Sunday, September 20, 2009

Look Inside

The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you.

                        Luke 17.20-21

All Along

Remember when you got too old for The Wizard of Oz? You followed the yellow-brick road the same as always. Then, when the Wizard told Dorothy she possessed the power to go home all along, you felt cheated. Now, do you also remember when you were old enough for The Wizard of Oz? This time you got it. If Dorothy had awakened sooner to who she was, she never would have wandered off, got caught in the storm, banged her head, traveled her bizarre path, jumped through the Wizard’s hoops, or been imprisoned by the Witch. She never would have feared the citation-toting Elvira Gulch. Although everyone else was afraid of her, had Dorothy seized the power of her integrity and innocence, Miss Gulch’s hollow threats wouldn’t have shaken her. How does the movie end? Dorothy and Toto survive the twister. Miss Gulch is nowhere to be found.

L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz not long after he broke with traditional Christianity to study Theosophy, a form of universal mysticism that caught on in the late 1800’s. Theosophists followed a road paved with bricks borrowed from other religions, which they laid as a route to achieve “divine consciousness”—in other words, the same path Dorothy takes in the novel. Yet Baum’s story resounds with Christians less for its path metaphor (although it also reflects Christ’s teaching) than its climactic revelation. The Wizard’s words to Dorothy echo Jesus’s words to us: “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17.21) At some point in our walk with Christ—often after hateful challenges and tumultuous storms—we awaken to know we’ve possessed the power to rise above small-mindedness and threats all along. The composer of an old spiritual realized this and framed it in these terms: “I’m on my way to Heaven and I’m so glad the world can’t do me no harm.” The sooner we accept who we are in Christ and the power we possess through Him, the gladder and safer we’ll be.

A New Order

In Luke 16.16, Jesus says, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John [the Baptist]. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” This dovetails perfectly with His response in Luke 17.20-21 when religious legalists ask Him to predict when the kingdom of God will come. Their question springs from old-school understanding of Messianic promises of a day when God will establish His kingdom on Earth. But Jesus tells His questioners, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come with your careful observation. People won’t say, ‘Here it is!’ The kingdom of God is within you.” The answer baffles those who missed His earlier statement. Since John the Baptist announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29), a New Order had taken effect. “The good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”

Forcing Our Way

This isn’t good news for legalists—the Elvira Gulches—of Jesus’s day or, for that matter, our day. Because they can’t see the kingdom of God, they can’t control it. That makes them crazy. But, bless their hearts, lack of insight won’t stop them from trying to secure the borders against anyone they deem unfit to enter the kingdom of God. They wave Old Testament citations to settle personal gripes, completely unaware of the New Order Jesus ushered in. The kingdom of God isn’t over here or over there. It’s everywhere, walking around inside everyone. And everyone is forcing his/her way into it. There aren’t enough Elvira Gulches in the world to keep anyone from realizing who he/she is in Christ. No one alive can stop any individual who takes Jesus at His word from possessing His power.

The kingdom of God is in us. Our Creator breathed it into us the moment He brought us to life. Forcing our way into the kingdom—getting past old-school traditions and thinkers—happens by knowing it’s there. The sooner we learn to look inside us, the quicker we’ll stop fearing what others say or think they can do to keep us out of the kingdom. Once we enter the kingdom of God, we take on the mind of Christ. Consciousness of His love and acceptance creates conscientiousness of our need to love and accept others, even those who defy our kingdom rights. Looking inside changes how everything outside looks.

The kingdom of God is in you. Force your way in.

(Tomorrow: Endless Conversation)


genevieve said...

Knowing what we possess is something I need to remind myself. I use this analogy in regard to transgender people. We choose to be ourselves and yet we catch a lot of grief because of it.

At the same time I know that God accepts as we are because he created us that way.

Tim said...

Yikes, Genevieve! I published your comment, got called away, and never responded. I apologize for the delay.

I personally find the infinite range of expressions the kingdom of God covers its most majestic feature. It comes in every imaginable variation and yet because it's inside each of us, it binds us together. It makes us one with God, with Christ, and each other.

Looking inside ourselves makes us see we're no different from anyone else. It explains why God created us and accepts as we are--and why we must do the same for one another.

I'm always so grateful for your insights--for the gentle, wise spirit you bring to us. Thank you.

Blessings always,