Every Sunday, really almost every day, I wear a simple wood cross hanging on a string of seed beads. Nothing fancy, but a reminder of my calling and who has called me. The beads were given to me by a dear woman, who I only knew by first name, “Hildy.” A woman who had long ago lost her memory, except for a few key memories of her childhood. I visited her weekly, as part of a volunteer opportunity set up by my college. I was 19. She had nothing, living in a state institution. She gave me a necklace given to her by a group of volunteers who had come to do crafts with the seniors. She gave me a necklace made of seed beads, tiny little colorful beads, because she thought I was beautiful and she wanted me to have something beautiful.
This time with “Hildy” helped to form me. And the necklace held her memory securely in my heart, her generosity and love. It reminded me of her neighbors that I also visited… the farmer dying of cancer who drank black coffee, ate dry toast and a fried egg for every meal… the Ojibwa woman who was 101 years old, with beautiful long silver hair and a smile that could light up the room. This simple string of beads reminded me of them. Reminded me of the importance of taking time to spend time with people.
There are days where I feel like I have not one more thing to say. Between visiting with the people who are homebound to talking about homework with my kids, to leading small groups, making phone calls, lining up volunteers, making worship plans, journaling through my sermon process… Sometimes I feel like there are no more words, no more thoughts left in my day.
And then I sit and reflect on my day.
And my brain races through all of the things I saw, did and thought. Today, I keep coming back to the Kingdom of God and those tiny seed beads.
I have been reading the Gospel of Mark and the work of John the Baptist. I love thinking about John. A little wild, eating locusts and honey. He was rugged, but not in a good way. He was out there. I’m sure many thought he was crazy, but he was teaching the Kingdom of God. He was teaching that if people repented, they could find forgiveness. He was encouraging all who would listen to rethink their journey and rethink what worship could look like.
He asked people to rethink the Kingdom of God.
So often we think the Kingdom of God is far off. We talk about it like it’s heaven or something for the end of the world. But the Kingdom of God was something John saw as imminent. And after John was imprisoned, Jesus continued to proclaim the Kingdom of God. It was clear that Jesus believed that the Kingdom of God was something for this world.
Both for John and for Jesus the Kingdom of God was experienced in transformed lives. It is transformation that takes a person and renews them, makes them more generous, more kind, more thoughtful, more patient, more joyful, more peaceful, more disciplined, more gentle, more loving.
As Christ followers, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to share the Kingdom of God. We are called to experience the kingdom of God. But each of these things, these evidences of the kingdom are relational evidences. They must be observed by others.
And in order for others to observe these evidences, we have to take the time to spend time with others.
The Kingdom of God is experienced in community, in relationship.
So this brings me to Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoon I was exhausted. I had been feeling under the weather, but had a great morning at church. I felt good about the work and the time. I felt like good about the questions answered and the sermon I preached. And I was tired.
Preparing to head home after a busy morning at church, my four year old was my shadow. As I transitioned him from my hip to the floor, he accidentally pulled my pectoral cross down with him and broke the line of beads that held it. The beautiful beads given to me by a woman who I only knew by her first name, “Hildy.” At first I started to pick up the beads, but realized it was futile. I took the partially beaded string in my hand and dumped it in the trash. Making a decision to spend the time saying goodbye to the last of the parishioners at church instead of on my hands and knees picking seed beads out of the carpet.
The Kingdom of God.
After we got home, after we had lunch, I went up to my room to take a nap when I heard a knock on my bedroom door. My daughter, my 13 year old, came into my room with a simple string of beads. My beads. “Hildy’s” beads. Smaller, shorter, but the same beads. She went back into the trash and pulled out the remnants of my necklace and she salvaged all she could form the carpet. I didn’t even know. When we got home, she went right to work in her bedroom, restringing the beads. She put a new clasp on it and presented it to me.
She has always been thoughtful and mature, but this was so meaningful. So kind. She knew that the beads were meaningful to me. She knew the story behind the beads. And I think she also knew why I walked away from them, putting my attention of the people around me instead of a few beads. But she took the time for me. She took the time. The Kingdom of God.
She is the transformed life. She is the one living in community sharing the kingdom of God. She showed me how to take the time- how to live with generosity, kindness, joy, patience and love. As I looked at the string of beads, I realized that from one string of beads, God has brought me two experiences of the Kingdom of God. God has shown her the Kingdom of God.
There is so much in this world that is ugly. And often we are so busy, we don’t take the time. We don’t take the time to understand one another, to hear one another’s stories. We don’t take the time to do something generous or kind. We don’t take the time to share joy or love or patience.
The Kingdom of God is found in transformed lives. It requires that we take the time, that we spend the time. And truthfully, if we take the time, we don’t have to work very hard or look very far to find it because the Kingdom of God is here.