One True Thing
This Sunday is graduation Sunday and because we're a church full of university students, I like to think carefully about what to say on this Sunday, knowing that many of these students will leave Seattle, to be scattered to the far corners of the earth. I want to choose these last words very carefully. It's my favorite Sunday of the year, because I consider it to have been an incredible privilege to have had a voice in the lives of students during their deeply formative years. So what should I say?
I've chosen a simple text that I think encompasses what are the most important truths for this time and place in history, even as they were important when Jesus spoke them so many years ago at that time and place. Here's what I'd like students to take with them as they go out:
1. The Kingdom of God is at hand - This is an important word because it's the word Jesus spoke about the most. More than heaven or hell, he spoke of the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, and the reality of their nearness and presence, now among us because Christ is among us. Simply put, Jesus is casting a vision, inviting people to realize that a different way of living is now available because of the presence and work of Christ. This new way of living will replace greed with generosity. It will treat enemies with dignity and love. It will care for the poor and marginalized in society. It will bring safety, joy, and dignity to our sexuality and covenant relationships. It will work towards justice where they has been oppression. Christ is inviting people to join a movement that will fly in the face of most conventional wisdom, and in the process, become part of something both beautiful and challenging. We needn't wait for the rapture to begin living as citizens of the kingdom - we were told 2000 years ago that such a reign is already available, wherever Jesus is allowed to reign.
2. Repent - Jesus is saying that the transforming power, joy, beauty, and hope of God's kingdom will only become visible in our lives, or our lives together in community, to the extent that we repent. The word really means nothing more than 'change'. But it's significant because in all of our lives there are areas where we resist change. The temptation throughout the history of the church has been to define the kingdom reign in narrower terms than Jesus does. Thus do some groups make his reign about sexual purity, others about environmental sensitivity, others about justice, others about caring for the poor and marginalized. But ALL OF US have areas where we've resisted change, resisted repentance, resisted the reign of Christ. And we're the poorer for it. Perhaps we take Jesus' ethic seriously regarding sexual purity, but we've resisted any notion that loving our enemies is possible. Maybe we take caring for the poor seriously, but conveniently ignore our own unwillingness to reconcile with a parent who's hurt us. Wherever it is that we're resisting change - it's right there that the word of repentance becomes our word.
3. Believe the Gospel - Gospel simply means, 'good news' and the invitation that is ours is an invitation to believe the good news that Jesus reign will ultimately heal the world. Until then, wherever his reign takes root, things will get better: the marginalized of the world will be cared for; relationships will be reconciled; enemies will be treated differently; we will find increasing wholeness in our souls, our sexual covenant relationships, our capacity for creativity and joy. The gospel, in other words, is very good news. It's about more than getting us to heaven, though that's included. It's about transformation - which is why 'repentance' (change) becomes so vital.
I hope that graduates, along with all the rest of us, are continually open to repentance. Once we think we've arrived, or once we sequester off some area of our lives and say, "God doesn't care about this" (whether it's who I sleep with or what kind of car I drive), I move away from the good news of Christ's reign, into a smaller, more fearful world. The Kingdom is among us! Keep Changing! And embrace the good news completely because, though it will challenge us to the core, it really is, at the core - very good news indeed.