‘Kingdom or Folly, Fear or Love?’

Posted: October 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

‘Kingdom or Folly, Fear or Love?’

Pentecost 18 8.10.2017

Exodus 20: 12 -21 Matthew 25: 37 – 39

Last week we looked briefly at what being a Christian in today’s world might look like and we explored briefly what some guides might be that we could use to undergird what the behaviour of a progressive Christian might look like. We talked about humility, and what a familial and communal approach might be. We talked about the place of scripture as conversation stimulation about the function of forgiveness and healing as selfish acts in the process of transformation and we talked about language, and action as service and renewal. We also talked about compassion as suffering with and not just doing our bit. We talked about prayer being a conversation with ourselves that takes seriously the power of awareness and the call to pray without ceasing. And then finally we talked about a simple life as less about what one needs, to live as a Christian, and more about how one lives one’s life here and now.

After last week’s service Gordon raised the question of charitable works. I might be wrong but I think he was asking what the place of ‘doing’ good things has when ‘being’ was so important in being Christian. I revisited last week’s sermon and in partial response to Gordon, I think the last suggestion of a ‘simple life’ touches on where I want to go today and that is, to explore the idea of the kingdom or the realm or the collective that we name as God’s world. Not as somewhere to go or be but rather as perhaps as an example of life.

Perhaps we might begin by touching base with some of our traditional ideas and assumptions about God’s kingdom and then see the differences that Jesus seems to be suggesting. In church tradition, the kingdom of God has meant God’s Rule, (basileia regnum, imperium) The kingdom has been a place where God is our pilot, where God has been at the controls and where the world has been subject to the rule of God. It has been implied that God makes our enemies our footstools. There has been no doubt that the Kingdom is the domain of the high and mighty where God steps in and takes over when needs be and the powers and the principalities are scattered, brought to their knees, and made to rue the day they were so foolish as to take on the Almighty.

This means that the coming of the kingdom means that the tables are turned on a world that is made up of fools and it is God who holds all the cards. But what if that is not so? What if the turning of tables that Jesus was on about is that very world? What if the world is not made up of fools, and what if God doesn’t hold the cards? What if the ‘rule of God is a kind of divine irony in itself that does not hold with the almighty idea or with any form of violence or power over? What if the business of the kingdom is conducted according to the logic of the cross? What if the kingdom is actually a folly in terms of the powers of the world. Paul seems to be saying this in his first letter to the Corinthians 1: 18-25.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19 For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

What if the kingdom is foolishness rather than what counts as a kingdom in today’s world?

In this idea of the kingdom the folly of God is something unconditional and without sovereignty. When we speak of God we are speaking in terms of a weak force with no army or if you like as John D Caputo says the powerless power of the kiss, not of the power of the sword. And let’s be clear hear we are talking about both the kingdom and God differently. Another kind of kingdom. A kingdom without a king; a kingdom subject to the soft sway of something unconditional without power as we understand it. This is not the power of achievement or winning and weakness is not a strategy to be used by God to make the winning move.

And let’s not fool ourselves here. To shift our thinking to the view of a weak God or a kingdom that is folly is not easy when the opposite is so deeply grounded in our culture and one might even say our very way of being. The issue of this approach is that the kingdom of God does not need God and maybe even having a supreme being at all is dangerous. Not dangerous because without God we have nothing but rather that without God we have to go beyond God into the mystery itself. In this approach it is a waste of time to ask whether or not God exists because that question cannot be answered. It is more important to ask what is beyond theism, atheism. What is the coming of the kingdom about if it is not the arrival of someone in charge with all the control and power. What if is about understanding the powerless power of something unconditional yet without power as the world knows power?

When we pray saying ‘let your kingdom come’ what are we asking for? Is it for the Supreme Being to intervene in history, to come to our aid and do something here below in space and time, to make something happen? Are we then left in suspense waiting for a response? Is the mystery we name God or the kingdom to come at some future date set by the Supreme Being? Our question might be ‘how does this make sense when we no longer believe that myth? What if the kingdom we are seeking is one that would actually be impeded by such a coming? If the Supreme Being turned up in all his glory, surrounded by his angels, seated on his throne with all the nations arrayed before him would it not be bad news because such a kingdom is what Jesus most feared and spoke against.

The folly is that the kingdom calls unconditionally, without the power to enforce its call or to reward or threaten its responders. As Caputo says, “The ikon of the God in the kingdom of God is an unjustly crucified man who forgave his executioners and whose disciples scattered in the moment of maximum peril. There is no greater folly than that.” In this sense the call of the kingdom is a call to itself. The coming of the kingdom is the call, the promise of something ‘to come’, while our come is the response, the hope, the prayer, the dream of a form of life that lures us on its own and not form above, beyond or from on high. The kingdom of God is within us and not a powerful force from without. We could say it runs or operates under the impulse of the events that already pulse through it and not ruled from above by a strong if invisible hand. It is always to come, always almost come, but not as a state of affairs, It is the certainty of the almost already begun thus already here, and already soliciting us. It is found every time the displaced are given shelter and the hungry are fed, every time the poor are comforted, every time the imprisoned are visited.

It is here that I want to say that as I was writing this I was encouraged to hear that a fellow Presbyterian had told a ‘St David’s Friends’ supporter they were missing the boat. The call of the kingdom was not to preserve buildings but rather to provide spaces and places where community could gather and find support. The Church needs places where community meets and supports itself, church only needs a chapel to celebrate but it needs to be a place where community is created, valued, enhanced and encouraged. His comment was that with the changes in the living environments and the intensification of living it is even more important that the church is involved in space for community connections such as a school where families can be families.

To return to my argument, it has to be said that the kingdom to come is not about a future presence but rather the weak force of a call for something coming. The rule of God takes place by way of the gentle provocation of a poetics, without a powerful metaphysical theology to back it up; without a Supreme ruler who dispatched a heavenly host of warrior angels to come to our aid; without an apologetic theology to defend God’s rule against its detractors, and without a worldwide system of divinity schools and seminaries to work out its logic and train and commission its emissaries. The rule of God is more unruly, more disarmed, more like an outright folly.

Perhaps I could end here today by saying that the kingdom is like love. It is a weak force, not one of the principalities that threaten reprisal if it is not headed and promises a reward if it is. The works of the kingdom and love are performed without the ‘why’.

This means that the weakness of God requires our strength and courage to make God whole and the folly of God is to let so much depend on us. The folly of God requires our courage to take a risk on God, our courage to let go of control, safety, security, certainty, and absolutes and to risk engagement in the weakness of God. Unconditional loving calls us into the weakness that is the nothing is guaranteed place, the place where nothing says the worst will not happen. The place where there is no invisible hand ensuring a good outcome. A weakness where there is nothing that says the good will triumph or that evil will be overcome. To pray for the coming of the kingdom is an exercise of hope and the kingdom is sustained best if at all, when it abides by the searing, searching, and simple account of the unconditional in Matthew 25: 37-39.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”


John D Caputo, ‘Does The Kingdom Of God Need God?’ Fourth R Volume 30 Number 5 September/October 2017.

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