Sermon text: John 18: 33-37
What does a hobo’s idea of paradise look like? If you were a hobo, a person wandering the countryside like a rolling stone, what vision of the Kingdom of God would you hold? In 1928, Harry McClintock recorded a song of his ideal heaven, a place where hens lay soft-boiled eggs, where there’s a lake of stew, and of whiskey too, that you can paddle all around in a big canoe, and where they hung the jerk that invented work. The song was featured in the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? And I’m going to do my best to sing a verse of it for you today.
One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fire was burning
Down the track came a hobo hiking
And he said, “Boys, I’m not turning”
“I’m headed for a land that’s far away
Besides the crystal fountains
So come with me, we’ll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains”
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
There’s a land that’s fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
And the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
What future do you imagine? For Harry McClintock it was a paradise of empty boxcars and abundant food and easy pleasures. It was like life, but better in all the ways he could ponder. For some folks, paradise is an endless round of golf. For others, it is a cloud of angel choirs and a reunion with the ones they love. The imagined heavenly future comes in all shapes and sizes, including the endless worship service around God’s throne that we witness in both Daniel and in Revelation. As people of faith, what would it look like to start with the end in mind?
As I understand it, that’s a critical question to ask, not just for our understanding of heaven, but for considering life after work in retirement. Now, I’m nowhere close to retirement, but I know the answer to that question—what do you want retirement to look like?—has a tremendous impact on how you save and invest, what decisions you make, and what you value. If we apply the same question to the Kingdom of God, how do we live, where do we invest our lives, what do we value?
If Christ is King, if Jesus reigns over the world, if there is a heavenly kingdom, and if it is at hand here on earth, then what are we waiting for? I always say that our faith must mean something to us when we are living. If faith is only for our deaths, then we have missed the mark.
What kingdom, what life, does Jesus desire for us that Pilate could not even comprehend? Too often we are Pilate, interrogating Jesus for knowledge, trying to squeeze out information to corroborate our own way of thinking, attempting to control the divine conversation for our own benefit. And Jesus tries to throw open our small imaginations to the reality God intends for us.
Jesus invites us to learn to dream larger, to not settle for the sinful and broken mediocrity of the world. Jesus invites us to open ourselves to what’s possible instead of constantly settling or falling short. Let go. Give up control. See where the Kingdom of God shows up when you are led by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s start with the end in mind. In order to get to the next week, seven days from now, what fears will you have to face, what disappointments with you bear, what dreams will you hold, what successes will you shoot for? What is the ideal you imagine, and what would God’s Kingdom look like for you in the next 168 hours?
I do not have the answer to the age old mystery of where exactly the Kingdom of God is and what it looks like, I don’t have much to go off of other than scripture and imagination. But I know that however that mystery comes it will be a place where there is no more physical ailments or mental illness, no more abuse or family drama, no more grief or sorrow or shame, no more road rage or political theatrics, no more public health crises or natural disasters. All of the things that cause of pain and stress and heartache will dissipate.
If you are Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, what is your dream? I’m not talking about some half-baked illusory nostalgia that never existed of the good ole days, but a future of wholeness, of genuine relationships, and of God’s palpable presence. What would it look like for you to walk in God’s Kingdom this week as you work, or gather with family at Thanksgiving, or buy gifts for your loved ones? How would the Kingdom of God come to you in that way?
Yes, Jesus has a kingdom, and it cannot be found on a map and it has to governing documents and it has no time zone. It wraps around you and me, we taste a morsel of it when we commune, when we forgive, when we are forgiven, and when we experience small mercies in our lives we call blessings. The kingdom is a word of encouragement on a horrible day, a positive piece of feedback when you’re second guessing what you just did, or a check in from a friend when you happen to be feeling lonely. The kingdom is seeing joy in your child’s face, celebrating small achievements, and receiving a text that your loved one arrived safely at their destination.
Christ’s Kingdom is our pathway through life. Or perhaps its our sanctuary and harbor when times are turbulent. It is where Christ’s dreams for us come true, even if but for the briefest of seconds. It is where God’s good intentions are made a reality.
What does the future look like? I can’t say for certain. It may be a land of where there ain’t no snow, where the rain don’t fall and the winds don’t blow, it may be 18 holes of green grass, it may be a sandy beach with calm surf. I don’t know what the Kingdom of God look like in the end, but I do know that you will be part of it, and so will God, and together the heavenly kingdom will dance before our eyes. AMEN