Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.”
–Luke 17:20-21 (CEV)
The map of the entire Human Genome was made public this past Monday. They found a few surprises when they put all the pieces together. Let’s say this pickle jar is a living thing, and this rice is genetic information. It takes about this much rice to make make a fruitfly. Now the pickle jar knows what it needs to know to be a fruitfly. Add just a little more, and it can be a nice, exotic flower. You don’t have to add much more to turn this pickle jar into a living, breathing human being.
Everyone thought we were a lot more complicated than a fruitfly. And we are. A fruitfly gene does its thing by making a protein, at just the right time. One human gene might make five or six proteins. If you think like a computer programmer, you might say that God did not write a bigger program for humans than for fruitflies. Instead, he wrote a smarter program. If you’re a watchmaker, you might say God made a Rolex using parts from a Timex.
Another surprise is how alike we are. If this is you, then 99 percent of this information is exactly the same as for everyone else on earth. That last one percent is what makes you unique as a physical specimen.
Scientists are calling this information “The Book of Life.” I won’t go that far. But I do think we are reading the penmanship of God. The human genome holds every physical instruction required to make a human being. And the last percent of information is so flexible that no two people are exactly alike. Each combination is one in a billion, and one wrong move can make the whole set fall like a house of cards. You think God doesn’t love you? Think again.
So if this is the handwriting of God, why isn’t it perfect? Here’s a genetic marker for asthma, a flaw on chromosome number five. What’s with that, God? Oh, that, God says. You know, if you could just take one day in six off, like I suggested, and not light so many fires on the Sabbath, that one wouldn’t have gone bad.
And what about this one, God? Isn’t this one a carrier for cancer? Well, God says, I started you out on clean food and fresh air, but you had to get greedy and chip away at the ozone. It took a few generations for that one to go south, but you guys just kept hammering away at it.
Radiation, chemicals and micro-organisms can literally alter genetic material. It happens in cancer cells, and genetic mutations. They find that we have about 500 genes that were inserted by some bacteria, eons ago. That’s probably where we started breaking some critical dietary laws. We have been careless caretakers of this fallen planet, and in a million ways we have accidentally smudged the handwriting of God. Without God’s merciful hand to support all life, the reckless sins of our forefathers would have doomed the human race many centuries ago.
So, let’s add these black beans to our pickle jar. These beans are everything that has been done to you, and everything you have done to yourself. These environmental factors might have more to do with how you turn out than those genetic instructions, anyway. And what about this one, God? Here’s a gene that points to depression. What broke this one? And God says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I know, it’s a hassle. That gene is easy to break. But I have redeemed this condition. Put it back.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Why? Our pew Bible makes Matthew [5:3] say, “Blessed are those who KNOW they are spiritually poor …” I object. It sounds like work, something to learn, something everybody experiences. If you aren’t poor in spirit, that’s okay. You can be a peacemaker instead [5:9], and get your blessing there. You don’t have to be poor in spirit to be blessed. But Jesus said the poor in spirit are blessed for “theirs is the kingdom of God.”
I think the poor in spirit are just what that sounds like. The poor in spirit are people with that depression gene, or their depression gene got knocked crooked, or their environment is suppressing the feel good genes. The poor in spirit might be people who are sad, melancholy, gloomy. Why is theirs the Kingdom of Heaven?
I think I know why. The poor in spirit are not satisfied with this world. The poor in spirit have no trouble believing that they are strangers in this world. No friendship seems to reach deep enough to cure the loneliness of the poor in spirit.
The poor in spirit know what a cold and lonely planet this world can be. The poor in spirit also know how bright the light of the World can be. They know how dark the world really is. The poor in spirit don’t need a disaster to drive them back to God.
The poor in spirit are hungry for God. And when you want to know God and his comfort like a starving man wants food, you learn to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. There are many people who are poor in spirit who are living wonderful lives because they do not live in the ordinary world. They walk and breathe and find their reasons for living in the Kingdom of God itself. They really are blessed. Theirs IS the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ first public declaration was “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near.” [Matt. 4:17] He sent his disciples out to preach “The kingdom of God.” Matthew says “Kingdom of Heaven,” a euphemism, where Luke and Mark say “Kingdom of God.” What is the Kingdom of God?
Is it Heaven? Certainly Paul and other Christian writers used the Kingdom of God to mean Heaven itself. And Jesus referred to the sudden appearance of the Kingdom in the last days. But in today’s scripture, Jesus talks in the present tense, not about the future. Jesus told the Pharisee that “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Ah, now there’s something else in there. The Kingdom of God is in there! Jesus told the Pharisee that the Kingdom of God is within the Pharisee. What is this Kingdom of God?
Jesus said to seek it above all else. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, he said, and all these things will be added to you – these things being food, clothing, shelter. So where do we look? Look within, Jesus said. The kingdom of God is within you.
In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus gave us a number of parables to help us understand the kingdom of God. [21-22] He said the Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is the smallest of all the seeds planted in the garden. But when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out great branches where the birds can nest.
What does that mean? It means the kingdom of God is like something that starts very small and grows very large. He said it was like a lump leaven; where a little changes the whole loaf.
Here’s a funny one. [24-30] Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a farmer who plants wheat, and the enemy comes at night and plants weeds in with the wheat. The landlord tells his workers – that would be us – to let the weeds and the wheat grow together, and we’ll sort things out at the harvest. Don’t worry about the weeds, he said, just water the field. Justs bless them all and let God sort them out.
He said the Kingdom of God was like a man who sold everything to buy a field with hidden treasure , or one costly pearl  . That’s how important it is to be.
In Chapter 25, [14-46] He said the Kingdom of God was like a landowner who left his servants 10 talents, and five, and one, then took a long journey. “But look, Lord. Wanda and Fred have all of the musical genes. Jana and Gina got all the smart genes. What do I have?” The parable says it isn’t what you start with, but what you accomplish with it. The servants who multiplied the talents, such as they were given, all received their reward.
Once a scribe asked Jesus for the greatest commandment. Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself. When the scribe agreed, Mark [12:34] says that Jesus saw that he answered discretely and said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” After that, it said, no one dared ask him more questions.
Why not? Here they were, not far from the Kingdom of God. Did they want to find that Kingdom? Well, maybe, and maybe not. Maybe they could see it from where they were, and maybe they didn’t want to go there. Throughout the scriptures, we are told that Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of God. He sent his disciples out to preach the Kingdom of God. Repent, they said, for the Kingdom of God is near.
Some writers of scripture referred to the Kingdom of God as that final reward for the saints, after death and upon the Lord’s return. But I think Jesus was talking about something even bigger, something closer. His parables actually make it easier for us to understand the Kingdom of God.
What is a Kingdom? It’s a dominion; a region of rule. We might think of the British Empire, or Saudi Arabia. But consider the Gypsies, a wandering race that was targeted by the Nazis along with the Jews. Gypsies have no land, no place or borders, but they have kings and a royal family. Gypsies are organized as a kingdom. That kingdom is defined not by territory, but by loyalty.
So, too, is the Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom defined not by land, but by loyalty. I live in the Kingdom of God if I give God himself dominion over my life.
Now all the parables fit. God’s dominion over my life may start small, like the mustard seed or a lump of leaven, but it can grow into something mighty, something that leavens the entire loaf of my life. God’s dominion over my life is something to be pursued, a precious commodity like a treasure in a field, or a pearl of great price. And like servants who were expected to invest their talents, God’s dominion over my life can be expected to bear fruit.
And Jesus tells us a lot more about this Kingdom. Whomever would be greatest here is the servant of all. The worker who began at the last hour is rewarded just like the worker who labored all day. The ruler of this Kingdom is a shepherd who leaves his flock to find the lost sheep. Those who do not humble themselves and receive this Kingdom as little children will no way enter in. Jesus said all that about the Kingdom of God.
Luke 12 is where Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” He goes on to say, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Are we seeking the Kingdom of God? Are we looking for those areas in our lives where God does not yet reign as King? Is the lordship of God ruling our time? Our finances? Our friendships? When we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”, do we mean it?
With the scribe, we might say, “Well said, Master. To love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And with that knowledge, Jesus says, we are not far from the Kingdom of God.
So here you have it, the stuff of life. One grain of rice is all it took to make you black or white, tall or short. Half a grain made you male or female. It’s the same dust that God used to make fruitflies and fruit.
You have blessings and curses all stirred up in that stuff, and while science marches on you’ll still find it hard to add an inch to your height or a day to your life just by worrying about that stuff. You have all these beans and rice, all the stuff that happened to you and all the stuff you’re made of.
But there’s something else in you, and although it is a very small thing, it can make a bigger difference than all of your beans and rice put together.
You have that mustard seed, the Kingdom of God, within you. In fact, let’s add that now. Here we have your basic black beans and rice. Toss in that mustard seed and Bam! Up a notch! Now we have something special. Now, we have gumbo!
If I shake that jar long enough, that little mustard seed will touch everything. If I cook it, it will flavor everything. You were born with that mustard seed of faith, and now that you know it’s there, you have a decision to make. Do I let God rule over this area of my life? Do I trust God to make good use of this talent, or to help me live with this handicap? Can I grow a mustard tree in there with all those bean sprouts? I think you can. It can grow huge, if you let it. It will grow in ways you never imagined, if you just let it happen. The birds of the air will nest in its branches, and you’ll probably have a bumper crop of good beans.
There was a food fight in the early church – a dispute about dietary law. Paul settled it by saying that the Kingdom of God is not about meat. Paul would say you are NOT what you eat. I say it isn’t about your beans and rice, either. God loves you, and that is true whether this stuff is carefully crafted to be you or just a miraculous crap shoot. There is not one spec of that stuff, there is not one thing about you, that God wouldn’t love to redeem.
Like leaven, the Kingdom of God affects the entire loaf. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is near. You are not far.
Jesus is not teasing us with something we can’t have. The spirit is not Repent, or here comes trouble; the Kingdom of Heaven is near. I think it’s more like Repent, and grab it while you can! Repent means turn around! Go a different way! Stop mourning and start celebrating! Jesus was giving a word of hope to the poor in spirit, to those hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and to everyone who truly loves the Lord God. It matters, and the Father does love you. Yours is the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom is ours for the taking. It is God’s good pleasure to give it to us, with all of the privileges of citizenship – all of the hope, comfort and courage that the life of faith provides. The Kingdom of God is wherever willing subjects of God give God full reign as Lord and King. The Kingdom of God is within you.
Delivered at Tropical Sands Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) –
February 18, 2001