grace and peace to ye brethren (i love that word =] ) and sistren (? — doesn’t have quite the same vibe) scattered across the corners of this uncornered globe,
at the beginning of last year i sent an email to some of you asking people to reply-all with their stories, of what being christian meant to them. and the response astounded me, and were quite possibly the yodel that set off the spiritual avalance (in a good way) of the next few months of my life, one of the results of which is that i now write to you as a theologian rather than a mathmo.
sarah ong in particular has encouraged me that such asking of questions is something to be continued, and at long last i am responding to this encouragement.
i have just returned from egypt, and mount sinai in particular. ’twas amazing: brightly sparkling stars slowly disappearing as the dawning sun painted the sky a covenental (think noah) rainbow. first red, then orange, a cloudbank of yellowy-green, the rest of the sky fading from morning-sky blue to midnight indigo. and then suddenly as the sun slipped over the horizon — an event as breathtakingly sudden as the colouring of the sky is imperceptibly gradual — a group of pilgrimaging africans broke out into song and what was either tongues or swahili.
and i sat on a rock beside the chapel (in some disrepair, and with a locked door, but if you peered through you could see a beautiful painting of Jesus), wallowing in the glory of creation and the sound of the worship and read hebrews 12: –you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm [as moses and the israelites had] … but you have come to
mount zion, to the heavenly jerusalem, the city of the living God. you have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. you have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant–.
and this amused me, because this was the mountain that had been burning with fire, and covered with darkness and gloom and storm; that mountain where moses met the Angel of God blazing about a bush, and where God sent him to bring the israelites out of the kingdom of pharaoh; that mountain where later moses twice spent forty days fasting and speaking with God in order to work out with Him what the kingdom should look like — in order to be given the torah for God’s people israel. and there on this mountain, in the courts of the living God, soaking up the joy of myriad angels assembled to praise the Judge of all men through Jesus Christ, i think i felt something of the nearness of the kingdom — of the blurring of the boundary between the now and the not yet.
according to mark at least, the gospel as preached by Jesus is simply this: –the kingdom is near! repent and believe this gospel!–. and what is this ‘kingdom’? and jesus answers with a parable: –the kingdom of heaven is like this–…
and while i am ohso convinced of the need to speak the gospel clearly and frequently, with speech and action and media (why in cambridge are there so few people handing out christian tracts? we need more!! the message is powerful, check out this => http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2psGLqGORDM), there are times also where i have thrown my pearls to the pigs. and i don’t want to do that any more than necessary. and there is something fantastically confusing about the parables that draws you in, that challenges your preconceptions, that forces you to admit that God’s ways are not our ways. (luke 16:1-13 as case in point).
so, i am writing to announce to you that the kingdom is near, to encourage you to pass on the message.
–what does the kingdom of God look like?–
it is paradoxical, for –the kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace–, but it is most certainly a matter of breaking bread and sharing wine; and –the kingdom is not a matter of words but of power–, but the power is in the scattering of the sower’s message.
i want us to have this question in our hearts, to pass it on to our children, to ask it of each other as we sit in houses and walk along the road, as we lie down and as we get up. i want each of you to reply (to all if you like, otherwise just to me) with your testimony of the moment in your life when you have seen the kingdom of God most clearly, with your analysis of the task that faces you in croydon (nic), in tajikistan (sarah), in china (karen), in delhi (the names become too many), in cambridge. with your wisdom on how we should be building the kingdom (phil), planting the kingdom, celebrating the kingdom, seeking the kingdom, investing in the kingdom, inviting people in to the kingdom.
i want us not to let go of this question until we have been blessed.
pressingly, i want to see the kingdom come in cambridge as it is in heaven. what would this look like, how do we do it? i have been dreaming of kingdom flashmobs — could we gather a group of fifty people on parker’s piece, silent-discoing to the sound of a decided hill-song (or whatever) setlist? or a group suddenly appearing in
market square, shouting out isaiah 55 (–come, all you who are hungry…–) and giving away milk and wine? or lining kings’ parade dressed in sack-cloth, and handing roses to each and every passer-by? i want people’s imaginations set on [burning-bush] fire.
aesthetically, what does the kingdom of God look like? and i want to see how you would paint, how you would photograph, the kingdom. (come on you artists — grace cho! i haven’t seen your painting in years). multi-racial hands raised in charismatic worship? an icon of the triumphant Christ returning in glory? phil, can you find the adbusters ‘beatitudes’ you mentioned?
flamenco tom simply said –joy– which is probably an answer that can’t be improved on for concision and accuracy; bearded barefoot mike the meteorological prophet, has the most spectacular dream that he dreamt and will hopefully share. anjali, this is the place where you finally write about last summer in rajasthan. suman, i always think of you when i read Jesus telling john the baptist that the eyes of the blind are opened — and what indeed does it mean to ask what the kingdom of God looks like, when it is invisible? (for –the kingdom of God comes not with observation: neither shall they say, lo here! or, lo there!–, we merely hear its sound and cannot tell whence it comes or whither it goes).
and part of the answer is that *this* is the kingdom, an unlikely assortment of people sharing stories in faith, hope and love. some of you i know from school: cambridge, england; hebron, india; chefoo, malaysia. some of you i know from church: dbf, barney’s, joey’s. some of you i met more providentially. some of you i write to because i have not written to for too long, and i hope this might lead to me hearing from you; some of you i write to because i have recently met you, and i want to know you better; some of you i write to because i know and love you well and i want the world to share your wisdom.
’tis the end of lent, and the kingdom is near.