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Keeping the Kingdom in Sight
Douglas Norris and Mark Wharff
June 1, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


When Davie Wagstaff was on the staff of the Manteca Bulletin, and the copy would come in for Friday’s Church page, he would inquire, “What dirty window is he talking about this Sunday?  I understand that Dennis, his replacement on the Bulletin staff, when informed that I was preaching a series of sermons on the windows, incredulously asked, “ls he some kind of nut or something?” 

For several months, we have been listening to the windows speak—looking at the Old Testament, tracing its history chronologically from creation through the conquest of the nations, the destruction and the restoration of Jerusalem. 

Today, let us consider the Old Testament as a whole. 

Mark: I’m glad that we took the opportunity to look at the Old Testament windows. In our Christian church, we’ve tended to slight the Old Testament in favor of the New Testament. Sure, it is true that the church as we know it had its beginning after the ministry of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, and that that record, together with the epistles, forms the basis of Christian theology. 

In fact, we’ve had a tendency to separate the Old Testament from the New Testament, to set them against one another. It has been said that the Old Testament, the book of the Jews, portrays the God of wrath, and that the New Testament, the book of the Christians, tells the story of the God of Love. HORSE FEATHERS! 

I think that it is valid, though, for us to ask, “How relevant is the Old Testament to us today? 

Doug: The church is asking this question more today, and it’s about time! We are finding that to detract from the role of the Old Testament in our religious history is like forgetting the heritage of immigrants to the United States and their cultural backgrounds. We have really tried in this series to show the importance, the crucial relevancy of the Old Testament to our lives today. The struggle to respond to God’s call to covenant with him, to be his people; the story of their downfall as a nation is extremely relevant. In fact, there is a real parallel between the story of the Old Testament and the story of the United States, a parallel also with the church, and with individual lives. 

Mark: The Old Testament story teaches us that as long as the community had its goal in sight, it flourished. The people of God were on the move from Abraham to the late prophets with a goal in sight. But when they had attained nationhood, a strong kingdom, building a temple and a city, they became satisfied. They lost their vision, they lost sight of their goal. And, with no goal in sight to unite them, to inspire them, they floundered, they failed. 

Doug: When you are taking a trip to the East Coast, your goal is to arrive in New York City. In order to arrive in New York, you will probably divide your journey into phases, into a series of shorter journeys. You perhaps will decide that Phase One of the journey will land you in Winnemucca Nevada, where you will spend the first night. Phase Two may get you to Nebraska, and so on across the country. You are doing well as long as you keep the goal of New York City in sight, and as long as the intermediate phases keep you on the right road. If you’re not careful, you may end up in Mexico or Canada.

The Israelites in the Old Testament flourished as long as they kept the goal in sight and proceeded with the phases that led them along the road to the goal. The ultimate goal was the call of God to be His people. They responded in the positive. They wanted to be his people. Abraham followed him. They followed Moses when he led them out of Egyptian slavery. They followed Joshua in the conquest of Canaan. They were relatively faithful, effective and strong during phase one. Phase one was the achievement of a tangible, physical goal; namely, the owning of land, the building of a nation, the erection of a house for the Lord.

Phase one of the journey was something they could measure, they could see. They conquered Canaan, they became a nation, a monarchy under King Saul, King David and King Solomon. They became a strong nation; their territory stretched to Egypt. They built a beautiful holy capitol in Jerusalem. Solomon built a temple for the Lord. The goal was in sight; the tangible, physical Phase One was achieved. 

Mark: The story of America parallels the Old Testament experience. When our nation was young, we had a goal in sight; a goal set forth in the Declara­tion of Independence to make a nation where everyone has equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Exploring and settling the west was Phase One of that goal. We’ve glamorized that early expansion. We’ve built myths around men like Davy Crockett who pushed our frontiers westward. The goal was clear: Westward Ho. Films like “How the West was Won” portray a happy people—a united peo­ple—a people on the move. As the Old Testament community had to battle with the Canaanites in order to win their lands, our forefathers banished the native Americans. The pioneers crossed rivers and mountain ranges in their quest. These people were inspired by the goal. They had an insatiable passion to settle the land. 

And they settled it—from New York to California, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Wild celebrations accompanied proclamations of statehood and the driving of the golden spike, tying our country to­gether by the railroad. Our nation stretched from sea to sea. The goal was in sight: the tangible, physical Phase One had been achieved. 

Doug: After Phase One was completed—when Israel became a nation, they began to flounder. We saw in our series of sermons that deterioration began to set in during King Solomon’s reign. After his death, civil war erupted and the nation split into two—the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. Then they were conquered by strong neighboring nations. They lost their nation. What they had gained in Phase One was lost. It seems as if they lost sight of the ultimate goal after they had gained Phase One. They were so weak they became vulnerable. They were doing well as long as the goal was tangible, like gaining land, forming a nation, building a temple; but when these phases were realized, they were unable to visualize the next phase that would lead them along the road to the goal of becoming God’s people. 

The prophets submitted minority reports during this period. The people had lost sight of the ultimate goal, but the prophets hadn’t. They pointed, preached, pleaded. They preached that to be God’s people meant to be a blessing to the world by exhibiting justice, righteousness, peace and treating everyone with dignity. Through Israel, the world was to see the salvation of God, the kingdom of God. 

But the people were unable to see themselves as the means through which the world would be saved. They were afraid of the risks involved. So they built a wall around their city. Nehemiah helped them build a wall to keep the world out. The goal then became, “Let’s hang on to what we’ve got.” Hang on to what we have attained. Hang on to our nation, hang on to our wealth, hang on to our prestige. And in the desire to keep the status quo; in the desire to hang on, they lost everything. 

The Old Testament ends in tragedy—a people without a nation; a peo­ple without a vision; a people without love and concern for the world; a people who were narrow, rigid, legalistic, unloving, provincial, a people lost. Into this situation came Jesus to once again point out the ultimate goal—the kingdom of God. Into this situation came the New Testament with the call to anyone, whoever would answer, to be part of the church, the new Israel. 

Mark: A similar thing happened to the United States. What a striking paral­lel between Israel’s story and our story. After our nation completed Phase One, stretching the nation from ocean to ocean, her vision of the ultimate goal became clouded. We had conquered the land, but what next? Even before we were able to divide all the settled land into states, we divided ourselves. The Civil War divided us into a northern and a southern kingdom. After the war, reconstruction was the next step. But when the south had been rebuilt, where was the goal? 

We spent a lot of time and energy trying to attain the good life. We want happiness, freedom, opportunities for everyone, which is our ultimate goal. We opened our gates to immigrants. All were welcome, or at least we said so. But, we were unable to visualize the next phase that would take us along the road to the ultimate goal. 

Like Israel, the great American dream next became “Hang on to what we’ve got.” Achieve a level of comfort, status and then, after Phase One, hang on because to strive further to attain the goal would mean to risk losing what we had attained. Like Israel, without risking to achieve we may also lose. The isolationism of Israel, the keeping of what they had without sharing led to their destruction. lsrael built walls to keep God in. They sought to keep, rather than share. 

Do we isolate America? Do we seek to keep our wealth, our standard of living, our superiority, our food, rather than share with the world? Confronting our nation is Jesus Christ with the call to become the people of God, to establish justice, righteousness and to treat all people with dignity that this world may truly become the kingdom of God. 

Doug: You can see the same phenomenon in a church after its buildings are built. As long as there is a building to erect, there is purpose. The goal is tangible. People know why they must pledge and give. The women know why they are cooking and serving dinners. But, after the buildings are built, and the mortgage is paid, many churches look around in dismay, “Now, what?”  The church is often unable to visualize the next phase that leads to the goal of being God’s people. Too many churches are afraid to take the risks. If we become too involved in social issues, in the real problems of people, too involved with people of different races, economic levels, education, we may offend some of our members and lose their offerings. They may take their membership elsewhere. Or, we may get so involved in the world, we become secular. There is a risk. 

But, standing, confronting the church, is Jesus Christ calling the church to be his body, to take upon itself his vision, his goal that this world may become the kingdom of God with God’s love for all people.

Mark: When the physical, tangible phase of buying a house, a car, a boat, raising a family, getting them through college is achieved, the inability to visualize the next phase frustrates many. The maintenance of the status quo, even the accumulation of more physical and tangible things fail to satisfy. Despair, despondency, divorce, alcoholism are often the results of the loss of vision. 

And there stands Christ confronting each of us with the simple, yet profound call, “Come, follow me.” 

Doug: What the next phase is for our nation, church and you as an individual is a major challenge, even crisis, of this day.

Mark: May the celebration of our nation’s Bi-centennial be not just a looking backward, but an opportunity to clarify the goal and decide on the next steps. 

Doug: To decide where we go in ministry is a challenge facing us in the next months and years. 

Mark: May the story of the Old Testament—the moving, yet tragic story of the Old Testament—cause you to keep the kingdom in sight. 

Doug: The same is true for each one of us. Without a vision, without a goal, without risk, we will flounder along without real purpose. 

Keep the vision of the goal strong so that you will plan carefully the next phase. Take some risks, dare even to lose what you now have, so that Christ may lead you along the road to the kingdom where there is justice, freedom, righteousness and dignity for every person.

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris