marks of the kingdom

When the Spirit breaks the kingdom into our present, there are three basic markers that always show up. They don’t show up fully and they usually don’t last all that long. Our way of doing things has a way of reasserting itself and pushing the kingdom back. But on the whole, the kingdom advances with each wave as the Holy Spirit takes our world for Jesus. I think it’s helpful to think of these three marks when asking if what we’re up to looks more like the kingdom of Jesus or more like the world (that’s a question church leaders need to ask regularly and much more often than we typically do):

  1. Unity – Specifically unity across all the ways we divide people up: age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, orientation, physical/mental ability, theology/dogmas, all that. The world separates us into ever smaller categories pushing us further apart. The Spirit draws us in toward each other and breaks down all those barriers. Where the Spirit is at work and the kingdom is coming in, we see a noticeable increase in unity.
  2. Freedom – “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Religion can be so restrictive when it’s representing the world and not the kingdom. When the Spirit blows in, those shackles start falling off. This especially means people within the community find/are given freedom to do what the Spirit lays on their hearts. Some times this creates conflicts and then new communities are formed or people have to move to places where they can fully express the freedom the Spirit gives them. Leaders who are following the Spirit bless these moves and do all they can to foster and protect those freedoms. Leaders too concerned with control or the success of their own projects trample these freedoms and let the world right back in. Still, where the Spirit is at work and the kingdom is coming in, we see a noticeable increase in freedom.
  3. Equality – Whenever the kingdom of God breaks in, there is a leveling of all hierarchies. The way the world divides us is often the way the world orders us too, so those same undone categories show up here. Women get to fully lead in the kingdom. Young people get to fully lead in the kingdom. Poor people get to fully lead in the kingdom. Anyone we would call a ‘minority’ in the U.S. (e.g., race, ethnicity, orientation, ability) gets to fully lead in the kingdom. And those who lead under the Spirit’s move are filled with a humility (yes, this is a gift and charism of the Spirit) and begin to really understand what Jesus meant by washing feet in John 13 and talking about leaders being servants. In bringing in the kingdom, the Spirit brings a new mode of authority and at the same time condemns all worldly forms of power (which are always coercive, violent, divisive, and destructive). The equality the Spirit brings gives life. The power of the world deals death. Where the Spirit is at work and the kingdom is coming in, we see a noticeable increase in equality.

If we see unity, freedom, and equality growing in our communities of faith, the Spirit is at work and the kingdom is coming in. Where these markers are lacking, something is wrong and needs to be corrected. We should take these as primary indicators of the spiritual health of our communities and leaders. If we will commit to these markers and ask the Spirit to grow them in us and among us, we will experience more of the Spirit and more of the kingdom. If we will add these to the signs and wonders we are looking for and desire to see manifested, the Spirit will bring them and all the rest will follow.

one wild and precious life

What will we do with this one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver