From Kingdom to Kin-dom, From Ego-system to Eco-system

This is the third in a series of five Wednesday evening Lenten reflections I’ve been invited to offer at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire as I accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. Later this spring I’ll offer several public lectures hosted by Grace. The text for each reflection is my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

Green Lent

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

From Kingdom to kin-dom, from ego-system to eco-system
David R. Weiss

Luke 14:12-23 (NRSV) – He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.

*     *     *

Tonight I begin with a quick review. You’ve invited me to be with you each Wednesday during Lent. Let’s be honest, neither of us quite knew what we were getting into. Pastor Dean suggested I offer some reflections on a Christian response to environmental concerns, sort of an invitation to embrace creation with fresh zeal and faith-based insight. I chose to focus in on Climate Change as the most necessary journey before us today. And I selected texts for us to consider, drawn from Jesus’ original “Lenten” journey to Jerusalem.

So now I’m joining with you weekly to reflect on how Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem might inform our own journey in response to Climate Change.

On Week One I offered four bits of wisdom for our journey.

  1. That we’ll need to exercise fierce resolve. Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem and did not let anyone dissuade him from going. We must choose to confront Climate Change—and we must do so knowing that some in the church will think it’s the wrong decision, and urge us not “to go there.” We need fierce resolve.
  2. That we’ll need to remember what we know. Our response to Climate Change may be shaped by many points of view and should be informed by the best science available, but it should also be distinctively Christian—shaped by the stories, images, priorities, and principles that we find in Jesus, in our Scriptures, and elsewhere in our tradition. This is no time to set our Christian faith to the side, but rather to bring it front and center. We need to remember what we know.
  3. That we’ll need to move from temptation to tabernacle. The early Hebrews felt God’s company during their wilderness travels; they saw it in the great canvas tent that traveled with them as symbol of God’s presence. We’ll need to recognize that God is with us … often out ahead of us … as we’re called to think, learn, and live outside our comfort zone. No easy fixes. No guarantees. Just the promise of God’s presence as we move from temptation to tabernacle.
  4. That we’ll need to be all in. Life is busy; we all face competing demands on our time. But it’s time for this journey to get priority because this road, which MUST be traveled, can ONLY be traveled safely and faithfully if we are fully present here and now. We need to be all in.

On Week Two, I added two more bits of wisdom.

First, the explosive urgency of Jesus, who asks us, too, “Can’t you see how short the time is? How can you not read the signs of times?!”

Really. My daughter is not yet 20. But in her lifetime—in fact just since she was a toddler in 1998, she has lived through ALL SIXTEEN of the hottest years on this planet since we began tracking them in 1880. Every one of them has happened during her lifetime. Let me read them off for you, so you can really absorb this: the hottest 16 years since 1880 have been 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. And so far, both January and February of 2016 have now become the warmest January and February on record—ever. This is world I’m leaving to my daughter.

When I suggested that, were he standing here today, Jesus would say, “Can’t you see how short the time is? How can you not read the signs of times?!” I’m speaking with love for my children and my grandchildren. How can we not read—and respond to—the signs of the times?

And second, I added the crucial insight that this same anguished Jesus also says, “Don’t worry. God knows what you need.” But, remember, I said Jesus says this, not to ease the urgency, but to give us the courage to finally face the threat that looms so large for our children and our grandchildren.

*          *          *

Now tonight Jesus talks about table manners … dinner etiquette for the kingdom of God, if you will. But it’s really much more than that. It’s about who we invite, about who we even imagine as “potentially” belonging on the guest list. Two short images sit side-by-side here. In the first one, we’re the ones doing the inviting; in the second one, we’re the ones being invited. Coming at us from both angles, Jesus is trying to undo the way we imagine HONOR works.

I spoke last week about the rich meaning of the phrase so often on Jesus’ lips: “kingdom of God.” That, rather than referring to a static place or time, it really means, “the dynamic activity of God as king.” I suggested that when we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that, FOR GOD, being king means welcoming all of us as kin. And I told you that I often use the phrase, “kin-dom of God,” because it reminds us that God’s kingly activity is making us all kin.

There’s one more thing to emphasize about that tonight. When Jesus employs the metaphor of “kingship” for God, most of us hear him lifting our assumptions about kingship—power, majesty, wealth, luxury—and using them to help us imagine God. I actually think he’s doing the exact opposite. He’s giving us images of God, both in his parables, but also in his healings and table fellowship, that move in the other direction. He is criticizing, in fact, un-making the very notion of ‘king.

He says, in effect, “I know very well, what you THINK kingship is about. I see the palaces and the robes, the weapons and the wealth of Rome. I see the corridors of power today, where presidents and prime ministers, congresses and corporations broker deals that gamble on the future of the planet as though it were a farm commodity. But that isn’t kingship. God defines royalty this way: by welcoming outcasts, by keeping company with those who are broken—and by that very company inviting them to become whole. God’s power rests not in some sort of divine invincibility but in daring vulnerability. In dedicating divine power and energy to lifting up the downtrodden, breaking the chains of oppression, and setting a feast where everyone—EVERYONE —is welcome. Only when you see your kings doing that can you truly call them royal.”

So who belongs at OUR table as we respond to Climate Change? Minimally, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” And not just because Jesus names them, but because, still today, these persons—and others who are pushed to the edges of our society—will be left most vulnerable on a hot planet. And Jesus says that true royalty sees these persons as kin.

Besides the least of these among our human brothers and sisters, the creatures belong at our table. The destiny of the polar bear and the monarch butterfly, the timber wolf and the urban songbird, matter to their creator, and so their destiny matters to us.

Besides these, the plants themselves and the soil, the very ecosystems woven so delicately over eons—and being undone in just centuries and decades by us—these, too, are God’s handiwork. Part and parcel of God’s kin-dom, they belong at our table.

How do I know? Because Genesis (1:27) tells us we are imago Dei. That in some mysterious sacred way we are “in the image of God.” That, at our best, we carry the standard of our king, the reflection of divine royalty in ourselves. In our ability to think, imagine, dream. In our capacity to show compassion, to choose justice, to embody mercy. But even … maybe most especially because we are so oblivious to it, in our embodiment.

Think of it: when Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you, he means “the dynamic activity of God making all things kin rests within you.” I have some guests with me tonight to make that point. I can’t exactly introduce you to them, but I can tell you about them. I weigh about 200 pounds. But that’s not all me. There are critters on me and in me, critters that are absolutely necessary not just for me to flourish, but for me to live. I’m talking about microbes. In my mouth alone, there are about 400 species of microbes that help me eat when I sit down at God’s kin-dom banquet. In my entire body—and yours!—there are about 100 trillion microbes that help me be me in my little corner of God’s kin-dom.

This is literally unimaginable. If you were to say “thank you” to each of these microbes inside you, pausing only one second on each microbe, it would take you over 3 million years simply to say thank you to each of the kin within your own body.

If I were to show you a little plot of soft grassy soil on a warm sunny day, and invite you to lie down and have a nice nap, many of you would happily lie down and rest. But if I added, well, actually it’s about 180 pounds of grass and soil, the other 20 pounds is bugs, but they’re small, and you’ll barely notice them, not many of you would be so quick to lie down.

But this is ME: 180 pounds of David and 20 pounds of 100 trillion microbes, the critter-kin that God has already woven into this human being from the humus, into this dirt-creature named David. I am my own eco-system. And you are, too.

If God has already invited so many to share the table with us, how can we not invite the rest? Amen.



WEEK THREE – Questions for reflection & conversation:

  1. I reviewed things, because we must actually learn these insights and carry them forward. Which have been especially helpful to you?
  2. I suggested that, far from borrowing royal imagery to describe God, Jesus describes God in ways that turn our notion of royalty inside out. How IS God “king”?
  3. So our “table guests” should include people, creatures, plants & ecosystem, but HOW?
  4. Imago Dei and 20# of microbes—is that cool or what?
  5. What else struck you in this reflection? /

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