Learning To Walk In The Kingdom Of God: A Sermon Series: Feb 26th, 2017

There’s a word in church circles called chartered.  A charter is a piece of paper that allows a group of people to become an organized church.  This is what we’ve been working towards ever since seven families gathered in the Rice Lake Professional Building.  The Presbytery has told us that when 85 people sign the charter book in the Community Life Center we will be an organized church.  We’re at 68 signatures.  Yay, God! 

If you haven’t signed the charter book, do so today!

 

Our community is in a transition.  This transition is an opportunity to reflect deeply on our identity.  We have a Purpose Statement—our Purpose Statement answers the question, why do we exist

We have 8 Core values—each Core Values is a principle, quality, belief, and or/attitude that is foundational to our community. 

 

Could you go even deeper than that?  If we could distill our faith community down to three words which three words would you choose? 

 

I chose three in a three week sermon series called Identity.

 

Two weeks ago I looked at the word disciple. 

Last week I looked at the word Presbyterian.

Today I’m looking at the word citizen.

 

I want to encourage you to get out this brochure.  The Scriptures teach us that we are to love the alien.  That was quite a statement from the book of Leviticus.  That statement of loving the alien is consistently in the Scriptures.  You have the opportunity to read those Scriptures this week.  I encourage you to use this devotion.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God might say something to you that yo’ll want to remember.  On the back is a place for our congregation’s prayer requests. 

 

Worship—come to worship on Ash Wednesday.  Sally Narr and I have designed a beautiful service that will prepare us for Lent.  This is an Intergenerational service meaning that you are welcome to have your kids with you during worship. 

 

            Citizen is a person who is connected to something.  I did some research this week and found a citizen bank.  There are three in Minnesota.  There are citizen watches there is a citizen TV.  But likely if we say the word citizen we think of someone who is connected to a government.   

            It’s not just a Federal government.  Each of us are citizens of a city.  I went through the Chain of Lakes directory and made a list of all the cities of which we are citizens.  We’re citizens of Blaine, of course.  And we are also citizens of Lino Lakes and Coon Rapids and Anoka and Ham Lake and Centerville and Circle Pines and St. Paul and Roseville, and Chisago City and Forest Lake and Ham Lake and Little Canada and Bloomington and Fridley and Shoreview and Hugo and Columbia Heights and New Brighton, and Andover.  That’s 20 cities that are represented, and I might have missed one or two. 

            We are citizens of a county.  We come from Anoka, Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin & Chisago County. 

            We are citizens of a state.  We come from Minnesota.  Nobody on our directory is outside of Minnesota.  What this means is we vote in state elections, pay taxes, and receive services that the state of Minnesota offers us.

            We are citizens of a nation.  We come from the United States, though we were born in many different countries.  Cameroon, Mexico, Haiti, Ukriane, Vietnam, and England. 

            Being a citizen of the United States was certainly an issue in the last election.  Our views divide us.  There’s a lot more heat than light.  Our Outreach Team wants to provide light.  Our Outreach team is hosting a forum about Immigration a week from Wednesday.  We anticipate having speakers from International Institute of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Health, Refugee Health Program, Department of Homeland Security, Advocates for Human Rights, and Center for Victims of Torture. 

            We can go even deeper than being a citizen of a country.  We’re going to read Matthew during Lent.  We want everyone to sign up for a small group.  One of the first words from Jesus as an adult in Matthew was Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.  Jesus came to bring heaven into earth.  When he left earth he asked his followers to continue this work.  As a gathered faith community we are called to bring in the Kingdom of God.  You and I are citizens of the Kingdom. 

            One way to think of the Bible is a manual for being a citizen of the Kingdom. 

            Not everyone likes to use the word “Kingdom” because the first part of the word is King which is gender exclusive.  I think of the word that way, and I don’t encourage you to think of the word that way.  A kingdom is an atmosphere.  We sing today—build your kingdom here. 

            As citizens in the kingdom we have leaders.  One of the first leaders of the Kingdom was Abraham.  God called Abraham—this call wasn’t on a phone it was a request that God made to Abraham, and at that time in his life his name was Abram.  God’s request was in this Scripture.   

 

“Go from your country and you kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  Genesis 12:2

 

The three most significant religions in our country—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—all look to Abraham or Abram as our first ancestor.  All three point to this story as a founding story.

            If we read about Abram it’s fascinating to see how Abram identified himself. 

            A was married to Sarah.  When Sarah died (his name was Abraham) he needed to find a place to bury his wife.  The story is significant for Abraham’s identity.  I’ll let story speak for itself. 

“Sarah lived one hundred twenty-seven years; this was the length of Sarah’s life.  And Sarah died … and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.  Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites, ‘I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead [Sarah] out of my sight.” Genesis 23: 1-4

 

            Abraham identified himself as a stranger or an alien. 

            One more piece that will help us understand Abraham’s identity.  Fast forward to a book called Deuteronomy.  It’s the fifth book of the Old Testament.  It’s the most-quoted Old Testament book by Jesus.  We have a group who is reading through the Old Testament.  In  nine days we’re going to read through Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy the people were preparing to go into the Promised Land.  They were told how to worship.  God shared how God wanted people to bring their gifts to the altar.  People were to take their gift and give it to a religious leader who was a priest and the priest was to take the offering and put it on an altar.  And the priest was to say this:

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor [Abraham]; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, might and populous. Deuteronomy 26:5

 

            God wanted to remind the people that the first leader of their country was an alien.

            A little more Bible.  When the people who followed Abraham multiplied they lived in Egypt.  They were not citizens of that country—they were aliens.  That was a problem as the leaders of Egypt became afraid of the Israelites.  God reminded the people all throughout the Old Testament that they started as aliens—they were not citizens.  Their citizenship was with God.  God wanted them to remember that.  Their identity started as aliens. 

            This had implications had implications for how they would treat people.

We heard one of these reminders today in a reading that ___ shared.  The reading speaks for itself

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 19:33-34.

 

            We’ve been taught that the second part of  Great Commandment is “you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  Here we are called to love the alien as you love yourself.

            The word alien comes from the Hebrew word ger.  Another way to translate ger is sojourner.  I like this word better because the word “alien” has implications in our contemporary world that it didn’t in the world of the Bible.  These aliens were sojourners; they were travelers.  How are we called to treat the traveler?  With hospitality.  One of the Core Values of our faith community is hospitality.  We will go out of our way to welcome people as Jesus welcomed them with an open heart and an open mind.

            Jesus had a special place in his heart for sojourners.  Jesus was a Jew, of course, which meant he wasn’t a citizen of any country.  He lived in a territory that was governed by Romans.  He wasn’t a Roman citizen.  His citizenship went deeper than that.  He was a citizen of the Kingdom. 

            His own identity as a citizen of the Kingdom went to how his followers were called to treat the alien or the stranger or the person who was on the ouside of the in group.  In the NT story that Sally shared we heard that how we treat the least of the community mattered to Jesus.  How we treated the hungry and thirsty and naked and person who was sick or in prison mattered to Jesus.  And ultimately how we treated the stranger.  Jesus shared that his image was in the person who was on the margins of society.  We were to find his image in the stranger in the ger in the sojourner. 

            This has huge implications for us as citizens.  To say that we are citizens of the kingdom means that we go out of our way to treat people on the margins with love.  We go out of our way to love the least of the people in our world.  We go out of our way to love people who haven’t lived in our country—for people who have lived in Cameroon and Mexico, and Haiti, and Ukraine, and Vietnam and England.  Loving people who are different is fundamental to our identity.  That is what Jesus was teaching us.

            To be a citizen of the Kingdom means we love the sojourners—people who are on the margins.  We go out of our way to love the gay teenager who was kicked out of his or her house because the parents couldn’t accept their child’s sexual orientation; to be a citizen means we sleep in boxes on tennis courts to highlight the issues of youth who are homeless; to be a citizen of the kingdom means we dig deep to give our money to organizations who help homeless youth.  Guess how much money we gave to Hope 4 Youth last year–$14,000.  I don’t know for sure, but that’s probably the most money that any church in Anoka County gave to Hope 4 Youth.  In May Hope 4 Youth is going to have a fundraising luncheon.  At the luncheon they are going to honor a church in Anoka County who has helped them.  Guess which church in Anoka County is going to receive this award? 

SLIDE It’s a church with this logo.

            When we receive the award we’ll do it because we’re citizen of the Kingdom.           

            I would never say it’s easy being a citizen of the Kingdom.  Sometimes we do things that are controversial.  I remember a long, long time ago I worked with farm workers in California.  I’m thinking of this story because this Wednesday I’ve been asked by the Blaine/Ham Lake Rotary Club to share some of my stories of working with farm workers.  If any of you want to go with me you are welcome.  My task was to go to the religious community in California and tell them about the conditions of farm workers.  These beautiful people who would pick fruits and vegetables that show up in our grocery stores.  Behind every piece of fruit and vegetable was a story.  It was a story of a person—much of the time a person with brown skin—a story of a person who often would have to gather at 5:30 in the morning to work; who would have to work in fields that sometimes ahd been sprayed with pesticides; who would be paid a little more than minimum wage; who sometimes didn’t have citizenship papers.  They worked in temperatures that sometimes approached triple digits.  They did a job that many people who had lived in the area wouldn’t do.  Because of their stories we enjoyed beautiful fruits and vegetables in the grocery store

            I would tell their story to churches.  Sometimes people didn’t like what I had to say.  One night as I was speaking a man at a church—it was a Presbyterian church—squinted his eyes at me and said, “well you’re nothing but a rabble rouser.”  A rabble rouser, I questioned.  He was implying that what I was doing was very political.

            I was taken aback by the comment.  I’m not trying to be political.  This is moral and ethical work.  I’m trying to help people who are the least in the world.  I’m helping people who I’m know Jesus would go out of his way to help.  I didn’t say this but I thought it—have you ever read Matthew 25.    

            Being part of the kingdom can be controversial.  Our first allegiance is to God. 

            Which leads me to today.  This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time.  We’re celebrating that we are not a white congregation who exists in the white suburbs.  We are a mutli-racial church, in a way a church of many nations who is living out our call to be citizens in the north Metro of the Twin Cities.  We didn’t start this church thinking that so many people from different countries would connect.  This isn’t our work; this is God’s work.  For only God could have done this.  

            This community is a reflection of what it means to be citizens of the kingdom.

            It’s a hard time to be a citizen of the kingdom.  Many of you have told me that you are afraid right now because you know of people who are not citizens of the United States that might be deported.  I know this because you’ve told me.  The news is ominous. 

            There’s 80 to 90 thousand people in the state of Minnesota who are not citizens.  They are good people.  They cook our food; they pack our meat; they milk our cows; the can our vegetables.  They do mood that is hard and dirty and doesn’t pay a lot.  Despite what you’ve heard they as a whole they do not bring in drugs or crimes, and they certainly not rapists.

            They’re people.  Jesus talked about them.  “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren you do it to me.” 

            I know not everyone agrees with these views.  If you don’t agree with these views, don’t get mad at me.  Come talk to me.  We have a Core Value called “Healthy Disagreement.”  This means we bear with each other.  We respect each other. 

            When I read articles in the newspaper that says the Federal Government is going to build more detention centers for undocumented people; that more Immigration agents are going to be hired; that local police might be deputized as Immigration officers; and that a wall is going to be built that could cost us 15 billion dollars.

            As a pastor I will accompany and help any person who is threatened with deportation.  At the last church I served the Immigration service did a raid of the people at the local canning company.  When I heard that I drove all over the Wabasha County trying to find them.  And I would do the same here—no matter if it’s the middle of the day or the middle of the night.

            Because ultimately Jesus doesn’t ask us if we’re citizens of a country.  It’s a joy to serve in the Kingdom.  Let’s be citizens. 

            Let’s celebrate what God has done in this faith community called Chain of Lakes.