Let us pause for a moment to give thanks for God’s presence and inspiration in our lives.
Gracious God, we give thanks for this time and space
to gather and recognize the power
of your presence in our lives.
In the life and ministry of Jesus Christ
your love was made manifest in ways
that transformed the people around him.
The spirit of Christ, and the message he proclaimed,
still lives and breathes in our lives
and we give thanks for this gift.
We recognize that we are required to respond
to Christ’s call to us with faith-filled action
and we give thanks that we are not alone in this pursuit.
With faith and hope, we pray. Amen
Today is the last Sunday of the Christian calendar. This Sunday is traditionally known as ‘Reign of Christ Sunday” or in some denominations, “Christ the King Sunday”. This day is the culmination of a year of following events and stories celebrating the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Next Sunday, we’ll begin this cycle again as we start a new year with the anticipation of the birth of the Christ-child through story and song and in our daily lives.
In all of the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, the one theme that occurs repeatedly is that of the “Kingdom of God”. Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God more often that he talked about anything else. It was, in fact, the central theme of his teachings. You heard from Luke’s Gospel this morning that Jesus said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose”. (Luke 4:43) If Jesus was speaking to a group of middle class Canadians in the year 2012, he would likely use different terminology. Scholars have suggested alternatives such as: the Realm of God; God’s Domain; God’s Imperial Rule; the Kindom of God and the Commonwealth of God to name a few. However, the literal translation of the Greek word “basileia” that is found in Christian Scriptures is kingdom. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ primary audience were poor and marginalized persons in the Mediterranean world of the 1st Century C.E. Jesus spoke to these people in language rich with imagery that would be understandable in their lives and everyday experience. These were people who had a keen understanding of the power of king and emperor and who experienced a lack of power in their daily lives. It is no wonder that Jesus caught their attention when he spoke of a very different kind of kingdom in which God, not Caesar, reigned.
The Kingdom of God, as Jesus referred to it, meant God’s will on Earth. It meant a realm of egalitarianism and justice, where all experienced fullness of life, and where God’s love and compassion reigned. Jesus understood the Kingdom of God to be a present reality, a reality which could be actualized if people would only see it and live it. God’s Kingdom was present and made visible wherever right relationships were being established; wherever justice and compassion prevailed.
Biblical scholar, Burton Mack explains that,
“The kingdom of God refered to an ideal society imagined as an alternative to the way in which the world was working under the Romans. But it also referred to an alternative way of life that anyone could take at any time. In this sense the kingdom of God could be realized simply by daring to live differently from the normal conventions. The kingdom of God in the teachings of Jesus was not an apocalyptic or heavenly projection of an otherworldly desire. It was driven by the desire to think that there must be a better way to live together than the present state of affairs. And it called for a change of behaviour in the present on the part of individuals invested in the vision.” (Who Wrote The New Testament by Burton Mack, p.40)
Canadian theologian, Tom Harpur, says that Jesus
“has come to initiate a social revolution, the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth – the bringing in of a community of right-relatedness or righteousness for all humanity. He is convinced that this can only be accomplished by peaceful means, a revolution of the heart and will. Its beginnings are small and unimpressive – like a grain of mustard seed, or the yeast hidden in a lump of dough. But eventually it will grow and spread until it fills the entire world. We are meant to seek it above all else, like a pearl of great price; we enter it with simple trust, like a little child. This kingdom is based on peace – not the peace of a pietistic, ‘safe in the arms of Jesus’ retreat from this world, but the kind designated by the Hebrew word ‘shalom’: a social peace whose basic ingredient is justice for all, particularly those at the bottom of the heap.” (p.17) “Jesus’ radical call to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ was a threat to all those with vested interests in controlling others and preserving the status-quo. It is natural that those today who seek to do God’s will and establish…[God’s] kingdom find themselves similarly at odds with ‘the powers that be’.” (p.79) In Jesus’ prayer he says “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. “The prayer that …[God’s] kingdom may come does not contradict other sayings to the effect that God’s reign is already at hand or within our innermost selves. It has yet to come in all its fullness. Though its signs are everywhere, it still awaits the hour when all people recognize and acknowledge it for what it is. As long as there is still injustice, war, or other misery upon the earth, to that extent it has not yet been fully born or realized. Each of us has his or her part to play [in the actualization of the Kingdom of God in this world].” (For Christ’s Sake, 1985)
And, in the book, Jesus A New Vision, Marcus Borg says that,
“For Jesus, the language of the kingdom was a way of speaking of the power of the Spirit and the new life which is created. The coming of the kingdom is the coming of the Spirit, both into individual lives and into history itself. Entering the kingdom is entering the life of the Spirit, being drawn into the ‘way’ which Jesus taught and was. That kingdom has an existence within history as the alternative community of Jesus, that community which lives the life of the Spirit. That kingdom is also something to be hoped for, to be brought about by the power or Spirit of God. Life in the Spirit is thus life lived in relationship to the kingly power of God. Indeed, life in the Spirit is life in the Kingdom of God. [It is]…life centered in God rather than in the lords and kingdoms of this world, in Spirit and not in culture, and yet seeking to transform those kingdoms through the power of the Spirit.” (Harper San Francisco, 1987, pgs. 198-199)
I believe that walking the way of Jesus and living into fullness the Kingdom of God requires a conversion of the heart. It requires the intentional practice of putting one’s beliefs into action. To do this, in my experience, also requires intentional spiritual practice in order to openly discern God’s inspiration and guidance and be firmly grounded to withstand the challenges of living an alternative vision of life in this world. As I was preparing for this Sunday’s worship service, I chose a Taizé chant to accompany the Pastoral Prayers. The words of this chant are based on Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. The words of the Taizé song echo these themes and include the invocation, “Come God, and open in us the gates of your kingdom”. What was particularly interesting to me was in my preparation of the prayers I copied the words incorrectly at first to read, “Come God, and open to us the gates of your kingdom”. Did you catch the difference? Instead of “open to us” it should have read, “open in us the gates of your kingdom”. That may not seem such a huge difference but the idea of God opening to us the gates of the kingdom is far more passive and less direct than the idea of God opening within us the gates of a different reality that will transform our lives. When we arrive at the place in our worship service for the pastoral prayers, I invite you to let these words sung by the choir wash over you like a healing balm. These are words of affirmation, celebration, hope and the promise of God’s transformative presence in each one of our lives. Receive them this day as gift and promise.
I’ll finish this time of reflection with a poem, by Judy Chicago, that I believe describes what the kingdom of God on earth will be like in the fullness of time.
And then all that has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power.
And then softness will come to a world
that is often harsh and unkind.
And then women and men will be gentle.
And then both men and women will be strong.
And then no other person will be subject to another’s will.
And then all will be rich and varied.
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life’s creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.
(Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage, 1979)