The countdown of the final week of Jesus’ mission is upon us in our journey through the Gospel of Mark. With Pastor Ed’s able guidance, we have traveled from Jesus’ baptism to the streets of Jerusalem. During this final week it seems the questions, the scrutiny and destiny come to a head. Those who hoped to trap Jesus with questions found themselves trapped and silenced. (Yes, Pat, Jesus can hit the curve ball.)* Mark 12:34 reads: When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently; He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. Finally Jesus was asked a meaningful and insightful question and in response to Jesus’ answer, Jesus finally heard good and thoughtful words. This unnamed Scribe of Israel was not far from the kingdom of God. In reality (and picturing this in my mind) this Scribe was merely an arm’s length away. I wonder if this gap was ever closed.
This leads me to wonder if we at GateWay have closed the gap and live in our community as a KingdomChurch. Pastor Ed lays out a four-fold criterion for us following the passage in Mark 12 to be a KingdomChurch. Are we excellentrenters; are we excellentcitizens; are we excellentstudents; and are we excellentlovers. GateWay/First Baptist has tended the Visalia “vineyard” for 150 years. Will God look on us and say well done good and faithful servant or will He say we are evil and cast us aside? Is our witness and testimony as a church body in our community one that generates goodwill and a good entrance into the lives of our neighbors? Have we faithfully, truthfully and gracefully taught the genuine Gospel? And have we loved the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loved our neighbors as ourselves?
A KingdomChurch only will exist if its people are Kingdompeople. Ed points out the “church” isn’t a building, it is us. I believe God’s design for His church is organic. The New Testament repeatedly uses biological metaphors and imagery. The church is His bride not His bridge to the world. The church, aka the Body, is made up of different parts naming hands, eyes, etc. not gears or microprocessors. We are an organism not an inanimate institution. It is not our by-laws or large auditorium that loves our neighbors; it is our people. Therefore, GateWay is a KingdomChurch only if its people are Kingdom people.
I gave a ride home after service this past Sunday to an elderly lady I often see on Sundays entering our “gates” for the early service. It wasn’t my plan for the morning but as I was greeting in the courtyard between services I said goodbye to her and engaged in a brief conversation. She mentioned to me she wondered how she would get home. Her friend, who was supposed to give her a lift home for an unknown reason had left her behind. I’m sure this was simply a miscommunication. I told her I would be very happy to give her a ride. On the way to her home, she let me know again she did not drive due to her age. I said that my sister and I also do not let my mother drive. At 91 she deserves to be driven around. We both laughed. She thanked me for driving her home and said GateWay is the best church she has been to in all her life and she was 88. It is the friendliest church she has attended and she loves that we have the full range of life – babies to senior citizens. As she walked away she said she hoped she didn’t need a ride like this too often. With full confidence, I let her know we would always give her a ride home if she needed one.
This confidence made me smile inside. I knew I would not be the one to give her a ride next week if she needed one, but without doubt in my heart, I know another person at GateWay would provide one because we are a church of Kingdompeople. Truth be told, I have not always felt that way about GateWay/First Baptist. The Scribe was an “arm length” away from Jesus. Very close but still a gap. As a church I have seen GateWay closing the gap and thereby transforming into a Kingdomchurch. Where did this begin? I think part of this journey began when I, a long time member of GateWay/First Baptist, decided to close the gap and no longer be one who was merely close to the Kingdom of God. Using our motto from baptism, it was time to be “all in.” Of course this is not all about me because around me many at GateWay were closing the gap and many are closing the gap today. As the metaphor reads, we are one body but many members – feet, hands, eyes, ears and every vital part that makes an organism alive. Each of us has a function in the body of Christ.
So (1) let us not be terrible renters of the vineyard as depicted in Mark 12 being insular and concerned for our own comfort and well-being; (2) let us not be those who are only against the “world” and fighting off its intrusion but be good citizens with hands willing to serve; (3) let us not be dogmatic and arrogant in our knowledge but let us speak and live the TRUTH always wrapped in LOVE, never wavering but forever gracious and merciful; (4) let us not look out merely for our own self-interest but instead Love God and Love Othersthus fulfilling the greatest command. Finally , brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8) Dwell on this - Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.(Philippians 2:5-8)
* In the baseball movie, Major Leagues, a story of a team of misfits, has beens and in one case ‘a never was,’ wins the American League Championship. This inserted line is a reference to a scene where one hard-hitting outfielder cannot hit the curve ball. He tries everything including pleading to a Caribbean Voodoo deity with incense and incantations. A caricature “hypocritical Christian” pitcher comes up and says “you don’t need that, you need Jesus.” The outfielder remarks his inability to hit a curveball is beyond Jesus’ power. Enraged, the pitcher attempts to start a fist fight while screaming, "are you saying Jesus can’t hit a curveball?!” I always laugh thinking about this scene. I laugh because it is a stupid question but also laugh because it hurts. Too often this is how we Christians react when questioned about our faith. Of course Jesus can hit the curveball. Not only that He can throw the curveball and then instantly hit the same pitch he just threw. Mark Chapter 12 is one of many good examples in the Bible of Pharisees, Sadducees, and other pseudo-religious intellectuals throwing Jesus the curveball. Not only does He hit it, He hits it out of the ballpark all the way to Heaven.