The life Jesus offers is the living water that satisfies our every thirst, the love and goodness that chases us down all the days of our lives, and the mercy of God that pours out like oil over our brokenness. Jesus says that we will be happy, blessed, joyful, fulfilled and whole, in the sense of everything coming together as it was meant to be, heaven coming to earth, when we pursue his kingdom first. And so it’s opposite day. It’s the upside down kingdom that turns the world right side up.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. - Matthew 6:33
Sadly, it’s true that we often seek his kingdom last, not first. After all the demands of our jobs and families, our schoolwork and responsibilities. After we have some down time and some play time and some “me” time. After we have paid the bills and spent our monthly budgets. And well, this makes sense, right? Yes. But NO. You see, there is this upside down nature of the kingdom that should challenge how we as the church live into God’s dream for our communities and our neighborhoods. For church is not something to be “added” to our already overloaded, busy, stressed-out lives. It is not a Sunday event or a community social club.
The church is the hope of the world. And we are called to give our whole lives.
Excuse me if I am wrong, but isn’t this what Lent is all about? This journey to the cross and our whole-hearted surrender to Jesus? Dying to our desperate need for security, control and affirmation? So that. We might LIVE: A beautiful invitation to repent and realign our hearts and lives to the plumb line of God’s mercy and grace. For we are to seek God’s kingdom first.
And yet, this seems hard to do, especially when it seems we do not have enough. It is precisely in these moments that we are invited to practice hilarious generosity. For when we clench our fists tight instead of opening our hands wide, we will always struggle with “not enough.” I believe when we practice the kingdom first, it breaks the tyranny of never enough. As a pastor, I have heard countless stories of not enough time, not enough energy, not enough money, and not enough resources.
This is why people opt out or are taken out of the game. They simply can’t. Well, I challenge this assumption and this way of thinking. Reading our sacred text reminds me that all things are possible and that God gives freely to those who give freely. Sure, we may only have two fish and five small loaves in a multitude of need, but it is God’s to multiply. Ours to give.
This week, as we opened our arms and our wallets to a refugee family in the midst of our own financial struggles as a small faith community, I felt a shift. We put a stake in the ground to give generously out of our lack. To be more concerned with the call to love our neighbor and to welcome the stranger than our own interests, comfort and security. And I believe that God will bless us richly with more than enough.
You see, I believe when we put God’s ways first, whether it is our money, our time, keeping the Sabbath or our call to love neighbor, our lives come into kingdom alignment. And we experience the blessedness of the Beatitudes. For we don’t want to merely give our leftovers and complain about how we are stuck in life, never having enough, never satisfied. Instead, what would it look like for us as followers of Jesus to invest the whole of our lives? Not an hour or two on a Sunday morning. But to live into an alternative narrative of the kingdom, embodying the compassion of Jesus in our neighborhoods. Where we see every conversation, every mundane task, every connection, every challenge, and every need as an opportunity for God’s love to break in.
I want our small band of Jesus followers to seed our time and our energies not into programs or doing church stuff. But rather into God's work in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. As a community, we are making choices to live into the dream of sharing life together for the sake of others. Choices that affect where and how we live. And as a pastor, I am well aware that I could spend the majority of my time just running the church; and yet I want to make decisions to be faithfully present and to invest first in God's kingdom here. To tutor at-risk children at Turning Point, to give generously to those in need, to offer spiritual direction to those who are seeking, and to offer hospitality to the lonely and the stranger.
Can’t make Sunday morning? Well, forget about it! Make every day! This is the call to us as the church today. To live extravagantly and generously in the kingdom of love so that people will know our extravagant and generous God.
Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; [The world of the generous gets larger and larger.]
Others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. [The world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.]
A generous person will be enriched, [The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed.]
And one who gives water will get water. [Those who help others are helped.] - Proverbs 11:24-25 [The Message]
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. - Luke 6:38
Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. - I Timothy 6:17-19
by Jessica Ketola