Sermon, September 24, 2017

“How the Kingdom Comes – Part I”
Rev. Michael Caldwell
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC

Isaiah 49:1-6
Matthew 5:13-16
September 24, 2017

I felt so inspired last time I was here with you on Sept 3 – by our focus together – children and congregation – on the Lord’s Prayer – and how the kingdom comes – that I’m continuing it!

This kingdom of God for which Jesus taught us to pray… how does it come? How does it really come? In practical ways?

Praying the prayer implies acting in specific ways, behaving in specific ways, seeing our discipleship in specific terms. The prayer primes the pump for us as disciples to live into “the Light” we are called to be to bring the kingdom on earth.

The kingdom comes every day in Vermont in the restorative justice centers which bring light to criminal offenders. I serve on a reparative board at the Lamoille Restorative Center – a board which meets with offenders to offer an alternative to jail, to “repair” the harm they did.

Not long ago we met with a young woman with her  first DUI. As the meeting began, she seemed to me to be laughing inappropriately. We see it when people are nervous. It’s one way they deal with the discomfort involved with coming to terms with offending behavior. But this woman’s laughter went on and on and I asked her about it.

“What’s the laughing about? Why are you laughing?” And suddenly the laughing turned to tears. She reached for Kleenex and had a good cry. We encouraged her to share what she was feeling. She’d been so much on the surface of dealing with the shame of driving drunk that she hadn’t gotten to the feelings of sadness and remorse and regret that were behind the laughing. She lightened up. You could see that she was feeling lighter. And it seemed to me that her light shone through her tears…

In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount just before Jesus gets to the Lord’s Prayer, he says: “you are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and bring glory to God…”

This young woman found her light. It came from finding her conscience, her sorrow, and therefore, her desire to make things right, to write a letter of apology to those she harmed, and to make amends to herself and her family by dealing directly – beyond her denial – with her issues with alcohol. With our encouragement, she became a volunteer to work with others on a new reparative board, so that she could use her experience to help others recover from their mistakes and make amends for harm.

Jesus picks up the theme of Light from Isaiah. Isaiah was saying six hundred years before that the remnant of Israel should be / could be “a light to the nations… that God’s salvation may be global. So when Jesus says “you are the light of the world” to his hearers then and to us, he is saying the same thing: by shining God’s light, you spread the light of the gospel of love to all you meet.

lightprayerSo we receive the light in personal daily prayer, in Sunday worship, in the bread and the cup of World Communion Sunday next week, and in witnessing to the courage and sacrifice of so many who, in large and small ways, receive the light of God, the light of Christ, and develop confidence to let it shine in public ways.

One of the things that got lost in the reporting about the Charlottesville White Supremacist rally last month is that the churches were very active in planning the counter-protest. The Rev Traci Blackmon, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries of the UCC, was one of the organizers. One of the things she said, in confronting President Trump’s erroneous characterization of the counter-protest, was that as hundreds stood singing “This Little Light of Mine,” and were assaulted by people with Nazi swastikas, they were protected, physically, by an Anti-Fascist group.

Traci Blackmon, and those she recruited and partnered with, let their light shine, so that their good work standing up to hate, bigotry, and racism could be seen, giving glory to God, and bringing God’s kingdom of love and light on earth as in heaven.

What about your light? Our covenant with the UCC and our OCWM empowers people like Traci to act on our behalf in places we can’t be, like Charlottesville, or the front lines of hurricane relief. But what about our personal light? Is it bright? Is it dim? Has it been dimmed by running out of spiritual fuel – what the world can do to the children of Light? How can you trim your wick and add new fuel so that your light, too, can shine – for your family, for your neighborhood, and in your workplace?

When I was a young man just entering seminary in 1978 in care of the Grafton-Orange Association from the Wells River Church, I was assigned an in care advisor by the name of Bill Sanborn – late husband of Mary Sanborn, and a faithful member of this congregation. Many of you will remember him.

It was truly an act of God that Bill was assigned to me. My ex-wife had taken up with a man from this town of Bradford. Together, they tried to smear my name and take full custody of my 3 yr old daughter. I fought it, relying on the strength of the prayer of the congregation I was serving as student minister in Warwick, Mass, just south of Brattleboro. And when I came up to see my daughter, I’d go see Bill and Mary. And they encouraged me and told me to hang in. And I did. And I forgave the unforgivable, realizing “they know not what they do.” And I was able to shine my light enough – God’s light within me – that I didn’t lose custody, but was ultimately vindicated, and kept my relationship with my daughter.

Beyond all kinds of darkness, God’s light shines in us so that we have it to reflect back into the darkest corners of God’s world. How can it happen in an even more powerful way for you?

No matter what kind of darkness we may face, the light shines, and don’t forget it. We’re tempted to forget. Tempted not to forgive. Tempted to think the kingdom coming on earth is just a pie in the sky pipe-dream. But it’s not. It’s a real reality – as real as the light of Isaiah, as real as the light of Christ, as real as the light which comes to us all right now in this new moment of time.

Bring the kingdom. Shine your light. Thanks be to God for the Light of the gospel, and for the promise of God’s kingdom of love and light coming on earth as in heaven. Amen.