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Kingdom of Light, Kingdom of God

I preached this sermon on May 18, 2014 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, NJ. I also served Oreos to the congregation after the sermon. I’m sorry I don’t have one for you, but have one if they are available to you. I think you will see why as you read.

Our first child, our son, was born in 1982. As with many new fathers, I anxiously awaited that first word. Of course, Da-Da was what I anticipated. Our son, however, was his own person from the moment he was born. So when the much-anticipated event occurred, the word spoken was “light,” or to be precise “yight,” but the meaning was clear. He was looking to the light.

Mankind has always sought out the light. The discovery of fire was important for warmth, but also brought light into darkness. Darkness has always held the enemies of humanity, while the hearth brought light, community, and civilization. Darkness held danger. The light brought safety. A craving for light is programmed deep into our souls. That light and dark would become representative of good and evil is, therefore, no surprise.

The Bible begins with darkness and light. There is darkness in Genesis 1, verse 2, then God brings light into the darkness in verse 3 and calls the light ‘good.” Scripture abounds with passages involving people moving from darkness into light, from the dark of blindness to the light of sight. Our lesson today from 1 John speaks to God, and Christ, as being in the light. The truth is in the light and if we do not follow the truth we walk in darkness. Colossians goes a step further and emphasizes that God has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. That resonates with us on a very deep level. Nothing sounds better than being brought out of darkness into the security and safety of light. It takes us back to that first fire that is hard-wired into our being. We are made to seek the light. So this is a very powerful message. But about what?

The internet is full of sermons and studies discussing light and darkness. I read a few in preparing for today. I’ve seen discussions about the light of God’s love, the light we find through Christ, the light of Christ that helps us see clearly, and so on and so on. But I have to say I find much of that as unfulfilling. They discuss the word “light” but too often as a word play disconnected from the context of its use in scripture. Moving from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light is absolutely the core of the Gospel message, but rather than proclaim that message boldly and directly we of the Church often have so danced around and watered down that message that we leave more confused than enlightened. Much of what is written is spiritual cotton candy that tastes sweet and goes down easily but provides virtually no spiritual nourishment. I hope today to put meat and potatoes on the table instead. But I promise Oreos for dessert!

Our text from Colossians gives us the context. That contest between light and darkness that stirs so deeply in our souls repeats in this passage when we hear:

[Give] joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…

The duality of light and darkness again appears, but the power of the metaphor is the connection with the Christ as the Kingdom. First we see the connection between the redemptive grace of God bringing us into the metaphorical kingdom of light. But that is immediately clarified to be the kingdom of the Son. So being brought into the light is being brought into the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaimed that Kingdom and is the Kingdom of God incarnate.

I have no empirical evidence, but I strongly suspect that you could poll just about any group of Christians regarding the message of Christ and a majority would say John 3:16 encapsulates the Gospel.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The emphasis usually is on one or more of three elements to the verse: (1) God loves you; (2) believe in Christ; and (3) you will live forever. There is tremendous power in that verse. It has almost a cult following in itself and has become practically the central message of the modern Church: Accept God’s love by believing in Jesus and you will go to heaven when you die. But I submit to you that although it has elements of the Gospel, this passage is, by itself, not the complete message of Christ. Indeed, when the promise of eternal life becomes the promise of heaven after death, that interpretation drains the Gospel of meaning.

Jesus brought and embodied the message of redemption and restoration to the Kingdom of God. The Gospels mention the Kingdom over 100 times. More than any other item…by far. Far more than heaven and eternal life. Far more than God’s love. Pick up almost any red-letter message in the Gospels and you will find Jesus explaining how he is restoring the Kingdom of God, what the Kingdom is, or how we can live in the Kingdom. Take for example the beloved passage of John 3:16. Although we frequently focus on it standing alone, it is in fact sandwiched in the middle of verses 1 through 21, which detail Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus. It is like the crème filling in the middle of an Oreo cookie. Breaking an Oreo apart and licking out the crème is common. The value of the cookies, however, is diminished or sometimes lost completely when we do. So too with John 3:16.

The top cookie of our scriptural Oreo is represented by verse 3, where Jesus says:

I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.

The Kingdom of God is the truth that Jesus proclaims to Nicodemus. The bottom cookie returns to the duality of light and darkness, represented in verse 21:

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly what he has done through God.

And when we look at John 3:16 as the crème holding the cookies together it becomes a very powerful message. So don’t just eat that crème and leave the cookies!

Jesus is not telling Nicodemus that receiving God’s love is the goal. And he is not telling Nicodemus that the goal is life after death. In fact, no where in the entire discussion with Nicodemus does Jesus mention death. Jesus emphasizes that returning to the Kingdom of God is the goal. When Nicodemus is confused by the concept of rebirth as the means of returning to God, Jesus explains that God’s love is so great that he will restore to us the eternal life in the light of the Kingdom of God when we embrace and follow Christ. God’s love is the means by which we are restored to life in his Kingdom, but God’s love is not the goal. The restoration of the Kingdom of God is the truth and Jesus is the Kingdom of God restored to us. And Jesus speaks in the present, not the future. The Kingdom he brings may be eternal, for it always has been and always will be, but he opens it for us to commence Kingdom life now…the moment we accept God’s love through the gift of Jesus the Christ.

So what is the Kingdom that is our gift from God? E. Stanley Jones in The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person characterizes the Kingdom as “God’s total plan for all life, now, [not] a reward thrown in at the end.” Living in the Kingdom of God is returning to living life the way God intended from the beginning for life to be lived in union with him. The Word is the Kingdom of God and the Word became flesh in Jesus so that we can understand how to live in the Kingdom. God poured his character into Jesus so that we can see and understand God and his total sacrificial love. Jesus taught the Kingdom, lived the Kingdom, and is the Kingdom. But we share that Kingdom through and with him.

The Kingdom of God is not something separate and apart from us. The Kingdom is inherent in all of creation. There is a Kingdom design for what everything is and how everything should be done. But most important, the way of the Kingdom is written into the fiber of each and every one of us. No matter whether you accept the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden as historical fact or allegory, it holds a great truth: we were created by God to be in union with him, his creation and his Kingdom. Our natural state, our intended purpose, is to live with God. We belong to God and he has stamped that relationship deep inside of us. God’s Kingdom is within us, not something remote, and he intends for us that life now.

Look at what Jesus says in the Gospel passage for today: “the Kingdom of God is within you.” That bears repeating. The Kingdom of God is within you. And to whom does Jesus says this? The Pharisees! These were the people Jesus called a “brood of vipers.” Yet the Kingdom of God was within them even though they did not believe Jesus was the Christ and actively opposed him, even to his death. If the Kingdom of God was within them, it has to be in everyone!

We are created for life in the Kingdom. We crave it. But we certainly are confused about it. Over the ages we as humanity have built up such a separate identity from that which God created in us, layering in sin our own decisions and experience upon God’s creation that we have buried the Kingdom of God so deep within us that we cannot find it. Yet we know it is there. We create moral codes, which seem universal and which the secular world indicates as proof that man does not need God to be good. But they are nothing more than the resonance of the Kingdom of God that is written into our souls. We create religions because we know we crave a connection with the divine, only to layer more confusion on God’s creation by thinking God is something we can achieve by what we do and then inventing man-inspired rules to follow instead of turning to God instead.

But make no mistake, we have been created with God’s Kingdom within us as God’s plan for how we should live. Each and every one of us belongs to God. You belong to God and he says “You are mine.” But we have so separated ourselves from God, surrounded the light of God’s Kingdom with so much darkness, that we can never restore that light as the fullness of our lives. But God can and has, through Jesus. Jesus is the sweet crème at the center of the Kingdom. We find him as the way to the Kingdom in the story of Nicodemus. We find him in today’s scripture reading from 1 John:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

God in his love for us declares that he will not permit our sin to keep us from life in the Kingdom. He declares that our individual sin, and the sin of all mankind, is in the past.

God restores us to life in the Kingdom through his love, but our realization of the Kingdom in our lives is incomplete and will not be complete until Jesus consummates his Kingdom when he returns to unite the entire world with him. For all of us, that event probably will occur after our deaths. So we likely will experience the perfection of the Kingdom of God only after death. But although perfection may occur after death, Kingdom life begins now. As each of us accepts God’s love and surrenders our life to Jesus, Christ begins stripping away all of that sin and darkness that has kept the Kingdom of God buried so deep within us and gives us that new birth described to Nicodemus, that re-birth into the life, now and eternal, that God has always intended for us. The past is gone and new life begins. The light of God’s Kingdom shines in our lives. And it is wonderful!

Life in the here and now of the Kingdom is an exciting process. We give ourselves to Jesus and he gives us experiences of life in God’s Kingdom. We feel what it is like to be in God’s presence and experience the true peace and joy of being exactly who God intends us to be. Have you ever been on a long and tiring trip? When you finally reach home the stress of the trip drains away because you have returned to where you are supposed to be, to where you are loved, to where you are comfortable, to where you find peace. You are home. That is the feeling you have when you are living life in the Kingdom as God intends. There is a Kingdom way and a Kingdom attitude in everything we do. Nothing is so small that it does not matter. And that involves loving God and others, and serving God and others, as God created us to do. When we do, we allow the Word that is written into our souls to be manifest in our flesh and we find the peace of being home. We find the peace of belonging…belonging to Christ and his Kingdom.

For some, the process of realizing life in the Kingdom of God nears completion while they live life in the flesh. For most of us though, we will experience that life, but then permit the light to be buried again under the darkness of our past. We will experience the Kingdom when we are caring for someone else, when we serve on a mission trip, when we are in prayer, when we are singing praise, when we are serving, when we are preaching, when we are teaching, when we are sharing the love of Christ with someone else. And when we experience the Kingdom we are overwhelmed by the peace that comes from being exactly who were are intended to be. And then we let it go. We again become mired in our sin; mired in our failures; mired in our losses; mired in hurt; mired in problems of life that we cannot seem to solve.

The Kingdom has been restored to us, but we live in it in an off-and-on manner. We have our “Kingdom moments” when we know we are living God’s plan for how we should live and allowing Christ to work within us, and then we lose the connection. But remember, Jesus does not care about our past. His love reaches beyond it and draws out the light of the Kingdom within us whenever we just let go of the past, surrender to the love of Christ, and give our old self over to him. Our salvation, our restoration to the Kingdom is an act of grace received once. You do not need claim it over and over. You just need to permit Jesus to act in your life. So bury your past in the love of Christ. You are free to live as God intended. You are free to live in the light of his Kingdom. You are free to live in the love of Christ. Just turn to him and tell him you want to come home. Amen.


  1. Don Stephens on June 7, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Amen Tom! A great message! And surprisingly comprehensive. (Well… considering the Kingdom is infinite and eternal, that might sound like overreach, but you know what I mean). “When the promise of eternal life becomes the promise of heaven after death, that interpretation drains the Gospel of meaning.” Oh my! The whole courtroom stands guilty!

    • Tom Trezise on June 7, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      Thanks Don. I was trying to do an overview of the Kingdom. If I was regularly in the pulpit I would spend 6-10 more weeks drilling into the themes set up here. But I can’t do that, so I thought an overview was still I good place to get folks to start thinking.

  2. […] you would like to know more of my thoughts on the Kingdom, see Kingdom of Light, Kingdom of God at […]

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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