A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Longing for the Kingdom Come

Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns), Hieronymus Bosch (1479-1516)

Pentecost +7 – Longing for the Kingdom Come
Rev. Doug Floyd
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16–19, Psalm 86, Romans 8:18-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43

This week is the seventh Sunday after Pentecost, and fir several weeks we’ve been meditating on Romans 8 and Matthew 13. The Romans 8 passage emphasizes our adoption into the family of God, and our life in the Spirit. In Christ, we are no longer under the law of sin and death, but we live unto God under the law of God, which is distinctive from the law of sin and death, or the Mosaic law for that matter. Adoption is the big theme in Romans 8, but it’s a chapter of assurance. We’ve been taken hold of by Christ and rest secure in the family of God, and ultimately, we are secure in His love.

The passage in Romans this week focuses upon the world that has also been subjected to corruption as a result of human sin. The world is groaning, and we are groaning for the sons of God to be revealed: that includes the men and women of God. The Spirit is even groaning too deep for words and His groaning echoes through creation, giving voice to the long for the fullness of the kingdom, the revealing of our adoption, the restoration of all things in Christ.  

We hold the pain of our world beside a longing for God’s kingdom come. In her poem “Music,” Anne Porter articulates this longing for God’s kingdom come. She writes,

I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why was I crying
I had not words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

Sometimes in life, we experience what might be called a singular moment when all creation seems in perfect harmony. These moments are brief and rare, and yet, they give us a glimpse, a sense of something greater. Beauty overwhelms. At first, it bypasses our logic and simply encounters us in the depths, so profoundly that art is sometimes treated as a substitute for religion. But these moments are not sustainable. Sooner or later, we reencounter a world that is broken and scarred by sin and death.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God in terms of a farmer who sowed good seed into his field, but while his men were sleeping the enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. Here are two pictures. The first is an image of the kingdom and the coming fruitfulness. It is a vision of glory unfolding. In fact, when Jesus interprets the parable, he speaks of the wheat as sons of the kingdom whose righteousness shines out like the sun. The children of the kingdom are glorious to behold.

At the same time, the weeds are the causes of sin and all lawbreakers. The weeds corrupt the glorious creation and undo the beauty of the world. Both images are simultaneously true: a world of divine glory and a world of grotesque perversion. Every day we can watch videos online of human doing extraordinary acts of love and kindness while also seeing videos of humans act cruelly, violently, and hatefully.

As I thought about the wheat and the weeds this week, I thought about two artists who live in the 15th and 16th centuries: Michelangelo and Hieronymus Bosch. Two very different artists. Michelangelo in Southern Europe and Italy. Hieronymus Bosch in the Netherlands. Michelangelo was a sculptor, a painter, an architect, an even a poet. He created some of the great masterpieces of Western art and is often considered one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

Hieronymus Bosch created strange, grotesque, and sometimes terrifying images of human sin and suffering and damnation. His paintings are so odd and filled with such deranged figures that some say he captures the some of the deepest human fears in his work.

Michelangelo and Hieronymus Bosch were both devote men of faith. In one sense, we need the vision of both men. We need the vision of the field of wheat, the promise of the kingdom, the sublime beauty that Michelangelo created in his paintings and sculptures. But at the same time, we cannot turn away from a world of darkness. A world of pain and corruption. A world where the evil one has sown seeds of destruction.

Bosch’s darker vision provokes a life of prayer for the world. Instead of turning from the darkness, we follow Christ into the night with His healing grace.

Toward the end of his life, Michelangelo wrote, “Neither painting nor sculpture will be able any longer to calm my soul, now turned toward that divine love that opened his arms on the cross to take us in.”[1]

His paintings and statutes lift the eyes and heart upward while communicating a longing for the sublime. In the opening poem by Anne Porter, she captures a similar sense of deep longing evoked by beautiful music. CS Lewis named this experience joy. Looking back at childhood, he remembers vivid experiences of joy that provoked a longing he could not fully understand.

He describes wanting to rediscover that original joy,

“Thence arose the fatal determination to recover the old thrill, and at last the moment when I was compelled to realize that all such efforts were failures. … At that very moment there arose the memory of a place and time at which I had tasted the lost Joy with unusual fullness. It had been a particular hill walk on a morning of white mist. The other volumes of the Ring (The Rheingold and The Valkyrie) had just arrived as a Christmas present from my father, and the thought of all the reading before me, mixed with the coldness and loneliness of the hillside, the drops of moisture on every branch, and the distant murmur of the concealed town, had produced a longing …which had flowed over from the mind and seemed to involve the whole body. That walk I now remembered. It seemed to me that I had tasted heaven then.”[2]

This sense of longing that is rooted in an experience of joy or transcendence becomes an important proof of God for Lewis. He suggests that the sense of longing or desire points us beyond this world to the Desirable One. The Lord draws our hearts and minds to him through these deep longings. In Romans 8:18-25, Paul describes a longing that for the completion of redemption or the sons of God to be revealed as a longing or groaning of the Spirit that echoes through all creation and through our own hearts.

This longing might also be described as a longing for the fruit or fullness of the kingdom to be revealed. It is an ache that trembles at the very threshold of existence for all things to be revealed in Christ. In his magnificent art, Michelangelo captures this glorious longing even as Mozart conveys it in his beautiful composition. The beauty of his symphonies are such that Karl Barth wondered at times if Mozart had been an angel.

I believe this might be the very kind of encounter Job experiences when God speaks to him out of the whirlwind.

          “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
                      Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
                      “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
                      Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
                      On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
                      when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:2–7)

God does not defend or explain Job’s suffering but instead points to the wonders of creation. In some of the most sublime chapters in all of Scripture, the Lord details for Job glory after glory of this wondrous creation. Job’s response is to close his mouth, acknowledge his ignorance, repent and worship.

The Lord is free to open our hearts and eyes to His kingdom and his glory whenever he chooses. Sometimes through art, music, literature, or the creation all around us. We do not always understand these moments of glory but in Scripture they appear to be pointing us to the hope of all things being revealed in Christ.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. [4]

We long to behold Jesus Christ and to encounter Jesus Christ, the risen One, the One who has come among us, the Son of God, who has poured out His life completely. We behold Him in His life, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension. We seek Him even now as He reigns beside the Father in heaven. He is the beautiful One. He intercedes for us even now, drawing us to the heart of the Father. We long to behold Him, to see Him. In fact, much of Christian history will speak of this longing for the beatific vision, the vision of the beautiful Lord.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar says that even as the heart is lifted almost outside of creation in these moments, the Lord in His cross leads us back into the middle of our earthiness; into the middle of a glorious world stained by sin and death.

This is the world that Hieronymus Bosch paints. In many of his works, humans have descended into sin and death. Grotesque creatures cover the dark landscape as humans are tortured, ashamed, and subject to all sorts of humiliations. The world is terrifying.

Bosch does not leave us in hell. Christ descends into the corruption of this world. He bears the pain. In his painting “Christ Mocked,” we see four soldiers surrounding Jesus, and Jesus looks out to us from the focal point of the image. There is a vision of transcendence in the middle of human corruption.

Though the evil one sowed weeds in the garden and has corrupted creation, Jesus Christ steps into the very center of this death and destruction, pouring out His life on the cross and beginning the great harvest that will eventually result in all the weeds being removed and the glory of the kingdom shining in the light of the eternal Son.

In fact, this is part of the good news. Jesus has come among us. He’s come to where we are. He’s entered into our griefs and our sorrows and our sickness and our illness. He’s entered into our sinfulness and our sorrow. In the way of the cross, He has carried all of it. He has broken the power of sin and death over us. We trust that even as the Father called Him forth from the grave and He’s risen, that he has taken hold of us and will raise us in time, in due season, into the fullness of life, into His resurrection life. That we might be raised up with Him in glory, to praise Him and to enter into the fullness of his glory. We hold this vision of glory, of longing, alongside a vision of the world that is suffering under sin.

There is suffering all around us: in our world, in our households, in our lives. We acknowledge this suffering is real. The suffering of the people around us, even when they are angry and they reject God, and they act like weeds like enemies of God. Even when they are mocking the things of God, we do not grow weary or lose heart. For we serve a Savior, according to Romans, who transforms these wild weeds, into His sons and daughters. Romans 11, He takes the wild olive branch and He grafts it into the vine, the true vine. In Romans 5, He comes to His enemies to make reconciliation. And now in Him, we have become His ministers of reconciliation. Our role in this age is to cry out with creation, for the restoration of all things in Christ.

When we see the suffering of the world, when we see those who mock and curse and even turn against the church, our first response should never be to shake our fists, but to fall down on our knees and cry out for mercy. To cry out that our Lord Himself might meet those people in their suffering and draw them to Himself. Our first role is to cry out for the restoration of all things in Christ. And as He leads us, we go out as agents of reconciliation, with the good news of the gospel on our lips. As we look for hope, we pray for our work toward the unveiling of God’s goodness, in the world. We know that evil will be judged and eradicated, even as the light of God will shine out from creation, and all his children.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Michelangelo” from Wikipedia < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelangelo>, “Michelangelo, Selected Poems” (PDF). Columbia University. p. 20. Retrieved 24 October 2018.

[2] Lewis, C. S.. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (pp. 192-193). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Job 38:2–7.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:15–20.


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