Imagine The Kingdom (Sunday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:20-21
It is said that Leo Tolstoy wrote, “In the midst of winter, I find within me the invisible summer.” I think this gets to what Jesus is saying in Luke 17.
The Kingdom is not something that can be manufactured, strategized, or packaged. It’s not a brand. It’s not a possession. It can’t be bought and sold, built or torn down. In other words, this Kingdom which comes with the reign of Jesus is the antithesis of our controlling, managing, and editing ego.
Perhaps this is why these words are spoken to the Pharisees. In that day, there was no better representative of a manufactured, managed and manipulated kingdom than the Pharisaical version of it. This is why Jesus could playfully say, “Tear it down! I’ll rebuild it in three days.”
Sometimes, for me, to be “in the Kingdom” requires me only to close my eyes. It’s winter outside – when my eyes are open – but it’s summer when I close them. If, amidst silence, the inner voices can dim and the pressure to do something can relax, a sense of peace ensues. Sometimes I’ll say, “Jesus is that you?” And I’ll imagine him saying, “Yes, I’m here. I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m always with you.”
Granted, this is an exercise of the imagination. And yes, I’m trusting the good old Story to be true – that Jesus has come in-the-flesh, has died, has risen, and has sent his life-giving Spirit to dwell in me.
I’m believing a bit of that old Belinda Carlisle song too, I suppose -
Oooh baby do you know what that’s worth
Oooh heaven is a place on earth.
Heaven is a place on earth. God dwells among humans – you and me. No, heaven isn’t “up there” somewhere. It’s not located somewhere between Venus and Saturn. God came. Emmanuel dwelled with us. His Spirit dwells in the church and in our hearts. Heaven is, quite literally, within you.
The old sages and mystics knew this. Some people live like it today. Because paradise is literally a breath away, they can close their eyes and imagine. These folks don’t waste a whole lot of time buying boats and fur coats.
One of my favorite mystics of all – St. Teresa of Avila – wrote about this heavenly place in you and me. She called her work The Interior Castle and she imagined a mansion fit for a king, a beautiful place where intimacy with God is privileged over anything else. A favorite translator of mine wrote an introduction to her work describing this inner mansion like this:
There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget.[i]
Will you imagine this Kingdom with me in this Lenten week? And will you dare imagine that God’s Kingdom is among and within you?
King Jesus, you’ve come near, more than I can imagine. Or can I? Have I even tried? I commit to imagining this extraordinary reality – that your heaven is more near than I think, that your paradise is within and among me. Give me the eyes to see what is already here and now. Amen
[i] Mirabai Starr, Teresa of Avila The Interior Castle (New York, NY: Penguin, 2013), Kindle Locations 69-72.