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Voicing God’s Kingdom: Preaching from November 2019 to January 2020

02 September 2019

Duncan Macpherson, Features Editor, Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Westminster, Retired Principal Lecturer in Theology at Mary’s University, Twickenham

The kingdom of God is at hand

The primary task of the preacher is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. That much at least, is generally agreed across a range of Christian traditions. However, when the preacher consults the biblical theologians, matters become more complicated. Is the kingdom something for which we are waiting at the end time, or is it already here with us? Or maybe both.

Scholars such as Joachim Jeremias and C. H. Dodd popularised the theory that the kingdom is not about the future but about God’s transforming power in the present. This approach was called Realised Eschatology and it stands in contrast to Consistent or Futuristic Eschatology associated with Albert Schweitzer and Johannes Weiss. This Futuristic Eschatology sees the kingdom as God’s victory at the end of the age. However, when we examine the texts of the New Testament, it is hard to fit all of them into either frame. For most of us the ‘Here and now, but not yet’ or ‘Inaugurated Eschatology,’ the approach developed by Oscar Cullman and others, seems a more appropriate way of making sense of the message that we are called to preach.

God’s Future is Today

Examples from some of the writers of the sermons in this section seem to bear this out. The ‘Here and now but not yet’ approach can be found in the powerful preaching of Baptist minister, Mary Cotes, in her Advent sermon for 10 November. For Mary, ‘God’s Kingdom, God’s Future is today … in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s future has already started. Jesus proclaims that he has come to announce good news to the poor and liberty for captives – not just for the end of time, but here and now… In Jesus, God’s promised future breaks into the present: prostitutes as well as Pharisees are welcome at the table, the sinner is forgiven and the blind man whose sight is restored no longer needs to beg for his living.’

The Gearbox in Reverse

This kingdom, realised or future (or both), involves discontinuity with the present order. As Church of Scotland minister Laurence Twaddle asserts in his sermon for Christ the King (24 November), ‘to accept the kingship of Christ, ‘… to believe in his kingdom, in spite of the Cross, or because of it … in spite of the weakness, or because of it … to believe in the strength of his way of love, to change us to change the world to believe that his death will unlock the way to life …You can almost hear the gearbox scream in protest as the world’s values are thrown into reverse.’

A Radical Message

Two Catholic voices confirm that this gearbox reversal of the world’s values has political dimensions. As Tina Beattie has reminded us in her article, the kingdom ‘is a kingdom of the vulnerable, and that means that it acts as a magnet for all the wrath and violence of human power.’ The radical dimension of the kingdom emerges also in Ashley Beck’s Advent homily for Bible Sunday (8 December). The poetic imagery of Isaiah (11:1-10) is seen as conveying a message of discontinuity: ‘Horticulture and wild animals depict the coming of God’s reign, God’s kingdom. This coming kingdom will be characterised by justice for the poor and by new relationships within God’s creation underlining concern for ‘the created order, expressed so clearly in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’.

Where is the redemption?

In his Christmas homily, Orthodox priest, Sergius Halvorsen, emphasises the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom: ‘when I hear the Word of the Lord speak of singing, and comfort and redemption, I wonder, ‘How, Lord? How have you done this? Where is the redemption? On this Christmas day, where is the comfort, the hope and the healing that we so desperately need?’

But his emphasis on the Good News of the Incarnation brings the kingdom firmly into the present: ‘Inspired, transformed and emboldened, today we bring God’s love to the marginalized, the orphans, the widows, the inhabitants of the waste places.

Loving, caring for, and serving others, we encounter Christ in the neighbour, and we cry out, ‘God is with us!’ Today, filled with God’s love, we break forth into singing for the Lord has comforted his people, and redeemed His Holy City.’

Bringing in the Kingdom of Love

But to see the values of ‘God with us’ in our world will require conversion. As Anglican Preacher, Belinda Priestley, insists in her sermon for Sunday 3 November, it is ‘only through radical change, the real impact of Jesus in our lives, that we can bring the Kingdom into being.’

Or, as Methodist preacher, Rosemary Wakelin tells us in her Sunday 5 January sermon, the full establishment of the Kingdom demands, even if it does not need, our cooperation:

‘The incarnation is about God in Christ taking to its logical conclusion his extraordinary decision to give us real choices. In effect he is saying ‘You can join in the family business of bringing in the Kingdom of Love, or you can reject it and go your own way. You can love me or throw at me all your hatred – but what you cannot do is stop my love or the Kingdom.’

Voicing God’s Kingdom is never just proclaiming the Good News. It always requires a response.

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