Thursday, May 26, 2011

first things, on the title of this blog.

The kingdom. If you know me well... you've probably heard me talk about it. I'm a bit caught up in it, you might say.

... Why is that so? ...

Well, the kingdom of heaven is what Jesus spends much of his time here on earth talking about. It's what He came to earth to usher in and to announce its earthly here-but-not-yet-in-fullness arrival. But what it is it like? Why should we care? What does this have to do with my summer in the Dominican Republic? ... My far-too-short answers to the above questions are: "peace, justice, righteousness, life, shalom;" "it is central to our existence as Christ-followers;" and "everything!"

But these are questions that we could spend hours unpacking, and this is just my first post! Hopefully I will get a chance to touch on them in further entries of this blog. (And for anyone interested, I would absolutely love to keep unpacking them over breakfast or coffee sometime. Let me know :))

So for now I'll give you the background to the references I make in the URL of my blog as well as the title at the top of the page.

Building for the Kingdom

Basically, I see "building for the kingdom" as my life mission... (If I had to sum up my purpose in 4 words, those very well may be the ones I would choose.) So it's fitting to be the title of my blog, no?

This phrase comes from N.T. Wright, connected with the ideas he talks about in "Surprised by Hope," which has been one of the books that has most influenced the way I think. (I should also thank my dear friend Jess, who has shared much of her wisdom with me about these ideas.) Below is Wright's discussion of this concept in an interview response he gave to Ben Witherington in 2009.
We are not building the kingdom by our own efforts, no. The kingdom remains God's gift, new creation, sheer grace. But, as part of that grace already poured out in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit, we are building for the kingdom. I use the image of the eleventh-century stonemason, probably illiterate, working away on one or two blocks of stone according to the orders given to him. He isn't building the Cathedral; he is building for the Cathedral. When the master mason/architect gathers up all the small pieces of stone at which people have been working away, he will put them into the great edifice which he's had in mind all along and which he alone can build--but for which we can and must build in the present time. Note 1 Corinthians 3, the Temple-building picture, and the way it relates directly to 1 Cor 15.58: what you do in the Lord is not in vain, because of the resurrection.

I have absolutely no idea how it might be that a great symphony or painting, of the small act of love and gentleness shown to an elderly patient dying in hospital, or Wilberforce campaigning to end the slave trade, or the sudden generosity which makes a street beggar happy all day--how any or all of those find a place in God's eventual kingdom. He's the architect, not me. He has given us instructions on the little bits of stone we are meant to be carving. How he puts them together is his business.
Note that Bishop Wright is very clear that we ourselves are not the builders of the kingdom, but rather, we build for it -- we contribute to the kingdom of heaven in our incomplete, humble, persistent efforts, and our sovereign God brings them all together in his grand story of restoration and reconciliation.

This brings me right to my next reference...

A worker, not the master builder.

That's me. That's you. That's all of us. 

(This one comes from a poem that has also been massively influential to the way I think and to how I approach and cope with this world: "Prophets of a Future Not Our Own," written in 1979 by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw / Detroit (though is has often been incorrectly attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, who nonetheless is amazing and is a justice hero of mine.))
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
This poem (which you can find on the right of the blog - please read it!) talks about how we alone simply cannot do everything we want to do to bring God's kingdom. As much as we hope to change the world and to end social injustice, environmental degradation, and broken hearts, we are powerless to do this completely.

And there is great beauty in coming to grips with our own finitude:

(I don't want to ruin the natural progression of the poem for you (you'd be better off just reading it now!) but here are a couple lines that express this sentiment most eloquently:)
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

Looking Forward

So where does that end us up? Well, in 1 week from tomorrow, I'll be jetting off for 2 months to the Dominican Republic to serve and learn and give my efforts to build for the kingdom there.

I can’t wait to “get my hands dirty” in serving the Lord and my neighbors at Pico Escondido. I know that at times I may tire; on some days I may wake up weary; in some moments I may run out of my own energy – but I am not working on my own, no – in those times (like all times) God’s grace will enter and do the rest.

May He today bring you to a place of comfort -- moreover, of empowerment -- with your own powerlessness to bring the kingdom to its fullness, so that you may do something, and do it well -- that you may build for the kingdom.

grace and peace,