Living in the Kingdom of God on earth

Reflections on the law, love, and faith for Black History Month

Homily by Camille N. Isaacs-Morell, Sunday, 14 February 2021, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Ottawa

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus.  We also contemplate the coming of the Kingdom of God and what this means for us at a time when racial justice continues to be a challenge. 

The Kingdom of God

In St. Mark’s gospel, we learn that the transfiguration took place 6 days after Jesus announced that some of his disciples would see the Kingdom of God before they died. By this account, the Kingdom of God was to be experienced here on earth.

In the epistle to the Hebrews, we read about an eternal Kingdom that cannot be shaken, and the importance of living in gratitude, offering to God pleasing service and acceptable worship with reverence and awe.  By this account, the Kingdom of God transcends the physical and spiritual realms.

So, what exactly is the Kingdom of God?  Where is it? Is it a physical place?  Is it a celestial city where faithful believers go after death?  Or is the Kingdom of God here on earth, existing now?

Let’s first understand the definition of the word ‘Kingdom’

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, the word Kingdom refers to the eternal kingship of God…the realm in which God’s will is fulfilled.[i]

We can then say that the Kingdom of God is wherever God’s sovereignty, authority, power, and glory are manifested. 

The transfiguration was a manifestation of the divinity of Jesus that was affirmed by the voice of God from heaven.    

The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus is highly significant. The name Moses was equated with the Old Testament law given by God.   Elijah was a great prophet who did not experience physical death but was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. 

The appearance and then disappearance of Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration demonstrated that Jesus is the fulfilment Biblical prophecy and the law.

The Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-13
Image: JESUS MAFA. Transfiguration, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 

The transfiguration was a physical manifestation and visual explanation that Jesus came to do the things the law could not do, that is, to provide an answer for the problem of sin. The law pointed out the problem of sin, but Jesus came into the world to provide the solution. 

I believe that the transfiguration was deliberately designed to bolster the disciples’ faith and help them understand the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which heralded the coming of the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus expressly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen, until He had risen from the dead. 

Faith

By faith, not by sight Artist: Alix Beaujour

I believe that the transfiguration was deliberately designed to bolster the disciples’ faith and help them understand the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which heralded the coming of the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus expressly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen, until He had risen from the dead. 

Witnessing Jesus’ resurrection would bring clarity to those who had a questioning faith and to those who needed to see to believe. Let’s consider our reading in Hebrews chapter 12.  Interestingly, in the preceding chapter 11, the writer to the Hebrews provides a definition of faith.  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.

The definition of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 is followed by an impressive list of men and women of faith in the Old Testament, who persisted in their trust in God’s promises even though they did not live to witness the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Succeeding generations have benefited from the testimony of these great men and women of faith.  

In chapter 12, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of Mount Sinai where God gave the ten commandments to Moses, revealing His divinity and sovereignty, shaking the earth, and driving an unbearable but holy fear into the people of Israel. The writer exhorts the Hebrew believers who have witnessed the resurrection to live according to the terms of the new covenant, as citizens of Mount Zion, the new invisible Jerusalem, which is the spiritual Kingdom of God. Inspired by men and women in the Old Testament, the Hebrew believers are to live by faith and in reverential awe and service to God, according to the principles of the unshakable Kingdom of God.

Moses and his Law
Artists: Aaron and Alan Hicks
From the Black Art Depot

Connecting the law, love, and faith to the Kingdom of God

We now understand from the transfiguration that the law of Moses was superseded in fulfilment of Biblical prophecy.  We also understand from the epistle, that the Kingdom of God is eternal, present here on earth and in the spiritual realm.

God’s law given to Moses, and in fact any law, religious or secular, makes us aware of what is right and what is wrong.  The law is given to protect the weak and to establish justice.

A large part of the history of Black people in North America and the Caribbean is rooted in the struggle for civil rights, and the creation of laws to enforce justice and equality.

Through their own struggle against injustice and their insistence upon equality under the law, Black Canadians have bequeathed an impressive structure of constitutional rights from which all Canadians benefit today.[i]

Carrie Best, Lulu Anderson, Charles Daniels, Winston LaRose, Lincoln Alexander, Jean Augustine, Julius Isaac, Juanita Westmoreland Traore are just a few Canadian trailblazers in politics, civil rights, and law. 

Viola Desmond – Entrepreneur, Defender of Civil Rights

I would like to highlight Viola Desmond, the Black Nova Scotia businesswoman featured on Canada’s $10 bill. In 1946, Desmond was asked to leave the whites‐only section of the Roseland Theatre, but she refused to move. She was arrested and jailed, but her stand against racial segregation has inspired many others in the fight for equality.[i]

Laws have been passed in Canada to enshrine racial equality. A few examples are:

  • Fair Practices and Human Rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s
  • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)
  • The Employment Equity Act (1986)
  • The Multiculturalism Act (1988)

Despite anti-discriminatory laws, racism and injustice persist.  We understand that laws are not enough to solve the problem of the sins of racism and injustice.  Prayers are said pleading divine intervention to stop racism and enable us to create a harmonious world.  Commemorative days, rallies, projects, and various activities are held – all of this, to mitigate and eradicate racism.

So why are we still struggling with racial profiling, affirmative action, systemic racism, injustice, and police brutality? 

The answer is simple.  Love cannot be legislated.  Genuine love cannot be enforced by the law.  Love comes from the heart and motivates right actions that go beyond the limits and requirements of the law.

Love

Jesus’ submission to death, paying the price for our sins, is the greatest act of love ever committed for all humanity. Through His death and resurrection, sin and evil were overcome.  The Kingdom of God is based on the law of love. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. ‘ This is the first commandment. And the second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirmed in all His teachings, if our motivations and intentions are based on love, we are truly His disciples.  Love is our common identity.  Love always points us to the highest good for ourselves and for others.

Black Jesus – Ally Sweeny Fine Art

Love is given full expression in the way we treat people, individually and collectively.  We cannot expect the rule of law and the principle of love to prevail if segments of our population are victimized by systemic racism and the injustice of racial profiling. 

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to ask for God’s Kingdom to come on earth.  By asking for God’s Kingdom to come on earth, we are affirming our faith that the world can become a better place. 

Much like the great men and women of faith in the Old Testament, enslaved Black persons believed that the future could be better because they understood that God is a God of love.  This understanding was the basis on which they persisted in faith to forge the path to freedom for themselves and future generations. 

In 1793 Upper Canada became the first territory in the British Empire to legislate the gradual abolition of slavery.  That same year US Congress passed the first Fugitive Slave Law, making the escape to Canada more attractive. 

Known collectively as the ‘Black fugitives’ many Black slaves in the US fled to Canada, via the Underground Railroad, an extensive network of people, places, and modes of transportation – all working in the deepest secrecy to help transport slaves to freedom in the North and Canada.

Harriet Ross Tubman escaped slavery in the US and returned repeatedly to the South to lead other slaves to freedom.  Tubman was the most successful ‘conductor’ of the Underground Railroad, guiding more than 200 men, women, and children, including her aging parents, to freedom in Canada.[i]


In the words of Harriet Tubman, “If you hear the dogs in the woods, keep going.  If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.  If there’s shouting after you, keep going.  Don’t ever stop.  Keep going.  If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”[i]

Today

The resilience of Black people in their struggle for equal rights and justice is testimony to the faithfulness of God.  Black History Month also reminds us of how far Black people have come, taking all Canadians further along the road to a more just society.  But the journey is far from being over. Harriet Tubman’s exhortation to fugitive slaves to “keep going,” inspires us all to continue to push forward until all lives matter, until systemic racism is dismantled and until Black History is recognized as integral to the history of all Canadians.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we must pray, advocate, and take action to ensure that the principle of love – the highest good for all people – is at the heart of every public policy, law, and social institution. 

We can start right where we are today, by defining a new vision of a Church that is committed to gaining a unified understanding of the diverse groups within our membership, and respectfully treating everyone as equal partners. 

Consider this.  Black congregations in traditional Christian denominations, including the Anglican Church in Canada, have been and still are safe places where their members can give full expression to their talents and feel empowered and dignified. 

It is quite acceptable for the Church to create safe places for those who are vulnerable to racism. It is equally important that cultural differences are respected and celebrated in the Church. However, we must be incredibly careful that we do not persist with the practice of creating segregated ethnic groupings under the guise of respecting ethno-cultural differences and fulfilling special needs of ethnic minorities and immigrants. When creating safe places and respecting cultural differences, we must ensure that all of us, Black and White, hear the voices of ethnic minorities.

Some ways to do this include hosting storytelling and fireside chats, providing cultural sensitivity training for clergy and lay workers, formally including elements in the liturgy that reflect our diversity and creating protocols that address cultural diversity when churches are being merged.

It is my fervent prayer that our reflection today, on the Kingdom of God, love, and faith, will incite all of us, Black and White, to work together, to create a truly united, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Church whose prevailing identity is the love of God and for one another.

Thank you, and may God bless you all.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@glorymatters

Christ in you. The hope of glory. That’s why glory matters.





References

[i] Definition of ‘Kingdom’ Source: Merriam Webster on-line dictionary. Last accessed on 6 February 2021

[i] Africana – The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience: Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 1999, Basic Civitas Books Publishers

[i] Canadian Museum for Human Rights website.  Canadian Civil Rights Trailblazers.  Last accessed on 6 February 2021 https://humanrights.ca/story/canadian-civil-rights-trailblazers

[i] Africana – The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience: Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 1999, Basic Civitas Books Publishers

[i] Quote taken from article Harriet Tubman, the Owl, and the Underground Railroad, by Carole Menser (Cville_Gardener) June 30, 2020.  Top of Form

Published by Camille Isaacs-Morell

Enabling businesses and people to be successful. This is my mission, my life’s work. It’s always been what I have done wherever I’ve been employed, called to serve or to volunteer. An experienced business leader, my core values are truth, integrity, and respect. I believe that values-based leadership is critical for organizational success that is enabled by an engaged and empowered workforce. Working over the years in several senior marketing, communications, and executive leadership mandates for global, financial, healthcare, and non-profit organizations, it has been through times of transformation and difficult change that I have done my best work. In my blog posts, I share my perspectives on leadership, marketing and strategy that are based on my key learnings and observations over the years, all with the objective of helping others reach for success. In my spare time, I enjoy the beauty of nature which I reproduce in my pastel paintings.

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