May 31, 2014

By Ann M. Rathert

“As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Matt. 10:7 (NRSV)
     
Coffee, warm yeasty breads, cinnamon. Smells swirl, music joins with voices of those huddled around tables. A smile awaits me as I set down my coffee and join a pastor. 
     
Our business done, the pastor updates me on the church–the number of youth in worship continues to increase and she continues to be amazed by the laity’s leadership. It all gladdens my heart. But what stands out is the story of the man who is blossoming through his teaching ministry, which continues to attract new people. As I heard about his troubled background and all the good that is now happening I had to blink back tears. His decision to attend church and to invest himself in the ministry of teaching allowed the kingdom of heaven to come near for him, for those in the study and for me as I listened to his story. These are ripples of transformation within the kingdom.
    
A wintery breeze blows leaves from the backyard oak trees. Cozy on the warm side of the windows, cactus plants not only remain green but are sporting long, white blossoms. Decaying leaves and healthy foliage are only a pane of glass apart. Similarly, it’s as if each decision to follow God’s will moves us to the other side of a window where the kingdom of heaven exists with its transformative power to nourish health and new life. 
    
Such decisions delight me and are one of the main reasons I have loved my time as a district superintendent. I’ve seen two churches of a charge chose to do the hard work of facing their financial constraints in truth and love. A new collaborative relationship began to emerge. In another part of the district, Conference leadership decided to birth a new church, SunRise in O’Fallon. SunRise then birthed Morning Star Church, which birthed The Word at Shaw and most recently The Way in Wentzville. These churches collectively averaged 3,008 in 2013 worship. 
    
The decisions of these people ushered the kingdom of heaven not only into their own lives but also into the world and lives around them.

Four months have passed since writing the above. It was the start of an article for the January, 2014 issue of this magazine. Before finishing I was involved in a car accident that has kept me in hospitals and care facilities until Holy Week when I returned home. 
    
That fateful December day I only remember seeing the car from the opposite side of the road spin into my lane. Then nothing until waking up to incredible pain and a man’s voice telling me to remain still. In the ensuing weeks the pain from my life saving surgery and my many broken bones was overwhelming. People told me how amazing my attitude was throughout the months that followed. From my perspective, there was a day by day infusion of strength and love from the incredible covering of your prayers. I literally could feel them surrounding me and bringing me a wellbeing outside of what I could muster. The innumerable decisions to pray made the kingdom of heaven’s transformational power available for me and the many caregivers with whom I shared faith stories.
    
As I think back over the years as district superintendent, my deepest disappointments came when people’s wants drove decision making rather than God’s will. Meanwhile pastors, individuals and/or congregations suffered and continue to suffer the consequences of the resulting conflict and stress. People’s need to be right or to keep things as they want, can be and has been more destructive than sticks of dynamite. Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24 NIV) Sadly, I have seen too much loss.
    
Each of us chooses daily whether to live my way or God’s way. When was the last time the kingdom of heaven has come near to you or your church? I invite you to seek God with your deepest being. God will come! Whether life is great or is burying you, somehow when God’s Spirit fills yours, the kingdom of heaven comes near and it’s transformational, both for you and those caught in the ripples you send out into the world!