The Rev. Daniel J. Isadore
“Join with me in suffering for the Gospel,” wrote the apostle. (pause)
- Why? (Pause)
o Isn’t that one of the questions we should be asking when someone calls on us to do anything, let alone to suffer for some cause? (pause)
o Blind obedience to those who hold offices of authority may have been good enough decades ago…
§ …but not for us.
o We’ve seen, far too often, the way authority has been abused…
§ …from politicians and school teachers, to police officers and business owners, to family members and clergy…
o We know better than to blindly obey…(p)
o So if this ancient letter is just another instance of some self-important authority figure, trying to impose his ideas upon us, then forget it. (p)
o Tell us why.
- Why should we join with Paul in suffering for the Gospel? (pause)
The question reminds me of the commencement address entitled This Is Water given by the late novelist David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College…
- Wallace began: "There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how's the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the he(ck) is water?” (pause)
- Wallace continued: “If at this moment you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” (pause)
- Wallace concluded: “(This isn’t) about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. … It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”” (p)
The reason that Paul calls us to join in suffering for the Gospel is because the deepest, truest truth of reality is that our situation is very much like that of the two fish in Wallace’s address. (p)
- We are immersed in an existence of which far too many of us are just simply unaware…(p)
o …a reality that, when it is declared is referred to as “Gospel,” Good News…(p)
- Recall the words of the great and wise Jesus: “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”
o What was He talking about? (p)
To many today, Jesus was a lunatic, and understandably so, not only because He claimed that there was more going on than meets the eye, but because He claimed to be that more…(p)
- Jesus not only prayed for the Kingdom of God to come to earth, but lived that Kingdom into our existence…(p)
- He seemed to intend at least two things by this phrase…
o First, Jesus was what some philosophers today would have called a “Personalist.”
§ He believed that ultimate reality was not mechanical, nor the product of random, chaotic forces…
§ Jesus claimed that ultimate reality was Personal…(p)
· …that at the core of our existence was a Personal Being more basic than anything else…
· …a Being He referred to as God. (brief pause)
§ Jesus, in fact, not only proclaimed that this personal Being was most basic to the world in which we live, but that He Himself was, in some inexplicable way, one with this personal God. (pause)
o Second, Jesus spoke of this God as possessing a “kingdom”…
§ As the late philosopher-theologian Dallas Willard explained it, a kingdom is “the range of someone’s effective will.”
§ In other words, a kingdom is the sphere of existence where what a person wants done is done.
· All of us have a kingdom…
o For some, it goes no further than their own bodies.
o For others it extends throughout a house, or a department or a corporation… (p)
· No matter how large or small, one’s kingdom is the sphere in which what they want done is done.
§ God’s Kingdom, then, would be the sphere of existence where what God wants done is done. (p)
§ And Jesus claimed that at His coming, that which the prophets were waiting “quietly” for as Jeremiah put it, was finally let loose in the world…
· …that God’s Kingdom was at last “at hand,” on earth as it was in heaven…
o …right here, right now, in our midst. (p)
· …that now, there was a new power on the move in this world…(p)
But it gets even better…
- Not only did Jesus claim to be one with this personal God at the center of reality…
- Not only did He insist that He was the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth…
- He taught that we could actually take part in the stuff that God was up to in the world…(pause)
o …that we, people from all sorts of backgrounds, in all sorts of contexts, with all kinds of talents and regrets and ideas and desires….
o …that we could participate with this personal God at work in the world. (pause)
Which, to me, sounds awesome…as long as this God is someone who is up to good. (p)
- And that is exactly what Jesus and His followers taught…
o In fact, one of His closest apprentices (John was his name) said it this way: “God is love. And if you don’t love, then you are working against God.” (pause)
§ Implication: if you do love, then you are working with God. (pause)
- Jesus’ whole life was devoted not only to bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as was in heaven, but also to communicating the nature of God’s rule: love.
o …a love that does not quit, even when it is killed.
o …a love that cracks even death itself in half, and endures forever. (pause)
This is why Paul pleads with us: “Join with me in suffering to make this Gospel, this Good News, known.” (pause)
- The brother who wrote this ancient letter was not barking arbitrary orders at us. (pause)
- He saw the water all around us.
- He knew that the news was true…
o …that the Kingdom of the God who is love, the Kingdom of Jesus, is now in our midst. (pause)
- And he was saying, “Look. (pause) Don’t you see?”
o Don’t you see the possibility this opens up for you and for this world?
§ The power that is available to us ordinary joes and janes…? (pause)
§ God is inviting us to work with Him to restore everything that is twisted and broken…
§ …and He promises to actually meet us and help us as we go…
§ …this is what Paul thought was worth suffering for!
o “Won’t you see?” he was saying…
o … that “what is so real and essential, is hidden in plain sight all around us…”? (pause)
“Join with me in suffering for the Gospel,” pleads the apostle…
- …simply because it’s true:
o …this (point all around) is water (pause).
o We’re in water. (pause)
o God’s Kingdom is here.
Father, give us eyes to see, we pray in the Name of your Son, “Amen.”