Sunday, May 22, 2011

A May 22nd Hope for the Church -- Seeing the Kingdom of God

So we’re apparently still here. In spite of billboard warnings, immense news coverage, countdown clocks, and lots of commentary, 6:00 PM came and went yesterday pretty much like any other Saturday evening. On the one hand, the prognostications of Harold Camping and his followers went the way of earlier predictions of the end of the world. Just like the group covered nearly 60 years ago by Leon Festinger and friends, the group feels successful in warning the nations even if the timing wasn’t what they expected. The response to these predictions seems to be ridicule, headshaking, and lots of “I told you so”s – and that’s just speaking of the Christians on my Facebook Friends list! The response from comedians, pundits, and “new atheists” will be much more vicious.

But this isn’t the only time a fringe individual has been raised to prominence by media and internet coverage. Way too much time has been spent on Terry Jones and his burning of the Quran and his visits to Dearborn, Michigan to protest Sharia Law among Dearborn’s Muslim population. The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas and the Phelps family are rightly portrayed as a negative and hateful force that have taken to protesting military funerals as a statement of God’s rejection of “the gay agenda”.

We can also list the politically connected religious voices – James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, William O’Donnell. These folks can be counted on to speak to current events on behalf of the Christian Right and their views accepted by media figures with little counterargument.

Then there are the popular television evangelists – the happy talk of Joel Osteen, the moral uplift of T.D. Jakes, the fall and return of Ted Haggard, the impact of Ken Copeland. These are folks who receive intense media attention and symbiotically feed on media attention.

What does all this mean? I want to suggest that our national fascination with celebrity has long bled over into our understanding of religious life. But what are we to make of Christ’s instructions that those who desire greatness should serve others? What of James’ instruction not to look for the place of honor but to serve others? The Kingdom of God is hard to find in the midst of celebrity (think camels and needles). 

But it is nontheless true that “the Kingdom of God is at hand”. It exists in the local congregation that provides support to a family suffering due to extended unemployment. It occurs when Christians come alongside the developmentally disabled just to let them know they are loved. It occurs when prayers are lifted for those who lost loved ones, even if the loss were due to Aids. It occurs when a pastor sits down over coffee with someone and explains how Grace overcomes ones past and introduces that one to the Love of Christ.

My hope and prayer on this “Day after Rapture Day” is that we’d look for the Kingdom of God where it can regularly be found. That somehow, the attention of the media and the critics would turn from the celebrities to everyday folks. Folks who, in spite of our human limitations and occasional blindness, manage nonetheless to look out for “the least of these my brethren”.

That's where our focus should be. It doesn't make for great video or look good on a billboard, but it's always where you find the Kingdom at work.

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