Dwelling in the Kingdom, Being the Light

Preached on 25 November 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Reign of Christ, Year C

About 230 years ago, we fought a war to rid ourselves of our king.  And yet, we raptly follow all the coverage of the current royal family.  Just look at how many of us were glued to the TV watching the royal wedding in May; and all the coverage leading up to it?  And he’s what, 5th or 6th in line for the throne?  I can never keep track.  We ooo and ahh over William and Kate and their growing family.  We wonder if the Queen will one day step down in favor of Prince Charles who has waited so long to become king.

Maybe we just like our royalty mostly for show and ceremony; a monarch who is benevolent, but virtually powerless.

At the same time, I think it may be human nature to long for a monarch, or a ruler or leaders, who will make the world Good and eliminate all evil; who will make all the bad stuff in our lives stop.  We long for a leader who is on our side.  The trouble is, human leaders, no matter how good they are, all of them fall short.  The fact of the matter is that truly great or even good leaders, whether kings or presidents or popes, are rare, if we look through history.

What we hope for; what we ask of them is not possible.  So, we place that hope in God: all powerful, all Good, totally in charge and in control of everything; a god who is on our side.  That is risky theology because if God is in control, then God is causing the evil and all the bad stuff, too.

Where does that leave us, then?  What do we make of Christ as king?

As we approach the season of Advent; looking forward to the coming of Christ, who is this Jesus we are waiting for; looking for?

Not only are we looking back to the birth of the baby, born in a stable at Christmas.  Not only are we looking to some elusive future when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, as we recite in our Creed.  But in our lives today, who is this Jesus, this king, we’re waiting and looking for?

Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you king of the Jews?”  It’s a political question.  He’s wondering if Jesus is a rival.  Will Jesus challenge Pilate’s authority?

Pilate is caught in the middle.  He’s a mid-level ruler; the governor of the region with significant power locally – life-or-death power over Jesus at this moment.  Except he is also answerable to Rome.  If his decision causes an uprising, it may not go well for him.

Jesus’ response is strange.  They go back and forth a bit and then he explains, “my kingdom is not of this world.”  Huh?  “The reason I’m here is to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  And Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

Earlier in the gospel, Jesus already claimed that he is the Truth.  Truth is in his person.
Jesus’ kingdom is not a place.  It is not a hoped-for future or a place to go after you die.  No, the Kingdom of Christ is at hand.  It’s a way of being.  It’s hearing and following the Truth that is Jesus.

We’re used to thinking of kingdoms as defined by geographical borders and characterized by visible, tangible exhibits of wealth and splendor and power; of majesty and authority and the list descriptors goes on and on.

But that’s not what characterizes or defines Jesus’ kingdom.  As Karoline Lewis describes it,
“Jesus’ kingdom is anywhere and anytime.  We find it whenever “kingdom behavior” is exemplified. Whenever kingdom character is lived out; wherever the kingdom witness can be seen and heard.

“Jesus’ kingdom is a perspective, a way of living life; even a way of interpreting the world and expressing this perspective, this interpretation in everything we do.

“Jesus’ kingdom is seen in people’s lives; lives that embody a commitment to love and liberty; a commitment to striving for justice and freedom for all people.”

Jesus’ kingdom is not a geographical location, but in the hearts of people.  Those who dwell in the kingdom of Christ have a particular way of seeing and being in the world and toward the world that is different.  So, why don’t we all dwell in Jesus’ kingdom all the time?

Well, changing how we see the world is hard.  Often, we can only do it for a moment at a time. We get a glimpse of Christ’s kingdom. And then a little longer, and eventually, we may come to see so clearly, that we can never go back and see the world any other way.

Dwelling in the kingdom is also risky.  The kingdom of Christ challenges the powers of the world, the rulers, those in charge.  And power doesn’t give up without a fight.  Embodying the kingdom; a commitment to love and justice and freedom means speaking Truth; it means challenging the status quo.  Not as an individual savior, but as an inhabitant of the kingdom of Christ, a partner in Christ’s mission.

I think the key is a commitment to practice seeing with kingdom eyes; interpreting the world with the heart of Christ.

A couple of years ago, I read a commentary that quoted Leonard Cohen:

“There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets through.”
Then she went on to write.

“Look for the crack and be the light of Christ that shines through it.

“Be the light that exposes attempts to justify hatred, intolerance, and violence.

“Be the light that allows us to truly see those who are ignored, overlooked, marginalized, disenfranchised, starving, used, abused, silenced.

“Be the light that we so desperately need; a light that shines as a glimmer of hope for all people, for all the world.”

As we enter into this season of Advent, may we practice being the light.