What the kingdom of God is…not

In CS Lewis’ book The Last Battle, which is the seventh and last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, towards the end of that book he writes about a garden that Aslan, the lion, leads Lucy and her friend Mr. Tumnus to.  He writes:

The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.  Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.  “I see,” she said, “this is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below. … I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia.” “Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.

“World within world, Narnia within Narnia.”

This is CS Lewis’ poetic description of the new heaven and the new earth.  The kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God. This kingdom started all the way back when time began in the garden of Eden.  The place where God, nature, and mankind had perfect harmony. We have an idea of what this kingdom looked like at the beginning.  We have a faint idea of what it will look like in the future. Last week we talked about the kingdom of God today is anywhere where God reigns as king.  We want Him to reign here at Annapolis. We want his kingdom to come here so that His will can be done here on earth just like his will is being done in heaven.  Today we are going to talk about what the kingdom of God is, not.

You and I were created to be a part of something big.  In fact, we are a part of something huge. If we look back to Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve were created to do more than take care of themselves.  To just survive. They were given amazing intelligence and abilities, unlike any human. They were told to name the animals, tend the garden, and multiply.  To do anything less would have been, well, inhuman.

You and I, we were created to do more than just drag ourselves to school.  Survive the time we are here. Do enough work to not get in trouble by our teachers and parents.  Waiting until we get a chance to do what we really want. To do those things that entertain us. Give us pleasure.  Like watching TV. Playing video games. Getting on our phone or tablet. Play with our toys. To do the things we want to do.

We know that there is a kingdom of God but there is another kingdom that is not the kingdom of God.  You know whose kingdom it is by seeing who is king or queen over it. Who is at the center of it. In Narnia, for a good part of the first book, Narnia is under a spell of winter because who was reigning over Narnia as its queen?  The white witch was at the center of Narnia. It was her cold kingdom because she was queen. Let me tell you a story and you tell me who is at the center of this kingdom.

I was talking to some parents and their child.  As I was talking to the adults, the boy kept interrupting.  His mom would tell him to go play, and he would say “No!” Over and over it was happening.  The parent would say, do you want a toy? No! Why don’t you go play? No! It finally got so bad that when he said no, he then stomped on the foot of his parent’s foot.  Now tell me, who is the king of this kingdom? Who is at the center? That boy. So what kingdom is he living for at that moment? The kingdom of God? No. The kingdom of me.  The kingdom of self. It is easy to see a young child throwing a tantrum and see what I am talking about but it is much harder to realize that we all struggle with which kingdom we are living for.     

You see we were never meant to be queens and kings of our own little kingdoms where the population of that kingdom is us.  Population of one. But when we focus on ourselves, we close out the world around us and our world gets tighter and tighter into ourselves.  How many of you have bought a toy that was covered in shrink wrap? You know that clear plastic that the manufacturer puts on a package and then heats it up so it literally shrinks and tightly wraps around the object.  This is what the kingdom of self is. It is focused on my needs, my wants, my desires. Me, me, me. And you get shrink-wrapped into your kingdom of self.

As you and I start putting our needs, our wants, and our desires above all else we literally close in the huge world that God has created into a smaller and smaller world.  When we think about ourselves first. When I try to get out of chores. When I don’t give my best at something because it is easier. When I choose to do what I want to do, not do what I am asked to do.  When I spend time playing video games instead of helping around the house. When I fight with my parents to do homework. All these little decisions don’t seem like a big deal but each one makes your life smaller and smaller.  

When we live for the kingdom of self, our world is small.  We really are not fully human.  It is only when we live for a much bigger kingdom, the kingdom of God do we start to become fully human, as God created.  

One thing they don’t have in Nebraska is an ocean.  There is a sea of red but that is something completely different.  (You knew I wouldn’t be able to make it very long without a husker reference).  One of the things that I love about living here is going to the beach and seeing all that water.  That huge sky. Perhaps to those that have lived here for a while, it’s not that big of a deal, but I still pause to look out because it is so awesome.  I love the water not only because I love to fish but because you can’t help but feel small compared to it. I think it is a good reminder of how the kingdom of God is.  It is this awesome, huge kingdom, like looking out over the ocean on a beautiful day with a massive amount of sky everywhere. We are called to live in that kingdom. A world within world, Narnia within Narnia.  It just keeps going on and on.

So how do we do that?  How do we live for God’s kingdom and not for the kingdom of self?  The biggest thing that needs to happen is that we need to stop thinking about ourselves.  Stop trying to do things because it is what you want to do. Instead, serve. Serve God. Serve others.  Hustle…to help out. The apostle Paul put it this way:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.

Paul wrote that nothing should be done through selfish ambition.  Selfish ambition is the motivation, the reason why you do something, is to put yourself first, your interests first, me first.  That’s selfish ambition. You see it when you have two people stepping through a narrow door at the same time, instead of one stopping and holding the door.  You see it when someone picks up a toy and someone else rips it out of their hands. You see it when a teacher asks the class to do their work and someone has to turn around one more time to say one last thing.

All these little decisions are one more wrap of plastic around your tiny life.  This all leads to this question. Which kingdom are you daily living for? Is it the kingdom of self where it is all about you in this small, shrinking world.  Just like being wrapped up in plastic wrap. Or are you living for the kingdom of God? Where God reigns in this huge, expansive kingdom where truth, beauty, and goodness are the foundation.  Love for God and love for neighbors are the most important things. This kingdom grows and gets bigger the more you explore it. You see people, not in the way of your happiness, but as God sees them.  As my neighbor. And your desire is to think highly of them and to serve them in love. Is Annapolis a place where there are 143 little kingdoms all doing their own thing? Or are we all working to be a part of one big kingdom where God reigns?  We must get to know this great king and to know how to serve Him. We do that by turning to the wonderful words of life.