In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unstoppable, relentless, inexorable, ineluctable, indefatigable, inescapable, sure, and certain. Such is the Kingdom of Heaven, and Paul knows it, and Paul knows it better than most. After all, he had tried his best to stop it, to silence it, to eradicate it, but the more he tried, the more he saw it grow. God’s Word of Love, Christ crucified and risen, not only could not be rendered impotent and mute, but the community of those who would stake their very lives upon some unseen hope swelled and gave birth to more and more people of the The Way – as the early Church was becoming known. And as Paul was forced to see in a blinding light, not even his own Napoleonic, short (tempered), nasty, and brutish self was safe from the love of God broken and shed for him too in Christ Jesus. It might even be said, that, without him knowing, conceiving, or even suspecting, Paul’s heavily huffing sounds of exasperation, Paul’s loud laments of frustration over his own inability to still the Story of the One whom too many were calling the Christ – perhaps these, his very own exasperated exhalations, were themselves a prayer being prayed by the Spirit through him; the Spirit’s prayer – that not even Paul himself be allowed or able to escape the God of expansive, irresistible, implacable love.
Yes, Paul had found out that not even his own murderously religious mind nor his murderously religious deeds could excuse him from the promiscuous love of the Kingdom, the Dominion, the Reign of heaven. And that then was what Paul wrote to the community in Rome where every knock on the door, every tread of a soldier’s footstep were signals of the all too vivid possibility, nay, the very probability, of becoming bait for the hungry lions of the Emperor, the Emperor who himself, truth be known, was great-fearing his reign of terror might just indeed have no power over these strange people of The Way. “Yes,” says Paul, “the emperor who himself is fearing the end of his might and supremacy, not even the emperor has any power to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” And here, for the word emperor you may substitute all things that attempt to assert ultimate power in this world and/or the next – things like money, material goods, and fame; things like good looks, good luck, a good economy, and a good resume; things like The Good Life, good health, and a good credit rating. “Fear no more,” Paul insists to the people of Rome, to all who hear him, to the people gathered anywhere and everywhere and in this very room today – “you’ve been chosen by the God who loves – you along with every person who has ever been and will ever be – and there is no other power that can finally claim you – only the power of the Love that endures beyond life and death and time itself. And fear no more, dear Emperor – you too will be so blessed as to lose your own imagined power – you too will have to give it all up and will come instead to live in total dependency upon the God whose glory it is to die – with forgiveness on his lips and who in rising bestows new life upon the whole creation – yes, new life even upon you, temporarily esteemed emperor – whatever your name is or one day will be.”
Indeed – this Dominion of God – the Realm of Heaven – it’s like a noxious weed grown large from that tiny, nasty Jerusalem Mustard seed. Or like Kudzu, the daily growth of which can be measured in yards. It gets started little but in no time gets into everything; the Kingdom of Heaven cannot be stopped either by the weeding of any earthly gardener or by any rank herbicide or by any other power.
Again, this Empire of Heaven, it’s like something as seemingly innocuous as a tiny bit of fermented, spoiled bread hidden by a woman in three bushels of flour – of course, why a woman would have three bushels of flour – enough for at least 150 good sized loaves of bread – just lying around the kitchen is anyone’s guess – what with mice and rats and roaches being a constant threat to even the smallest portion of flour. And as for hiding leaven in flour – duh! – of course it would result in three bushels of fermented and swelling grain. What was this woman thinking?? This bit of fermentation, like Kudzu – bound to insinuate itself into everything. (The whole situation with this woman it might be said, odd, and beyond sensibility and sense – but that’s the Kingdom of Heaven for you.)
And something nothing short of sneaky too about this Realm of Heaven, something nothing short of unfair about this Kingdom of God’s Love. Something like the parent who listens to the tirades of a disdainful daughter or son, the mouthy and willful child filled with self-assured puff-upped-ness; the parent, who hearing the shouted barrages of adolescent asininity, ignores them and instead responds to the childish, churlish sophistications of snottiness and rebellion, not with argument, nor threats of grounding, nor even with hurt looks, but most unfairly responds, “I love you, you know.” Oh, that’s cheating, damn it! But there you have it, just the same.
… you’ve been chosen by the God who loves – you along with every person who has ever been and will ever be – and there is no other power that can finally claim you – only the power of the Love that endures beyond life and death and time itself.
Yes, the God of Life whose call to sinners is revealed in the shame of death on the cross, this Emperor of Undying Love, this King of Heaven does not play fairly or even justly. No, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a sneaky businessperson who discovers that there’s a certain plot of land for sale. And this less than scrupulous businessperson – well, she buys up this certain piece of land, at a few bucks an acre. The seller of course laughs all the way to the bank, thinking he’s fleeced this seemingly ditzy dame – the land was worthless – dusty, dry, and likely polluted as hell. But the businesswoman she knows: the land is about to become the site of a new airport and is soon to be worth millions-per-acre. The Dominion of Heaven – like an inside trader who doesn’t even bother to cover her tracks.
Yes the Realm, the Kingdom, the Dominion of Heaven is like a net that is thrown into the unruly seas of this world – and we ourselves getting caught up in that net. And then some angel, some messenger, comes along and sorts out the rotten fishiness within us – sorts out our very own rotten-fish need to be mighty, rewarded, and right – sorts out our every turned-in-on-self symptom of sin and throws them, each and every one of them, into the fiery furnace of the Words of Forgiveness – at which words, among the powers and principalities of sin – Satan and his minions, if you please – at which words there is constant weeping and gnashing of teeth and Snidely-Whiplash-like groans of “Curses – foiled again.”
“So hear, listen, pay attention, passauf!” demands Paul. “You – any of you and all of you within the sound of my voice and in whatever time and place – you are chosen, predestined, if you will, by and for the Realm of Heaven, the Dominion of God’s Love. And no, there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love shown forth in Christ Jesus. And there’s nothing anyone, not even some Haugian pietist preacher, can say or do that can make that love go away, that can snatch you out of the loving clutches of Christ – not death, nor the luxuries of life, nor political party, nor economic catastrophe, nor failing health, nor your myriad failures, nor your fear of future failures, nor terrorist bombings, nor the massacre of Gaza’s innocent children, nor exploding sun, nor nuclear nightmare, nor moutain-top high, nor dark night of the soul, nor orientation, nor addiction, nor predilection, nor gender identity, nor the color of your or your spouse’s skin, nor the media, nor capitalism, nor socialism, nor fascism – nor is there anything else in all creation that will ever, ever, ever be able to separate you from the Dominion of Heaven, the Love of God shown forth in Christ Jesus your Lord – and all of this by Grace alone, a thoroughly gratuitous gift – which means of course that you didn’t earn it, you can’t stop it, and not even the worst or best of us can do anything to cock it up.” So there you have it – The Word of the Lord and thanks be to God for it – in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.