The Kingdom of God is Within, Among, and In the Midst of You: A sermon on Luke 17:20-21

The Kingdom of God is Within, Among, and In the Midst of You: A sermon on Luke 17:20-21

The Kingdom of God is Within, Among, and In the Midst of You: A sermon on Luke 17:20-21

How do you define success? Does your answer involve personal achievement, comfort, money, power, influence, or possessions? Have you found that even when you achieve these, there is still an empty space within? Today we will talk about filling that empty space with an entire kingdom. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within us, and we’ll discuss what that means and how we can access it.

(We are in our sermon series about the Kingdom or Realm of God. Last week we talked about how we experience that realm in nature).

What is the Kingdom of God?

The realm of God is a major theme in Jesus’ teachings. The gospels refer to it more than 30 times. It’s natural to assume that he is talking about heaven, as if to say, “God’s kingdom is up there where God is.” But Jesus had something more in mind with how he used that phrase. He talked about it as a reality in this world, a new way of seeing yourself in relationship to God and others.

Luke 17:20-21 The Kingdom is not visible.

Luke tells us that some Pharisees asked Jesus when he’d establish the Kingdom, and what they had in mind was a literal physical kingdom on earth to replace the reign of the Roman Empire. “Jesus, you yammer on and on about the Kingdom, and when and how will you establish it?”

Jesus explains that he’s aiming at something different. He says you can’t look for physical signs of a military take-over and exclaim, “Hoop, there it is!” The realm of God is beyond physical observation. Barbara Brown Taylor writes that the kingdom is “not a goal we achieve, but a gift we receive.”

Meta Kingdom

Something struck me when I studied the original Greek. Verse 20 uses the word meta which means “with or after.” You don’t see the kingdom with “meta” observation. It’s not a kingdom like others based on power and military might, and subjugation of people. It’s different; the kingdom goes beyond that.

Meta caught my eye because we bump into the word meta as something that goes beyond itself. Meta is the root of words like metaphor, metaphysics, and metamorphosis. Meta pops up in all sorts of disciplines. In medicine, we have metacarpal bones and that awful word, metastasis, where the cells go beyond the tumor and affect other parts. In theater, they say it is meta or metatheatrical when a character addresses the audience.

When I asked Julie Ramsey if she could think of any meta words in music, she said, “Metallica.” Rock on! She knows more music than you might think. Then she sent me a link about metamusic that describes songs about songs. When Chuck Berry sings, “Give me some of that Rock and Roll music,” or Elton John sings, “This is your song,” they are creating metamusic—it goes beyond itself.

In academics, we have meta studies. Those are studies of studies. Science and business use metadata which is data about data.

I guess a sermon that refers to other sermons is a meta sermon. Tell your friends, “Pastor Dave totally preached a meta sermon today.” If you really want to go beyond, Metamucil.

Whose Meta Kingdom is worth Following?

Mark Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook as Meta. It’s about going beyond one social media platform to link all sorts of technology together. In his announcement about Meta, he talked about how Meta is going to transform the world and transform all our lives. “The metaverse is going to be a place where people can be anything they want to be, and do anything they want to do. It’s going to be a place where we can all connect with each other in new and meaningful ways.” He’s building his kingdom, expanding an empire. But it is not the kind of kingdom that Jesus had in mind.

Instead, he said that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality of connectedness with God, it goes beyond normal observation, it’s a faith claim. And Jesus said that this kingdom can be found within you.

Three Possible Translations

But you may remember our reading said, “The kingdom of God is among you.” How he expressed this notion is a matter of interpretation. The King James Version of the Bible translates it as the Kingdom of God is within you. The New Revised Standard Version says, “The kingdom of God is among you.” And other translations say, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” These differences convey different senses because the Greek words these translations come from have multiple meanings.

The Kingdom Within You

Just think about how it comes across differently as you imagine these scenarios. What if Jesus placed his finger on the chest of a Pharisee and said, “The kingdom is within you?” That carries a sense of the Kingdom being a personal internal spiritual experience. This version is most consistent with how the earliest Christians understood the verse.

The Kingdom Among You

But what if he motions to the whole group saying, “The kingdom is among you.” That suggests the realm of God has something to do with how people treat each other, which we bring about through basic human decency. This would make sense because Jesus used the plural form of “you” (a Greek form of y’all). The realm of God isn’t a private experience but has to do with y’all do with each other.

The Kingdom in the Midst of You

Or, what if he pointed his thumbs at himself and said, “The kingdom is in the midst of you.” That might suggest that Jesus sees himself as the embodiment of the Kingdom, of everything that the Kingdom is about, meaning that if we follow his approach to life, we can experience that Kingdom in our midst. This version provides some context for what Jesus talks about next.

Let’s Keep All Three!

How do we decide which is the correct interpretation? Especially when we don’t have the expertise in ancient Greek to make an informed decision. (Pastors learn the Greek, so you don’t have to!) I’ve read several scholarly articles about this subject, and there are solid arguments for all three readings. But I also think that Jesus may have intentionally chosen an ambiguous word because what he was getting at was complex. The realm of God is inside us and among us and manifests in Jesus.

Maybe all three meanings are implied. Choose your own Bible adventure! This is how many people in the ancient world expressed themselves. They didn’t see the world in binary terms like computers, where everything must be a 0 or a 1. They liked the interplay of different variations of meaning to get at the truth, to see what emerges when you let them bump up against each other.

Accessing the realm of God within you.

I believe the realm of God is internal and universal, not dependent on what you believe; it’s already entirely there. It’s what Fr. Richard Rohr describes as the true self underneath all the other garbage and lies we tell ourselves.

The Kingdom of God is not a place, but a state of consciousness. It is not an external world ruled by God, but an internal world where we are in communion with God.”

Interestingly Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, who oppose him and will contribute to Jesus’ death. Yet, Jesus sees something better in them. That true self is already connected to God; it’s made in God’s image. It’s that inner Kingdom of peace where we feel safe and connected and where we can go to where we know who we are and have a place in the world. That’s where we discover a place of inner healing and inspiration to put ourselves out there and do our best no matter what anyone else thinks.

We access the internal Kingdom through worship, prayer, contemplation, music, art, and nature. Like that song, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me, we realize that we can access that peace and then spread it to others.

Accessing the realm of God among you.

Sometimes we refer to the Kingdom of God as the kingdom of God. This phrase underscores the horizontal dimension of God’s realm by employing the word kin (all our brothers and sisters in humanity). The beautiful thing about the kin-dom of God among y’all is that idea that there can be something holy that we connect to when we are together and treat each other well. It’s not just about being nice, but a quality of life comes to us, a sense of rootedness and connection to something more significant when we do the little things to practice hospitality, forgiveness, kindness, and empathy.

Encouraging each other and deepening friendships and bonds with each other is how we build that Kingdom and let the light shine through the cracks of this broken world.

The Kingdom of God is not a matter of getting individuals into heaven but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven” – Walter Rauschenbusch.

Accessing the realm of God in your midst.

Perhaps Luke wanted us to see Jesus as the embodiment of the Kingdom in this passage. We access that sense of peace and perspective that he had when we follow him in the way of service to others, making sacrifices for the greater good and looking out for the poor.

This means there is a certain sense of allegiance to the Kingdom. Just as we easily declare our allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands, might we do well to declare our allegiance to the principles of non-violence, fairness, and compassion for the less fortunate? What would that look like? Perhaps this:

 I pledge allegiance to the realm of God and to Jesus, who shows us the way to a meaningful life. Where compassion flows to our neighbors, we live with integrity, love, and justice for all.

Already and Not Yet

There is a present and future aspect when Jesus talked about the realm of God. We get glimpses and experiences of the Kingdom now, but there is a better way of being together that has yet to be fully realized. The vision is for a better world; we are all called to plant seeds for a future beyond our horizon.

This sentiment was captured by poet James W. Douglass who wrote this poem that was read at Archbishop Oscar Romero’s funeral. Romero, you may remember, was a fierce advocate for justice for the poor. When he was assassinated, it felt for so many people, like the bottom dropped out of the movement, that the powerful forces would always crush the poor beneath them. Despite setbacks and what we may sense, God is still at work.

Planting Seeds of the Kingdom

We Plant Seeds of the Kingdom

We plant the seeds of the Kingdom here,

In the soil of our lives,

In the hearts of our people,

In the struggles for justice and peace.


We plant the seeds of the Kingdom here,

In the midst of our pain and our sorrow,

In the midst of our fear and our doubt,

In the midst of our brokenness.


We plant the seeds of the Kingdom here,

In the hope of a better future,

In the dream of a world without hunger or poverty,

In the vision of a world without war or violence.


We plant the seeds of the Kingdom here,

In the name of Jesus Christ,

Who came to bring life and to give it abundantly,

Who came to set the captives free,

Who came to proclaim good news to the poor.


We plant the seeds of the Kingdom here,

And we trust that God will bring them to fruition,

That God will bring about a new heaven and a new earth,

A world where justice and peace will reign forever.