Let’s start with a word about words—or perhaps better, a word about language. How we talk about God matters. The words we choose, the images we create in people’s minds, the gendered pronouns we pick shape interpretation and accessibility of God for those who hear. This isn’t simply a matter of being “politically correct” or fashionable; this is about realizing how language shapes understanding. God is beyond language, above our attempts to codify and diminish and capture into words that fit our experience. So, let’s be as broad and open as we can when it comes to describing God. Let’s follow the biblical example and use a variety of images and words that give glimpses and hints, partial pictures of the whole that is our God.
This isn’t the space for a full discussion of these issues, but we raise it in order to talk about one word in particular: “Kingdom” is a word that is used in this first parable of Matthew 25, but it also is behind the other two stories in this chapter. While many use the word “kingdom” with no hesitation, we understand that there are those for whom the word is both outdated and even oppressive. It speaks of a patriarchal past rather than an inclusive future. In a people-governed world, whether in reality or in the ideal, a kingdom is a concept that turns people away rather than draws them in.
Like many in the faith, the Worship Team here at Discipleship Ministries has adopted the term “kin-dom” as an appropriate substitute. While not in common usage, “kin-dom” captures something of the original word and yet stretches us to see a new relationship with God and one another described by the concept itself. It may seem cumbersome to you to use such a term, but it has the potential of opening doors and minds to wider understandings.
Some will continue to use the more familiar and biblical word “kingdom”; it is an insider word that still speaks within the context of the communication familiar with Christian code language. We recommend an occasional challenge, however. Worship is supposed to pull us out of our safety zone to embrace more of the fullness of God and the possibilities inherent in the faith. Whatever the choice made, be assured that words matter.
The thrust of the service, here in the penultimate month of the calendar year, is preparedness. Are we listening for the shout at midnight? For the cry of the one who comes? The bridegroom who comes to gather us up? Not to take us away to a different realm, but to live fully in this one. The shout at midnight is the recognition that God is at work among us. Where do we see that presence? How do we experience the presence of our Lord as we go about our daily lives? This worship experience is both an inspiration to live each day aware of that presence and to acknowledge that all of us are closer to the one we follow than we realize. So, let our songs speak of the nearness of Christ, the comforting yet challenging presence that inspires us to keep our lamps burning with the oil of kindness and service in his name. Let the liturgy speak of the work of the people (which is what the word “liturgy” means, you know), the labors that bring light into the darkness of a world stumbling to find its way toward the kin-dom that we proclaim and seek to live each day. Let our testimony speak of catching a glimpse of the Lord as we keep watch over our lives and our communities, as we work for justice in small and transformative ways.
This is also Organ and Tissue Donation Sunday. Perhaps you have a habit of acknowledging this day; if so, we encourage you to continue. If you do not, then perhaps this year is the year to consider doing so. This worship series is about looking for, responding to, and working with the Christ who is present. It could be argued that signing up for organ donation is a way of making yourself available to be used for the purposes of life, even at the moment of death. It need not be a central focus of the service, but in a list of ways to respond to the shout at midnight, offering all of yourself is one way to be ready.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.