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"The Dominion of Heaven May Be Compared to ...".

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost--All Saints Sunday, Series A

"The kingdom of heaven is like...." Or, in the lectionary that I prefer, "The dominion of heaven may be compared to...." In one form or another, the phrase appears both explicitly and implicitly in these gospel pericopes. What will we tell our hearers the kingdom of heaven like? With what will we compare the dominion of heaven? When we get locked into our language or content with our comparisons, we limit rather than expand our preaching and, more important, hearers' experience of God's reign.

A student recently asked me why I avoid speaking of the kingdom of God and instead use the terms dominion, reign, and, more recently, commonwealth. I haven't warmed up to kin'dom. First, I know that some of my hearers find the word kingdom exclusive; in fact, I experience kingdom as confining when it comes to God. More important, my firsthand experience of kingdoms is limited to the magic one in Florida. While it is one of my favorite places for a vacation, I'm not sure how well Walt Disney World reflects what God has in store.

In its religious sense, kingdom is "the spiritual reign or authority of God." Yet, these pericopes are concerned with physical things, like money. Reign refers to "the period of rule of a monarch," which in God's case is eternal. The word dominion denotes "sovereignty or control." Talk of what God does and does not control takes me down a path that I'd rather not follow. I came across commonwealth while reading a biography of John Adams and learned that Adams used the term in the Massachusetts Constitution because he liked its archaic meaning of "general good or common good." Shortly thereafter, I received a letter that acknowledged my work "on behalf of the commonwealth of God." The communal emphasis--"common good"--resonated with me because I struggle with religion that is overly individualized, personalized, and privatized. Even kin'dom reminds us that in Christ we are all kin. All of these words are helpful. Yet, none of them sums up what God is doing completely.

So how do you talk about this thing that God is doing? How do you name the new reality that God is bringing, the already-but-not-yet that is breaking into our world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? As I see it, answering this question is key to preaching these pericopes. Or, perhaps our task in preaching these pericopes is to offer an image or description of God's new reality and to provide our people with some pointers on how to live into it.

Whether Pastor Gary Hilfiger, who offers this series of Preaching Helps, undertook this task explicitly or implicitly I cannot say. But in the following pages are both helpful comparisons of the commonwealth of God and pointers for living into it. In distinguishing life as we live it and the life that God intends, Gary invites us to live in the world as the world is seen through the eyes of Jesus, and to hear scripture asking and providing answers to questions other than the ones we often ask. I find especially helpful his encouragement to "bring things into balance" in order to avoid offering either judgment or hope that overcorrects the situation, whether the text's situation or our own.

Then Gary gets specific. How do we balance forgiveness and capital punishment? How do we balance how the landowner pays the laborers in the marketplace and our notions of fair wages (or Social Security)? How does Caesar's image on our coins and God's image on and in us inform our understanding of the separation of church and state? And how do we balance being "God's own people yet alienated, holders of a promise and yet still exiles"?

Gary Hilfiger is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Shippenville, Pennsylvania. He received the Master of Divinity degree in 1977 from Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and the Master of Arts in Anthropology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His interests lie in cognitive anthropology, folklore, and organization. Gary's favorite continuing-education opportunities have been in contemporary worship and a conference on Dorothy Sayers, the mystery writer and Christian apologist. He currently serves on the Synod Council of the NWPA Synod. His wife, Sharon, also a pastor, serves Zion Lutheran Church in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Gary's son, Matthew, is a graduate student in inorganic chemistry.

"The dominion of heaven may be compared to...." With what will you compare it? Will you use a kingdom, a reign, a dominion, or a commonwealth? Or will you use something else? How will you help your people live between the world as it is and the world that God is bringing? How can preaching help us all find the balance between life as it is and the life to which God invites us? One answer, I think, is not to be content with a single word or image. Use many as a way of recognizing that none completely hits the mark. A second answer is to use words and images that stretch you and so help you and your hearers to experience the kingdom of heaven anew. Finally, use words and images that will help you and your hearers to experience God's world breaking into your world. Then preaching will move from talk about the dominion of heaven to something to which the kingdom of heaven might be compared.

--Craig A. Satterlee, Editor of Preaching Helps (csatterl@lstc.edu)
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Title Annotation:Preaching Helps
Author:Satterlee, Craig A.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
Words:921
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Next Article:Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (proper 19): September 11, 2005.
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