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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Of Lengthening Days & Upside-Down Kingdoms
March 18, 2010

The term “Lent” derives from the seasonal feature that days are “lengthening” as we navigate from winter into spring. There is no religious association with the word’s origin.

Truthfully, as our snow has melted (finally!) and we have dodged the drastic floods its melt was supposed to trigger, and as we see more sun and warmer temperatures, it is easy to forget that we are in the middle of a Lenten journey with Jesus, faces set toward Jerusalem, where, he reminds us, it is necessary for him to die. For the world around us, the days are lengthening and brightening; for those who walk in company with Jesus, shadows are lengthening and the horizon is dark with the specter of death.

For those who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, this Lenten season has put us in company with Jesus on his way up to Jerusalem, as told by Luke. When Luke announces that Jesus is on his way to his date with death, our ears perk up – what will Jesus have to say in the last chapter of his life?

As soon as Luke signals that Jesus is on his death march, we find Jesus going into parabolic overdrive – suddenly he unleashes parable after parable teaching us what the kingdom of God is all about. Many are among his most well-known and all of them are exclusive to Luke’s Gospel – the good Samaritan, the rich man and Lazarus, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the shrewd manager, the persistent widow, the Pharisee and the tax collector. While each parable has its own particular focus, a common thread is unmistakable: God is more gracious than we can possibly imagine, and every effort we make to earn God’s favor is pointless. In other words, he subverts our ordinary social order that is based on the principle that we get what we deserve. Instead, we get what God pleases.

This is the way of Jesus – he goes against the grain of all expectations. The point is not to be contrary, but to demonstrate that the world doesn’t have to be like it is. In the economy of grace, a very different world is breaking in – “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he announces. From our perspective it is an “upside-down kingdom,” to borrow a phrase from Mennonite Donald Kraybill. But from God’s perspective, it’s the right-side up kingdom; the world’s current “normal” is what is really upside-down.

When the world is set right, the wolf lies down with the lamb. When the world is set right, people live in the light, transparent without fear of rejection or reprisal. When the world is set right, a little child shall lead the way. When the world is set right, the father’s household rejoices equally over his repentant son and his repugnant one – it’s enough just to belong to the father, period. When the world is set right, swords are beaten into plowshares, bombs into bread pans. This is the world into which Jesus is leading us through the journey of Lent, and it is the world that the church is called to display. In the words of our Book of Order, the church is called to be an “exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world.”

Note the irony: just when the world around us seems to be brightening and days are lengthening, we aim ourselves toward a world very different from the one we currently inhabit. It’s not so hard to imagine wanting a different world amid February’s snows. But now that spring is beckoning, this world looks mighty fine once again. Still, we slow down as the world speeds up, awaiting the in-breaking of a new world that can come only through death and resurrection. Are we ready to die to the world as we know it, or do we have yet too much invested in it? This is one of the big questions of Lent.

Walking the Lenten journey,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery

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