Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you. Luke 17:20-21
Several decades ago, I read something that recurs to me regularly. I do not remember who wrote it, but my paraphrase of this memorable line is: “If you cannot find happiness where you are standing, where do you expect to wander in search of it?” The point is that happiness originates from within. People can wander the earth in search of happiness and never find it, because they carry their discontent with them. Abraham Lincoln said, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” If we are unhappy where we are at, we always have all the power required to change our level of contentment without ever leaving. There are obvious exceptions – abusive relationships, for one – but the key to success is in figuring out how to get there without having to leave here.
Jesus taught frequently about the kingdom of God, which he also referred to as the kingdom of heaven. A subtle, but important point contained in Jesus’ words about the kingdom is that he speaks of it in the present tense, not as a future state. There is a lot of confusion about the kingdom of God, and understandably so. I want to propose, however, that when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, that he was referring to a state of being available to us right now, right here. It may or may not be a place we go to after we die. It is, however, a state of existence available to us at any time.
In the passage from Luke, above, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed.” There are several interesting parables about the kingdom of God/heaven in Matthew 13:10-50. In Luke 9:27, he says, “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” He issues a warning in Matthew 18:3, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Finally, in Mark 4:11, he says, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables.” These are not descriptions of the traditional “heaven” we were taught as children. These tell of a kingdom that is very near, as well as a kingdom accessible to all who follow Jesus – not someday, but today.
In the coming weeks, I encourage you to contemplate the kingdom of God in the present tense – as a present state of being that is always near and available to us. The challenge then becomes how to get from where we are to here?
Come home to church this Sunday. Where are you?