Building the Kingdom

January 1, 2024 by Lindsay Gray

How do you feel about making New Year’s resolutions? Do you eagerly make a list of resolutions for the year? Or do you reluctantly set some goals because it feels like you should? Sometimes people set resolutions to improve their life in some way. Sometimes our resolutions are shaped by external pressures. In any case, resolutions can be a helpful way to set goals and give us a sense of purpose. But in my own experience, New Year’s resolutions have often felt restrictive. I feel that unless I reach the goals I have set for myself, I am unworthy of relaxing or enjoying the present. I think, When I’m in better shape, then I’ll be able to do this or that. When I’ve read more books . . . When I’ve broken this bad habit . . . And the list goes on.

It’s not just New Year’s resolutions that take on this pattern. We might find ourselves thinking throughout the year that our lives will be better when we’ve made more space for rest, when we have a different job, when our child gets older, or when a parent is no longer in the hospital. So often, we set goals or imagine futures where we will have time, capacity, and energy to do the things that feel important but impossible in the present moment. It’s a cycle that keeps us comparing the present to what used to be and waiting for perfect scenarios or ideal conditions. And, ironically, most of the time this cycle keeps us stuck where we are — dissatisfied and longing for something different.

I think Jesus understood this tendency to want everything to be in order before moving on to the next task. When he tells the people in Luke 9, “Let the dead bury their own dead” (v. 60, NRSVUE) and “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62), I think he is speaking to this common human plight. Though these statements sound harsh to us who want everything to be settled before we take up the next task, I think perhaps Jesus is saying, “You are enough now. You don’t need to fix, improve, or finish anything to be my disciple. Let go of what feels urgent and what holds you back. Follow me and set a new priority — building the kingdom of God with what is right here and now.”

Certainly, to build a kingdom, we need a vision, priorities, and resources, but none of those requires us to meet any particular standard of living or accomplishment before we can participate. God calls us to love our neighbors and ourselves just as we are — no improvements required. Jesus already set the vision and priorities for what this new kingdom will look like: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20). Luke goes on to say, “People will come from east and west, from north and south, and take their places . . . in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 13:29). Indeed, following Jesus means living in such a way that everyone around us can experience God’s kingdom drawing near. When we feed those who are hungry, heal those who are sick, provide shelter to those who need it, offer hospitality to those who are new to our communities, and choose to see all people as God’s children, we are building the kingdom of God.

Let the dead bury their own dead. I think the invitation here is for us to let go of all that holds us back, and to let go of the image of future perfection that keeps us from being fully present here and now. How might we enter this new year not with resolutions that tie us to the past but by following Christ into the future toward God’s kingdom?

Questions for Reflection:
1. In this new year, what will you leave behind? What expectations for yourself and others will you release?
2. How will you focus on building the kingdom of God this year?

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