What about Jesus?
How did we get it so wrong, for so long? Jesus came preaching the "kingdom," God's realm that exists right here, right now, under our feet. It's a vision of the world that reflects its creator's intentions for justice and for love. But we've spent the last two thousand years preaching Jesus, and not the kingdom to which he pointed. We've ostracized, tortured, and even killed those who didn't agree with our message, and evangelized those who hadn't heard it. The New Dispensation, unlike the old, will go where Jesus pointed, and not stop at his bony finger.
In his words and in his life, Jesus showed that the kingdom of God, what I prefer to call God's realm (because not all sovereigns are kings), was not something far off, a future reward for present faithfulness. God's realm could be discerned already present, in our midst, if we would but open our eyes to see it.
His teachings made use of common everyday images. How else to make the point that God's realm is already here? The kingdom is like an ungainly mustard bush, a fractured family, a lost sheep, a missing coin, a buried treasure. His life itself served as a living parable, as he showed compassion to those who suffered, impatience with those who caused their suffering, and the incomprehensible willingness to suffer and die himself, rather than to rise up or fight back, a model for how we ourselves can fulfil our purpose on earth and serve the intentions of our Creator.
His followers were galvanized by him. They lived with him and travelled with him, learning the ways of God's realm. He reassured them that, by the love they were learning for one another, the world would come to know him, and that they themselves would experience the same intimacy with God that he himself knew. When he died, they felt his presence still burning among them, and his prediction came true: they felt the closeness of God, empowering them to become healers of the world, just like their teacher.
How quickly the church took this incredible gift, this entrustment, and turned it into esoteric knowledge about Jesus as the Son of God, our Saviour, and about the mechanics of salvation. Forgetting altogether the witness of Jesus' life and the wisdom of his teachings, we missed the point. It's not about Jesus. It's about the reality to which he pointed: God's realm, on earth as it is in heaven.
If Jesus comes again, it will not be to take us home. It will be to do it all over again. Because we never got it the first time.
Next week: the Once and Future Church