July 14, 2010
LAYING DOWN “HEAVEN”
FOR THE KINGDOM
Questions – small groups
1.Think of a place you used to play when you were little: (K-5 and under) little, somewhere really magical: a fort, a play house, a castle you built from cushions, a treehouse, a garden, etc. Take yourself back to five and tell me ( another five year old) about it – describe it for me.
2.Now return to your age and describe the “play place” for me quasi-adult to quasi- adult.
3.What changed from the first description to the second, why? Did you gain some insight – what kind? Did you lose some insight? What kind?
Intro – I want to talk to you about paradigm shift. A paradigm is a construct, a way of seeing, perceiving. It’s the beliefs and assumptions you consciously or subconsciously hold and filter all input through. These things change as you grow, if you grow.
When I was five and had graduated to Kindergarten, a non-nursery status, I got to go Sunday School. We had teachers in Kindergarten, not nursery workers as beloved as Miss Minnie was to me. We had activities and books and felt boards. It was the big time.
I had tried for a while to peep into the “big’ class” whenever we passed the hulking door to meet my Nana at her classroom, which was on the same hall. I tried to glimpse the wonder that was Kindergarten.
Young Harris United Methodist Church was named for….you got it, Young Harris, a leader in the early Methodist Church in Georgia, he was a famous Methodist lay-leader. Camps and colleges and churches like ours, were named for him. He actually used to live in our church, well part of it. The Sunday School rooms for the junior high, my Nana, and kindergarten – filled the old building. It was a beautiful antebellum home in a more french style, her second story was supported architecturally with filigree iron work, not columns. The old lady’s domain was now about a city block – but many of the town blocks behind us, now full of quaint 1920’s to 1930’s cottages, were once a part of the Harris property as well.
I digress. My sunday school room was awesome. It was huge. The door was heavy, heavy – solid oak, deeply stained. I needed help to open it. It had a brass handle worn smooth by so many years of use. It had slick faux marble floors, that you could dance and slide on in your Mary Janes, socks were even better if you could get your shoes off without Mrs. Bracket, our brave teacher, noticing. Shoelessness was frowned on in kindergarten, regardless of what Miss Minnie let us do. The room was long and wide, it was the whole length of the great house and half its width – it had been the ballroom – Methodist do dance. But most incredible were the windows of this monstrous room – they were 14-16 feet high and wide, like twice as wide as normal windows and multi-paned. Each pane was nearly as big as me. And those windows did not even reach the ceiling. There was large architectural detailing above them. The ceiling was probably a soaring 18 feet – 20 feet.
The room seemed Sistine Chapel like to me.
I loved those windows. They had a large sill that I could stand on and be in the window. I would climb up and press my body against the great glass portal. The arms of ancient oaks would reach out toward me and squirrels would run at me, only to abandon course and leap to the rooftop right as they approached.
It seemed a wonderland, life in and looking out of that space. I loved going every Sunday and struggling with the great door.
I went back to Young Harris United Methodist Church for my Nana’s funeral. They set up a reception in the Grand Hall, what we had just called the Kindergarten Room. They had put down thick persian style carpeting. I rolled my eyes that they thought such an improvement. It was still a large room by house standards, spacious with impressively high ceilings, but I had grown, a little, and those ceilings no longer soared. I stood at the window and could not help but make out the Georgia Power Building through the branches, a 1970’s architectural blunder at best. I climbed into the window sill, afraid to mar the new paint, it was now some homey cream color.The nearly blinding white we had loved had been overturned by more tender sensibilities. The squirrels still scuttled through the branches, but there no longer seemed the same friendship between us. My heaven had receded.
Had it grown less? Had I grown more? I was taller. A little. And though the room hadn’t shrunk, just yellowed a bit, my measuring sticks had changed. That window was no longer the most powerful that I had ever stood before. What it opened to me was no longer the most fascinating or widening of visions. I now had knowledge of the background as well as the foreground of that aperture. I had grown – now I saw the power company – symbol of man’s greatest and most pressing challenge to maintain “life as we know it.” I saw the health clinic across the block, where AIDS patients in Athens line up for treatment, where the indigent take their children to see a doctor. Just beyond the clinic is the intersection where prostitutes appear in the night to make a little money to feed a habit or maybe their child. All that was in the background of my view out of that window, but it was invisible to a five year old.
Let’s talk a minute: Do you ever remember returning to something and finding it smaller, weaker, more narrow, less colorful than you remembered? maybe a treehouse or a boat or an attic space?
Something that once held you, defined an existence for you, something that gave you safe boundaries to wander and wonder? Have you, in your few years, come upon those places again as the taller, larger, better traveled you? It feels like the very universe shifts when you do so. Like someone broke the spell and left you old and less at home.
That my friends is paradigm shift. That is seeing from a different place.
God, family, learning, safety were in that Kindergarten room for me. Everything I knew to love at five. Jesus was there in His felt board cut out self and Zacheus and Mary Magdeline. All the necessaries.
But I couldn’t read too well at five. I didn’t know the history of the world, of the church or of it’s saints. Heck, I didn’t even know who Young Harris was. I had never been beyond Panama City Beach. I didn’t know anyone of another color or country but Miss Minnie and my maid, Ida. I hadn’t tasted any food but what my mama and grandmothers made and maybe a trip to DQ now and then. I hadn’t seen anything much on TV but ball-games, even Seseme Street didn’t exist yet. I hadn’t met the people who would come to be my friends, my husband, my children, nor had I met you.
Did I want to go back? to try and stay there? When I stood in that room after my Nana’s funeral?
Yeah, I did. I wanted it all back. The simplicity and surety. But not at the cost of not knowing you.
I had give up what I had ( that kindergarten heaven) to know all that I hope to know and I have come to know since… including you.
“God’s Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for many years and then accidently found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic! What a find! and proceeds to sell everything that he owns to raise the money to buy that field. Or, God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything that he owns, everything to buy it.”
The treasure, seems so much more than ever expected by the traveler…He wasn’t looking for it, never even dreamed to look for something like that. It was so much more than he even expected to see, much less have working in and through his life. But his stumbling upon it, it changed everything about who he could be, what he could do. Maybe you are that traveler.
The pearl, was something this merchant was looking for, had been trained to discern and find. And yet, when he finds it, it is so much better than he expected, so much so… that nothing he has ever found, nothing that he has ever discovered, that he has ever paid dearly to own before has any real comparative value – economic or political or sentimental. The most expensive pearl that he has ever bought is now sellable, the pearls he bought with his partners are now sellable, even the pearls, that sit on his nightstand, that he once gave his deceased wife… are now sellable.
God’s kingdom is worth the sacrifice, the death of whatever we have held as heaven- the best, the important, the dear.
I’m not here to tell you that heaven is not. I am here to tell you that the Kingdom of God is so much more than what you have ever settled as “this must be it,” ever expected to stumble upon, ever expected to discover by pursuit.
It is paradigm shifting: (it’s worth it to erase everything, everything on the blackboard of your/ my understanding and start over) MORE.
Let’s ask God to let us stumble upon, maybe even dig up some treasure/pearls as we go along this year. I’m going to ask you to hold your own “kindergarten classrooms” ( your heavens) with loving, open hands.
God, to help us lay down our expensive – “what cost us something, something huge” heavens for the kingdom, Your Kingdom.
God, to help us lay down our relationally beneficial – “what others in our lives, often relationships of blood or our choice, expect us to believe and act on” heavens for the kingdom, Your kingdom.
God, to help us lay down our sentimentally valuable “thankful for what they were, aware of what they are” heavens – for the kingdom, Your Kingdom.