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A Different Kind of Kingdom

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November 20, 2016 — Last Sunday After Pentecost

Christ the King Sunday

Rev. Alison Quin

Today’s Readings:

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Canticle 16
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Breaking news:  God is neither a Republican or a Democrat.  We humans have repeatedly made the great mistake of claiming God for our own tribe, or nation, or party.  As Americans, part of our founding myth is the Puritans’ understanding of America as a city built on a hill, made up of God’s chosen people, a light for the world.  The adoption of democracy as our form of government was deemed evidence of our chosen status in God’s eyes.   We would be an experiment in governance by and for the people, with liberty and justice for all.

The language of our democratic ideals does seem to be in keeping with the language of the Bible affirming the intrinsic worth of every human being, and the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Justice, freedom, equality—the Bible supports these values.

But our nation is made up of human beings, and human beings are not perfect.  From the beginning, there were those who were not included in the democratic government—slaves, Native Americans, women and people without property.  The history of struggling to include all people in this democratic form of government has been long and painful and is not over yet.  And the structure itself is not perfect:  we continue to wrestle with the corrupting power of money and inequality in education, housing and opportunity.

The truth is, all forms of government fall short of the kingdom of God.  “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus told Satan when he was offered dominion over all the kingdoms of the world.  The attempt to claim God for one party, one tribe or one nation makes God far too small.  God is the God of all tribes, all nations, all people and creation itself.

The reading from Colossians speaks to the universal scope of God’s reign.  All things were created through Christ and for Christ, in him all things hold together.  Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.

In Psalm 46, we read that God is exalted in all the nations.  It evidently pleases God for different peoples to practice different religions, but God is nonetheless the God of all.

By identifying a nation or form of government too closely with God, we elevate that nation or government to the status of God, making it a false idol.   The first commandment of the big 10 is this, “Thou shalt worship no other gods before me.”  And the summary of the law is this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength and all your mind.  And love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27.

As Jesus followers and God lovers, our loyalty to God must come before our loyalty to our political party, our government or any other imperfect human institution.  That is what it means to say Christ is King.

The Letter to the Colossians puts it in very stark terms:  “God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  In other words, giving ultimate allegiance to the things of this world can only lead to darkness.  Only our allegiance to God can make us whole and free. And our loyalty to our neighbors, all our neighbors, is inextricably intertwined with our loyalty to God.  One does not exist without the other.

Today we celebrate the kingship of Jesus—his reign over our lives and in our hearts.  He is a king unlike any other.   He does not dominate, or demand his own way.  “Behold your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass.” Matt. 21:5  He comes to us in meekness and humility, armed only with love.  He comes not to be served, but to serve.  He embraced the dispossessed and the disenfranchised, the poor and outcast,  the Muslims and undocumented workers of his day. You are of infinite value, he told them.  You are loved by God, who cares for you, as he cares for the birds of the air.

Jesus’ heart was open to all—he engaged with anyone who wanted to speak with him—Roman centurions, tax collectors, the wealthy, the temple elite.  He did not turn against anyone, even those who plotted to kill him.  He loved them to the end, saying:  “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”  Luke 23:34.

Jesus teaches his followers to turn away from anger and the desire for vengeance, which leads to violence.  He advocates the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, refusing to repay evil with evil. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Turn the other cheek, if someone takes your coat, give your shirt as well.” Luke 6:27-28.

Jesus our humble king teaches and practices non-retaliation – not a passive acceptance of evil, but the resistance and overcoming of evil through non-violent means.  When confronted Jesus refuses to retaliate.  When the Pharisees try to entrap him, he sidesteps their traps and goes his way.  When his enemies arrest him, he tells his disciple to put away his sword.  He prayed for his enemies from the cross. By responding to evil with love, Jesus breaks the cycle of violence.[1]

Jesus faces hostility and threats with calm discipline and compassion. And he expects his disciples to follow in his way; refusing to repay evil with evil, putting their whole trust in God.

His way is the humble way of love, of kindness, gentleness, compassion and serving one another.  We are to be patient and forbearing, to seek forgiveness, and reconciliation. We are to resist evil, through creative non-violence.  And we are to embrace all outcasts, as he has embraced us.

It is easy to underestimate the power of love, or to dismiss it as a naïve hope. But love is the power of God, that brought all things into being, holds all things together, and is reconciling all things.   Love is the reigning force in the universe.

And when we let it reign in our hearts, we help bring about the reign of God on earth.

Jesus, beloved teacher and friend:  Help us to put you first in our lives, and follow you with our whole hearts. Jesus, shepherd and king, lead us in gentleness and humility.  May we serve as you served, forgive as you forgive, live with one another as you lived with us.  Help us to resist evil and serve the cause of justice, not in retaliation for wrongs done to us, but with hearts full of compassion and genuine love.   Reign in our hearts and in our world. Amen.

 

[1] I am indebted to Br. David Vryhof, SSJE for his inspiring sermon on Christ the King Sunday in 2009.  See sermons on www.ssje.org

 

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