So I just spent a week (Okay I showed up late, so more like 3 days) at a Summer Youth Camp. My best friend is a youth pastor and invited me to come. So this post was originally a lesson I prepared and gave to the youth this past Thursday night. The reason I gave this lesson was because I think in our day the gospel is reduced to individual salvation. In other words, “God through Jesus just wants to save people from Hell so they can live in heaven and escape the destruction of the earth.” I think this is actually Gnosticism, an early church heresy (Don’t take my word for it go look it up).
But the danger of this kind of “gospel” is that it relieves us of any responsibility to actually bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Of taking care of the poor and the widows (which James actually calls “true religion”). Of being a good steward of God’s creation actually taking care of the environment, not exploiting it for money (I’m talking to you Oil and Gas Industry, among others) and covering it up with a false religiosity that says, “God gave creation to us, so we can do with it as we want.” If this is the “gospel” then we have an excuse to not actually live in the world, and while we’re stuck here we can trash creation and ignore injustices. We can have our own “Christian music,” “Christian Coffee Shops,” “Christian Home-School Co-Opts,” and so forth until we leave this terrible Earth and go to our spiritual home, Heaven. (side note, by definition, only a human being can be a Christian, music or a coffee shop cannot, they don’t have souls) This is Gnosticism and it seems to be the mentality in much of the church. I actually heard the director of this particular camp say, and I quote, “We need to get out of the world and stop looking like it.”  This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus is recorded to having said, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
So were obviously suppose to be different from the way the world operates (were not suppose to “look like it”), but never did Jesus say to leave the world. He actually wants to redeem it, to bring heaven to earth. He never intended to abandon his creation, because God made it good, and is restoring it. We’re actually suppose to be different because the kingdom is different and we’re a part of bringing it here! The Kingdom of God, I think, is what creation looks like when God has restored all of creation. So all that to say, I think we need to get rid of Gnosticism and reclaim the actually bigger good news of Jesus’ proclamation of God “reconciling all things to himself.” Without any further delay here’s the lesson I gave.
What is the Kingdom of God? Well, the kingdom of God is God’s plan for reconciling all creation to Gods-Self. In the beginning God created everything, this is what I mean by creation, and he created it all good, but humans have rejected friendship with God, have rejected all that is Good and Loving and so creation has been broken. But God who is Love has never given up on Creation, has never given up on us, and has had a plan to restore all things to what they were always meant to be like. In John’s witness to Jesus he explains how God began this very plan to restore all things.
“In the beginning the Word Jesus already existed. The Word Jesus was with God, and the Word Jesus was God.He existed in the beginning with God, God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.The Word Jesus gave life to everything that was created,[a and his life brought light to everyone.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]God sent a man, John the Baptist,[c] to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. 14 So the Word Jesus became human[d] and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[e] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” 16 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.[f]17 For the law was given through Moses, Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God,[g] is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
What John is saying is that God through Jesus is becoming a human being entering into God’s very creation in order that He can begin this plan to redeem creation. Or as the author of Colossians says, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
And so God’s plan it isn’t merely about individuals being saved so they can go to heaven. God wants us to take part in bringing Heaven to Earth. God is inviting you and me and even all of humanity to take part in Gods activities and work of reconciling all of creation by bringing the kingdom to earth. On earth as it is in heaven isn’t just a nice prayer it’s a call to action, to make this a reality. To bring heaven (God’s Kingdom, which is the way things should be) to earth. By doing this God affirms that he made creation good and wants to redeem it so that it can be what God always meant it to be. If God is truly restoring all creation and bringing Heaven to Earth then that means we’re responsible for taking care of the earth, for taking care of the widows and Orphans, for protecting the immigrants and foreigners of the land, striving for racial justice, and things like taking care of the poor.
So yes, while God’s plan isn’t just about individuals knowing Jesus, it definitely includes it as an important part of the plan. God is inviting us to Know God’s-self to be in a personal relationship, to have friendship. Gregory of Nyssa an early Christian said this about friendship with God, “We regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful, and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life.” Friendship, Knowing God this is what Jesus defines as eternal life. We read this in John 17:3. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
But it doesn’t stop with the beginning of that relationship, Jesus invites us to know him and invites us to participate in doing the things Jesus did or in other words to follow him. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. And He gives us a task to bring his kingdom. It is through us as the body of Christ, the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit that this work is done. Teresa of Avila who lived about 500 years ago wrote a prayer about this, she said, “Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes through which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours.” Christ loves us so much that he invites us to do his work with him, with him living inside of us.
Jesus seemed to be pretty serious about us being His Hands and Feet. How we treat others is ultimately how we treat Jesus. In the book of Matthew Jesus is recorded to having said,
31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[d] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”
In Jesus’ view the entire Old Testament could be summed up in Two commandments, Love God and Love People. So when we Love People we are Loving God, and when we are hating people we are hating God.
In the events of Jesus’ Incarnation birth into humanity, his life, his death and His resurrection Jesus defeated death, evil and sin making us free. God through Jesus frees us from sin and death in order that we can once again take up our human vocation of bearing God’s Image, which is to be like God. And Jesus being fully God shows us who God is, and Jesus being fully human shows us how to be fully human which is to be made in God’s image, to be like God.
Jesus I think in the Beatitudes gives us one of his greatest and clearest Teachings on what it looks like to be fully human, to live our calling of being God’s image. And what life in the Kingdom of God is suppose to look like. I’ll end by simply reading the words of Jesus recorded in this passage.
17 When they came down from the mountain, the disciples stood with Jesus on a large, level area, surrounded by many of his followers and by the crowds. There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those troubled by evil[b] spirits were healed. 19 Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone.
20 Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said,
“God blesses you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
21 God blesses you who are hungry now,
for you will be satisfied.
God blesses you who weep now,
for in due time you will laugh.
22 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.
24 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
for you have your only happiness now.
25 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,
for a time of awful hunger awaits you.
What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,
for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.
26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,
for their ancestors also praised false prophets.
27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.[c]
39 Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? 40 Students[d] are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.
41 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye[e] when you have a log in your own? 42 How can you think of saying, ‘Friend,[f] let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
43 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.44 A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thorn bushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. 45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.
46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”