Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Kingdom Manifesto

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.


With these words the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 follows in the model of many such documents around the world and establishes the fundamentals of what it means to be a citizen of the Dominion of Canada. It lays out in short form the four basic reasons why anyone would want to be a citizen of this country.

In Matthew 5, Jesus does the same thing for the citizens of the Kingdom Of God....

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -- Matt 5: 1-12 NKJV

Thus begins chapters 5,6 & 7 of the Kingdom Gospel, the passage commonly referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” The word sermon is inadequate. In Hebrew the word would likely be m’drash, a word that has no direct English translation, but for which ‘sermon’ is often used. It goes beyond that however, to include the concept of expounding upon previous teaching. It will be typified by two phrases “you have heard it said...” and “but I say to you...” It is ‘teaching’ yes, but a teaching that updates teachings previously held to be true. In the preamble to this m’drash is found this short quick list of blessings. Blessings bestowed on those who would be citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

And who are the citizens of this new kingdom? The short answer is found in the first Blessing, the first article of the Kingdom Manifesto. The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of those who are ‘poor in spirit.’

Shortly after I met my wife Roberta, she asked me,”What does poor in spirit mean?’ It’s an important question, because in defining who belongs to the Kingdom of heaven it defines what it fundamentally means to be a Christian.

I would put it to you that the poor in spirit are the spiritually destitute, those who have come to realize that they can not make it on their own resources. There is no longer anything they can do to sustain hope, love or happiness. They have willingly stopped trying to control their own destiny and have thrown themselves fully upon God Almighty. It is descriptive of the state of humility that should exist in all of us when we come before the cross. Those who still rely on themselves, who can ‘pull themselves together’ have not yet come to that place where they can fully participate in the kingdom. They can ‘live’ there, like ‘landed immigrants’ if you will, but to be a full citizen of God’s kingdom requires submission, and full reliance upon the King.

The second article states, “Blessed are those who mourn...” I do not think this refers to those who have lost friends and family, though I am sure they too will be comforted. When I hear these words I think of an old commercial that used to run a decade or so back. It featured a series of views of the American landscape littered with refuse, polluted with oil and smog, forests torn down and rivers dammed up and diverted. As the camera pulls back we are met by a close-up of a Native American, his face cragged and weary, a single tear falling down his cheek as he weeps for what the land once was and is no more. It is this spiritual mourning, the deep lamentations of the soul for what the world should be but is not that defines the citizen of the kingdom.

The third article “Blessed are the meek...” and the fourth article “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...” are taken from Psalm 37. The psalmist also provides his definition of meekness, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his (own) way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm.” And his definition of righteous, “Depart from evil, and do good; And dwell forevermore. For the LORD loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, And dwell in it forever.” Enough said.

The fifth article proclaims “Blessed are the merciful...” Mercy is the foundation of our relationship with God. If not for His mercy towards us there would be no participation in the Kingdom at all. Is it so strange then that blessing comes to those who treat others as they have been treated by the King?

The sixth article, “Blessed are the pure in heart...” is grown out of Psalm 24. “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD, And righteousness from the God of his salvation.” The heart describes the inner person, what we truly are as opposed to what we appear to be. The pure of heart then, are those whose faith is genuine, whose integrity cannot be shaken by or purchased with the trappings of this world.

The seventh article blesses “the peacemakers.” Like the word m’drash, the word shalom is never perfectly translated into English. The peace spoken of here is not simply the absence of war or conflict; it refers to an all-encompassing sense of well-being that inhabits the whole person. It speaks to a person who seeks to be at peace not only with the people around them, but with their environment and their current situation as well. It is that peace that passes understanding which enables them to face any conflict, any disaster, and overcome it through total reliance on God.

The eighth article connects us back to the first and warns us that being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven is not all sweetness and light. For there are those in this world who will never find their place in the kingdom. For this reason the citizens will be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” The new kingdom will turn the world on its head and the world will reject that which it does not understand.

The ninth article brings it down from the corporate level and aims squarely at the individual. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This last statement is aimed not only at us but more precisely at Matthew’s church. They worshipped in the midst of that fear and misunderstanding. Jew and Gentile alike were rejected by their own for embracing this new manifesto of the kingdom. They found their strength in knowing that they were not the first to suffer, others held in far greater esteem than they had suffered in the same way.

And so they soldiered on, firm in the belief that they were blessed in the here and now because of the promise held by the future. The kingdom of heaven was and is at one and the same time in their midst and on the horizon. “Blessed are you ... for you will be...”

But the preamble does not stop there. One more thing must be said about those who are the citizens of this new Kingdom.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. - Matt. 5:13-16 NKJV

Every country has its borders, the geographical boundaries that define where one kingdom stops and the next one begins. Here Jesus defines the borders of the Kingdom of Heaven — there are none!

The Kingdom of heaven is not an earthly kingdom. It exists, like God, everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It cannot be tied down to a single time and place because where ever we, its citizens, are – it is. That is why Jesus sends out this cry for diligence. The people of this world will only see the Kingdom of God if they see it in us.

As a friend of mine, Al Ince, once put it, “I am an ambassador for the Kingdom of God, and my embassy is walking around in a pair of size 12s.

Until next time... Shalom!

Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode 9

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