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McLaren has emphasized throughout his book, The Secret Message of Jesus, that Jesus’ message isn’t primarily about “heaven after you die.” The new life that Jesus offers is available now. However, as McLaren points out, mortality rates remain fairly high, so it’s not unnatural for us to wonder about what happens after we die.

In Jesus’ day, most people did not look forward to going to another place when they died, but anticipated a resurrection (f0r those who believed in an afterlife). Jesus shared this view (and certainly added his own understanding). He did not believe that death was the end. Instead, there will be a renewal. That final renewal does not just apply to us, but to God’s entire creation.

We live God’s plans and mission in this life because they will be continued in the next. “All we have been desiring all our lives, all we have been reaching for, working for, sacrificing for, and suffering for in our pursuit of the kingdom of God, will finally and fully come to us.”

In this chapter McLaren addresses the ultimate coming of the kingdom and the tendency of some to predict that future. Some provide very detailed descriptions of how they believe the future will unfold. God has already decided the future. We just have to wait and see how it will unfold.

McLaren offers a different description to help understand God’s interaction with his creation. He writes, “God intended to create our universe the way parents give birth to a child: the child is given limits and guidance, but she also has freedom to live her own life. That means that the future of the universe is not determined as if it were a movie that’s already been filmed and is just being shown to us. Nor is it completely left to chance like dice cast on a table. Rather, God’s creation is maturing with both freedom and limits under the watchful eye of a caring parent.”

McLaren does not deny that there are predictive passages in Scripture. Instead, he challenges that some of what has been read as predictive is actually warnings and promises. Does this image help in understand God’s interaction with us? How would you develop it further?

Jesus was critical of the Pharisees for their exclusive attitudes. Jesus was called a “friend of sinners and tax collectors.” Are Jesus’ followers practicing Jesus’ attitude or that of the Pharisees when we consider who’s in and who’s out. Sometimes it seems that we’re more in line with the Pharisees. “Sinners” don’t feel as comfortable in our midst as they did with Jesus.

So, how do we practice the inclusion of Jesus, but simultaneously maintain community standards? We don’t want to become like the Pharisees, but we also don’t want to tolerate sin in the community. McLaren argues that there are two dangerous extremes: “the dangers of hostile exclusion and dangers of naive inclusion.”

McLaren concludes: “The kingdom of God, then, seeks, a third way: not exclusiveness and rejection on the one hand, and not foolish, self-sabotaging inclusion on the other hand, but rather purposeful inclusion. In other words, the kingdom of God seeks to include all who want to participate in and contribute to its purpose, but it cannot include those who oppose its purpose.”

What do you think of McLaren’s solution? Does it make sense? Does it help?

The combination of “kingdom” with religion can be a scary idea. In fact, Christianity hasn’t always handled a dominant position well. In places where Christianity has been the majority instead of a persecuted minority, Christians have not always been the most gracious hosts.

McLaren writes, “The kingdom that Jesus portrays exercises its power not in redemptive violence but in courageous, self-giving love, and its goal is not victory on its own terms but rather peace on God’s terms.”

Jesus, who preached that we must love our enemies and who himself was crucified, presented a different perspective. Paul picks up the message and proclaims that we don’t wage war as the world. Our weapons our different.

So, does this mean that Christians can’t be in the military or serve as police officers? And if so, does this mean that Christians must allow others to do their “dirty work,” protecting and fighting while we ourselves our unwilling? What do you think? How do you combine Jesus words and teachings with our current cultural setting?

To continue the thoughts from last time, here are additional metaphors for the kingdom message from Brian McLaren:

4. The party of God: The kingdom is a celebration, banquet, feast. God extends his invitation for us to leave our hurried, harried, hectic lives and come to the party.

5. The network of God: God is about connections. Each of us is connected to God, to each other. God is working to break down barriers and walls.

6. The dance of God: “Rhythm and harmony, grace and beauty, giving and receiving” are all aspects of this life with God.

Another alternative which McLaren doesn’t develop as much is “the story of God.” Again, what would you choose for a metaphor. One of these? Something else?

McLaren asks, “Why is kingdom language not as dynamic today? First, because in our world, kingdoms are a thing of the past. They’ve given way to republics and democracies and democratic republics. Now, authority resides in constitutions and parliaments and congresses. Where kings exist, they are by and large anachronisms, playing a limited ceremonial role in relation to parliaments and prime ministers, evoking nothing of the power and authority they did in Jesus’ day.”

Speaking of “king” and “kingdom” doesn’t evoke the same image as it did for Jesus. What language might better convey Jesus’ message today? McLaren offers several possibilities.

1. The dream of God: The line from the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” would be rendered something like “May all your dreams for your creation come true.” It would express God’s continued desire for his interaction with his creation. It would also give language to speak of evil in the world, “the nightmare of God.”

2. The revolution of God: This metaphor might express God’s continue challenge to injustice, corruption, and oppression. God’s revolutionary nature is breaking in on his creation.

3. The mission of God: This metaphor might remind us of our participation as agents of God to carry his change into the world. We’re on a mission. We’re on the mission of God.

I’ll give a few more next time, but what type of language might you use to express Jesus’ message in today’s language?

McLaren continues to explore Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. He writes, “Not only does Jesus’ kingdom manifesto transform social relationships, but it also transforms what we might call spiritual practices.”

In Matthew 5, Jesus’ teaching focuses on our relationships with one another. In chapters 6 and 7, Jesus’ teaching focuses on putting his words into practice. It changes how we think about benevolence, prayer, and fasting. Jesus calls for actual action and not just correct belief. He calls for us to release anxiety and worry, and to trust God.

McLaren concludes with this: “That’s why I don’t think we can move on from this point without asking ourselves some tough questions about our lives, our world, our way of life. What would happen in our world if increasing numbers of us were to practice living this way? What would happen in our individual lives if we didn’t just hear Jesus’ words, if we didn’t simply say ‘Lord, Lord!’ but rather heard his words and acted on them?”

OK. So now you’re in. What do you do next? How do you learn what you need to learn about God’s kingdom? Where’s the syllabus? What’s the curriculum? What’s important?

McLaren argues that the most concentrated teaching from Jesus on this subject is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Jesus’ message is disruptive. Some even argue that we aren’t really expected to do what Jesus teaches here. That would be impossible. Jesus’ message challenges his hearers to go deeper; to go beyond the message they had heard (or at least the way they understood it). But what if it’s not impossible? What if, through God’s power and assistance, we can live a different life, a transformed life?

McLaren asks, “What would it mean if, at this moment, many readers actually began to believe that another world is possible, that Jesus may in fact have been right, that the secret message of the kingdom of God–though radical, though unprecedented in its vision, though requiring immense faith to believe it is possible–may in fact be the only authentically saving message we have?”

Brian McLaren asks, “How would a person make a move from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be, from the old confining kingdom of egotism, racism, consumerism, hedonism, and its other associates –isms to the expansive kingdom of God (in which, we might say, all those –isms are to become –wasms)?”

This is what we’ve been talking about on Sunday mornings (and we’ll continue to discuss, so I don’t want to give too much away). McLaren talks about five moves:

Move One: Rethinking (including Repenting)
Move Two: Believing
Move Three: Receiving
Move Four: Going Public
Move Five: Practicing a New Way of Life

What do you think of McLaren’s model? What would you change, qualify, tweak?

The message of Jesus, “The Kingdom of heaven is near,” was picked up by the early Christians. Some scholars think that Paul changed this message. But perhaps it wasn’t changed so much as applied to new situations. That is one of the attractions of Jesus’ message; it is adaptable and applicable to a wide variety of situations and cultures.

Jesus is messiah. But in the wider context of the Roman empire “Jesus is Lord.” Jesus spoke in parables and Paul spoke of the mystery revealed. McLaren writes, “Perhaps Paul himself is in fact a walking, talking parable traveling among other walking, talking communities of parables. Perhaps Paul’s own story of transformation–from a hateful religious bigot to a bridge-building messenger of love and reconciliation–embodies and exemplifies the transforming and reconciling power of the good news of the kingdom.”

How can you live out the kingdom message of Jesus? How can you embrace the parables and become a parable for those who see you daily?