amplifies the deletion of the “g,” and thus, I pray, conveying the necessary displacement of monarchy and hierarchy by the preferred and, I, too, believe, universal human relationship of kin. We all are bonded into and as one. Though, again, thinking of the way things are that are not meant to be the created state of things, oft we humans act as if that is not so.

    Your response to the message of upsetting and overturning things as they are via the path of doing and being love and justice for all by recounting what you heard – or, rather, didn’t hear – from the pulpits of your youth and your wilderness journeying to the place on which you stand today saddens me. I am sorry that was – or, again, was not – your experience to have heard the inherently life-liberating, world-challenging word of the gospel. In my sorrow, you remind me afresh of my own pilgrimage as a preacher. As a young priest, I used to complain about what I adjudged as the absence of the congregation’s appreciation and discernment for my preaching. After all, had I not labored long o’er many hours of studied preparation to produce this oratorical gem?! Blessedly, an old priest and mentor, early on, took me aside and said to me (I still can hear his kindly, though firm tone!): “Paul, never be concerned that your people are not listening to you. Rather, be concerned that even one among them is listening to you. For even that one, you are accountable for what you say, how you say it, and all the potential outcomes of your word having been heard.” This was a lesson in humility that I never have forgotten. His unspoken subtext, which I also heard and received, was that my attitude was expressive of one who had failed to grasp what we used to refer to in the proverbial “back in the day,” as “the preaching office.” For I had made preaching all about me rather than, in the purest John the baptizer intent, always pointing beyond myself to Jesus.

    With love that abides,

    Paul

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul,

    As you know, when I was reviewing the sermons the ended up in your book I fell in love with the word kin_dom. And I even began discussing it with people!

    Doing and Being are sooooo important and I’ve been hyper-focused on it since Mom’s diagnosis and Tim’s death. I want to DO all that I can and BE all that I can!! Along the way I think we all need to stop for maintenance! I smiled at your description of the roads in SC. When we swerve potholes and take detours for road repairs I think it reminds us to be awake and alert. It also causes us to see new things we may not have seen otherwise.

    I’ve tried each day thus far in Advent to DO and to BE and I’m in awe of what I’ve seen thus far now that I’ve added patience and waiting to my daily activities!

    Loved Karen’s comments too and your response. The group home’s party is about to start and I’m very excited about this afternoon with 100 dementia residents and their families. The perfect Advent activity in my mind!

    Much Love!!

    Like

  4. Thanks, always, Loretta, for reading and commenting on my sermons.

    I don’t recall how or when I began to think consciously and to write as consciously about the distinction between being and doing, and, in my usual focus, regarding love and justice. At some point, clearly, it occurred to me that I can hone in on doing that which I believe is loving and just – that is, benevolent and fair – however, in that doing, I can grow and become detached from the act; that is, my loving and just action can become something I do and, therefore, I can choose not to do. However, if I become love and justice, surely, through God’s gracious Spirit (for I don’t have it in my selfish human nature to become that), then it becomes difficult, indeed, well nigh impossible not to act in benevolence and fairness, for it would mean a conscious denial and defiance of my selfhood.

    Thanks again for commenting, for you spurred this thought.

    And three cheers for the group home’s party!

    Love

    Like

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