A TALE OF THREE KINGDOMS

FAITH IN FOCUS: A TALE OF THREE KINGDOMS

We use the word kingdom quite a lot in our liturgy. At every Mass we pray the Lord’s Prayer asking, “Thy kingdom come”. We acclaim God by saying, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever”. And we ask for “the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever”.

The first words Jesus speaks in St Mark’s gospel are “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand”. On one level the kingdom is past. Christ came to establish the kingdom of God and so it already exists. What sort of kingdom did he set up?

Some people thought it might be a political kingdom to overthrow the Roman occupiers, but Jesus said the citizens of the kingdom would be the poor, the gentle and the persecuted. Do we really want “Thy kingdom come” if this is what it means?So if the kingdom has already been set up, then it must also be present somewhere today. If we live in it, then how should we behave? When we pray “Thy kingdom come” we are telling God that we want to live under the reign of Christ the King. Do we let Christ into our lives or is he someone we have heard about but who doesn’t impinge on our daily existence. St Paul says that today is the day of salvation.

Do we try to make our todays conform with the kingdom or do we separate our daily lives from our religious beliefs? Do the values of God’s kingdom feature in my life, my family, my job? Who’s in charge of my life, who’s the king?

“Thy kingdom come”? Christ the King is not someone dead and buried. He is the Risen Lord and he leads us on to discover even more of the joys of the kingdom that he has established here on earth. He promises never to abandon us and to be with us always. Christ is king of our tomorrows and shows us the way to fullness of life, on both sides of the grave. So his kingdom is also a future reality and that’s why we pray for the peace and unity of the kingdom where God now lives.

The Father showed his great love for us by sending his Son. Christ himself now walks by our side. God waits for us in all our tomorrows. Past, present and future: a tale of three kingdoms that are really one.

 

THE BOOK OF LIFE

FAITH IN FOCUS: THE BOOK OF LIFE

The idea of a book with the names of those to be admitted to heaven rings strangely in our modern ears. Rather than a leather-bound ledger we would probably have a data base of names, addresses and personal details kept on computer disk or CD.

But when Daniel speaks of this book he is echoing in ancient terms the same situation that still applies today. Men and women still seek a meaning to life, to their actions, their choices, their ultimate hopes and dreams. And, just like us today, Daniel points out that God gives us the freedom to behave in any way we choose in this world, as long as we know that our conduct affects our eternal future.

It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the here and now values of our world. Although society values great acts of personal heroism and admires people who make sacrifices for the benefit and development of others, it still is firmly fixated on the transient, on a passing view of life. Just look at the TV adverts to see what you are supposed to be aiming for. Most are about comfort, luxury and image. You’ve really made it when you have a beautiful person on your arm, can wear the latest designer products and drive the fastest of cars. You are judged by what passes for success.

Yet the gospel tells us that we are judged by how we treat others and how close we try to come to knowing and loving God. As the Church’s year draws to a close we remember once more that the values we seek are kingdom values which turn the world’s standards on their head.

If our names are to appear in the Book of Life then it will be because we allowed ourselves to respond to the inner promptings of God’s Spirit, because we took Christ’s teaching and his promises seriously enough to act on them.

And just in case we get sucked into thinking that God is so kind that everything will turn out fine whatever sort of lives we lead, we are reminded that God values our free will so much that he lets us choose to opt out of his plan of salvation.

God is the last one who would force us to behave in a way that we did not want to. His final judgement is real, and we are helping him to make it day by day.

GIVING

FAITH IN FOCUS: GIVING

At Sunday lunch the family were moaning about what had happened at church. The priest’s sermon was rubbish, the choir out of tune and the church cold. Then the youngest child silenced everyone by saying, “Still, it wasn’t bad for only £1.” 

The episode about the widow’s mite teaches us a lot about giving. First of all there’s the question of what we give. Obviously the amount is not the most important aspect of giving because it’s relative. The widow put two coins worth a penny into the collection whereas the richer people dwarfed her contribution by the size of their donations. But presumably we should expect richer people to provide more revenue.

Clearly, the amount given may bear no relationship to the wealth of the person. And Jesus pointed out to his disciples that in fact the widow had given much more than all the others. 

Secondly, there’s the business of how we give. When we see some sort of appeal for helping children or providing food and drink to people struck by famine, how do we react? Do we begrudgingly put our hands in our pockets and cough up as little as we can without seeming miserly? When envelopes drop through our doors asking for money for charity, what do we feel like?

God loves a cheerful giver, according to St Paul, but sometimes we give begrudgingly. The widow could have kept one of her two coins but she gave willingly. And she gave everything she had.

Thirdly, there’s the issue of why we give. Some people give things to churches and then have a plaque made to let everyone know that they are the donor. Such recognition has already been rewarded. But there’s another sort of recognition: reverse recognition. We can give out of recognition of what we ourselves have been given. We give because we are conscious of being blessed by God in so many ways and our giving-back is just a token of our gratitude. God gave his only Son and his only Son gave his life for us.

So giving implies a what, a how and a why. And by willing giving her all, the widow got all three of them right.

 

HEART – SOUL – MIND – STRENGTH

FAITH IN FOCUS:HEART – SOUL – MIND – STRENGTH

The Jews had 613 laws and regulations which Jesus summarised into one two-part commandment: If you want to be in the kingdom of God then love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as you love yourself. 

Love God with all your heart. The heart is called the seat of emotion. Are you ‘emotional’ about God or is God just a cosmic idea, a celestial force that controls the universe? Do you feel passionate about God? Do you have ‘feelings’ for God?

Love God with all your soul. Your soul is the real you. It’s the deep down psyche that makes you what and who you are. Is your whole existence oriented towards God or is God simply a facet of your life that you turn to from time to time, on Sundays or in times of trouble?

Love God with your whole mind. Your mind accounts for the intellectual side of your activity. Do you make decisions about life and your future with God in mind? Do you use your brainpower to try to learn as much as you can about your faith or are you content to hobble along with the same understanding that you had when you were still a young child?

Love God with all your strength. Strength refers to the vigour with which we devote ourselves to God. Do you proclaim your faith with all the force and might at your disposal? Or is the practice of your faith heartless, soulless and mindless? Do you use all the faculties that God has endowed you with (heart, soul, and mind)?

Love your neighbour as yourself. Everyone is our neighbour no matter how far away they are. We can only love God if we love our neighbour. Do you give any practical help to the needy? Are you another Christ to the people you live and work with? If you want to be part of the kingdom of God, says Jesus, then just keep this two-pronged commandment.

Alternatively, you can apply for a copy of the original 613…