Raising Stones at the Gateway of Heaven: The Kingdom of God As Event

Kingdom of God is an event rather than an organization.

Some time agon I described the relationship between the Kingdom and the church this way:

More and more I'm thinking of the Kingdom of God as an event. The Kingdom of God comes--for a season, for a moment--and then is gone. Church is a place where, hopefully, the conditions for the Kingdom coming are cultivated. But those conditions don't guarantee anything. You just have to wait. And keep at the work. Make yourself available, over and over, individually and corporately.

All that to say, the Kingdom of God is real. It does occur. It just doesn't last in any organized or bureaucratic way, as a "church." Consequently, there will be long seasons of church life where nothing seems to be going on.

But here and there--around this table, in this worship service, in this small group--the Kingdom of God comes. Elusively and transiently. But still, it comes.
This idea isn't new to me. I borrowed it from William Stringfellow. Stringfellow describes the Kingdom as "the Jerusalem event" occurring in the midst of Babylon:
Jerusalem means the emancipation of human life in society from the rule of death and breaks through time, transcends time, anticipates within time the abolition of time. Thus the integrity or authenticity of the Jerusalem event in common history is always beheld as if it were a singular or momentary or unique happening. To be more concrete about it, if a congregation somewhere comes to life as Jerusalem at some hour, that carries no necessary implications for either the past or the future of that congregation. The Jerusalem occurrence is sufficient unto itself. There is--then and there--a transfiguration in which the momentary coincides with the eternal, the innocuous becomes momentous and the great is recognized as trivial, the end of history is revealed as the fulfillment of life here and now, and the whole of creation is beheld as sanctified.

So far as the human beings who are participants and witnesses in any manifestation of the Jerusalem reality of the Church are concerned, nothing similar may have happened before and nothing similar may happen again. But that does not detract from the event; it only emphasizes that the crux of the matter is the transcendence of time....

[H]ere and there and now and then--Jerusalem is apparent.
I also like the way David Kelsey describes the providential actions of God as intrusive and interruptive aspects of our quotidian/daily existence. This highlights the temporary and transient nature of the "Kingdom come." Kelsey writes:
Signs of God's providential righting of the moral balance are not a steady-state feature of the quotidian. Rather...signs of God's providential preservation of a moral order break out in the quotidian like a small rash: patchy, intrusive, and unpredictable. God's providential action in creation is often eruptive...These occasions are but patches on the broader spaces of the quotidian stained by violence...
Such reflections reminded me about a post wrote a few years ago about the Old Testament practice, before the construction of the temple, of raising stones to worship God, give thanks, seal a covenant, or name the Presence of God on earth.

Specifically, if the Kingdom of God is an event I wonder if the notion of raising stones might be an apt metaphor for Christian worship.

For example, the story of Jacob's dream at Bethel in Genesis 28:
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar...
During the time of the temple God was in a specific location. Thus, to encounter the Presence of God you had to go to that specific place. God's Presence was identified with a particular and immobile location. Similar to how many Christians view the church building. God is in the church--a temple-like building--and we go there to encounter God.

But if the Kingdom of God is not tied to a place but is, rather, an intrusive and interruptive event, then perhaps the pre-Temple impulse to raise stones at the gateway of heaven wherever that is experienced many be the better metaphor for Christian worship.

Worship is raising altars to name the Presence of God in the world. Worship is raising stones to mark the event of the Kingdom.
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

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2 thoughts on “Raising Stones at the Gateway of Heaven: The Kingdom of God As Event”

  1. That strikes me as attempting to explain the gospel from mankind's varying emotional state. The heart of the Jacob passage is probably the second un-bolded part: Surely the Lord is here, and I didn't know it. Think for a second about Jacob: this is a man who has lived his entire life in the tents of the patriarchs and with the promise. His mother so believed that promise and the prophesy given to her to cheat her husband's wishes for Jacob. And Jacob didn't see it. Just because we don't feel it or see it doesn't mean that God's promises aren't true and valid. He promised to be wherever we gathered. He promised to be in the bread and wine. He promised the Spirit in the waters. God keeps his promises especially when we are sinners. Continually "making yourself available" puts it all on us both to be present and to recognize it. As a captain once said, "that's a slow train that never comes." Instead, trust Christ and the promise. The Kingdom comes without our help, we simply pray that it comes to us also. Which it does. Because God is faithful.

  2. A continual awareness of God. When God fills and engulfs our existence. When God is so present our prayers sometimes turn into a lover's quarrel.

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