Entering the Unshakable Kingdom, Proper 16 (C) – 2001
August 26, 2001
Can you imagine what it’s like to experience an earthquake? I don’t mean a tremor that makes the china cabinet rattle — I mean an EARTHQUAKE that cracks streets, splits open houses, throws people to the floor, an earthquake where walls move, furniture slides, and you’re desperate to hang onto something solid. Can you imagine what it’s like to experience an earthquake?
The age we live in is an earthquake age, one of those times in history where every foundation starts to shake, and the shaking does not stop. We’ve been thrown to the floor, and we see sliding furniture, moving walls, houses split apart, and streets cracked open. Uncertainty and change upset everything. Nothing feels solid any more.
Yes, the age we live in is an earthquake age. Every community, every group, every person struggles to stay upright, but again and again they stumble when the foundations shake, and the shaking does not stop. Even when the earthquake levels what deserves to be destroyed, we cannot rest content, for nothing else remains untouched. Both bad and good vibrate uncontrollably. There seems no place left to turn.
Why is ours an earthquake age? What causes everything to shake? What purpose is served by this unending uncertainty? It may be that what shakes our foundations is the voice of God. What the earthquake teaches us, one slow step at a time, is that the world in its entirety, everything here we love and prize, can indeed be shaken deep down to the foundations, with nothing left unbroken.
Consider for a moment what you count as having vital importance in your life. Relationships. Achievements. Possessions. Institutions. Principles. Places. The lives we live are made up of these treasures. And all these treasures are fragile. How easily they fall from the shelf and shatter once the earth begins to shake.
The earthquake experience may teach us something more: that beyond the entirety of this world, beyond everything here we love and prize, there stands a city with firm foundations, a kingdom that cannot be shaken, able to remain standing through this age of earthquakes, and open, even now, to us.
The earthquake makes us desperate for this city with firm foundations, yet at the same time may prevent us from catching any glimpse of that great city. How hard it can be to see past the earthquakes to the unshakable kingdom!
So this age of earthquakes is a time when some pass their days in a stupor, sedated by stuff or by activities that drain the life out of them. They give up the search for what is solid. This age of earthquakes is a time when others cling desperately to what offers no deliverance, what cannot and does not abide. They glory in the rubble of a fallen city. This age of earthquakes is a time when still others run from one place to the next, to meet repeated disappointment in their search for a firm foundation. They find no home along the ruined streets.
For all of us, though, whether we withdraw into a stupor, or cling desperately to the rubble, or wander through the ruined streets, the door stands open which leads to the unshakable kingdom! The door is open to us before we find it. Yet no one wanders in by accident. To enter we must summon up our courage. The door is hard to pass through. It is narrow, terribly narrow.
There is much we must leave behind! All the shallow ways we act — and that nearly kill us. All the unnecessary burdens we pick up or others place on us, burdens that almost crush us. All the vengeance and pride and fear that flood our hearts in a moment, and can pollute our lives for a lifetime.
This and so much other baggage we must strip off and leave outside before we can pass through the kingdom’s narrow door. What a puzzle we have here! Our going through this narrow door depends entirely on God who leaves it open, yet it also depends entirely on us, who, haunted by a hopeful anxiety, decide to squeeze through.
Going through this door requires living a life studded with paradoxes. Responsible freedom. Disciplined compassion. Graceful struggle. It requires striving even as Christ strove, so that he will recognize in us some resemblance to himself, and not fail to welcome us. For though this is an earthquake age, we can be certain God’s kingdom will prevail. God’s city will be secure. God’s table will be crowded.
What we cannot assume is that we will break free forever from this age of earthquakes and make it forever through the narrow door. That remains to be seen. It depends on us, whether we manifest in our own way what we see in Christ: the responsible freedom; the disciplined compassion; the graceful struggle — all of them born out of a hopeful anxiety.
And this anxiety is real. We feel it in our gut, in our bones. Another name for it is faith. This faith sees beyond the ordinary. It feels the terror of earthquakes, but reaches out to solid rock, to the city whose foundation is firm.
The Bread and Wine we receive today are God-given reminders that for each of us a place has been set at table in the unshakeable kingdom.
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