Hello everybody. Tom Ziegert here. Welcome to the fifth episode in the third season of my podcast, Theology 21st Century offering the religious outsider alternatives and practical understandings of God’s relationship with us. As with each week’s topic, I offer the apology that in this format, this subject can not be exhaustive. Your experiences and thoughts will be a welcome addition to the discussion. Please post them as comments on my blog site, searching-for-god.com, and I will get back to you. Let’s begin.
Reverend Lynn Munson-Francis is the senior pastor at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church. Lynn is both a colleague and has been a supportive friend for over 20 years. Pastor Lynn received her BS in psychology from Vanguard University and a Master of Divinity degree from the Claremont School of Theology. Lynn is also a licensed ministry coach. Lynn’s ministry work has focused on revitalization ministries and new ministries. She has served on the Board of Congregational Development and currently serves on her district’s Committee on Ordained Ministry. The mother of three adult children, Pastor Lynn is reflected, “I always feel drawn to what God is doing next in his church in our world. I am passionate about Jesus’s great commission to make disciples by sharing. God’s love, acceptance, and our witness to Jesus Christ.”
Today, Lynn and I will talk about a subject we’re mutually passionate about, the Kingdom of God. Welcome Lynn. I’m grateful to be able to share this program with you today.
Hi Tom. I am so grateful that you asked me to be here with you today, and I love the topic that we’re talking about. As you said, the kingdom of God.
I know we’re both very passionate about it. So why don’t we start? What drove you to this passion of the kingdom of God?
To me, a lot of important aspects of our Christian lives sort of collide in this idea of the kingdom of God. I’m passionate about discipleship and about sanctification and growing spiritually, that we all are really called to be mature Christians in the world. That’s as we mature in Christ and as God sanctifies us, I think we’re more useful tools as God’s hands and feet in the world. And I think it’s through that process of sanctification and our growth in our knowledge and love of God. One of the outcomes of that is that we bring the kingdom of God into the world. And God’s kingdom is where God’s ultimate purpose and joy in the world is lived out. And we get to share in that kingdom as well as others who don’t yet know God; and we get to share in the blessings of God’s kingdom on earth.
You like to use the kingdom of God instead of Kingdom of Heaven. Is there any particular reason behind that for you?
Yeah, there is. I know they’re sort of interchangeable in scripture and yet in the beatitudes, some translations have Jesus in one moment saying the kingdom of heaven and in the next moment, the kingdom of God. So it sounds like Jesus is making a distinction between the kingdom of heaven, kingdom of God. And I have to say, I haven’t looked really deeply and studied the difference, particularly in the beatitudes. But for me theologically, it’s an important distinction. I think when we think of the Kingdom of Heaven, we think of a place — we think of a place that’s an eternity. We think of a future place and it’s somewhere we go — somewhere we go to. And the kingdom of God, to me, is something that has to do with our relationships that in God’s kingdom, we have the relationship we’re meant to have with God.
And in the kingdom of God, we are having relationships with one another that reflect who we are as people created in God’s image. And so as we live into the Kingdom of God, as we live out the Kingdom of God, and bring the kingdom of God on earth as the Lord’s prayer says, “as it is in heaven,” as we, as we do that, we’re living out relationships that reflect the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. And so if all of our relationships were characterized by those qualities, we’re living out God’s image in the world. Imagine the goodness that we would all live in every day.
I think, for me, I don’t know when it was my first recognition of this special nature of the Kingdom of God. I think it is from the Prayer that Jesus Taught Us. I wondered what the meaning was of “on earth as it is in heaven.” And then when we look into the New Testament and particularly the gospel of Matthew, the amount of discussion about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven is immense, It is in all the little parables that wind up throughout Matthew. Whether it’s the story of the 10 bridesmaids or whether it’s the sermon on the Mount that tells the blessings or beatitudes that come to us it just seems really important. And it is. I think that’s where my passion begins to develop: In that importance. I don’t think that pastors or preachers or churches put enough emphasis on what it means to become part of the Kingdom of God on earth.
I have an unproven premise because it’s not even really a full theory. When I have read the story of the 10 bridesmaids and at the end of it, when the groom doesn’t recognize the bridesmaids the subtext overrides the real point of the reading for me. And that is that if the bridegroom is Jesus and the party or the house is Heaven, and the five bridesmaids show up and Jesus doesn’t recognize them why is that? Can it be possible for us to not be invited into the party, so to speak because we have become something that is no longer recognizable by God? That we can change ourselves? That would suggest that we can alter our character sufficiently so that it no longer becomes that which God created, but that which we created. And so we’ve corrupted something God created badly. And that’s just sticking that in there. I mean, it just builds this whole concept of what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God and then move into the Kingdom of Heaven as we pass through the veil between this life and the next. Do you have a response to that?
It’s curious to me the way you set out, because as you were speaking, you said, Kingdom of God is this place sort of here and now or can be. And then when you move through the veil, you move into the Kingdom of heaven. So the God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. So that’s, I guess the reference you’re making.
And that is actually what I think. It’s uncompleted unproven. And like you said, there’s no research behind it. I just want to look more into it and see if I can find something that supports the idea that the Kingdom of God is on Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven is where we transmigrate to.
I think it’s interesting, you know, the question: Can we become something that God no longer recognizes, or can we become something in which the image of God is no longer recognizable? I think, it’s kind of what you’re asking. And several weeks ago I preached on Matthew 22, where there’s, as you said, a lot in Matthew where Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. And he’s talking about the Kingdom of God is like this or the Kingdom of God is like that. And one of the stories he tells is that the kingdom of God is like this: A King throws a wedding banquet for his son. You remember the story, and you know, all the guests are invited, and the servants go out into the town. And basically to all the important people in town and say, “it’s time for the wedding come.”
And they’re all too busy, you know, they make excuses like I have to work; or, “I’ve got to take a shower.” I mean, I don’t, who knows what they were doing? But they were saying, “Oh, I can’t come. I’m too busy for the King.” So the King essentially gets mad and says to the servants, we’ll invite anyone you can find. And then the way that story ends; there’s a lot of dimensions to that parable. The way that parallel ends is that when the people show up, they’re all given wedding robes and they come in to celebrate. And as the King, the father, makes the rounds — like we would go from table to table if we’re the host at a wedding. As he makes the rounds, he sees this one person who doesn’t have their wedding robe on. And so he tells the servants to bind him up and throw him out where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And so the thought is that this second group of people that aren’t too busy for God, that are glad to come, they’re the Christian Church; they’re the followers of Christ. And yet one follower of Christ doesn’t have his wedding robe on and he gets thrown out. And in this parable, if the King symbolizes God, then God’s pretty mean because God finds somebody who’s not dressed right and throws him out. Well, that doesn’t sound like the loving God that we know in Scripture. So then who is that person that God? In your words, from the other parable, that God doesn’t recognize him anymore as a guest in the Kingdom of Heaven. My feeling about the interpretation of that Matthew 22 text is that person symbolizes our old self. Paul talks about the new self and the old self. And Paul talks about how the old self is dying away.
The new self is coming to life as a new creation. It’s my theory that the one that doesn’t have the wedding gown symbolizes our old self and our old self gets thrown out. But our new self, the more we live into the new life in Christ, that’s us coming into that wedding banquet to celebrate Christ’s coming and to celebrate Christ coming by putting on the wedding robe — which is putting on the new life in Christ. So I think it’s that same idea as being sanctified and the more we put on the wedding robe, and the more we put on sanctification, the more we bring about God’s kingdom.
Yes. There are semantics that kind of like freak me out with that, like throwing out the old self, because my whole thing about the way that we change and become not what God created is when we try and throw away things we hate about ourselves. It’s like in Walter Winks books when it talks about how a person who hates the log in themself and sees the splinter off that log in someone else. Then they become the “other” and worthy of hate. It’s this idea of us wanting to rip out some part of our self, that results in, or has a by-product of that self-hatred, that is violence. But in the context that you’re using, the transformation that occurs in us as we decide to celebrate our newness in Christ no-one can necessarily take that kind of idea about tearing apart of themselves away.
Well, I appreciate you bringing that up because, one, I don’t think any analogy is perfect. I think we never want to be hating ourselves because we are God’s people. We are God’s. Every human was created in God’s image. Every human is a child of God. And so I think there’s danger if we try to take that analogy of the one person being thrown out. I think there’s danger in taking the idea of that one person or that old self being thrown out. And if we try to extrapolate and include other things in that image, I think it’s that Jesus tells a story in that time and place for a purpose. But I don’t think we can stretch it too far to be this overarching principle that all the old stuff in us or the less than sanctified, less than perfect parts of need to be thrown out. Because I think what God does is receive us in grace and mercy exactly how we are. But it’s the nudging of the Holy spirit that brings about new behaviors, even in spite of the parts of ourselves that I guess would say are part of that old self.
Yeah. We’re getting into the deep stuff now. I think the Kingdom of God reflections are about the depth of who we are. I was listening to James Early talk about the Kingdom of Heaven in his podcast. “The Bible Speaks to You”. There he spoke about the steps to finding the kingdom and the gifts that offers to those who stay and live there. I recommend that our listeners tune in and allow his life affirming and encouraging understanding of the Bible to strengthen them. It helped me recognize that I’ve always thought mostly about our role as building the kingdom more than finding it. But of course, if we build it, others will be able to find it. And then they become builders too. Any thoughts about how that plays out in, in the way that you understand it?
What’s so interesting is the building language. And you say, if we build it, others will come. I think of “A Field of Dreams”, the movie, “if you build it, they will come.” And I think that is such a great analogy to how God brings about the kingdom. Those of us that have experienced the love of God and the life-changing grace and mercy of God, we are the ones that bring about the kingdom on Earth. Jesus uses us, our hands and feet to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth. And then other people, who don’t yet know God’s love and mercy and grace, get to benefit from that. And I think it’s the witness of the glory of the Kingdom of God on Earth that is like the analogy we see in scripture, the shining city on a hill. I think the Kingdom of God needs to be that shining city on a hill. And when people see it, they go, “Oh, I want to go there. I want to be there. I want to be part of that.” And so I think the kingdom of God becomes a witness to God’s love and amazing grace and his mercy
Exactly. Just so. We are invited to let our light shine before others so that they see our good works and give glory to our father in heaven. In that fifth chapter of Matthew there’s also the side where if people do see it, then it becomes like a mustard seed, or like flour leavened with yeast, or like a hidden treasure worth everything. It’s a place of attraction rather than promotion. We don’t have to go out and bang on people’s doors, but it’s our life itself. That becomes something that I want to be able to have — that hope. I want to be able to feel God in my life, even while I’m mourning and grieving, or when I have lost a job, or when I find myself in a life threatening illness, or when all the different things that happen in our life need hope. It’s what we can look forward to, the gifts of the kingdom that James talked about. And like you’re talking about, there are these gifts that are results of living in the kingdom of God. And it’s not a place we can just find and sit down in. It’s a place we find and then become another builder until it does become that shining city on a hill,
Yeah. I like what you say about our witness being a witness of attraction. It’s funny, my husband, John and I, a couple of years ago, took a trip to see his mom in Arizona. And we did a variety of errands for her and just some tooling around in a very small town called Buckeye. They were building these brand new condos. We just kept driving by, driving by, and they were just a kind of a new style, something we hadn’t seen quite the same way before. We finally stopped in because they were so beautiful, and they were interesting, and they caught our attention. They attracted us right? And so I think it’s that same idea with the kingdom of God. When people see people in relationships with one another where they don’t hold grudges, where people are a community of folks that relate to one another without gossiping behind each other’s backs…
when you’ve got a community of folks who only want to be about the best in each other, and that it’s not fake, it’s nota place where you hide your sins and you put on your best face. Everyone accepts everyone — warts and all. And it’s the Kingdom of God. It truly is free grace and merciful living. And it’s being all about Micah 6.8 — justice and humility. And when people see relationships like that, I think they’ll say, “Wow, I want that.” And, “How does that happen? Because that doesn’t happen in my family,” or “It doesn’t happen in my world, my group of friends or where I work, but these people, they live differently.” I think that’s the kingdom of God.
I do too. In my experience, in my little corner of the kingdom of God, where I think I live, it’s here that I have hope. I always have hope. I have a lot of times of joy, and a lot of times I understand my purpose, and times of adversity. This hope remains strong because there’s always a gift from God in the offering. Every time I have suffered, there has been the other end of that, the other side of that, where I have also found renewal such that out of lemons come lemonade, from poop comes fertilizer. There’s something about finding our path, coming to accept who we are, and trying to become that, which we can become. That is part of this living in the Kingdom of God. It’s a place we find with intent. I think that we have to seek it in many ways.
Otherwise we don’t see it when it happens. There is a story of this woman that was waiting for a bus in Beverly Hills, in Los Angeles. She had to go to an appointment, and it was growing late. She knew this because of the bus stops and how long it took a bus to get to the place that she was already late. And she was frustrated and in her own head. She wasn’t really paying attention to anything, except there wasn’t a bus coming. Finally she hears a horn blaring. In front of her is a person she knows driving her Rolls Royce, offering her a ride to her destination. She knows where she wants to go, but she’s just not able to see what’s in front of her because she’s wrapped up in the other stuff. In many ways I think life can be like that. We can get wrapped up in the minutia. We can get wrapped up in our frustrations, in our baggage, in holding onto grudges, or gossip, we can hold onto all kinds of stuff. But when we begin to get through that clutter, then we begin to find the Rolls Royce, so to speak. We begin to find that there is a much better, a much more comfortable, much more joyous way to journey this life. And for me, that’s been the importance of finding my way into my little corner of the kingdom, I think
A woman in my church yesterday, was telling me a story. She was talking about the pandemic right now. For so many of us, there’s so much pain and sadness and grief in the pandemic. Most of us know someone who’s lost a loved one. Just today I learned a colleague has lost two loved ones to the Corona Virus. This woman at church yesterday, she’s on our AV team, which is why I saw her. We’re not gathering in person yet, but we’re doing some live streaming from our sanctuary. And she was telling me that the silver lining in the pandemic for her and her family is that they do a Zoom call for all of her extended family on a regular basis now, weekly. And she said, “I’m seeing my cousins now more than I ever have because of the pandemic.
“And I’m getting to know them in a way that I never did before because of the pandemic.” So what she was saying is that we could either, in any circumstance, probably look at either all the things that are painful and difficult, or we can look at where that silver lining is. We can look at where God’s grace and mercy enter in. And those are those moments where the light is shining. Those are the places where the kingdom of God is coming to the fore. And I really, I just appreciated her difference of perspective that although we have, such difficulty, we can look at the gift that is coming out of this. As horrible as the pandemic has been in many ways, I think one of the places the Kingdom of God shows up is in the midst of how people have, in general, gotten to appreciate their home life and their family closeness and their church life and their need for God in such a more profound way. Because, we don’t have all the other distractions.
Exactly. In a sense, I want to say, it takes practice to be able to make this work for us, this journey through the Kingdom of God. We begin to put our foot in, every now and then, and test it out. When we do, we find there are gifts that come our way, unexpected little things that we, probably more likely, we begin to recognize God’s work in the world, God’s creativity, and the gifts that are just there waiting for us to recognize them. And as that happens more and more, I think we begin to trust the journey until it becomes second nature for us to wait and see what’s on the other side of our times of adversity, to wait to hope, and to know that our hope will be realized in ways better than we even hoped for.
I can’t express enough how my life has excelled over time. There has been a lot of pain. There has been death. There has been grief. There has been illness. There have been jobs lost. There have been times of financial insecurity. And, I’ve always found myself coming out the other side. I have found long terms of time where I have absolutely known my purpose, which is an amazing thing to actually be given, that gift of knowing why I’m here and what I’m here to do. And I am good at what I’m doing. And then there’ve been times when I’ve lost that because I’ve done it. So now what? I’ve felt lost because I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. And it felt like I was working with God in making these things happen. And then it was done. Then there was this time of months where I was just faltering because I just didn’t know what to do next.
Then I would have to tell myself, “It’s alright, relax. It will come. This is just the in-between times.” That kind of acceptance of my journey came with a lot of work, a lot of resistance. Ultimately, it has been a journey that I found myself still progressing through. And it just feels like this is what God has meant for me. I wish that for everybody. Their journey will be way different than mine. They’ll discover it in different ways. They’ll build the kingdom in different ways. But when they get involved in this building, wow, how life becomes much more! Any last things on your mind before we conclude?
You know, I think you’re so right. I think the piece that comes with knowing your purpose is knowing the meaning of building the kingdom. I feel like it’s taken me a long time to grow into that understanding in such a complete way. I think of Paul — when he was in jail in Rome. He could have been executed any day. He spoke about his joy and the joy of the Lord being his strength. How do you do that when you know you could be executed any day? And one author was writing about it and said, and I can’t think of who it was now, but just said, “When you know that Jesus has conquered death itself then you don’t fear anymore. You just trust and you have joy in that fact.” So I think it goes to what you were saying, that it takes a lot of work to get to that place where we can rest in the knowledge that God has got us, because God has gotten us before, and God has gotten us before that, and before that, and before that. Then eventually you begin to figure out, “Oh, okay!”
So God’s got me. I’m going to be okay. And so I think that’s why Jesus says several times knock and the door shall be opened, seek and you shall find, ask and it will be given to you. And I think what we find, and the door, and what we’re given is the kingdom of God. This is our purpose in life — to bring about the kingdom and what grander purpose could we have? Because it ends up bringing life and joy and hope to other people.
I just want to say, amen! Thank you, Lynn for being with us today. It has been such a gift.
Thank you. You’re a gift in my life Tom. Thank you.
Thank you for listening in today. I hope you send me your thoughts on today’s topic through my blog site, http://www.searching-four-god.com. If you like these podcasts, you can leave a rating, a like, or a review there. If you’re listening on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcast, iHeart Radio, or Qvercast, you can subscribe, follow, and share my podcasts with friends, or enemies, depending on whether you like my podcast or not. Then they can come to you. My blog site will have supporting documentation, if not a transcript. If you’re interested, please check that site. Again, it is: http://www.searching-four-god.com. Look for next week’s podcast due out by Sunday, November 22nd. I offer my gratitude particularly to my guest, Reverend Lynn Munson-Francis and to those, and the instruments involved, in the making of my podcasts Rode microphones, Audacity, audio editor, Buzzsprout, WordPress Squadcast.fm, Premium Beat, and my gifted editor, Frank Barnes. May God continue to bless and keep you. Stay Safe.