Reflections on Spirituality

What is the Kingdom of God? [A Little Brother and the Gift of Hope]

Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service 2008, Schoharie Reformed Church
Scriptures: Proverbs 3:5-10;  Psalm 27;  Matthew 6:25-33

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you, alle-lu, alleluia.

The Kingdom of God

We just heard those words from the Gospel of Matthew. What is this Kingdom of God we are seeking? And what does God’s justice, God’s righteousness look like?

The kingdom, or the reign of God is more of a way to live than a location. It’s not a place, it’s a relationship. It is not just after death, it is here and now. It is not control over our life or over others, it is connection with God, each other, our own real needs and the earth itself. Even the birds and the flowers can teach us about God’s love and care, if we know how to look.

And how do we seek the reign of God? The first step is in the reading from Proverbs: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on yourself or your possessions."

The Reign of God is, first of all, a situation where God is in charge of the whole of creation. A friend of mine, a long time member of AA, said that his conversion began when he realized that there was a God, and it was not him. To seek the Kingdom of God is to seek God’s reign over us, over the world and over the Church. 

Is there a better word or phrase than "Kingdom of God" which we could use in the 21st century? Brian McLaren has asked that question, and in several of his books and articles he presents seven images which have stirred my imagination: 

I’d like you to close your eyes and use your imagination to try on these 21st century images of the Kingdom of God:

  1. God’s Dream for creation.
  2. The Love Revolution of God.
  3. The Healing Mission of God.
  4. The Banquet of God.
  5. The Dance of God.
  6. God’s Sacred Ecosystem.
  7. The life-giving Network of God.
  [Many of these are in Brian McClaren’s book: Everything Must Change, Jesus, Global Crises & a Revolution of Hope]

The Kindom of God

How many of you pictured that Verizon commercial when you heard the Network of God? Some have called this the kindom of God, where all of us are God’s family, where all of us are kin. A place where all of us can say, "I’ve got people," "I’ve got a network of people." And, where each of us is willing to be one of those people in the network for each other. 

But when I hear that list of images, the one which resonates most with me is God’s Sacred Ecosystem, and I hear a song based on the great poem of Francis of Assisi, "The Canticle of Brother Sun." [are you surprised?]

Sacred the land, sacred the water, sacred the sky holy and true.
Sacred all life, sacred each other, all reflect God who is good.

I think this is what the Kingdom or Kindom of God looks like when it appears in our midst. It is a time and place where all life is sacred, and all that sustains and reflects life is held holy.

But to live in that state, that network, that ecosystem; to dream that dream, to live that mission, to dance that dance - there needs to be a revolution of the Spirit. I need to accept the attitudes Jesus preached when he gave us the Sermon on the Mount. 

The most radical form of that teaching is from the Gospel of Luke: "Blessed, [blest, happy] are you poor, the Kingdom of God is yours”." I have wrestled with that verse for many years, even as I have preached against and fought the poverty that oppresses so many in our world. 

As I have prayed over the Scripture and my experience, I have come to understand Jesus to be saying: "Blest are you when you know your deepest need and entrust your way to the Lord, you are truly connected right now." You are connected, not in the political or financial sense, but in a very personal sense, connected with God, with Christ and with the network of the Kindom of God.

Christians call this network "The Body of Christ", or "The communion of saints." I have found that the more deeply connected I am with God, the more I am able to connect with others and with creation. And – the more I am connected with my brothers and sisters, both in the human family and in the rest of creation, the closer I am to God in the Body of Christ.

But this "Body of Christ" is not just a concept or an image in the letters of St. Paul, this "communion of saints" is not just a phrase in the Apostles’ Creed, it is a living, breathing reality in our own time. 

A Little Brother and the Gift of Hope

When I was a student at Siena College in 1964, I ran a tutoring program in the Arbor Hill section of Albany. I began to tutor a 13-year-old named Bill. I ended up becoming his “big brother,” in the big brother program which was just starting at Siena. Sometimes we are barely aware of how our choices to love and to care give birth to Christ in others. 

You who are parents may not realize the effect of your love for many years. I was a 19 year old sophomore. He was a kid from a poor section of Albany, and no one wanted to take him on, because he was a hard case. I helped him with English for three years, and in the process took him fishing, and taught him to drive my 1954 Pontiac. [He practiced reading by mastering the fishing regulations and the driver’s manual.] I joined the Friars after I graduated in 1967, and he went on to live his life.

In 2002, 35 years later, he called me and asked if he could visit. His mother had seen my picture in the local Catholic newspaper. He had come through many difficulties, was a recovering alcoholic for many years and was now happily earning a living driving a truck around the country, along with his wife, Karen, and their son, Billy. 

In the several visits we have had since then, he told me that I had taught him to read, and that my care for him had saved his life. He told me that all the other boys his age who lived on his block were either dead or in jail, including his own brother. He even shocked me by saying that he had been carrying a gun in those days in the early 1960’s.

I had no idea that my time with him when he was a teen-ager, which began when I was still in my teens, had affected him that much. We had good times, and difficult ones – I remember when he ran my car up on the curb as I was teaching him to drive. He even remembered that I didn’t yell at him then!  [I know I felt like it, but chose not to].

In 2008 they fell on hard times and were not able to work. In March, Bill’s mother became very sick. I was able to visit her the day before she died after doing a Parish Mission with Sr. Anna in Watervliet near where she was in hospice care.

After that, they lost their truck and were without food or a place to live. Bill called me, but his needs were far more than I could fill. Alone, I felt powerless, so I turned to the Body of Christ right here in Schoharie. The food pantry in Middleburgh got them through several weeks, and later I helped them contact a group that advocates for veterans [Bill had been in the service]. After their extended family could no longer provide them a place to live, they moved into a 22-foot travel trailer, which they were able to acquire just when they needed it most. They attributed this to prayer.

After that, they moved the trailer from one WalMart parking lot to another every few days, but in late November, they made a connection with a friend of mine from Cursillo who invited them to stay on his land in Ravena, close enough for Bill to get his hepatitis treatment at the VA hospital in Albany. This gave them a physical address so they could apply for food stamps and other assistance.

Sr. Anna and I were moved to tears as we sat in their trailer on Bill’s birthday. We were drinking the coffee they offered us, and listened to them tell the story of how, in the midst of their own need, they invited another homeless veteran to spend the night in their travel trailer, because it was a cold night and he only had a tent to sleep in. Their 14 year old son gave up his bed and slept on the floor so someone could have a warm place to sleep for a night.

As I try to help my friend and his family, I am experiencing what the Kingdom of God can be.  I am seeing with my own eyes how the words of Paul are being lived out, as they receive life through the Body of Christ. They are receiving the promise of the Gospel we heard tonight,

  If God so clothes the grass of the field, and feeds the birds of the air,
Will he not much more clothe and feed you, O you of little faith?

The Gift of Hope

I see the network, the Kindom of God so clearly through my friends as many people connect with them – people from Catholic parishes and Protestant Congregations where I have told their story, veterans’ groups, the American Legion, the Knights of Columbus, the Post Office, personal friends, their own families and even the WalMarts where they have parked. And I see their connection with God as the foundation of their joy and a growing source of their hope as they continue their journey of faith.

What this experience has given me is connection, challenge and, most of all, hope.

I have been able to meet the poor Christ in Bill, Karen and Billy, and in myself as well, in my inability to meet their needs by myself. I have been challenged to reach out to the network, to go to other people and organizations without expectations or judgment, and to remind them of the call to feed Christ, to give Christ shelter and warmth in the cold.  I have found hope in the power of God to remind the establishment what it was established for, whether that establishment was a church, a family, a social service agency, or a government bureaucracy.

But to begin to seek God’s reign, and to sustain that search, we need the gift of hope. We need to live the words we sang when we prayed Psalm 27:

  The Lord is my light, my light and salvation, in God I trust, in God I trust.?

A Reflection on Hope

There is a reflection on hope which I would like to end with. It describes my experience of seeking the reign of God. It was written by the first president of the Czech republic, who was also a poet, Vaclev Havel. After he was rescued from drowning in a sewer, he wrote these words. I think they are particularly appropriate for the time of crisis we are living through these days:


"The kind of hope I often think about is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world… Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously destined for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.

"Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

"It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.

"In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and finally, without hope."

To seek the Kingdom of God in our time . . .

And when we are in touch with our own real needs, praying to discern the real needs of others and giving with no expectation of return, we are already beginning to live in the kingdom of God.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you, alle-lu, alleluia.