Seaside With Jesus: Kingdom Reality -- Matthew 4:12-17
Today we begin a new series. Many, if not most, of you have lived by the sea your whole lives…or at least by the sound. Other than a vacation now and then, I haven’t. Yet, for most of my life, I have been I have been connected to one who chose to settle by the sea…one who lived, taught, and even walked across the sea. For those of you who have looked online at some of the sermons from St. Paul’s, you have noticed that I tend to preach sermon series’s. And while I, being honest with you, may at some time revisit some of those series with you here at Harkers Island, as I began praying and reflecting on where to begin a series here, God led me seaside…as so we begin today, and will at least through the rest of this month and next, be Seaside with Jesus—examining the life, actions, and teaching of Jesus at times when He found Himself near the water.
They are possibly the most popular and feared words of any family trip—well, after the “I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” that is said way too often out in the middle of nowhere. They are said over and over and over again. What is it? “Are we there yet?” If you have children, or even a spouse, at times, you can count on hearing those words on almost any trip you take. “Are we there yet?” “No.” “How much further?” “15 minutes less than the last time you asked.” Any of that sound familiar?
They weren’t on a family trip, in fact they had done some travelling over the generations, and they were happy to be settled. Yet, even as they settled, there was a tendency to ask, “Are we there yet?” However, as they called out to their Father, it often sounded more like, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Or, “How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!” Maybe even, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” The list could go on and on of the times the People of God would cry out to Him and say, “Are we there yet? Have we arrived at the time You are going to intervene and lift us above everyone else?” “Is it time for God’s Kingdom to be made fully known?”
Now, when we take those trips as a family, and we announce that we are almost there, or that we have arrived, one of two things happen. Either, everyone is excited, maybe even with a “yay” or two; or, as has happened frequently with Davey, when he was younger, and, now, with Joshua, we drive for hours and hours, with choruses of “are we there yet’s” and sometime in the five minutes (or less) before we actually arrive, they have fallen asleep.
When John the Baptizer arrived on the scene there were many who probably began asking once again, “Are we there yet? Is the Kingdom here?” thinking that in John something new was happening. John’s comments were a way of saying “not yet, but we’re almost there, “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” John’s words would have been heard as “it’s not here yet, but we are getting close.”
Then enters Jesus. Jesus comes before John at the Jordan River and his baptized…not because He needed to be baptized, but in order that through our baptism we might be connected to joined to Him. When Jesus rises from the waters a voice is heard by those around, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” After, His baptism Jesus is led out into the wilderness where he undergoes a time of preparation for the work before Him…in the midst of that time of preparation Jesus faces and overcomes temptation.
Jesus then left his hometown of Nazareth and settled by the sea, in Capernaum. There he began his ministry with these words we heard earlier, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Other translators will actually translate Jesus’ words here as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Hear that again, “the kingdom of heaven has come near,” “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
How much time do we still spend longing for the Kingdom of God? How often do we continue to wonder “how long?” How many times have we asked, “Are we there yet?” We want to know when God is going to finally bring His rule to bear? If you think we are not waiting, drive up to Beaufort and get your groceries at Food Lion…or go shopping at Walmart and get in the longest line possible. While you are standing there scan magazines—especially the tabloid type magazines. If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I would wager you that you couldn’t go a month without one or more of those racks holding a story in which someone has figured out when the end of the world is coming and Jesus is going to return. Why? Because folks eat it up—we all want to know when God’s Kingdom is finally going to be here. We all want to know when we are going to get there.
And while we’re feeding those publications, we are missing the point of what Jesus said. Jesus said, “the kingdom has come near…the kingdom is at hand.” Jesus did not say, “wait around another two thousand or so years and watch for the God’s Kingdom to start breaking in.” He said, “it is at hand.” Jesus is saying, “the kingdom is here. I am here. Look at me. You see me…you see what I am about…you see the Kingdom of God…on earth as in heaven.”
In April, when we found out that we were going to be appointed to serve here at Harkers Island…everyone was excited. We were going to a church at the beach. At the beach. We knew what to expect…or at least thought we did. We vacationed down the road at Atlantic Beach every summer. We spent Thanksgivings at Kitty Hawk. We were at Myrtle Beach when we got the call. We know what the beach is supposed to be like. A month later we drove onto Harkers Island to meet the SPRC committee. We had arrived at the beach. However, as we drove on to the island, you could sense Joshua’s disappointment growing. Where were the miles (or at least 3.2 square miles) of sandy beach? Where were all the beachy businesses like Wings with their cheap souvenirs and hermit crabs? Where were the miniature golf courses and amusement parks and resorts full of swimming pools? It was not at all what he was expecting.
You know, that feeling of confusion is not that far off from what John the Baptizer and his followers experienced. They heard Jesus say that the Kingdom was at hand. They knew what the Kingdom was supposed to look like. Jesus, the Messiah, was supposed to come in and drive Caesar and all his cronies to their knees and lift Israel and all the Jews up. But that wasn’t happening. In fact those that were supposed to be upended in John’s mind, were still in command…they had even imprisoned him. So John, from his prison cell, sent some of his followers to question Jesus. “Are we there yet,” they asked, “‘are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” John and his crowd thought, “there must be some mistake…we’ve missed a turn or something. This isn’t at all what we were expecting.”
Jesus’ response? The Kingdom has arrived. The Kingdom is here. The Kingdom is at hand. Jesus says, “‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’” “Go tell John that you have seen that the Kingdom of God is taking over and ridding the world of the kingdom of suffering, darkness, and death.” In other words, “Go tell John that the Kingdom has come near, the Kingdom is at hand, the Kingdom is here. Yes, it has arrived.”
Joshua, as we made our way down Cape Lookout Drive, past the church, and on to Shell Point, where he could see the lighthouse, where we could see the birds on Bird Island, where we could walk the Sound Trail, and more than anything, when he found a crab’s claw (that stayed in my car’s door handle for about three weeks), fell in love with Harkers Island and never wanted to leave.
Those who walked daily with Jesus began to see the Kingdom reality amongst them…that God’s Kingdom had broken through from Heaven into this world in ways that they could see, in ways that were far better than what they had originally hoped for: hungry being fed, sick being healed, blind seeing, lame walking, the dead living, and, consider the significance of Jesus’ words, the poor having the gospel proclaimed…the Kingdom’s reality is found with the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, those that the world would reject, ostracize, and even persecute, are welcomed and offered hope—this was their crab’s claw.
Yet, just as we had to leave Harkers Island in May because the time of our moving in had not yet arrived, so to was the full arrival of God’s Kingdom yet to come. Just as we have finally moved into the parsonage, there will come that day when the Kingdom of God is revealed in ways that will cause all the world to see…as this earth and heaven as it is melt away, and the New Heaven and New Earth come together in New Jerusalem, when God makes His home amongst us, walking with us as He did at the beginning of Creation…that day when every tear will be wiped away because death will be no more…then the Kingdom will have fully arrived. Amen?
Yet that’s not all there is—for that would mean that we just sit and wait for its arrival…that we sit in our pews here at church and kick back in our recliners and just wait for the sky to turn to fire…right?
Absolutely not! For, my brothers and sisters, God’s Kingdom broke into this world in Jesus…through Him we see glimpses of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. Remember His Baptism…remember that we have been joined to Him and to one another through our Baptism. As Paul would tell us, we are the living Body of Christ. We are the living presence of Christ in this World. What He did, we are to do. Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we are to be the ones through whom the world catches glimpses of God’s Kingdom. We are to be the ones to reveal that the Kingdom of God has come near, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that the Kingdom of God is here. When we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, we reveal the Kingdom. When help the blind to see and the deaf to hear (and remember, not all blindness and deafness revolve around our eyes and our ears), we reveal the Kingdom. When we help cleanse the drugs from an addicts life, we reveal the Kingdom. When we offer hope and light to those for whom depression has set in, we offer life to the dead, Kingdom living to those dwelling in Sheol. And when we embrace the outcast, when we welcome those that society rejects, when we love with God’s Divine Love flowing through us to all we encounter, we declare that the Kingdom has arrived—that the Kingdom is a reality today!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—Amen!