Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sermon: Some Assembly Required

Mark 1:14-20

Jesus begins his ministry with the words, “Now is the time. Here comes God’s kingdom!” As though he is saying today is the day. Too often we talk about the kingdom of God as something that is not yet here, that is still to come in the future. And I confess I have done that too. But that isn’t how Jesus starts his ministry – he starts it saying, “Now is the time.”

I remember one of my professors asking the very provocative question, “When does eternal life begin?” He was trying to get us to think about whether we had to die before it started. Is it a future reality or are we even in this life beginning that time of eternity? Jesus’ statement is much the same, “Now is the time.” The kingdom is here, eternal life has begun, you are already stepping into the new.

Of course, we also still have a foot in the old. This world is not yet perfect. There are still tears and death and grief. There is still evil and violence, hatred and rejection. We ourselves still have bodies that grow weak, and spirits that are capable of sin. But even so we are also stepping into the new. It is here, just not finished.

It is like at Christmas when you were a kid, and you unwrapped the present that was just what you wanted. You were so excited, there it was, it was really yours. But when you opened the box, there were those words you hated to see – some assembly required. And so you had to wait while dad or mom got out the screwdriver, the wrench, the hammer, the arc-welder, whatever was required and put it together.

Funny story. Have you heard about the man who ordered a tree house over the internet?

When the box arrived, it had printed on the top the words that have become every parent's nightmare: "Some assembly required." I didn’t know Ikea made treehouses.

The man began to assemble the tree house (but would you believe it?) as he laid out all the parts on the floor and began reading the instructions, he realized (to his dismay) that the instructions were indeed for a tree house, but the parts were for a sail boat!!

The next day, he sent an angry e-mail message to the company complaining about the mix-up. Back came the reply:

"We are truly sorry for the error and the mix-up and the inconvenience. However, it might make you feel better to consider the fascinating possibility that somewhere today there is a man out on a lake trying to sail your tree house."[1]

Fortunately, with the kingdom of God, we know that we have the right plans, and the right parts, but what we need are the workers. I think that is what Jesus was saying that day, “Now is the time. Here comes God’s kingdom. Some assembly required. And I am recruiting assemblers.”

Now I know that Jesus uses a very different metaphor in the scripture passage. He talks about recruiting fishermen and women. But the idea is the same. Jesus is recruiting people to do the work of the Kingdom. In my example, rather than fishers, Jesus is looking for assemblers who can put together the gift that God has planned for us. And that’s what the disciples were, people who started putting the kingdom together. And you and I are the next generation that has been hired for the job, to keep the work going.

You see, some buildings take longer than others to complete. Construction on St. Peter's Basilica began in 1506 and was not completed until 120 years later in 1626.

That means that it is very unlikely that the workers that started on it were the same ones that were there on its completion. Unless you had some kid who started at six helping carry tools who was still there in at 126 putting finishing touches on the decorations. In fact, during this time of construction there were 17 popes. So the vision for the project and the person in charge of the fundraising changed frequently.

We also know that the original architect was Donato Bramante, but when he died just 6 years into the project he was replaced by Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, who was also a famous painter. Raphael died in 1520. Worked stalled for a bit, until Antonio da Sangallo the Younger became the chief architect and proposed several changes, including strengthening the supports which had already begun to crack. In 1547 Michelangelo became the superintendent of the building program at St. Peters. He eventually handed the work off to Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana. And I am going to quit there because I quit trying to pronounce all those Italian names!

As you can see, popes changed, architects changed, building supervisors changed. I would also suspect there were many changes in the construction supervisors, the work team leaders not to mention the building crews. The fact is, such a large and complex work required handing off the responsibilities to the next generation in order to complete the work. How did they do that? Well, they left a few drawings, explanations and details, but the most helpful method of keeping the final goal in mind was a large wooden model of the finished product. It was understood from the beginning that the project was going to take longer than one person could bring to completion. And they knew they needed to pass on the information.

With the kingdom of God, That is what you and I are called to do and be as well. We are the ones who have been handed the work, job by job and role by role from the very hands of the disciples.

We are the current assembly crew, and we are also the one’s training the next crew that will replace us in the task. It is a little humbling to realize that each of us will be replaced, that our plans may not be the final ones, and that our names will probably be forgotten. (I mean who remembers who cut the stone that is the 5th from the left and 6 up in St. Peter’s basilica?) But we still do the work to the best of our ability, to the best of our knowledge of what will work best. At the same time we teach the next generation how to use the tools of the trade.

And we have a model, in the form of the teachings of Christ, and we have the work that has been done in the twenty centuries since Christ, so we aren’t building from nothing. Yet we also know the project is far from completion. And sometimes there are cracks in what has been done before us, and we have to patch and fix it along the way. But still Jesus says, “The kingdom is here.” He didn’t say it is coming, but it is here. The gift is sitting on your floor like the Christmas gift you’ve opened.

And like those before us, we must pull the pieces out of the box, and strive to put it together. Thankfully the master has given us instructions on how --  but he still expects us to use our hands for the work. As he says, the time is now!

So just for a moment consider, what is your role in the assembly of God’s kingdom? What is your contribution? Are you a designer with an eye for beauty? Are you a nuts and bolts person who understands the practical parts? Are you the organizer who helps bring people together to get the work done? Are you the financier who helps pay for it? Are you a little of all of these things?

As I was driving this week, I was listening to a book on church leadership, and I heard to story of Hal and Gus. These two men attend church together every week. Hal is in a wheelchair, and Gus is blind. Gus pushes Hal, and Hal tells Gus which way to go, where to turn, etc. Together they are a great example of the church. We each have limitations, but we also have abilities that we can share with others. Alone we might not get where we are going, but together we can. So your skills are important, each of us is needed to assemble the Kingdom. Designers, construction crew, organizers, and financers.

Because Jesus is calling all of those kinds of people to keep doing the work. And he needs you. He can even train you to be the next link in the important chain that brings the kingdom of God to completion.

[1] ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by James W. Moore

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