Sunday, January 25, 2015
The story of Jonah and the conversion of Nineveh which we heard in the first reading and the admonitions of St. Paul in the second reading are both related to the very first words which Jesus preached when he took up his cue from John the Baptist who had now been silenced by his imprisonment.
From that time on Jesus began to preach and he preached the same message that Jonah preached at Nineveh, that John the Baptist preached two thousand years later and that St. Paul preached: repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.
Precisely what does this mean? At hand, usually means something like, it’s just around the corner or very soon,or actually here. Well, we have to remember that the story of Jonah comes to us from three or four thousand years ago, the teaching of Jesus 2000 years ago and the teaching of St. Paul shortly after that. So was the kingdom of God really at hand as Jesus and St. Paul insisted? And is it at hand for us today?
To answer this question we have to know what the kingdom of God is. Jesus also told us that the kingdom of God is within us. He told us that it is coming and that it is present, and this I think is what it means to us today. The kingdom of God is at hand for us and it has been at hand for every generation since the times of Jonah and Jesus and St. Paul. The kingdom of God is the presence of God in our midst and our response to that presence. So these readings are relevant. They do not refer to something that is going to happen in the future,but it refers to something that is at hand that is happening now.
If I may be irreverent for just a moment, I am reminded of a Peanuts cartoon in which Linus had been reading this text in the Bible and was telling Charlie Brown and Lucy that the kingdom of God was at hand. Immediately Charlie Brown and Lucy panicked, threw their arms up in the air and started running around in circles shouting, “The kingdom is coming. The kingdom is coming. Hurry up! do something, do something!” As ridiculous as that seems, there are people today who are doing precisely that.
What about us? What should we do? I think we have to recognize the kingdom of God where it is and respond to it in loving obedience. And where is it? Well it is at hand! It is here! It is now! It is where God is present and where his presence is acknowledged in faith and in love.
God is present to us in many ways but let’s look at just the ways in which God is present to us now, this morning, and here in this chapel.
We are taught that in the liturgy God is present to us in four ways. This is how the kingdom of God is at hand.
In the 1st Way, God is present in the individual soul in grace. So you and I, each one of us brings the presence of God to this assembly. The 2nd Way, God is present in the church, that is in the assembly, that is where ever two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, he is there. In the 3rd Way, God is present in the inspired Scriptures when they are read and listened to by the people of God. At the end of the reading the lector says, “This is the word of God” and where God speaks, God is present. And at the end of the gospel, the priest says, “This is the Gospel of the Lord”. And we respond, ” Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” And so we acknowledge the reality of Christ in the gospel. And the 4th Way, God is present in Jesus Christ in his body and blood in the Eucharist we are celebrating. This is not a static presence so that we should stand in awe at the presence of the consecrated bread and wine on the altar. But it is rather a presence in relationship, a presence in which Christ Jesus is giving himself to us as the living bread which has come down from heaven and is given to us as a pledge of eternal life. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you shall not have life in you but my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed and he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life in him and I will raise him up on the last day.”
In a marvelous way we acknowledge the presence of Christ and the kingdom of God in one another when we share the peace of Christ in the kiss of peace and the common sharing in the Lord’s table in Holy Communion. Let us then not hesitate to live the reality of the readings today, to recognize the kingdom of God present to us and in us and in our relationship to one another. And to further that presence and that relationship, let us live out this kingdom when we leave this chapel with the understanding that it is not those who say, “Lord, Lord” who belong to the kingdom but those who do the will of my father. So the kingdom of God ultimately is manifested in our daily lives, in our relationships with one another and in everything that we say and do. We truly live out the kingdom of God expressed in our prayer, “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as in heaven,”
May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.
Father William Meninger