Sharing is Caring
The kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. We’re in the middle of our stewardship month and it’s hard to imagine the finances involved in a wedding right now. Because we hear that God is the host, we hear that grace is free, and we hear that he is the king. Knowing that the kingdom of God is hosted by God, what could be required of us?
Lately, I’ve been reading a 10th Century Greek monk that we call Symeon the New Theologian. He’s called the “new theologian” because, in Greek Orthodoxy, there are only three approved Church theologians – that is there are only three saints. There is John, the Gospel writer; Gregory of Nazianzus (who introduced the part of the doctrine of the Trinity that described the persons of the Trinity as proceeding from one another), and Symeon, the ‘new’ theologian, who taught that we could have direct experience with God. Though he is not the only one, he is responsible for our understanding of contemplative prayer with God that does not rely on any intermediary but Christ.
When Symeon thinks about the kingdom, he can’t help but understand the kingdom as a destination that we are all trying to arrive in. We start at various places, but we are traveling toward God’s holy kingdom. It’s a beautiful image in which we see the goal that is the wedding banquet. We all make our flight plans or buy our bus tickets or just begin walking. Whatever method we use, the wedding banquet is the destination – the kingdom of God is the goal.
He says that there is one virtue that is above all others on our journey to the city and kingdom of God: Charity.
He says, Charity “is the goal of all good things and greater than [all other virtues]” It’s not hard to see that Symeon, when considering the kingdom of God, believes that the sign that we are on the right path is our generosity.
I struggle with the word kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet….” I get nervous these days when we use the word ‘kingdom,’ in relationship to God, because, what does a typical kingdom look like in this world?
When I ask you to imagine a kingdom, if you were to close your eyes, do you think of Camelot and King Arthur? Or maybe you watch Game of Thrones and you think of that cut-throat imaginary world, full small-minded kings and violence and war.
Maybe, when you close your eyes to imagine a kingdom, you are much more modern in your thinking, and you imagine kingdoms that are current. Maybe it’s a kingdom across the Pacific where a supreme leader tells everyone, all the people, what is good for them and enacts his will without concern for their wellbeing? Or maybe it’s a kingdom across the Atlantic, where the queen is just a figurehead, with little or no power to do good for the people, and who has no authority for the way the country is run? Or maybe the kingdom that you imagine is close to home and it has no king, and the people get to make the decisions by a vote, but there is no clear majority, and it feels like everyone is unhappy?
If I ask you to consider which of these – whether it’s Arthur or whether it’s a real, worldly kingdom – if I ask you to consider which of these sounds like the kingdom of God, can you an answer honestly? I can’t find any that look like a kingdom Christ would make and that’s why I struggle with kingdoms and God.
The current state of kingdoms in the world has almost made me stop using the word as I talk about it in scripture and preaching. With my pastor friends, as we discuss what Jesus called the kingdom, I have just been calling it βασιλεία. That is the Greek word for kingdom. I’ve been leaving it untranslated when I talk to them because I am realizing that, without a good example of the kind of kingdom that God is going to make in this world, we hear the word kingdom and we think of things that Jesus didn’t mean and we learn things about God that need to be unlearned.
I beg in my prayers, “God, why couldn’t Matthew and Paul and Luke and the other New Testament writers have called Oikos, family of God?” Not the yogurt, the word for family. Because family makes sense to me as we talk about the Church.
There was a time, early in my studies, that I loved talking about the kingdom of God that is here right now, but is not yet completed. I loved talking about the one true king, Christ Jesus, who is working to draw us nearer to him and nearer to each other so that the world can be reborn and heaven and earth can become one. Our mission as United Methodists, as we claim it in our Book of Discipline, is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We even pray it each week in our Lord’s prayer, praying, “On earth as it is in heaven.” May earth and heaven be as one, united in your will, O God.
But, as time has gone on, and I have left school, and entered into ministry that is messy and full of hurting people, it has been hard to find examples of kingdoms that even point, a little bit, toward the vision of kingdom that Jesus gives to us in the Gospels. Our world began to feel a little more broken than it used to.
The Bible that Jesus read included the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. The Bible study on Thursdays have been reading 1st and 2nd Kings, from the Old Testament, for the better part of four months and we should finish just before advent. If we have learned anything, it has to be that the kings in our world are made by taking. In the story of dozens and hundreds of the kings of Israel, we see that very seldom do any of them become king without plotting against and killing their predecessors – or even killing all of their children. We learn in scripture that the way that kings get kingdoms is by killing the former king and forcing his people to do what he wants.
The same was true for Jesus’ own political situation. The Roman Empire ruled through force, killing and taking, and, yet, Jesus – Jesus shows us that real kings don’t get their power from killing and taking; Jesus shows his power by dying and giving.
Jesus reinterpreted everything we thought we knew from the Old Testament because the Israelites learned from their scriptures that God loved them enough to kill for them. And Jesus teaches us that God loves us enough to die for us. Jesus is our king and his crowning achievement is not that he killed to former king and then forced us to do what he wants. His crowning achievement was the cross: that God loves us enough to die for us.
And so, the kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. Those of us who are married, let’s think back to your own weddings. You knew that it was more than a party. But you celebrated with friends and family that something really gracious was happening in your life with this one person that you wanted to spend your life with. You probably couldn’t wait to see everyone, couldn’t wait to share the news of your love. You wanted to be a good host, feeding your guests, and hoping to make a great time for them.
Now, imagine that for a minute, and compare that sacred party, that covenant ritual that draws people together, that celebration that you hosted and, now, compare it to the kingdoms of this world. Are those kingdoms like a wedding a banquet?
The kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. There is no cost. It is giving and gracious. It is like Symeon said, at it’s core, is charity. But sometimes we let charity just mean giving money or things to people. Charity is a relationship. When we invite people in to the party, we invite them into our lives. The history of the word charity is that it means a love that gives. This is the definition of the word as Symeon would have understood it. So when we say that the kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, we mean that it is full of a love that gives. It is full of a love that transforms lives – both in this world now, and in the world to come.
One last thought: in the story, we find the king approaching a guest who “is not wearing the wedding garment,” meaning that he is not there to celebrate. We don’t know why he’s there, but we know that he has brought his own agenda to the party. If Christ and transformation are not at the heart of what we do as a church, then we’re here for the wrong reasons. If we enter into contemplative prayer to God, and find that our intention are not in line with the gospel, we must repent of our intentions and ask Christ to move us toward his intentions.
And so, as we consider the direction for our church, and for our involvement in our neighborhood, and in changing and transforming the world, after image that God has placed in our hearts, may our kingdoms begin to look a lot like a wedding banquet. And at its center, may we find a love that gives – charity – may we find Christ, and the charity that comes from his sacrificial love – sitting on the throne of our lives.
May we go in the grace and peace of God’s charity that lives in us.