From our first reading, Acts 1:6-8… So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Human paradigms are very powerful things. A paradigm is a way of looking at something, a type of model that serves as a way of interpreting and understanding all of the information and things that come at us constantly. In a way, paradigms serve as interpretive filters through which we analyze all of the data that comes our way. We all have paradigms, and we all need them. Without them, our minds might simply be blown away, leaving us perpetually confused.

We have all sorts of paradigms through which we view and interpret the world around us. There are political paradigms, social paradigms, scientific paradigms, and religious paradigms. And again, paradigms are necessary and often quite helpful.

However, just like pretty much everything else, paradigms can also become problematic. Some really need to be shifted, and sometimes those shifts are radical. We see very clear examples of paradigms developing and shifting throughout history, including Biblical history. And we see a very good example in our text for this morning.

The disciples of Jesus had a “Messianic Paradigm” that had been planted and nurtured in them through their Jewish religion. In truth, there were a handful of messianic paradigms in place at the time of Christ, but the most prevalent one is seen in the question the disciples asked Jesus just prior to His ascension: “Is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

It’s almost as if there were saying, “Okay, Jesus, your miracles have made it clear: you are the fulfillment of messianic prophecies. You are the Christ. You’ve done and said a lot of very confusing things, and this whole death and resurrection thing was pretty awesome. But now that you’re done with all of that, is now the time when you will finally do what the Messiah was sent to do: ‘restore the Kingdom to Israel?’ Are you now ready to defeat the Romans and all of our other enemies, establish yourself as King, and us as your assistants to the King? Are you now going to restore Israel to unparalleled and eternal heights of power, prosperity and prestige?”

This messianic paradigm was so powerful that it had kept Jesus’ disciples from understanding— or even hearing— what He had taught about the nature of the Kingdom of God He had come to establish once and for all; a Kingdom of grace and love, comprised of servants who sought to put the needs of others before their own, who were willing to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give the extra cloak. In His Kingdom, the hungry are fed, the thirsty given water, the naked clothed, the sick and imprisoned visited.

According to Mark’s Gospel, three times in a relatively short period of time Jesus told His disciples exactly what was going to happen when they reached Jerusalem—betrayal, arrest, death and resurrection. Each time their responses reflected confusion. And when the events unfold in exactly that pattern, the disciples are utterly shocked and dismayed. Were they not paying attention?!

This shows the power of a paradigm. Whether it involves politics, science, and/or religion, and sometimes even the everyday realities of our lives together, it is easy to fall into a paradigm that renders us incapable of listening, and thinking, and expanding our thoughts. Sometimes we need our paradigms to shift, and that is never a simple, easy, or painless process.

However, when it comes to our paradigm relating to the Kingdom of God, there is only one way for unhealthy paradigms to shift, and that is through the working of the Holy Spirit. It’s right there in our text: [Jesus] replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

We know the Holy Spirit of God came with power on the day of Pentecost… an event that will be at the center of our readings and our attention next Sunday. On that day the Spirit brought clarity regarding the Kingdom Jesus had come to establish, the Kingdom that was to now be dramatically and powerfully strengthened and extended as His followers became witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Only the Holy Spirit of God could bring about that kind of drastic paradigm shift, and only the Holy Spirit of God can help us to understand at increasingly deeper levels what it means to be part of His Kingdom.

The first gift the Spirit brings is the gift of faith, which serves as the bridge across which God draws us away from the kingdoms of this world into the Kingdom of God, draws us away from death to life, from dark to light, from distrust to trust, from sin to grace. We learn to live by faith and not by sight. We are led to understand that we have an extraordinary kind of King, a King who washed feed, one who is both infinite in power and might and wisdom, but who is at the same time most powerfully described by one word: love.

God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of love… love received becomes love extended. That principle is foundational for our understanding of the Kingdom: what we receive is what we extend. We are forgiven, so we become forgiving. We receive mercy, and so we become merciful. As we experience peace, we become peacemakers. As we are blessed, so we become blessings.

Make no mistake about it, the Kingdom of God seems to us to be an upside-down Kingdom, one that is always at war with the kingdom of this world, where the “Terrible Trio” of the devil, the world, and sinful self are clamoring for our attention, calling us to live for ourselves and to use others to meet our needs. But our servant King modeled a different life, one driven by love to seek to meet the needs of others, where self-serving is replaced by sacrificial servanthood.

It is vitally important for us to recognize another absolute truth: seeking to live more fully in the Kingdom of God is not easy; and yet it is far superior to living according to the ways of the world. Life in God’s Kingdom is much more peaceful, much more meaningful, much more joyful. Yes, the evil one will constantly seek to undermine us, hoping to draw us away… or at least distract us from our calling and our mission. But as we hear in 1 John, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is living in the world.”

Let us pray with open hearts, minds and spirits: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” May God’s Spirit heal, strengthen, and shift our paradigms as needed, so that we might more fully and powerfully experience the wonder and joy of life in His Kingdom. Amen.

   April 2019   
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