Waiting is not something I do well. In fact, I am pretty bad at waiting. Most of the time my difficulty in waiting comes out when I am in a hurry or excited about something. For example, when I buy something for Abbi, I will call and tell her what it is before I arrive home with the gift.
My troubles with waiting is probably why a pregnancy’s nine-and-a-half months seems brutally long to me. As Abbi and I have talked about having children, I believe this is the part of starting a family that intimidates me. I want the baby to come now and not in 40 weeks. How am I going to handle this lengthy time of waiting? Abbi will probably handle it better than I will. She is more gifted at patience than I am. I will probably have to find something and everything to do while I anxiously wait.
Of course, there is always something to do during a pregnancy. You have to get the baby gear – the stroller, the crib, the clothes, the car seat, the baby bag, the toys, and, I am sure, hundreds of other things. There is work to be done on a nursery and a house, because the baby cannot see the mess the house truly is on a normal occasion. A pregnancy is not an easy-go-lucky time of waiting for the child’s birth. In fact, these 40 weeks of waiting comes with tasks that are appropriate and important for this special time.
This time of waiting is analogous to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Last week, we said the Kingdom of God has a dual reality. It is here in our presence, but it is not fully here yet. We can experience it now, while we wait for it to come when Christ returns. Parenting and preparing for a baby’s arrival has this same dual reality. We can experience some aspects of having a baby, while we wait for the baby to come. The reality of the baby is present, while the new parents wait to hold the child for the first time.
We’ve talked a little bit about what it means to wait for a baby to come. It is a busy time of preparation and anticipation. Waiting is an active time of getting things ready. But, what about the coming of the Kingdom of God? What does it mean to wait for the Kingdom? Often in the church, we think waiting for the Kingdom to come means sitting back and passing the time. Life is what we do now, but it has no importance to the Kingdom that will come. We’re just here waiting to get to heaven. Waiting, then, is just getting by until Christ comes and the Kingdom is realized in its fullness.
This doesn’t seem like God’s kind of waiting. It’s not the image we see in Scripture, which tells us how God used men and women during periods of waiting before something happened. God used Jeremiah to announce the coming exile. God sent John the Baptist to proclaim the age of God’s reign, and the coming of the Messiah. Prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus sent the Disciples out in missions to proclaim that the Messiah had come. Waiting seems to be a time of action for those who follow God.
Is there something here for us today? We are waiting with expectation for the Kingdom of God to fully come and for Christ’s return. What are we to do as we wait with a sense of expectation?
Before we can wrestle with this, it would probably help us to think about what this coming reality will look like. The Kingdom of God is here, but we know what we see is only a glimpse of the kingdom to come. This means God’s reign is present in our life when we accept Christ in our lives as our Lord and Savior. God’s law is written on our hearts, and we are called to act in response to that love in our lives with others. But the entire Kingdom will come when Christ returns. Revelation 21:1-7 and Isaiah 65:17-25 paint a picture of what this might look like. John writes of a “new heaven and new earth,” using language that is similar to Isaiah’s. John says when New Jerusalem comes, God will make his home among His people. There will be no sea in this new creation. It will be a place, as well, of no tears, death, or pain.
There is a lot of symbolism here, which is typical for Revelation. Looking at this symbolism will help us understand what the coming reality of the Kingdom of God will look like. John says it will be a place where there is no sea. In his time, people were separated because of the vast seas that were an obstacle to navigate. The sea was a barrier that prevented relationships from taking place. This metaphor continues today. There are things that prevent relationships from being developed between people, whether it is economics, race, politics, or even location. In God’s kingdom to come, these barriers will be no more. The things that keep us from being in relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters will no longer exist.
John also says there will be “no more tears, no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” That sounds great, doesn’t it? This certainly is a world that is filled with its fair share of death, sorrow, tears, and pain. We have all experienced how cruel this world can be. John’s vision of New Jerusalem is what we place our hope in. When the Kingdom comes, as M. Eugene Boring writes, “all that robs life of being fulfilled will be taken away.” The challenges we face and the evils that exist in our world will be fully defeated when Christ returns.
Then there is the image of a “new heaven and a new earth.” What does this represent? Both Isaiah and John speak to this promise. New Jerusalem is the new creation. It is the “fulfillment” of God’s creative purposes. It is the place where God will reside with His people. This is not something we can create, but it is something God is doing and will do when Christ returns.
There should be a sense of familiarity to this image of New Jerusalem. It is what God intended for creation in Genesis 1. New Jerusalem is a return to the Eden that God intended for creation. It is a return to the original purposes of creation, where God lived with humanity and before our sin tarnished that perfect creation. When New Jerusalem comes, everything will be as God had originally designed, and we will be in perfect relationship with God.
So, where will New Jerusalem exist? It sounds like heaven and, indeed, it is. New Jerusalem is the eternal life that we will experience with Christ. We often believe that New Jerusalem will exist in the clouds or cosmos. Yet, that is not the image we see in Revelation or even in Jesus’ teachings. The Kingdom of God will not be in the clouds, but here on Earth. The world we will inherit is the very place we live today.
If the place we will inherit, New Jerusalem, will exist here in the places we currently reside, then it means that we must take seriously the things we do here on Earth. The life we lead and the things we do are not tossed aside in New Jerusalem, but will have lasting impact on the world that we will inherit. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells us that what is permitted on Earth will be allowed in the Kingdom of God. One aspect of what this means is that the things we do on Earth, the ways we live into the current reality of the Kingdom of God, will impact the Earth that we will inherit.
This is what it means to wait for the Kingdom of God to come. We live into this reality by being aware that the things we do have lasting implications. There are several ways that this is played out in our world. As followers of Christ, we conserve our natural resources, not because it is the popular or trendy thing to do, but because this is the earth we will inherit. We are good stewards of what we are given, because our decisions will dictate the world the Kingdom will enter into. We wait the Kingdom of God’s coming by preparing the world for its full coming by living into the present reality of the Kingdom of God, recognizing that God’s dominion is present and it demands our obedience in all aspects of our lives.
Waiting for the Kingdom of God to come also calls us to want others to be with us when the Kingdom comes. Kingdom people are called to share the message and enter into relationship with those who are not here. At Annual Conference, this hit home for me. One of the reports was from the conference’s leaders of New Congregational Development. Their responsibility is to lead the conference in planting new churches and congregations to reach our commonwealth. From 2008-12, the conference planted 15 new congregations and saw an increase in membership of 1,000. That is awesome work for the Kingdom, but there is much work still to be done. On any given Sunday, 83 percent of our state’s 4.3 million population is not in church. Eighty-three percent of our people – our neighbors – are unreached for the Kingdom for whatever reason.
In 2011, we did not have any professions of faith and only one new member. This is unacceptable. Each of us know people who are not here and who we can be in relationship with by sharing our story and helping them to see Christ. We each know people who need to experience God’s kingdom alive in their hearts today. We cannot wait for the people to come, but we must go to them.
There are 29 weeks remaining in 2012 and there is growth and people to be reached. For the next 29 weeks, I am calling each of us to invite one person to church each week. I believe when we do we will see the fruit in our congregations and, even more, the kingdom will be experienced in our communities.
As well, I am calling us to consider and be in prayer to seek new ways to reach the people in our communities. We must reach out into our communities to share the love of Jesus Christ and must provide opportunities for the kingdom to be experienced. If you need help or want to talk more about what this would look like, please see me after church, because there are resources and people to help us reach the people of our community for the kingdom.
In a moment, we will partake in Holy Communion. As you come to take the elements, I invite you to pray and seek how God might be calling you to await the kingdom by living into the kingdom today.
Each of us have something to do in this and God has gifted us in certain ways to share the story of Christ by our words, our actions, and our deeds. The Kingdom of God is here, so let us share it. The Kingdom of God is coming in its fullness, so let us tell the world so everyone may experience it.